From the June/July 2019 Issue  

The PH Artichoke Lamp

Writer Ren Miller

The iconic PH Artichoke Lamp, designed by Poul Henningsen for Louis Poulsen, has a fanciful look born of technical complexity

The iconic PH Artichoke Lamp in copper with a rose finish. | Courtesy of Louis Poulsen

The soft glow of petroleum lamps at the turn of the 19th century inspired what is today an iconic example of modern lighting design: the PH Artichoke Lamp.

The inventor, Poul Henningsen (1894-1967), was born in a small Danish town without electricity to writer Agnes Henningsen and satirist Carl Ewald. The home was filled with creative personalities, which led young Poul to look at everything in new ways. He trained as an architect but never graduated, instead favoring a career that mixed inventing, writing and painting.

With the arrival of the new technology of the electric bulb, he sought to re-create lighting with the softness he recalled in his mother’s home. He experimented with concentric tiers of reflective metal bands (think upside-down saucers in graduated sizes) to reduce glare and distribute light evenly. That so-called PH-lamp went on to win a gold medal at the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris. The next year that light was put into production by Louis Poulsen & Co. in Copenhagen, which still produces all Poul Henningsen lighting fixtures.

That honor set the course of his success in lighting design, which hit another highlight in 1958 with his design of the PH Artichoke Lamp. Even more striking than the PH-lamp, the masterful PH Artichoke features a structure comprising 12 steel arches. On this structure, Henningsen placed 72 precision-cut copper “leaves” in 12 circular rows with six blades in each row. Because each row is staggered, all 72 leaves hide the actual light source while channeling the rays of light evenly throughout the room to avoid glare and harsh shadows. A chrome inner diffuser helps to reflect the light evenly.

The original PH Artichokes—or PH Kogle (conifer cone) as they were originally called in Danish—were designed for the Langelinie Pavilion, a Copenhagen restaurant where they still hang today. They made such an impression that PH Artichoke Lamps are now found in public buildings and homes around the world. They now come in four sizes from 18½ inches high/19 inches in diameter to 28½ inches high/33¼ inches in diameter in brushed copper, matte stainless steel or polished stainless steel leaves with lacquered finish or spun-steel leaves with a powder-coated finish.

To commemorate Henningsen’s 125th birthday anniversary this year, Louis Poulsen has released a selection of PH classics, including the PH Artichoke, in new editions. The copper/rose anniversary edition pictured starts at $15,000 at Design Within Reach in Paramus or Other versions available from $12,000