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Dec / Jan 2011
Lighting Up

Writer: Warren Singh-Bartlett

A collective of 105 architects, industrial designers, engineers and artisans, .PSLAB is going from strength to strength. What’s more, the lighting design and manufacturing company is now a well-established brand with projects all across the globe.


It’s beautiful, the .PSLAB headquarters in Beirut’s Mar Mikhayel. Outdoors, the multi-building campus is a Mediterranean extravaganza of white walls, wide windows, bushy lavender and hefty wood bench-planters, straining to contain massive, ancient olives. Inside, it’s blond wood, black leather and dark grey walls – think Sweden meets Finland- the perfect excuse to turn on the exquisitely-crafted .PSLAB lights. 

It’s ironic too, for the studio is located in the shadow of Electricité du Liban, the ineffective utility that for hours every day, ensures Lebanon’s lights go off. Coincidence? Perhaps. But as you get to know the studio, the way it thinks and works, you wonder if, when it comes to .PSLAB, coincidence is a factor at all.

Quite who ‘they’ are isn’t easy to pin down. Officially, .PSLAB was founded in 2004 by Dimitri Saddi. Today’s 105-person studio, with operations in Lebanon, Germany and Italy, grew out of a family business previously known for manufacturing metal ceilings. Simple, no?

Well no, actually. This is because .PSLAB was, is and likely will remain, a collective enterprise. A hive, if you like, of creative talents and minds where no one, especially not its founder, is the creative face. A collaborative, but as Saddi puts it “not in some romantic sense”, the studio believes .PSLAB should be more important than the individuals behind it and eschews today’s cult of the design superstar.

When I suggest this is a more honest approach - most of what is ‘designed’ by Frank Gehry or Philippe Starck, for example, is actually designed by their team – a brief but inscrutable expression plays across Saddi’s face. “It’s very important for us that we develop as a brand,” he says. “‘Designer’ is a misleading word. We offer a product and a service and a process of conceiving that product.”

Largely because it hasn’t wanted to fall afoul of the design-diva paradigm, .PSLAB has pursued a low-key approach to promotion, letting its work speak for itself. Though counter-intuitive in our profoundly sound-bitten age, the approach has succeeded, helped by the studio’s eye for the right project, presence at design fairs and pursuit of indirect marketing strategies, like creating installation pieces for exhibitions. 

The studio’s playful approach to problem-solving, its delight in experimentation, skilful manipulation of proportion and obsessive attention to detail (even the parts never seen after assembly are worked and re-worked until they disappear) has earned it the admiration of a growing international clientele. 

The sheer beauty of the lights helps too. Industrial yet ethereal, utilitarian yet sculptural, they are integral parts of the ambiance they create and each is a thoroughly researched solution to a specific problem.

The extraordinary ribbed brass lights created for the Hotel Thoumieux in Paris, for example, overcame the fact that it was not possible to make recesses in the wall by packing all the wiring and connections into a gap between the fixture and the wall so narrow, it’s barely noticeable. Others are responses to requests that bulbs be entirely hidden (and yet easily replaced) or that light be cast obliquely.

Each fixture grows out of the relationship the studio develops with the client and with the space. This is where .PSLAB’s  emphasis on process and experience comes to the fore; not just the experience the collective brings to the development process but also the experience of working collaboratively on a project. Dialogue, as their website proclaims, is key to their identity.

Key too, is that each project becomes a way to learn something new. While usually this means creating objects from scratch, the studio is equally adept at re-purposing existing objects. The delicate amber glow of the lightwall unveiled at the Milan’s Fuori Salone in 2009 and later re-used on the stage-set for a theatrical production, comes from plastic jerry cans while the barrel-shaped overhead lights installed at the Barbican’s Food Hall were made using handmade Lebanese olive jars.  

Another striking feature is that .PSLAB not only creates beauty from the rudest of materials but they don’t always hide its humble origins; the ends of the carefully shaved planks of the communal table in the public area at their HQ, for example, still bear traces of green tinted wood preservative, a detail that makes the table even more appealing.

“Being able to do a hotel in Paris does help our name,” Saddi explains, “but to survive, we need to move to the next level, to the bread and butter products.” Logically, this means expanding their catalogue of products – there are plans to explore carpentry and furniture making - and marketing them more widely. 

This too, is a collaborative process. After learning how to present things the .PSLAB way, staff are free, encouraged even, to adapt the way they present products and services, tailoring them to the client, the project and the cultural givens of the country. 

A clever cloud application, accessed via iPad or computer, will permit the studio’s activities – production, presentation, documentation – to be updated instantaneously. Wherever they are, employees will instantly be kept abreast of developments and made aware of the newest products. The app is a logical continuation of .PSLAB’s extensive documentation. The studio produces meticulous records of its projects; instruction booklets, presentation pamphlets, photographic records of exhibitions, even short films, all of which can be used as explanation aids or to lubricate discussions with clients. 

Like the products themselves, the documents are neatly labelled and packaged – the graphic identity is also an in-house creation – and are displayed in a floor-to-ceiling shelving system in Mar Mikhayel, part reference library, part giant CV. The app makes all this portable.

This too, is key. Born of the unpredictable dynamics of Beirut and already operating in four different cities, the studio’s decentralised nature reflects its collective bent but also indicates a much wider ambition: that .PSLAB be classified not by geographical origin but by the quality and nature of the products it makes. 


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