Poul Henningsen, perhaps better known as PH, was truly a multi-talent. He was an architect and the lighting designer of famous lamps which include the 'Artichoke' and the large series of pendants, floor and PH table lamps. In addition, he was the filmmaker behind 'The Film of Denmark' in 1935, as well as revue writer – besides being an intellectual personality, who did not hold back when it came to social criticism.
PH strove for change and progress
Poul Henningsen was born in Ordrup in Nordsjælland, as the child of the two authors Agnes Henningsen and Carl Hansen, and from here he had his roots in the cultural radicals, but stylistically PH grew up in a traditional home, which was decorated in Victorian style with heavy, ornamented, dark furniture. PH spent some of the years of his childhood in the care of a carpenter family in Vordingborg, and here he became acquainted with the craftsmanship and the use of tools.
As he grew older and frequented Copenhagen, he was said to be observant of the lighting in the many homes, when he walked around the streets after dark. Here he noticed how poor the lighting was, either too dark or with a sharp uncomfortable glare.
The dark decoration and the bad lighting inspired the Danish designer, and he got the initial idea for the PH series. Although the first PH lamp was used in a public space, the idea behind Poul Henningsen's lamp was that the lighting should be used in private homes.
Poul Henningsen's PH-lamp seriesAs a designer, he spent more than ten years developing the PH lamp. He strove to create lighting that was welcoming and functional - which focused light where it was needed.
Despite his many talents, it is his lighting design, which he is best known for. This is due to his efforts to create the optimum lighting, fully succeeded. The lamps are designed according to the principle that the light should come before appearance. The shape of the lamps with the many small shades, are thus made to accommodate the lighting, not to accommodate an isolated, aesthetic appearance.
PH started his first design studio in 1919, and it was here the wast majority of his lamps were created. The first PH-lamp was presented in 1924.
The lamps were very well received, and their popularity and success continued to grow over the years. 'Artichoke' and 'PH-5' today hangs in many Danish and international homes.
Education and civility
When he was young he entered into several studies at the technical school in the years 1911-1917, including three semesters at the Polytechnic institute. He started at technical building construction, but switched to study as mechanical engineer instead. In 1914 he passed the admission test for Polytechnic, but after three semesters he returned to architectural studies at the Technical School. However, he never got the last official exam before he left the studies in 1917.
Alongside his studies, PH also made himself as an artist in the late impressionist style.
Filmmaker, revue writer and social critic
In addition to the renowned lighting designs, PH's career also included titles as filmmaker, revue writer and social critic.
'The Film of Denmark'
'The Film of Denmark' from 1935, which Poul Henningsen instructed, was not exactly met with unambiguous positive criticism. The film was commissioned in the 1920s, when there were still optimism. But when it was published during the interwar instability, PH painted a – in many people's opinion – all too idyllic picture of Denmark. But perhaps PH was just engrossed by faith in the future and the new opportunities of industrialization. Moreover, the film was a project from the Foreign Ministry that wanted to market Denmark as a tourist destination, and therefore it had to promote the country.
Another criticism was that the film was too socialist and certainly not in line with the nationalist and proud image that high society had of Denmark. The film showed more of the working and ordinary Denmark. Some of the original scenes were censored, including one where PH discreetly makes fun of the king.
'The Film of Denmark' is also an expression of Poul Henningsen's socially critical side.
Author of revues and socially critical texts
In the same period, Poul Henningsen was also a screenwriter at. among others, the Dagmar Revue and several other revues.
His talents as a writer was also reflected in several socially critical writings. Including criticism of the Nazi ideology, which resulted in PH having to flee in a boat across the Sound to Sweden in 1943. This was at the same time that another famous designer also had to flee to Sweden, namely Arne Jacobsen.
Poul Henningsen lived throughout life a productive life within lamp design, film and literature. He passed away in January 1967, when he was 72 years old.
His unique lighting designs
Poul Henningsen can be considered the first lighting architect. Light had for centuries been regarded as an essential part of urban life, but PH was the first to expand the understanding of lighting: How lighting could be "shaped" and create different moods in a room. He was preoccupied with how the right lighting to create a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere. His philosophy was that the right, balanced light is the component that creates a positive atmosphere and which is a vital part of modern decor.
Poul Henningsen is an inspiration for modern lighting
He was at that time very much inspired by progress, including, as mentioned earlier, to create better lighting. This visionary side also made him an inspiration for many other artists and designers. It was also his optimism and faith in the future that made him successful and productive within the political views, film and design. His ambition to create glare-free lighting in the home was his primary driver, but he was also preoccupied with the progress in many other aspects of Danish culture. The urge to progress, change, positivism and the simple life permeated PH's basic philosophy, and the productivity which resulted thereof, was also an inspiration for others.
His goal of creating glare-free lighting combined with great attention to detail is the recipe for successful lighting design. The electric bulb was a major step forward when it came out, but PH desired that no one should be blinded by its direct light, which can be very uncomfortable.
PH combine science and creativity in his lamp designs and he unites successful new craft techniques and visual expression in his lamps, which made him groundbreaking and still so successful today. This is what we recognize from iconic lamps, such as PH Artichoke and PH Snowball.
The architect behind the Glass Hall Theatre in Tivoli Gardens
Poul Henningsen is the architect behind the Glass Hall Theatre in Tivoli. This famous and popular theatre in the heart of Copenhagen's popular culture treasure, is the union of and interaction between creativity and architectural precision. He designed with the function for the user in mind, and this was what for him, was the meaningful in art and architecture. There was a direction and a goal with his architecture and design in the contemporary art.
The architectural Functionalism
To summarize PH unification of functionalism and aesthetics, the following quote may be appropriate:
”The craftsman must never forget that he is an artist, and the artist never that he is a craftsman”
”The future comes by itself, progress does not”
Poul Henningsen and Louis Poulsen
It is difficult to mention his lighting design without mentioning the lighting manufacturer Louis Poulsen. They had a lifelong collaboration, and it is still Louis Poulsen, who hold the rights to the production of the lamps. Louis Poulsen thus played an important role in the development of PH-lamps, although Poul Henningsen was the mastermind behind.