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Meet Bjarke Ballisager, the Danish designer lighting up New York

In the second of our Designer Q&A series, Effect speaks to Bjarke Ballisager, an emerging design talent from Denmark, now living and working in Brooklyn

Bjarke Ballisager first came on our radar at WantedDesign Manhattan, where his show-stopping NODE lighting and inventive, pared-back wooden furniture impressed the crowds and booked him a spot on our roundup.

Since then, we’ve been keen to learn more about the Brooklyn-based Dane who mixes classic Nordic design sensibilities with the no-rules flair of his adopted New York. Here’s what he had to say:

Bjarke Ballisager

How would you describe your style?
I try to approach every piece or project differently. Sometimes, pieces turn out minimal, others won’t. Lately, many of the projects I’ve been working on have had a modular component associated. I imagine that could be partly the result of my architectural background.

Do you remember the first thing you made?
I have always been making and building things, or making new use of things that already existed – either because there was something I wanted and couldn’t afford or have, or out of plain curiosity. I’m not sure what the very first thing was. Perhaps a slingshot?

What are you working on right now?
I recently made a soft launch of my modular light fixture system NODE, and have since been busy making various custom commissioned configurations.

NODE impressed many at WantedDesign Manhattan with its style and versatility. What has the reaction been like, and has it inspired you to work more in lighting?
The reaction has been great. And it has been great fun working on custom-commissioned variations. It has also been fantastic getting approached by other designers and architects asking if NODE could be configured in ways I hadn’t foreseen myself. It is very gratifying when your design can trigger the imagination of others. And yes, I am working on other lighting projects – some of them will also be modular. 

Where do you take your initial inspiration for a piece?
It is often in actual physical materials that I find the most inspiration. I am a bit of a material nerd so I am always interested in finding new materials and uses by exploring their potential and limitations.

What’s your go-to material and why?
I am currently doing a lot of experiments using cork as well as cork composites. I thrive on pushing the boundaries of how the material can be used and also manufactured. 

It is often in actual physical materials that I find the most inspiration. I am a bit of a material nerd so I am always interested in finding new materials and uses by exploring their potential and limitations.

Bjarke Ballisager

Is there a material you haven’t yet used that you would like to?
There are tons of exciting materials, especially bio-based materials that I would love to explore further. The list is incredibly vast and ever-evolving. But I find materials that have an ecological component attached the most appealing.  

Bjarke Ballisager: “Together and Apart” in EVA foam

Denmark has an extraordinary design heritage. Do you feel influenced by this? And has living in the US influenced your work?
In Denmark, there has been a strong emphasis on creating designs and choosing materials that stand the test of time, and will not look outdated within a few years, but will age with grace and can be passed onto future generations. This way of thinking sustainability into the design work is definitely always on my mind. But there are also elements to this way of thinking that can be a little stifling to navigate.

Living in New York has absolutely been a big influence on my work. New York gives you a constant reminder that there are a million different approaches to just about everything.

You have said that your work as a violinmaker helped develop your interest in the tactile experience of our interactions; and your Together and Apart series immediately invites handling. Was this your intention?
The intention with Together and Apart was also to encourage interaction – the way they can be arranged and rearranged in different configurations would meet and challenge the user’s changing physical needs and preferences. And the blocks of different sizes interlock the same way, so they can all either be combined or function individually. This means they can play an important role in imaginary play, and also stimulate creativity among people in groups – as well as individuals.

The blocks could for example be gathered to create one long communal seat, or they could be used separately to create a number of stools, chairs, tables and benches – or anything else someone might imagine. My desire was to create open-ended functional sculpture/furniture that calls for the observer’s interaction. I designed them and initiated a patent application well before the pandemic, so I’m still looking forward to a time when the blocks can greet visitors freely and encourage physical interaction. 

Is there another designer’s work you particularly admire, and why?
I highly recommend everybody to visit Enric Miralles’ Igualada Cemetery in Barcelona. It is an incredible work of architecture.

What advice, insight or tip would you pass on to your fellow designers?
If you have good energy, pass it forward.

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