Acrylic Sheets Transform Light Into An Architectural Sculpture

Billed as “equal parts fabrication warehouse, artist studio, and lounge party,” the PARTISANS Factory at IDS 2017 was a major draw. Show-goers flocked to the booth to not only look at the fantastic. Ghostly light fixtures displayed alongside mid-century modern furniture, but to watch the creation process itself.

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PARTISANS is a Toronto-based studio that focuses on craftsmanship, technology, and storytelling. For IDS, they exhibited an array of completed “Gweilo” lights, as well as a working factory with artisans creating the lights on site.

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Working with Lightform, PARTISANS created the collection driven by “the idea that light itself could be harnessed and manipulated to create a physical sculpture.” Their resulting design looks like a flowing folded sheet of light. The sculptures come in an array of sizes and can be used as accent lights, table top décor, room dividers  — airy, sublime finery to ignite the energy of any space.

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In the display factory, artisans demonstrated how the Gweilo light is made. The process begins with a sheet of etched optical grade acrylic that is placed in front of a heat source. This type of acrylic is typically used in the manufacture of flat panel displays that require highest optical and cosmetic quality. Once the sheet reaches just under 400 degrees Celsius, it is soft and pliable enough to be shaped, bent and folded into a unique sculpture. After being removed from the heat and manipulated, the light is cooled in front of a fan.

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An extruded metal strip embedded with LED lights is then attached to the straight edge of the fixture. When switched on, it sends light rays through the etched lines, giving the entire sheet an ethereal glow. Rather than just using an architectural fixture to project light, Gweilo transforms light itself into a stunning architectural structure.

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During the three-day design fair, the Gweilo artisan team collaborated with well-known architect Omar Gandhi, artist Steve Driscoll, designer Tommy Smythe and sculptor Harley Valentine. Their pieces were then sold and the proceeds donated to Habitat for Humanity.

While Gweilo attracted a huge amount of attention at IDS, it had already garnered good deal of recognition when it was a mere prototype: It won a LAMP Award in 2015 and the AZ Award for Best Lighting Installation in 2016. Now, PARTISANS is manufacturing Gweilo in Ontario and is distributing the light sculpture in North America and internationally in cooperation with LightForm.

Creators note that Gweilo is scalable and lends itself well to installations of all sizes.

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Gweilo is a natural project for PARTISANS, which calls itself a movement – “We are architects, thinkers, and cultural enthusiasts devoted to a cause: smart, beautiful, and provocative design,” they write. “We tell stories. But not just any stories. We build architectural narratives that elicit counternarratives—stories that spring to life through spontaneous mutations and unexpected cracks. Beauty emerges when design misbehaves,”

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LightForm, which is distributing Gweilo, has been helping Canada’s design professionals light projects since 1987. The company is fueled by its passion for well-lit spaces and its “understanding of lighting’s power to influence the ways in which we feel, behave, and even interact.”