Native New Yorker Fiyel Levent has completed projects in architecture, art, photography, product design, and interior design, drawing upon her interest in Central Asian and Islamic Architecture. Her experience in so many mediums gives her lighting, window and room screens, and sliding door designs a special uniqueness. She manufactures her products in her Brooklyn studio.
The quintessential “Renaissance man” has met his match in architect Fiyel Levent, who holds a bachelor’s degree in Architecture from The Cooper Union in New York City, an MFA in Creative Writing & Literature from The University of Edinburgh in Scotland, was awarded the Deborah J. Norden Travel Grant to Andalucia, Spain through The Architectural League plus the Stewardson Keefe LeBrun Travel Grant from The Center for Architecture, gives lectures at The Urban Center for Architecture, The Cooper Union, Parsons, and RPI, and has opened her own studio in Brooklyn, where she manufactures lighting from materials as diverse as paper and wood to more complex materials such as Corian® and recycled polyethylene.
In this enLIGHTenment magazine exclusive, Fiyel Levent discusses her inspiration and design process.
enLIGHTenment magazine: You’ve dabbled in so many mediums, what attracted you to lighting?
Fiyel Levent: Well, it developed very organically and slowly. I never truly intended to design lighting. In fact, I was rather intimidated by the idea at first. What did I know about electrical wiring and wattages?! I knew nothing!
Originally, I had made simple lighting solutions for my own home while experimenting with a new laser-cutting machine my husband had in his shop. Over the last few years, however, I’ve been able to cultivate the designs to be meticulously crafted and detailed. In a way, [my] Hikari Lights have become a showcase element for me, where I can pare down the materials and perfect the smallest of components.
As an architect, I was often working with very luxurious and exquisite selections of hardware, cabinet and window hardware, and many other things. I began to view these items like jewelry that adorns the interior of a home. I really wanted to achieve that effect with my lighting, which was why I started working with milled brass. I loved the combination of the delicate warmth that comes from paper with the traditional, more architectural characteristics of brass. These days, I tend to view The Hikari Lights as refined sculptural objects.
EM: Regardless of the medium you choose (i.e. Corian, polycarbonate, concrete), your signature style involves perforation or an interpretation of modern lace. What inspired that look for you?
FL: I believe it started when I was studying architecture. There were numerous projects I did which were terribly influential on the work I do now. I was very much fascinated by Japanese architecture and their use of paper as an architectural element. For me, this achieved an atmosphere that was truly novel and sublime. I had never experienced such ethereal spaces before!
I also did a project where I studied the water systems and fountain infrastructures of Istanbul. I lived and dreamed Istanbul that year through books and photographs. One night, I dreamed of a courtyard that was enclosed in water, and beneath it were fluid panels that had layers of patterns emblazoned on them. When the light shone behind them, ghost patterns kept emerging through. I was completely haunted by that dream and I knew I had to realize these screens.
I have discovered that designing these patterns is a bit like meditation for me. I really enjoy the repetitive nature of drawing them, either by hand or on the computer.
EM: How have your travels as a student in Scotland and later throughout Asia influenced your designs?
FL: It’s usually not a literal translation, but I do feel that the variety of textures, forms, colors, and experiences while traveling – especially to distant, remote places – is very influential on one’s imagination. It’s very interesting to observe and understand how others interact with their histories, their architecture, and their cultural surroundings. I like to see what different people and numerous cultures value — and how those values have been expressed in their environment through different media. Oftentimes, I might focus on a specific ancient building detail or a texture that really appeals to me and I can begin to understand the thinking that might have gone into making a certain design decision. I try to bring that thinking into my own work even if there is no clear resemblance.
EM: What is the design concept behind your window screens, sliding doors, and shutters? Is it a way of playing with natural light?
FL: I like to create things that can be experienced in very different ways depending on the conditions. With my lamps, different aspects of the paper lampshades are noticed when the lights are on or off. This is something I am exploring with a new set of lamps, where one set of patterns will always be visible and a new set of patterns emerge only when it is illuminated. With the screens, doors, and shutters, similar things occur with changing lighting conditions and as one moves around them. Since Corian® is already a translucent material, applying an intricate pattern of perforations creates a lot of opportunities for surprising visual sensations.
EM: What makes you select the unusual materials that you have used?
FL: Usually I choose the material based on the project I am doing and what my client is looking for. I’ve had a great variety of clients who have allowed me the opportunity to work with so many different materials. I also try to experiment with many mediums and I have a list of materials I’d like to work with — it doesn’t always work out, but I keep trying! I’ve been trying to use horse hair for years now, but haven’t figured out the best way to flaunt its beauty. I guess my selections are the result of a combination of using the latest technologies I can get my hands on and pushing those materials to their limits to perform in unexpected ways. I would love to work with natural stone and marble, but I need a client to commission me to do that!
EM: Is your work available only by commission or do you sell to the trade?
FL: I work in so many ways! I love to get commissions directly from a client, but I also work with showrooms. The retail store Artefact Home|Garden in Boston carries a collection of my lighting, and much of my work comes from interior designers and architects for their clients. I work well with architects and builders, particularly because I was trained to be well-versed in reading drawings and making construction documents. It’s really a joy for me to engineer our designs and work with a client to figure out the mechanics of how to make our vision come to life.