Interview posted May 17, 2013
Pablo Pardo has been at the forefront of innovative lighting design since he established his eponymous company in San Francisco two decades ago. The Venezuelan-born designer offers an extensive collection of floor, table, and suspension fixtures that bridge the gap between timelessness and technological innovation.
We recently spoke with Pardo about LEDs, the evolution of modern lighting—and the best spot to eat in San Francisco.
You founded your business in 1993, and the subsequent years have seen incredible changes in the business. What excites you most about these new developments, and what design potential do they offer?
For years, lamps have essentially featured a standard Edison bulb—which gets very hot—with a shade to cover it. From a design point of view, LEDs provide limitless opportunities; technology is allowing us to transform something that used to be volumetric into something that is flat. A table lamp can now become a charging station, or a sound device. It can be portable and rechargeable; it can move around the house. It can be all of these things in addition to being a light source.
What do you see happening with the next generation of fixtures?
The biggest evolution is that light is being integrated into everything, from architecture to interiors to fashion. Occupancy sensors are also becoming a critical component; they turn on and off depending on whether there’s someone in the room. We’ve added this feature to our new Circa lamp, and will be retrofitting all our existing designs with the technology as well. In fact, every LED lamp we’ve produced in the last five years can be updated with the latest technology, be it a sensor, or warmer-colored, brighter LEDs.
Your new Cielo suspension light is a prime example of smart design engineering. Can you tell me more about the creative process behind it?
Cielo is the first in our collection to use our non-glare, flat-panel technology. The form itself was an experiment for us, to see how far we could take something to its most essential, most minimal form. So it’s not a flamboyant object; instead, it’s about color accents, and integrating seamlessly into the surrounding environment. We’re also offering it in groupings of 7 or 14 to become chandeliers. This makes it perfect for entryways, or in a bar or restaurant. It’s got a quiet vibe, so it works in transitional or completely contemporary environments.
What’s your design philosophy, and how does it play out in your work?
Our primary goal has always been to harness the purity of light’s transformative power, and create permanent illumination solutions. We’re not a trend-based company, we’re solution-based. When we set out to create something, we keep in mind that someone has to use it, and interact with it, so the fixture should be intuitive and easily understood. Our designs are very simple on the outside, but complex on the inside and, ultimately, the fixture acts as a vessel for the light itself. We believe that good design should provide a lifetime of service, and now LEDs allow us to do this.
Pixo Table Lamp
Are there any particular lights from your collection that you feel are most representative of your brand?
I think the best example—without saying its my favorite!—that exemplifies our new plug-and-play direction is Pixo: It’s no bigger or smaller than it needs to be. It’s ultra-flexible because it pivots on three axes and it’s available in five colors, each with its own personality. Also, it’s the first in our collection to have a USB charging port and it won a Red Dot award last year.
Cortina and Elise have stood the test of time. We designed them over a decade ago and they’re still incredibly popular.
Your collection offers a lot of task lighting. How has the modern workplace influenced these designs?
We work from home, from the office, from all different locations, and we’re interested in having our lights change with us. Our latest Lim360 fits perfectly into tight quarters. It also offers a USB charging dock for mobile devices, and because of its four color options and variety of bases to choose from—including wood and silver finishes—it’s a great choice for someone looking to personalize their workspace.
The new Clamp by Dana Cannam has an adjustable cantilevered arm and features an LED— rather than a hot bulb—positioned directly into a piece of wood. Because of its size, this would also work great as a bedside fixture.
Who or what have been your biggest design inspirations over the years?
Dieter Rams is definitely one of my idols, as is Achille Castiglioni. And, of course, Flos and Artemide. There was a lot of great, pure Italian lighting in the 1960s.
Do you have a favorite city for creative stimulation?
Barcelona is such a diverse international city with influences from all over the world. It also has a very high-design culture, which understands that minimal doesn’t necessarily mean to be cold. Architecturally, Chicago is incredibly inspiring. It’s been planned very well over time, and has the river that winds right through it.
Your company is based in San Francisco. Where’s your favorite place for a meal in the city?
Zuni Cafe represents the ever-changing face of San Francisco. It’s really good and has an inclusive cross-section of customers. I always come back to this place because I know what I’m going to get from a food standpoint, but I never know in terms of the people, which is really exciting.
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