Evanson’s Copper Currents

Design—whether it applies to type, architecture, or furniture—often requires finding artful solutions to common problems. In the 1980s, architect James Evanson’s problem was how to create elegant lighting fixtures without using inelegant components. His solution: copper, steel, and a bit of high school physics. A series of these ingenious lighting designs, now on display at RARE through March 14th, showcases the unique manner in which Evanson accomplished this; hint: “Look Ma: no wires…!”

Unlike the engineering of a regular lamp, which uses internal wiring to connect power from an electrical supply directly to the bulb, Evanson’s lights eliminate the wiring completely. So how do they work? Each light contains a hidden transformer in the base, which transforms the electricity into a low-voltage current that is transmitted through a frame fashioned from copper—a highly conductive material. This charge is then transferred through additional copper components to the bulb, creating a complete circuit and lighting the lamp. The added benefit of this configuration is that without having to incorporate wiring throughout the lamp’s structure, Evanson had incredible freedom to create open, sculptural, streamlined forms not otherwise possible. It looks like magic, but instead is an inspired merging of science and art.

An early test of this system was Evanson’s small 1983 copper table lamp (below). In addition to providing the charge to the attached halogen bulb, the thin copper arms also turn, twist, and swing, allowing vast flexibility in where the bulb is directed.

With Cactus, a 1988 design, Evanson pushed the magic quotient further by introducing removable elements. Like the table lamp, Cactus’s transformer resides inside its base—here a bi-level construction—but instead of copper tubes, the current is conducted up the length of two elongated, rounded copper plates to an opening at the top, where a detachable copper bar holding a large halogen bulb is slotted in. When the bar makes contact with the frame, the bulb lights; when the bar is lifted out, though, the connection is broken, and the bulb turns off. A nice additional feature of Cactus is that the bar can be positioned with the bulb either pointing down—which emits the light through slits in the front and back of the lamp, as well as through clear plastic tubes in the copper arms—or pointing up, allowing the lamp to act as a torchiere.

Galileo, Evanson’s remarkable light sculpture, represents the apogee of these lighting experiments. Tall and graceful, with a structure reminiscent of suspension bridges, its frame utilizes both curved and straight rods of stainless steel as struts, with the copper functioning as joins. These joins are not merely decorative, though: as stainless is less conductive than copper, they aid in the continuous transmission of the charge from the base transformer upward to what is perhaps the most stunning feature of Galileo—its rotating copper light tube. In many respects, this tube is akin to the framework of Cactus, but is completely detachable, and itself holds two small halogen bulbs. Flat, circular copper plates both hold the tube in place and conduct the electric charge to the bulbs, while four pairs of posts along the curved stainless skeleton allow it to be positioned in various places for different looks; as an added bonus, the open space between the struts also allows it to spin vertically. Akin to Cactus, the bulbs turn off when the tube is lifted from the frame.

Unique, beautiful, and innovative, these three pieces not only manifestly demonstrate Evanson’s own ingenuity and skill, but exemplify, too, how good design can enhance both aesthetics and function.

Posted in Art, Design on March 09 2015

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