“Junk is always decorated—and over-abundantly so; the luxury object is well made, clean, and sharp, and its nudity is the price tag of its workmanship” – Le Corbusier
Every story begins somewhere, and the story of lighting design, in many ways, begins with Bernard-Albin Gras and the Gras Lamp.
Like most innovators, Gras did not intend to create a phenomenon; he simply wanted to create a lighting design that was mobile, versatile, and simple to use.
Born in 1886 in Saint Raphaël, France, Bernard-Albin Gras grew up in a world that was just seeing the first widespread applications of electric light. Unfortunately, such applications were rarely aesthetic, often unsafe, and almost always inconvenient.
Enter the Gras lamp. Gras took a personal interest in improving the lives and working conditions of workers and, as the son of a draughtsman and as an engineer himself, he knew well the frustrations of trying to do precision work without a directed light source. Gras’ solution, patented in 1921, was a simple, elegant, yet unprecedented design that required no screws or structural welds in its basic model, yet which offered maximum adjustability.
The architect Le Corbusier, an ardent proponent of understated design, championed the Gras Lamp, holding it up as a paradigmatic example of his philosophy. Once Bernard-Albin Gras sold the patent for his lamp in 1927 to a design company called Ravel, mass production started and Le Corbusier’s influence led to the Gras Lamp’s dozens of styles quickly becoming ubiquitous in design studios, industrial spaces, and residences all over the world.
Gras passed away in February 1943, but, thanks to his many enthusiasts, including those at lighting manufacturer DCW, the Gras Lamp continues to shine.