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Close-up of Ingo Maurer wearing glasses with light bulbs

Great Masters | Ingo Maurer

Ingo Maurer (portrait)

“Without taking risks, without engaging with objects that do not exactly correspond to the established idea of beauty, our ideas will not grow and the aesthetic quality of our work will gradually deteriorate … Sometimes less taste is more taste.” Ingo Maurer

Dialogue between Ingo Maurer and Franco Raggi – 20 September 1989

How did you start working with light?

Shall we start at the very beginning?

If it is important…

So I grew up on an island in Lake Constance. My father died when I was fifteen, we were five children, it was right after the war; and my older brother told me that I couldn’t finish school and I had to learn a trade, so I chose to be a surveyor.

Your childhood is linked to concrete work and a direct relationship with things, the environment and nature, do you think this influenced you?

I was influenced by my parents, who were passionate about books and art, and even though they were not rich, they had a talent for beautiful and well-made things that I appreciated later. However, while I was supporting myself as a topographer I enrolled in a commercial graphics course at the Munich Academy and then left for America, got married, freelanced for IBM and…

Topography, commercial graphics… what really interested you?

It was a job; if I’d had the money I probably would have become an architect or a set designer; I felt I was a creative person, I was fascinated by the magic of aesthetic invention, creativity, illusion… you know, that unexpected shot that for example on a theatre stage transforms a vulgar ordinary piece of plastic hit by light into a marvellous reflection …

How you made the first lamp.

I made it because I drew it, I liked the idea and the only way to see it was to make a prototype.

And then?.

I showed it to an architect who said he liked it and asked if I could make ten of them. Well, I thought, this could be a side business to make some extra money.

What did it look like?

It was an exercise in the naked light bulb. I’ve always been fascinated by the light bulb, I like the elementary light it makes hanging in the middle of a room, and that’s how you often see it in southern countries. It’s true in a way it’s a brutal light, but for me it’s the most incredible invention….

Do you like the fact that it is the least elaborate and most synthetic form of lighting?

Yes, and then it has both energy and fragility…it can destroy you, it is merciless and it is also so tender…it is like saying…a symbiosis between technical and poetic expression….

I think that more than in other fields in the field of light design technology is already the idea; without technological innovation there is no new design. You talked about the light bulb as the primary idea as an archetype; what do you think about halogen and dichroics, are they the new archetypes for lamp design?

When I started working with halogens there were already many. I did the “YaYaHO” system with the low-voltage taut wires. But in the field of naked halogen there was already Castiglioni’s Scintilla. I thought that the only thing more that could be done with this very strong point light was to be able to move it, to move it in the air.

Detail of Scintilla, a lamp for Fontana Arte(1972 – “Scintilla” on cable for Fontana Arte – Livio and Piero Castiglioni – Photo courtesy: Piero Castiglioni)

Like the encounter with a naked light bulb, which is then the most banal thing in the world?

I would like to do a book on the naked light bulb. It’s incredible the variety of lights you can get, and also shadows, and then I would like to do an exhibition on penumbra or something similar.

They are short-lived states of uncertainty. For example, I sometimes ask myself what is the difference between sunrise and sunset because one seems cold and the other warm when from a “technical lighting” point of view they should be similar … and then I think that light also concerns not only visual but also tactile perceptions such as the temperature of the air, smells, sounds or whatever …

It’s true even in extreme situations like on the ocean or in the desert.

You are not only interested in the product and its quality, you also like to do more environmental operations, or consider light as part of an environmental… spatial… artificial performance?

Light is artificial, but it is not only artificial, I cannot separate the two things. Inside us, light is a reality that we link to moods and atmospheres; artificiality for me is a neutral concept; office light, for example, is deathly neutral precisely because it has no memory of any “atmosphere”. I make objects that also make light, but I think that the lamp, more than any other design product, is able to create atmospheres and influence the quality of the environment because light is immaterial and this is the aspect that stimulates me most. So I prefer it when they give me an ‘environmental theme’ to solve with light. For example, recently one of my latest projects is about light for the Driade offices in Caorso. We didn’t want to work on a standard, but I asked the people who were going to work there how they felt about the problem of light individually, whether they wanted it to be variable, whether they liked it to be individual, mobile and so on, and the result was an alternative system for the workspaces.

So each problem could give rise to a new product?

Yes. To give you another example, we lit the restaurant in Jorn Utzon’s last building in Denmark. It was a courtyard and we decided to create a big ring of suspended light, a circle of lights twenty metres high and sixty metres wide. We made “floating light sculptures” Actually, I am the opposite of an industrialist because I don’t like to repeat myself, I like to move forward.

Your idea is to think of ambient lighting systems instead of individual lamps; an ad hoc design that uses standard minimalist products and integrates them in a different way each time. A work that has more to do with the uniqueness of architecture than with mass production.

I find this expansion of design more interesting. The third project I called “Nave di luce” (Ship of light) is a restaurant in a greenhouse on the top floor of a new building. It’s a transparent space ten metres high and outside I want to put sculptures that move with the wind; it will be a kind of luminous signal in the landscape.

Apart from the bare bulb, what other element do you think is essential in dealing with light?

I think paper. I started with paper because the light bulb/paper combination is extraordinary, it is the most obvious but the most unpredictable. Halogen bulbs are important, but they have a masculine character, that of direct light, while the light filtered by paper is soft, feminine.

Finally, I want to ask you what do you expect from technology?

I would have to say an immaterial light that has no source.

Dialogue between Ingo Maurer and Franco Raggi (1)

In the words of Alessandro Mendini: “I have always looked at Ingo Maurer’s lamps in passing. I’ve always just said to myself “he’s a magician”. But I didn’t want to think about it, I could never define it, so I didn’t think about it. OK, Maurer has always designed lamps, we know and we say. But is this really true? No, it’s wrong. Maurer doesn’t design lamps like any normal, typical designer does. Maurer “uses” light bulbs (of all kinds), combines them, instrumentalizes them, assembles them together, disassembles them, divides them up, etc., for goals and purposes that have nothing directly to do with the intention of “designing a lamp as a tool for making light”. It is because of this slippery shift in objectives that I have not wanted (or been able) to think about Maurer’s work until now. A fascination that has remained mysterious. A light not of recollection, but rather a nervous energy of dispersion”. (2)

A “seducer of light”, as he likes to call himself, eschewing the definition of poet that is commonly attributed to him, always on the lookout for “the magic ingredient” for his creations. Der kleine Maurer’, an 8 x 10.5 cm book describing systems, lamps, architectural lighting design and other products, is on the studio bookshelf.


  • 1984 – YaYaHo – Ingo Maurer – Team

Detail of the YaYaHo work(1984 – YaYaHo – Ingo Maurer – Team – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

Two-cable light system, wall or ceiling mounted. Composition of different movable light elements, adjustable horizontally and some also vertically. The BaKaRù system (1986) has three cables.


“I don’t like to impose things. i don’t want to come up with an object that you simply put on a piece of furniture and never touch again. i hope people enjoy playing with my lamps to create the light that suits them. i hope they bring a personal touch with their imagination.” (3) Ingo Maurer

  • 1966 – “Bulb” table lamp for Ingo Maurer – Ingo Maurer

Detail of the Bulb lamp(1966 – “Bulb” table lamp for Ingo Maurer – Ingo Maurer – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

This lamp was part of the permanent design collection of the MoMA in New York in 1969.

  • 2003 – “Canned Light” pendant lamp for Ingo Maurer – Ingo Maurer

Canned Light, suspension lamp(2003 – “Canned Light” pendant lamp for Ingo Maurer – Ingo Maurer – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

This lamp is part of the products in the “Essentials” category. An object linked to large-scale distribution, the Campbell’s Soup Company’s canned soup, attracted the attention of artists such as Andy Warhol who included it in his works, until it became a lamp for Ingo Maurer.

• 2006 – “Delirium Yum” Table Lamp – Ingo Maurer

Detail of the Delirium Yum work(2006 – Delirium Yum – Ingo Maurer – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

This lamp was made in collaboration with Sebastian Hepting, a member of his team. Small version of the “water column” created for the inner courtyard of the Kruisherenhotel in Maastricht. Corian, crystal and aluminium mirror. Halogen lamp. Light intensity and water movement are adjustable.

  • 2018 – Zettel’z Munari – Ingo Maurer – Team

Detail of Zettelz Murani(2018 – Zettel’z Munari – Ingo Maurer – Team – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

Limited edition of Zettel’z 5, one of Ingo Maurer’s best-known lamps. The lamp has 80 sheets of Japanese paper that is very thin and translucent, printed on two sides with images from “Bruno Munari‘s ABC”, published in 1960.


  • 1997 – Leon – Paragaudi

Leon hides one of the few buildings designed by the architect Antoni Gaudi that do not reside in Barcelona, the Casa de Botines. Ingo Maurer took up the challenge of the ingenious architecture and created a special light. The result was a ribbon almost five metres long and 110 cm wide, which he twisted and gilded to his liking. Since 1997 Ingo Maurer has created several versions of the Golden Ribbon. (4)

A work by Ingo Maurer on display(Golden Ribbon – Ingo Maurer – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

  • 1998 – Munich – Westfriedhof underground station

Illumination of the platform of the Westfriedhof underground station. Eleven aluminium domes are suspended above the platform of the Munich underground station. (4)

The illuminated subway station(1998 – Munich – Westfriedhof underground station – Ingo Maurer – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

  • 2013 – London – Edition Hotel

The pendulum has a height of 190 cm and a diameter of 130 cm. The concept and interior architecture of the hotel are by Ian Schrager. (4)

One of the halls of the Hotel Edition(2013 – London – Edition Hotel – Ingo Maurer – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

  • 2016 – Milan – Torre Velasca for Audi

Lighting as a work of art. On the occasion of the Salone del Mobile in Milan in 2016 Ingo Maurer illuminated the Torre Velasca of for Audi. Building Lights: exterior lighting. He paints the building with light: the lower part and the roof of the tower take on a bright red colour. The central part remains dark, but some of the windows are illuminated at random. Four white rings move across the lower part of the building, forming the logo of the car manufacturer for a few seconds every now and then. (4)

(2016 – Milan – Torre Velasca – Ingo Maurer – Photo courtesy: Giulia Chinello)

(1) Courtesy Franco Raggi: Dialogue between Ingo Maurer e Franco Raggi published in Flare – Architectural Lighting Magazine
(2) https://www.domusweb.it/en/biographies/ingo-maurer.html
(3) Ingo maurer. Der Kleine Maurer, 2006, Ingo Maurer
(4) https://www.ingo-maurer.com/en/projects/


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