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Make a Houseplant Into a Lamp, via German Ingenuity

Lightly stroking your plants can light up the room.

Viktor Kölbig

Do you love your houseplants? I mean, really love them, to the point you can't help yourself from continually pinching and stroking them?

Then you're a special person, indeed, who might enjoy this succulent bit of light-based art from Stuttgart designer Viktor Kölbig. The "Aura" series of lamps have clear vases of water that are electrically sensitive to the touch. Flick the tip of your favorite leaf and bing! the lamp comes on. Plunk a finger into the agua and stir it around, and you can change the intensity and color of the hidden LED lights, kind of like mixing food coloring into the water.

Kölbig crafted his "Aura" line after experimenting with several other unusual lamps while studying at HfG Schwäbisch Gmünd. One was a big fabric poof that got brighter the more you rammed your fist into it; it dimmed when you switched to "petting it gently." His "Air Light" was a ring that responded to a hand entering its airy orifice. No touching was needed to turn it on and off, and the operator could vary the illumination's hue by twisting her hand.

Credit perhaps Nintendo for these design advances. Is there anything in life today that can't be haptically improved?

I asked Kölbig to provide some background for how the lamps function, and here's what he had to say:

I had the idea because I wanted to make a nice light project with the trees in my garden. I thought about how to use them and got the idea, Why not find a way to interact with the plant itself? Any plant works, as long as it transports water inside....  And yeah, in general every size of plant works if the sensor is adjusted the right way.

And per an annoying question of mine regarding whether a cactus would work, too, he replied: "With a cactus I really don't know. Do YOU want to touch a cactus?" Good point, Kölbig.

As with his previous designs, the designer says that with his plant bulbs he's trying to help people "experience light in a more poetic way than it is done with most other lamps existing in our world." And it does seem rather poetic to read in bed by the light of a suffused Philodendron. Here are a few more views of the "Aura" devices, which are constructed from glass, milled aluminum and a hidden microcontroller that controls the LEDS:

And this video should give you an idea of how they operate:

All photos courtesy of the designer. (H/T Designboom.)

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.