Artists have been breathing life into Berlin’s abandoned buildings since the Wall came down, but few places have been so brilliantly resuscitated – or indeed illuminated – as Bocci 79. I love this intriguing museum-like space: a 19th-century Charlottenburg courthouse that is now part archive, part workshop and part showroom for Vancouver- and Berlin-based Bocci, its challenging and elegant constructions wonderfully juxtaposed against the spacious and austere interior.
Bocci defies definition; the term “lighting design” is just too prosaic an understatement for Canadian founder Omer Arbel’s sculptural creations. Take the dramatic chandelier that descended 30m into the grand entrance hall of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum with its 280 differently coloured handblown-glass lights suspended on spindly copper wires, or, more recently, the swirling matrix of hundreds of free-poured aluminium forms that shone down upon the Barbican foyer.
A permutation on this ethereal and otherworldly installation now descends dramatically into the central stairwell of Bocci 79, where catalogue pieces can be viewed – and commissioned in other sizes – alongside one-off installations and in-progress prototypes. For example, the delicate glowing orbs suspended in the entrance are a variation on Bocci’s 76 design (from £378), bathing the sober surroundings in a warm light.
In one otherwise empty white room, turn on the light switch and a flurry of jellyfish-like shapes appears floating across the ceiling. Upon closer inspection of Series 73 (from £498), each bulb has the texture of folded fabric – the result of a technique of blowing molten glass into a ceramic vessel. My absolute favourite room, however, is an orchard of trees (Series 16) with steel trunks holding aloft softly illuminated glass leaves.
Arbel told me that there is a “mad scientist” element to the way he experiments with materials, from glass to molten metals. Take the popular handblown 28 pendants (£80,000 for a group of 125), which were used in the V&A installation; they are created through a complex technique of adding and removing air while heating and cooling the glass. More pieces will enter the Bocci archive in November. I look forward to returning to reabsorb this fabulous addition to Berlin’s vibrant art and design scene, and strongly advise any visitors to the German capital to do the same.