Poul Henningsen’s childhood was illuminated by the glow of gas lamps. When electricity arrived in his small Danish hometown and left his neighbor’s windows ablaze with the stark glare of electric light bulbs, Henningsen began to grapple with a design quandary that would come to define his entire career. He was determined to calm the harsh, but powerful light bulb, reshaping electric illumination to embody the soft beauty of gas lighting.
Over 30 years after designing his landmark PH-lamp in 1924, Henningsen continued his search for an ideal lighting fixture. With the 1958 PH Artichoke lamp, Henningsen successfully combined a sculptural, planar form with the sophistication of modern design to accomplish his aim. The lamp’s 72 copper “leaves” peel back delicately to emit a soft glow while simultaneously obscuring its source. The layered artichoke-like exterior of the lamp is engineered to hide its central light bulb from every angle. With its playful elegance, the design employs a stylized vegetal shape to solve a modern problem.
Henningsen originally developed the PH Artichoke lamp for the Langelinie Pavillonen restaurant in Copenhagen, where they still hang today. Since its debut, the lamp has become internationally renowned for its unexpected synthesis of scientific precision and radiant warmth. In an age that allows consumers to take technology for granted—taller buildings, speedier transportation and brighter lights—the PH Artichoke lamp calls for a refined modernism, favoring simple beauty over sheer mechanic power.
As Henningsen said, “It doesn’t cost money to light a room correctly, but it does require culture.” 
 Molly Jane Quinn. It’s Lonely in the Modern World (San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2011), 28.
The PH Artichoke hanging lamp is now on view in the Cooper Hewitt exhibition Making Design.
Chelsea Butkowski studies art history and communication at SUNY Geneseo. She worked as a Peter Krueger intern in the Cooper Hewitt’s Product Design and Decorative Arts Department in summer 2014.