there are 1.1 billion people living without access to the electrical grid, leaving their basic needs unfulfilled — clean light and energy are necessary to human existence and community life. internationally-renowned artist olafur eliasson and solar engineer frederik ottesen launched the little sun project back in 2012 in hopes of redefining that reality, with a mission of bringing solar light to nations with limited resources. since then, the social business has distributed 500,000 solar lamps, and has released two generations of its product — little sun, and little sun charge — in effect, changing the lives of millions people in sub-saharan africa through clean and affordable light.
today, the company marks the landmark launch of its third in the line of solar-powered lamps — little sun diamond. designboom spoke with eliasson about the product, its important functionalities and features, and design’s ability to change lives.
little sun marks the landmark launch of its third in the line of solar-powered lamps
first revealed at this year’s design indaba conference in cape town, the little sun diamond is the smallest little sun lamp to date, but packs the same energy of the original. five hours of charging gives you five hours of bright light, which eventually fades to long-lasting soft glow. the object’s muted color scheme, special lens design, and lightweight stand distinguish it from the more colorful classic edition.
in its design, eliasson was inspired by the geometric nature of crystals to create a faceted lens that generates a sparkling glow and diffused light. the lamp’s stand makes it a useful reading or desk light, while removing it and replacing it with lanyard, allows the device to be hung up or worn around the neck. the little sun diamond can be used by anyone who needs a light to read or cook by, as well as for backpackers, campers, and travelers around the world.
five hours of charging gives a user five hours of bright light
as always, every product sold brings one little sun to sub-saharan africa at an affordable price, where solar light is a healthy alternative to other toxic sources. expensive and dangerous kerosene lamps are one of the region’s most common lighting sources, and in south africa alone, more than 200,000 people are injured or lose property each year due to kerosene-related fires.
removing and replacing the stand with lanyard allows the device to be hung up or worn around the neck
little sun believes in the power of the sun to change lives. as well as its line of solar products, the socially-conscious brand works with more than 600 entrepreneurs in sub-saharan africa, giving them micro-entrepreneurial training and funding to help them set up their own small solar businesses. by selling the little sun products, this new generation of ‘luminaires’ bring light and income to their communities. olafur eliasson — winner of THE DESIGN PRIZE in the ‘experimentation’ category for little sun and little sun diamond — tells us more…
designboom (DB): what drives your continued interest in working with light?
olafur eliasson (OE): we take light for granted when we can turn it on with a switch whenever we want to, but light has an incredible effect on everything we do and how we do it. in my artworks dealing with light, I am interested in making people aware of the significance of their surroundings, heightening their perceptions. little sun builds on this, in that it deals with the role light plays in perpetuating structural disadvantages.
the object’s muted colour scheme and lightweight stand distinguish it from the more colorful classic edition
DB: what references did you draw from in the design of ‘little sun diamond’?
OE: the design is inspired by nature, by the crystal forms that are present at different scales everywhere – from the molecular to the geological. obviously, the lens immediately recalls a cut diamond, which inspired the name, and this is an intentional link to something of value, something that brightens your life, sparkles. but the true value comes from what the lamp does, from the fact that it is solar and is an energy source.
in its design, eliasson was inspired by the geometric nature of crystals
DB: can you tell us about some of the important functionalities and features of the product?
OE: little sun diamond gives you 5 hours of light after 5 hours of charging and is rather small, so you can take it with you wherever you go. because of the faceted lens, the light has nice sparkling effects, it is actually not only a functional lamp, but creates a nice atmosphere in your living room or on the balcony. we designed the diamond with a stand and a lanyard, so you can either use it as a reading lamp or alternatively wear it around your neck as your own little solar diamond! the most important feature is of course the social aspect of the product: when you buy one, you not only receive a little piece of sunshine, you also support our mission of bringing energy access to the 1.1 billion people living without electricity.
the little sun diamond can be used by anyone who needs a light to read or cook by
DB: in what ways does the ‘little sun diamond’ expand upon/differ from previous editions of ‘little sun’?
OE: little sun diamond is in some sense a simplification of the classic design. we’ve stripped it down to the essentials, improved the engineering, so that it is no larger than the size of its solar panel, and I’ve also designed a faceted lens for it, which makes it feel brighter. the addition of the stand fulfils a wish, expressed to us by many people, for a table lamp. this is a great addition that will make it possible for children especially to use it to read by.
the product is great for backpackers, campers, and travelers around the world
DB: as an artist and designer, how do social and environmental conditions and affect your creative thinking?
OE: I would say that social and environmental conditions are not external to creativity. creativity is in fact not an isolated formal exercise but one which plays an integral part in the processes of our world. the essence of success in designing something comes from the consequences that the design has in the world. social and environmental conditions are never separated from creative activity.
little sun has distributed 500,000 solar lamps, and has released two generations of its product
DB: what lies at the core of little sun’s mission, and why is this initiative so important to you?
OE: little sun’s mission is about spreading energy access for all. there are 1.1 billion people around the world who do not have ready access to electricity. imagine that. not having light affects everything you do – a child who does not have light cannot read or study in the evening, doctors cannot make house calls to deliver babies, people have to stop working once it gets dark.
the products have changed the lives of millions people in sub-saharan africa through clean and affordable light
OE (continued): this is a great structural disadvantage, which I believe we need to correct. many people use kerosene lamps or candles instead, and these have adverse effects on their health and on air quality. it’s also tied to the un sustainable development goals, specifically to decreasing poverty, expanding access to quality education, improving gender equality, providing affordable and clean energy, and protecting the environment.
as always, every product sold brings one little sun to sub-saharan africa at an affordable price
DB: what impact do you hope ‘little sun diamond’ has on communities in need?
OE: when I first began working on little sun, I went to a village in ethiopia and began speaking to the people there about my idea, and their response was that they are not ‘in need’, they do not lack resources; they are in fact resourceful. so I see little sun, and especially little sun diamond, as for people who recognize themselves as having resources.
little sun diamond features a 60 x 60 mm monocrystalline solar panel
OE (continued): beyond the practical goals I outlined above, one of the things that I hope little sun diamond can do is to give people a sense of empowerment, of value, and of sharing the world. when you hold the lamp in your hand, when you charge it, and then switch it on and release the energy, you gain the sense of being a power station, you feel switched on, connected to the world – this is true whether you live off grid or on.
portrait of olafur eliasson with ‘little sun diamond’
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