When architect and designer Patricia Urquiola debuted her ‘Serena’ table lamp for Italian lighting brand Flos at 2015’s Euroluce, the Salone del Mobile’s biannual lighting exhibition, it was an instant classic. Though the industry attention seemed to indicate otherwise, it was not, in fact, the only work of hers on display. Suspended from the ceiling of the stark white Ron Gilad-designed booth was another design, a prototype that never made it into production.

It was an experimental lighting system that played with the same aesthetics as ‘Serena’, which resembles a petal curving around a well of light, reflecting and diffusing its glow. But instead of the table lamp’s short vertical body, the hanging light was formed of willowy branch-like stems that hovered over the exhibition floor like the canopy of a tropical forest.

‘Almendra’ light by Patricia Urquiola and Flos

‘At the time, the technology was just not advanced enough for such a slim and simplified project to be produced properly at a large scale,’ recalls Urquiola. Unwilling to compromise on the form or the unique modular construction of the prototype, she reluctantly left the idea on the back burner for several years. ‘As an architect, I knew I needed this kind of modular piece, which we were not able to resolve when we made ‘Serena’,’ explains Urquiola. But she continued to envision the prototype in the hotel lobbies and haute restaurants she and her studio designed in the following years. And it was the first thing she thought of when Flos approached her again in 2019 to reprise their collaboration.

Over two years of development, Urquiola refined her prototype into ‘Almendra’, a modular suspended lighting system made of extruded aluminium and plant-derived polycarbonate. Formed of either straight or Y-shaped interlocking branches, it is illuminated by oval LED panels that fold over the boughs like the splayed pages of an open book and emit a soft, eye-pleasing glow.

‘Almendra’ light by Patricia Urquiola and Flos

‘In terms of form, ‘Almendra’ is a very simple piece,’ says Urquiola, whose bounding conversation style – a flurry of thoughts and ideas delivered at a breakneck pace – channels a similar energy to her playful, colour-packed projects, such as Lake Como’s rationalist-inspired Il Sereno Hotel (see W*229) or the soft-yet-sophisticated furniture she designs for Cassina, where she is the creative director. ‘But you can organise it in many different ways. Either in a linear composition, which is more severe yet simpler, or you can use the parabolic-shaped pieces to make it feel more organic.’ She envisions ‘Almendra’ as a versatile spatial centrepiece, hanging either as a singular piece or in complex compositions in both domestic landscapes and public spaces: ‘It takes the place of what, in the past, would have been a chandelier.’

According to Urquiola, the name ‘Almendra’, meaning almond in her native Spanish, is a reference to the seed of its namesake’s flowering tree, which inspired the lights’ ovoid shape. She reckons this can be traced back to childhood visits to Ibiza with her family where, each winter, orchards full of the spindly fruit trees burst into blossoming pink-tinged clouds. ‘Nature is just the best example of modularity,’ she says.

The seven-year gap between the initial idea and the eventual launch of ‘Almendra’ not only allowed for the modular design and sophisticated, streamlined form Urquiola originally envisioned, it also meant she and Flos could guarantee more sustainable production, in line with their visions for the future. ‘It’s something our R&D team has been working on for several years,’ explains Barbara Corti, Flos’ head of international marketing. ‘But Patricia really challenged us to find new, even better solutions.’

For instance, while the lamp’s body is formed of extruded aluminium, which is entirely recyclable, the LED modules’ casings are made of bioplastic, more specifically, a polycarbonate derived from pine oil, itself a by-product of paper production. It was also important to Urquiola that no adhesives be used in the production. Instead, the parts are held together by imperceptible screws, which allow the LED lights to be replaced and the entire fixture to be easily dismantled and recycled. This reflects the brand’s adoption of the ISO’s Life Cycle Assessment standards, which ensures sustainable practices from the production to disposal of a product. ‘It’s part of a re-evaluation of all of our processes,’ says Corti.

Light shadow

While ‘Almendra’ officially launched in late April, Flos plans to present the new system both at the Salone del Mobile and the Fuorisalone 2022, the latter doubling as the brand’s 60th anniversary celebration. Taking over a former industrial space in Milan’s southern fringes, the brand has planned a community centre of sorts, where it can host talks, plan workshops and showcase its upcoming projects within the context of its six-decade-long history. ‘There is no better time than now to celebrate the future,’ says Corti. And who knows, perhaps the seeds of a new endeavour, similar to that of ‘Almendra’ in 2015, will have the opportunity to sprout. §