From the ‘Crystal Palace’ to ‘Glass light fixtures A brief outlook on Design and its rolls as seen through the Internet of Radio Light (IoRL) project

Written by Eliron Salomon (MFA,  HIT Research & Development Department)
Edited by: Eran Pick Content & Digital HIT


The purpose of this essay is to identify some of the rolls design has played in shaping our daily lives from the time of the Industrial Revolution to a most recent multi-partner project called: IoRL, a Horizon 2020 recipient.

The Crystal Palace heralds a new era of industrial advances

At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Europe, when the world was facing financial difficulties, designers had a role in designing products that would enable mass production to meet the needs of the era. Enlarging the capacity of production means creating more jobs on the one hand and low-cost products on the other.

In 1851, London hosted the Great Exhibition – 14,000 exhibitors from around the world gathered in its 990,000 square feet (92,000 m2) exhibition space to display examples of technology developed during the Industrial Revolution. To house this venue a cast-iron and plate-glass structure was built – The “Crystal Palace”. Designed by Joseph Paxton, the structure was 1,851 feet (564 m) long, with an interior height of 128 feet (39 m).

The introduction of the sheet glass method into Britain by Chance Brothers in 1832 facilitated the production of large sheets of cheap but strong glass, and its use in the Crystal Palace, created a structure with the greatest area of glass ever seen in a building. It astonished visitors with its clear walls and ceilings that did not require interior lights. The ‘Crystal Palace’ not only brought awareness to the Industrial Revolution, but it also projected Britain’s image as a realm well ahead of its time.

The large glass structure reflected the magnificent industrial ability of that time. The design served as the bearer of the message that amazing things could be accomplished through the Industrial Revolution. It was as a result of the Crystal Palace that Design has been the active force since that time. For over 150 years, an object was created with a thought/an aim/ a purpose behind it. A dialogue between design and people became possible, providing an opportunity for their way of life to impact on the end product.

The Crystal Palace was a showcase of the British industrial capabilities. One can suggest that the concept of ‘Crystal Palace’ also was the harbinger of a change in the approach to design seen a few decades later. The term “form follows function”, a principle associated with the late 19th and early 20th-century architecture and industrial design; influenced its practitioners ever since.

Functionality and intended purpose were reflected directly in the shape of the building or object being design.

Technology serving Design Vision 

The next milestone in the evolution of design was creating manufacturing technologies and machines which allowed the ‘vision’ behind the design to prevail. A pioneering example of this approach is the work of Charles & Ray Eames, who applied their bent plywood technique previously used for Ray’s sculptures to produce a template for a new kind of splint required by the US Army during World War II. The couple’s mantra: “we don’t do art – we solve problems’.

And so it was when they turned their attention from creating their successful furniture designs to inventing lightweight plywood leg splints for the US Navy. These were the first-ever fully three-dimensionally molded plywood structures ever produced. Embracing the opportunity to experiment with professional industrial molding equipment and high-strength waterproof adhesives, the Eames’ created a series of hand-guided machine-made forms, structures and sculptures, including the present example. These were not solely experimental industrial products, but rather an artistically-expressed resolution of a real problem which subsequently defined the identity of post-war design.

The careful and specific layering of these laminates would be identified during the start of the design process, confirming that the undulations, curves, and planes of the sculpture were predicted and mathematically calculated in advance of construction. Once formed and sealed, the sculpture was delivered from the mold, the edges trimmed with a hand-saw to the desired finished shape, and the surfaces sanded by hand. Included in the seminal exhibition ‘Design for Use’, Museum of Modern Art, 1944, this wholly hand-crafted work endures as the perfect synthesis of aesthetic intuition and experimental yet rigorous technical expertise.

Technology and Design working hand in hand

The trajectory of Design from a means to technology (the Crystal Palace) to technology created in the service of design (The Eames splint) continued until a new integrated approach evolved some 20 years ago: design and technology working simultaneously to create new products and systems. Design principles and research are employed during the development of a product, with a view to learning how design influences people and their environments and how it can be improved.

Connectivity and Communication

We are living at the age of the Communication and Information revolution. Connectivity reigns, through the internet and mobile devices. The Corona pandemic has only increased the dependence on these connective devices – Zoom meetings instead of face-to-face meetings, classes, and conferences. Our smartphone is used not for talking to other people, but also to other devices. Our communication with the world requires accessibility, speed, and user-friendliness.

The IoRL project

The Internet of Radio-Light (IoRL) project is a superb example of how technology facilitates these new needs. Again, we turn to Design. Why? Because it is due to Design that a research-based project like IoRL can be presented, examined in real-time, tested, and evaluated.

The wireless networks in buildings suffer from congestion, interference, security and safety concerns, restricted propagation, and poor in-door location accuracy. The IoRL project develops a safer, more secure, customizable, and intelligent building network that reliably delivers increased throughput (greater than 10Gbps) from access points pervasively located within buildings. This can be accomplished while minimizing interference and harmful EM exposure and providing location accuracy of less than 10 cm. The project demonstrates how problems of broadband wireless access in buildings can be resolved and promote the establishment of a global standard in ITU.

In the case of IoRL, light fixtures housed the technology studied in this project. Current times and circumstances require us to understand people’s needs and use technology to address those needs. Today, more than ever, technology is not only shaping how we live our daily life, but rather also shaping how we deal with a global health crisis like COVID-19 and its long-term lockdown effects. The IoRL project is a technology-based project that ensured that design was a key factor from the get-go, demonstrating that today’s design cannot be excluded from the initial conception and development of a project. A design outlook needs to guide every step in developing the product.

The IoRL project has resulted in a creation of Remote Radio-Light Head (RRLH) which can be easily installed in a wide range of properties and Network Management & Operations Plane API for buildings. In this way, third-party application developers can develop and exhibit their innovative network services in homes, businesses, and public spaces using an open-source development environment.


Concluding Remarks

The evolution of Design over the past 150 years can be seen as it progressed along a defined path: from playing the role of beauty and craft to the industrial revolution of the Crystal Palace; from the formation of a design approach of ‘form follows function’ to answering today’s needs for greater, easier, safer wireless networks which connect people during times of crisis or turmoil – the IoRL is yet another milestone in the development of design which seamlessly integrated with technological functionality.

Figure 1: Men and women are standing outside the entrance to the Crystal Palace. Horses and carriages are also outside. At the top of the building is a flag, and there are more flags along the top of either side of the building. Source: The Art Journal The Industry of All Nations Illustrated Catalogue (London, England: Bradbury and Evans, 1851)




Figure 3: The Internet of Radio-Light (IoRL) Project


Figure 4: 1st Gen prototype in testing


Figure 5: 2nd design of the spotlight – exploded view




Figure 6: Sketches of internal components and wiring options of the spotlight

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