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FIELD NOTES: REFLECTING ON MY PATH TO LIGHTING DESIGN

By Saleem Khattak




Portrait of industrial designer, designer jacket, gray background
Saleem Khattak. Photo by Jay Peters.

My introduction to design happened around the age of 6, thanks to my late uncle who, heavily influenced by modernism, was commissioned by my father to design our family home. I spent countless hours watching him as he sat in our kitchen nook and drafted plans for the house. This was my first exposure to the technical skills of drafting, and it was the small details that caught my attention. I still remember the way my uncle would gently twirl his pencil as he drew a long horizontal line, informing me that the motion “keeps the line consistent in appearance while also keeping the pencil tip sharp.”



Archilume LED pendant light with black shade designed by Saleem Khattak
Archilume's simplicity masks a design vision that transforms energy-efficient LED lighting into sleek, statement making luminaires. The Alto_Flat, shown here, will be released in Canada at IDS Vancouver 2022.

“... creativity often leads to designs that must wait for technology to catch up.” —Saleem Khattak, Archilume

I would often accompany him on site visits to the house to see how the construction was progressing. This opened another world, and I stood fascinated, watching the skilled carpenters go over millwork details with my uncle, then get right to work cutting and planing wood for the construction of the house’s front doors. When the project was completed, the workmen told us they had nicknamed it “the glass house” because they had never seen so much glass used in the construction of a residence.


I knew from a young age that design was something I wanted to pursue—to use design to engage with people; to create things that would withstand the test of time. I was drawn to the power of design, but I didn’t fully understand the mechanics behind it, or the industry at large. It was while attending the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver that everything came together for me. During our third-year design workshop, we received an assignment to enter an industry competition. The brief was to create light fixtures using the newest available energy-efficient light source: the compact fluorescent light bulb. We were tasked with making attractive light fixtures that would convince the average consumer that compact fluorescent bulbs were a desirable light source for the home. Although I didn’t win the competition, the project kick-started my career in industrial design by leading me to my first job at a local architectural lighting manufacturer—the company president attended the Illuminating Engineering Society’s awards function where our projects were presented, and we connected after the ceremony.


“Design is important because it influences our quality of life. Whether it’s used to make an improvement to an existing thing, or to create spaces that help us live better, design informs and influences our lives in ways we may not even recognize.” —Saleem Khattak, Archilume

Fourteen years later, in 2013, I founded my lighting design studio, Archilume. I am an industrial designer driven by the classic industrial design intent of determining form and function. At Archilume, we’re guided by forward-moving technology and thoughtfully considered design, which ensures that our products are more than passing trends. The quest for integrating new lighting technology is embedded in the ethos of the company. Our inaugural luminaire, the P1 pendant, is a testament to this approach—and to the fact that creativity often leads to designs that must wait for technology to catch up.


CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: The Archilume P1M pendants are sleek and contemporary and can be combined in infinite configurations, as seen above. The Alto pendant in black. The Ovolo, which debuted at the 2021 International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. A cluster of P1 Aura pendants. With the Configurate modular canopy system, pendants are suspended from individual geometric plates that fit together like tiles.



Years before I designed the P1, I sketched a fixture that would solve a major problem with LED technology at that time—it was too bright and could be dangerous to the human eye—by using the principle of total internal reflection, which I had learned about during an optical science workshop in high school. My design, which looked like a high-tech candle, would hold an LED attached to a cylindrical lens to capture and guide light like an optical fiber. This would eliminate the direct glare from the LED and guide the light out of the bottom of the fixture, where it would reflect and transmit off of a conical diffuser. This concept eventually became the P1—and it was among the first luminaires to use total internal reflection. Technology had caught up with design, and we could bring the product to market.



We’re always proud to bring something new to the industry. We take our time and play with luminaire body types, technologies, and mounting applications that aid in multiple lighting configurations. Just before the COVID-19 pandemic began, we were exploring a smoother, more natural shape for our luminaires. Working with a relatively new organic LED (OLED) technology, which offers a naturally diffuse human-centric light source (lighting intended to promote well-being by mimicking the natural light that affects circadian rhythms), we created Ovolo—our newest award-winning lighting piece. This pendant’s organic form envelops an OLED light source that emits a full-spectrum light that closely resembles daylight.


We debuted the Ovolo at the 2021 International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York, and we attended this year with another new product, the Alto-Flat. This pendant luminaire shifts Archilume’s design language toward minimalism with a new, flattened lens design that creates a more conical luminaire silhouette. We put 18 months into designing and manufacturing the Alto-Flat, and I can only hope that as we grow and evolve—as a business and a studio of talented designers—that we continue to innovate the possibilities for lighting, both decoratively and technologically, while not forgetting to have fun in the process. At Archilume, we want designers to play with light—it’s an approach that takes me back to the wonder I felt when I first sat with my uncle, watching him move his pencil across paper, using just the right angle, just the right motions, to bring an idea to life.


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This story originally appeared in GRAY magazine No. 63-64

Meet Saleem Khattak at IDS Vancouver, September 22–25, 2022

Read more about GRAY at IDS here

Images courtesy Archilume

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