London-based inventor, engineer and designer Moritz Waldemeyer is a true craftsman, fusing design and technology — with lots of LED. Born in Germany, the work of this trained engineer interweaves creatively between the world of fashion, game, furniture, jewellery, lighting and transportation. He has done things for Ron Arad, Zaha Hadid, Yves, Béhar, Hussein Chalayan or Troika: be it laser radiating dresses, transforming chandeliers, an organza cube illuminated by an mp3 player’s beat or an LED Pong table (which was fun at last year’s DesignTide!) PingMag spoke with Moritz about his techy art.
Written by Blair McBride
First, how did you get from engineering to inventing?
When I was an engineer with Philips, it was as creative as it can be in such a corporate environment. We were looking five or ten years into the future and I worked on a home entertainment scenario where you have everything networked. Meaning that you could address anything including the toaster or the desk fan or especially the lighting, and they would work together to create an experience: You would read a book or watch a DVD and it was like creating a theatre play in your living room with the stuff that’s there. That’s still quite futuristic now…
Ah, that’s why you’ve said before that what you find exciting is how technology is becoming a design medium in itself…
If you look back in history, artists got excited about their medium and they moved it forward — starting with sculpture they worked with marble and tried to get the most out of it as they possibly could to make it the most life-like. Painters experimented with new mixtures and different pigments to create effects and that was their technology. Now the technology is microchips and LED elements and computers and we’re getting as much out of that medium as we can.
Give us an example, please: How did your By Royal Appointment chairs come about? They read the clothing colour of the person sitting on the chair and project this colour on the surface behind the chair through LED…
I was asked to create a ballroom for a big London event and the idea for it went back to the old balls of French Louis the 14th. At court, the king on his throne was the centre point of the party and whatever was his whim would happen. I wanted this kind of scenario but in a very democratic way that would give anyone a chance for his/her 15 minutes of fame and be the centre of the party. The throne would be something very majestic and I wanted it to control the entire room. So if someone sits on it and we’d read the colours the person is wearing then I wanted the entire ballroom to have that colour. Unfortunately, that ballroom project never happened but I created the chair object out of it. For that, I was thinking of medieval paintings of kings and how they were depicted with an aura. The chairs are also like thrones although the graphic element of the aura disappears.
The making of the ‘Lolita’ chandelier: First a big plate as suspension…
… then all the cables with LED tied to it.
That’s a cool linkage. What are your influences? You grew up in East Germany and went to a special mathematical school. Does this have some kind of effect on your work?
I use some kind of mathematical type thinking in my work because if you program stuff it’s quite a structured, scientific approach. So, I guess, that has an influence on my work. But I try not to let it take over too much. It’s just an interesting combination.
Interesting! What about influences other than that…?
One of my biggest inspirations is the blog of Make magazine. Also, I read PingMag a lot [of course!]. I don’t tend to look at specific designers saying, “Oh, they’re god-like” because innovation comes from a global but small sort of strange group that you see on these blogs.
From people like…?
The sort of people who are curious, who play with technology, and do something for the sake of it. Sometimes it’s also not really designed but it might be an ingenious idea. And people just fiddle around and put something together and post it on the internet. Those are the real innovators who often don’t have big names.
15,000 LEDs were embeded in the cloth of the video dresses for Hussein Chalayan’s ‘Airborne’ line autumn/winter 07.
Further on in the building process the dress comes to life!
We love to fiddle around too! This is how you made the Airborne video dresses and the Readings laser dresses for Hussein Chalayan?
The ideas very much came from Chalayan and I helped him with the realisation. For the laser dresses of the Readings fashion line spring/summer 08, I think, he was talking about worshipping the sun… his creative process is very complex and difficult to follow. When he starts on a new project, the creative path goes through so many loops that I think he’s the only one who really understands it himself. [See the Readings catwalk show over at Swarovski.]
And he came to me and said, “I want a video dress.” [For the Airborne line autumn/winter 07.] Then, it’s more of a technical task to realise it and make it as elegant as possible. The dress itself is based on about 15,000 single LED lights under the fabric and some batteries and lots of electronic chips. Though it’s very simple in the small components, it becomes quite complex — because there are lots and lots of those small components…
Tell us about the ‘Flos’ brooch, please: The brooch has a row of LEDs and they flash in a certain sequence and if you move it fast then you see the ‘FLOS’ text. How does that work?
It’s based on the very old idea of persistence of vision. I made something like that in engineering school and even then it wasn’t a new idea, but what is new is putting it into a piece of jewellery. It was totally designed on the CAD system which is more specific for the electronics industry but not for design. I then sent those files to a circuit board manufacturer and the object as you see it comes straight from them. I think that creating a piece of jewellery through these processes is the innovation of this project.
When it’s sitting still it doesn’t show much?
It does but you don’t really see it. If you glance past then you can also see the text. It’s a bit hidden.
Then, what about the Pandora Chandelier project: A chandelier that magically disintegrates, only to put its thousands of crystal stones back together… We love the illusion it gives of destruction and reconstruction!
This was a collaboration with two London-based designers, Fredrikson and Stallard. They were commissioned by Swarovski to make a chandelier and they came up with the idea and created quite an elaborate and realistic computer animation. The challenge was to match the animation, because it’s very simple to do that on a computer — to create this kind of movement or to create complete chaos — but then to realise that to build it with a mechanism is very difficult.
… and four computer-controlled turbo motors make it move in a cycle…
… giving the wonderful illusion of the chandelier falling and then reforming itself!
Which technologies do you find interesting at the moment?
Stronger light and organic LED elements and organic LED displays — all of that is very exciting. Another interesting thing is for computers to become more compact and intelligent and you can do things like computer vision. That’s becoming a lot more accessible right now. You can make systems that react to the environment, another interesting area. Mostly those two areas and if you put them together, it’s gets exciting.
And what else do you have in mind in terms of fusing art and engineering?
Right now, I’m working on one of my own designs, a chandelier called ‘Promethia’ for The Jones hotel in London that’s going to open in December. It’s going to be an inverted fire. I want to recreate the dynamics of real flames in lights and in the chandelier. If you look into a fire, the light isn’t static: it’s alive, it moves, it gives a flicker. That’s something I’m really interested in.
Looks awesome! To come to an end, what would be your goal in the next years?
There isn’t really a set goal on the horizon other than maybe I would like to grow the studio a bit, maybe have a couple more people working for me — but essentially it’s just doing interesting projects and variety to keep it varied. So I don’t really think there’s a final goal at the end of the tunnel. I would like being able to retire and just doing nothing. But doing nothing would be boring so I would probably do the same thing. The position I’m in – if I was to suddenly win the lottery it wouldn’t really change my life at all. It would maybe give me more freedom but I would continue doing the same thing. A lot of people are in stupid jobs. I feel very sorry for them because when they win the lottery they quit their jobs. I wouldn’t quit my job, I would intensify my job.
Ok. Thank you for sharing your fascinating ideas with us, Moritz!