In the spring of 2015, students in this advanced lighting studio participated in the first-ever Natural Light International Design Competition to create an affordable, sustainable, portable and artistically-pleasing solar-powered LED lamp which would have global appeal to both off-grid communities and those in industrialized nations such as Europe and the U.S.
Currently 1.2 billion people around the world have no access to electricity. This lack of electric light produces a precarious trickle-down effect for those living in emerging countries: working hours are limited to daylight, reducing income; medical care is severely restricted; children cannot study after sunset, potentially impeding their overall education goals; and community members cannot gather in the evenings, sending many into isolation.
The competition was co-sponsored by VELUX Group and Little Sun, a German-based social business that produces an economical solar-powered LED lamp developed by artist Olafur Eliasson and engineer Frederick Ottesen. Launched in 2012 in London’s Tate Gallery, the Little Sun Company has distributed more than 200,000 lamps. Little Sun trains local on-the-ground entrepreneurs to be sales agents, empowering citizens with seed capital.
The Natural Lighting Competition challenged students to use a minimum of technology—a Little Sun solar panel, three rechargeable AAA batteries and a PCB—to create an innovative solar lamp that could be used by a diverse cross-section of global cultures such as Myanmar families at the dinner table, back country campers in the Colorado Rockies or Rwandan children studying at night.
Students interviewed individuals representing organizations offering assistance to developing countries. These personal observations, coupled with NGO research collected over the years, gave the students a clearer picture of not just the social-economic landscape but also how an affordable and convenient light could positively change a community. In addition, students realized the similarities of human needs no matter how rich or poor a country may be. The desire for family, community, security, honest work and play is universal.
Light is the way that we live. It’s the medium by which we see things and experience our daily lives. In this course, I learned a lot about electronics and manufacturing, but what surprised me was how humanitarian design can be so gratifying.Matt HeinzlerStudent, Spatial Experience Design