illumni People Profile: Arve Olsen

Arve portrait b+w

Arve Olsen is a senior designer at Light Bureau. He has worked at the company’s London office from 2009 – 2012 on projects such as Dover Secret Wartime Tunnels, Marconi House, Porto Montenegro Hotel, East Street Restaurant, Nationwide’s new identity, Old See House mental health facility, Alexandra Infant’s School and many others. He moved back to Norway in 2012 to spend more time with his family and work for Norwegian lighting design consultancy ZENISK.

As of June 2014, Arve is back at Light Bureau – heading up the new Scandinavia office in Oslo.

Light Bureau - Alexandra Infants School 6 small
Alexandra Infants School – Light Bureau

Can you sum up your design philosophy in a sentence or two?

For me it is to strive to achieve the best designs using the simplest tools and the cleverest detailing. If we as designers only apply products to our projects, we’re making ourselves obsolete.

James Turell, courtesy Louis Vuitton 

Most designers have places, spaces, or experiences that they find inspirational – can you share your absolute favourite with us and tell us how and why it inspires you?

Experiencing one of James Turrells Ganzfeld installations is something special. The way he manages to change light from being a medium that illuminates objects to light becoming a tangible object in itself is spectacular and inspirational.

However, for applicable inspiration, and this might sound a little alternative, my favourite place of inspiration is one that doesn’t physically exist but is a cross between place and experience.

Do you know when your mind drifts off, for instance when you’re on a train and you’re staring out the window at the world passing by, or when you’re listening to music on your favourite headphones? That place. The one where your mind rests and you just observe and feel.

Good ideas can come from just taking a time-out.

Heston Blumenthal, Picture from Wikipedia

Rolling Bridge on the Grand Union Canal, Paddington Basin
Image courtesy of Thomas Heatherwick Studios

The world is full of interesting people who influence us and shape the way we think – is there anyone out there that you are dying to meet?

Yes! If any of the people on my list are secretly keeping up on all the latest lighting design news here at Illumni, please get in touch.

I’d love to have a one to one with any of the Apollo astronauts – they are the ultimate explorers to me. I’m too young to have experienced the 60’s and 70’s, but I can imagine that seeing live images from the moon for the very first time must have been so inspiring and exciting. People must have felt that everything would be possible in the future.

If I can pick two people within the world of design I’d go with Thomas Heatherwick (Designer) and Heston Blumenthal (Chef).

I’ve admired them both for their work for a long time, but have only recently realized that it’s for the same reasons. They both design things that appear effortless on the surface, but have a handful of genius and a sprinkle of humour. They invent new techniques of crafting for every project and they are scientific in the way they choose their materials. Blumenthal has got a dedicated development kitchen and Heatherwick is probably one of the architects that spend the most effort on R&D.

Apart from astronauts, chefs and architects I’d like to meet Scarlett Johansson so that she can tell me what Bill Murray whispered to her at the end of “Lost in Translation”.


Dover Secret Wartime Tunnels

Can you tell us something that not many people know about you or your work but you wish they did?

In addition to design and architecture, I’m a sucker for food, music and politics. If anyone wants to meet up and talk about something other than MacAdam ellipses at the next lighting event, then join me near the canapés.

What would you say has been your most unusual source of creative inspiration to date?

A podcast called 99% Invisible. It’s a radio show about the 99% invisible activity that shapes the world. It’s the backstory and the geeky details about everything from Kowloon City to the Cul de Sac and Bank robberies. Roman Mars is the curious creator and curator of the podcast.

It is now, after a few crowd-funding campaigns, a weekly podcast. Paul (Traynor) and I have been following the show since the beginning when it came out more sporadically. When a new episode came out, the first thing we said when we met in the office was “Have you heard the latest 99% Invisible podcast?”, always followed by “It was good, wasn’t it? Really good.”.

Check out podcast no. 68 Built for Speed, I used some of the things from the podcast when designing lighting for a new major bike route through Oslo. Go ahead, have a listen at



East Street Restaurant

And your favourite creative collaboration?

I could mention several, all for different reasons, but I’ll go with a collaboration we had with brand experience consultants I-AM for East Street Restaurant in London.

I-AM was appointed to create a new brand identity – name, logo, graphic elements and interior design for the restaurant. The concept was based around Southeast Asian street food. The goal was to make the restaurant feel like a bustling street market in Vietnam or Thailand. I-AM established the following narrative: A family from Southeast Asia had moved to London and wanted to open a restaurant. They took what they had from their garage – light fittings, furniture and materials and opened the doors. The restaurant was supposed to feel like it hadn’t been designed.

We started with the light itself; getting the right combination of colour temperatures, the right light sources, the right light distribution. We ended up using a combination of fluorescents, neon and incandescent light, all for different purposes. The luminaires had to be utilitarian and low budget, they had to look as though they could have been built or mended in a garage. We ended up using spun enamel shades with narrow beam light sources, deep throw industrial luminaires that are for use in high ceiling warehouses and batten luminaires with over-sleeved fluorescents. Not your typical equipment list for a restaurant.

It turned out great and the early workshop meetings we had with I-AM and the narrative they had developed was essential to get everyone working towards a clear common conceptual goal.


Marconi House

What springs to mind if I ask you what is your all time favourite bit of kit?

Am I swearing in church if I say LED? Size matters, and the ability to seamlessly integrate light into the fabric of objects and structures excite me.

If I could bring one bit of kit to a remote island, I’d bring Mike Stoane Lighting’s Tadpole and a solar panel. That’ll keep me happy until I need drinking water.

What, for you, is the most exciting thing about working in the field of lighting design…..?

Being able to “speak” through a medium so obscure as light. We communicate, and we evoke emotions by making photons travel in a certain direction. It is such an abstract skill and profession.

And the most annoying or upsetting thing about working in the field of lighting design?

Computers. I’m fairly proficient with them, it’s not that, but the things we have to make them do just take a long time.

Working on a computer is still a step by step process – typing is one letter after the other, CAD drawings are one line after the other, visualizations are built up layer by layer. We still have to input everything manually on a mouse and keyboard, even though we probably knew exactly what we wanted to produce the moment we sat down in front of the screen.

I’d wish computers could read my mind and just produce what I have pictured in my head.

I say light; you say ?

I love lamp

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