In 1963 when Danish architect Louis Weisdorf made the drawings for Konkylie, the first of his light designs, nine years had passed since (aged 22) he’d been one of the youngest ever graduates of Copenhagen’s Royal Academy, and he was a couple of years into a 10-year assignment at the city’s recreation park, Tivoli Gardens.
As the main assistant to Tivoli’s chief architect Simon P Henningsen, Weisdorf had drawn up the construction diagrams for several lights designed by Simon Henningsen for production by Lyfa, including the Divan 2 light for Tivoli’s Divan 2 restaurant in 1962. Being so closely involved in the process and attending meetings and discussions at Lyfa meant Weisdorf was well placed when the time came to present his own light designs.
Konkylie was partly inspired at a technical level by Verner Panton’s Moon lamp, which was composed of a number of concentric circular slats hanging vertically. “I was especially interested in the method of mounting the slats,” Weisdorf explains. “I was drawn to designing lamps built from repeating elements, looking for a solution where you could combine the vertical suspension with uniform slats. The result was the Konkylie.”
The original prototype of the Konkylie was made in transparent opal white plastic, because Weisdorf wanted it to be a good general light source. But the project really started rolling when Tivoli accepted his suggestion of a gold metallic version, which he envisaged hanging in large numbers from trees in the Gardens. The idea highlighted Konkylie’s sculptural art light qualities, and with Tivoli’s pre-order of 60-plus in hand, Lyfa became interested in putting the metallic version onto the general market.
Lyfa’s production department, however, promptly announced that the light’s technical complexity meant it could not be made. Weisdorf approached Knud Bjerg of the Brødrene Berg factory (who had in fact produced Simon P Henningsen’s Divan 2 lamp), and shortly afterwards he was able to present Lyfa with a finished copy of the lamp. So as with the Divan 2, Brødrene Berg ended up making the Konkylie on behalf of Lyfa.
In 1964/65 Konkylie was ready for the trees and for the wider market, which in subsequent years included the US, Iran and many other countries. It was produced in three colour schemes – a gold-coloured exterior with interior lacquered in two shades of orange, and two versions with silver exteriors, one with a four-colour blues-and-red interior and the other with white interior.
An aquaintance of Verner Panton later claimed that Konkylie had been copied from the Moon lamp. Weisdorf asked Danish lighting’s elder statesman Poul Henningsen whether he felt the claim was a fair one. The response was typical of PH: “I do not think that either of them are lamps; I would rather call them ladies’ hats,” he said. “But as ladies’ hats they are quite different.” With that endorsement, Weisdorf felt vindicated.
It is unclear exactly how long the Konkylie remained in production and precisely how many were produced. But the light never sold in very large quantities, because it was rather expensive to produce and Lyfa used it as a “prestige light” – as they did with other lights by Simon Henningsen and Louis Weisdorf – to promote sales of the company’s more traditional fixtures. A slightly modified version of the Konkylie was produced for a Japanese Tivoli park in 1996.
The lights hanging from the trees in Copenhagen proved very long-lasting despite the outdoor conditions, and the last ones remained in place until quite recently. In the past decade interest in the Konkylie – and Louis Weisdorf’s other lights – has made a revival, with prices at auction and elsewhere rising steadily.
© 2011 Sune Riishede and vintage-danish-lights.com. All rights reserved. This article is based on extensive correspondence between Louis Weisdorf and Sune Riishede and a personal meeting in November 2011 at the architect’s Copenhagen residence. The photo above right shows the 79-year-old Weisdorf in his studio with a multicoloured 3D computer model of the Konkylie. The article and its contents may not be copied or reproduced in any part or form without the prior written permission of the copyright holders. Links to http://www.vintage-danish-lights.com/the-lights-of-louis-weisdorf-konkylie-196465 are welcome.