Like the first Pilgrims to America, modernism was a European concept that was reborn in this country, expressed as new genres of freedom from the geometrically austere to the sculpturally sensual forms of the current century. Even well into my career as a designer, I continue to investigate the evolutionary and the revolutionary in pursuit of a uniquely American cosmopolitan style.
Following Modernism’s Roots
As a life-long student of the modern schools, I emerged through the mid-20th century as a Mesian disciple, heeding his admonition of “less is more.” I embraced the modern discipline and pathos of form from function, not only a design point of view, but as a social ethic and ideology of egalitarianism.
Driven by modern design, I believe in simplicity and in functional products designed from an intelligent point of view. As modernism has changed and morphed into genres of style, my vision expanded and gained perspective, but I still adhere to core principles of simplicity and functionalism rooted in the modern industrial aesthetic.
Curious about ideas and new or different approaches to seeing things, I am passionate about architecture, great industrial design, fresh graphics and innovations in technology. I am inspired by what’s next. I am driven by the creative challenge of seeking a new path and by the process of investigation and discovery.
Design Disruption: LEDs
Design is often evolutionary and only rarely revolutionary, but every once in a while something occurs that is so dramatic that it is a disruption to the status quo and changes everything. LED—electronic illumination—is the discovery that changed everything we knew about lighting.
Technology and design evolve independently in parallel universes and then come together by inspiration or functional need. In recent years, the technology of electronic illumination has driven our designs. LED has allowed us to rethink and reinvent the utility, scale, form factors, applications and sculptural opportunities of luminaries.
I have come to understand that science and technology can be enablers of art and design. The LED revolution re-energized and re-inspired me. Technology-driven design has opened an entirely new universe of imagination and possibilities. Now more then ever, I am excited to challenge the possibilities of what’s next in our pursuit of illumination from the art of technology.
Integration is the key to understanding the future of lighting. Now that we understand that electronically generated illumination is a wave in the spectrum of energy, we can control, direct, and manage illumination as a component in a broad-based, integrated system of energy that can be deployed across multiple applications of a building system.
We have moved our imagination of architecture, habitable spaces and urban centers into the limitless possibilities of the digital age.
In the five decades that I have worked, studied and learned my craft, the disruption of technology has never been more profound and more promising. My focus has always been on extending modern ideals through the language of design and on creating relevant and functional products through a convergence of art and utility.
This is an energizing, interesting and incredibly rewarding time to be working in lighting design. I am excited by the challenges, insights and added dimension of technology integration into the creative process. Enabled by new materials, processes and technologies, we can now realize our imagination of innovative forms, structures and applications in entirely new, innovative ways.
I continue to investigate with curiosity, challenge the known and seek insight into new possibilities, as I design with passion in pursuit of what’s next.
Robert Sonneman pioneered modern lighting, making it an art form. Many of his award-winning designs have become classics of the modern era. Acclaimed for clean lines and his alliance to form and function, he has been at the forefront of modern design for five decades.