Co.Design

Architects and Designers Illuminate the Future with OLEDs

Konica Minolta commissions bright concepts.

OLEDs have been hailed as the Next Big Thing in lighting for years now. But beyond digital picture frames and bendy display screens that make Gumby look like a slab of concrete, we haven't seen a whole lot from the tech that's supposed to revolutionize the way we illuminate our world.

That's slowly changing, and to that end, Konica Minolta has enlisted a handful of architects and designers to envision the future of OLEDs, from floating bus maps and giant public lighting "vessels" to glowstick-like jewelry that can double as safety reflectors. They're only concepts, but they do offer a foretaste of the expanded role artificial lighting will play if and when OLEDs finally deliver on their promise.

First a primer on OLEDs: They stand for organic light-emitting diodes, and, instead of flashing light from a single-point bulb (like incandescents and even LEDs), they glow at the surface, enveloping their surroundings in a diffuse, ghostly halo. Environmentalists go gaga for them because they stay cooler than LEDs, and they're more energy-efficient than fluorescents -- plus they don't contain mercury. And architects and designers go gaga for them because they can be bent, rolled, and otherwise manipulated into any shape imaginable.

Here's an idea from Mexico City design firm Agent Strategic Intelligence Embassy to turn OLEDs into urban wayfinders (above). Dispatched as strips, they would illuminate streets, benches, bus shelters, and transit maps. So instead of squinting endlessly at paper timetable charts, all you've gotta do is tap a digital OLED display, then follow a strip of light to your destination.

Another idea from Agent Strategic Intelligence Embassy: wearable bands of light. This, of course, has already found favor among people who love Kikwear and think Apex Twin is god, but here, the lights (thankfully) function beyond bad fashion accessories. Cyclists and runners would strap them on at night like reflectors, only they'd be less bulky and they'd probably last a lot longer.

German architects Seifert.stoeckmann@formalhaut hatched a concept they call "curvilinear light vessels" -- flexy OLED sculptures, which could be manufactured as anything from small indoor reading lamps to massive park lampposts that are a lot prettier than your run-of-the-mill sodium-vapor streetlights. See here for images.

Whether any of these ideas come to fruition we can't say. OLEDs still need to surmount some big barriers before they hit the market full-throttle like LEDs, but it speaks volumes that Konica Minolta -- one of the corporate heavyweight investing in OLEDs, alongside GE and Philips -- is commissioning artists to dream up applications. It shows that their interest stretches beyond rolling out fancy TV screens to mining OLEDs' brightest design potential.

[Images courtesy of Agent Strategic Intelligence Embassy]

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