The development of the design language of light bulbs was, for a long time, dictated by technical production requirements. In the 1950s, Tapio Wirkkala reexamined the concept of artificial light and reshaped the way we think of light by treating the bulb and the light fixture as a single unit. Wirkkala had an innovative idea: the source of light used in a light fixture, i.e. the bulb, could itself be a beautiful everyday design object. The idea led to the creation of the streamlined and graceful WIR bulb. Wirkkala later designed a series of glass dome light fixtures to emphasize the shape of the WIR bulb.
The artist Tapio Wirkkala was a leading figure in contemporary Finnish applied art, and his enchanting design work in the 1950s and 1960s laid the foundations for the success of Finnish design. In the field of applied art, the post-war decades have even been referred to as the Wirkkala Era.
The collaboration of Airam and Wirkkala began in the 1950s. By treating the bulb and the light fixture as a single unit, the hero artist of Finnish design reinvented light fixture design and the way we think of light. The WIR bulb was created with help from Airam’s specialists. The simple, elegant bulb providing beautiful light did not have to be hidden behind a lampshade or a separate dome. Due to the ornamental design and solid technical features, the bulb was suitable for various applications in homes, public spaces, and even churches.
The streamlined WIR bulb made from opal glass combined with a simplified lamp cord received an award at the XII Milan Triennial in 1960.
The WIR-105 bulb was joined by the slimmer WIR-85. Both models are still sold in white, but today the light is provided by LEDs. The prize-winning bulb was originally produced with a white opal glass dome, but the range of available colors later increased: in addition to the white opal dome, pastel shades were also in line with the spirit of the times. Colored WIR bulbs were mainly produced for use in public spaces.
In 1959–1961, Tapio Wirkkala designed approximately 100 different light fixtures based on the WIR bulbs for mass production. The K2 light fixtures became an instant international hit. In the K2 light fixtures, the bulbs were clad with colored glass domes, in which the dialogue between color and light created an esthetic experience. The essential thing was to present the beautiful shape of the bulb clearly through the colored glass dome, having the dome emphasize the shape of the bulb.
Airam has reintroduced the three most popular models from the K2 range designed for the WIR-85 bulb into new production, with two of the models using glass domes. The domes consist of mold-blown, transparent colored glass and the bulbs utilize LED technology. The definite benefits of using LEDs include an extended lifespan and low energy consumption.
In the fall of 2018, Airam will introduce clear, uncolored glass beside the colored glass domes in the K2 range. The world of colors used in the Wirkkala era has now been expanded and updated to the 21st century: the lightweight appearance of the lights is complemented by clean and fresh bulb holders in brushed steel and a clear cord.
Wirkkala continued to collaborate with Airam throughout the 1960s, but with a new idea. Tapio Wirkkala turned to the Finnish Lapland in search of tranquility and seclusion. Many of Wirkkala’s glass objects were inspired by the northern wilderness: melting ice and flowing water. In 1968, Airam introduced the WIR-80 KRS crystal bulb designed by Wirkkala, where the crystal-like surface disperses light into a shimmering bunch of rays. The crystal bulb is a beautiful everyday product and is best suited for use in light fixtures where the source of light is visible. This perpetually young 50-year-old is once again available, now as an LED version.