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If there’s one seasonal ritual to look forward to, it’s decorating a Douglas Fir. But while there’s much to appreciate about a real garland-draped conifer, this year designers are reinterpreting the Christmas tree’s iconic form as celebrations of light that don’t involve chopping down a sapling. Here are our favourite boundary-pushing trees of the season.


Tree of Glass by Lee Broom

From a distance, London’s Shard looks like a mighty pine. Local designer Lee Broom used the iconic building’s conical shape as inspiration for The Tree of Glass, which lives on the highrise’s 31st floor. Manufactured by Nude, the 10-metre-tall tree is made from 245 hand-blown pendant lights, each individually wired and affixed to the ceiling.

Each pendant features a polished chrome fitting, 2W LEDs and a ceiling rose. The plan is to reuse and/or resell these fully realized fixtures once the festive season ends, sometime in February.

Photo: George Pimentel

12 Trees at the Gardiner Museum

Artist and author Douglas Coupland is no stranger to lighting effects. His most recent public art installation, unveiled in Calgary, involves thousands of LEDs embedded onto the facade of a condo building, an homage to the Northern Lights. At Toronto’s premier ceramics museum, he has been enlisted, along with artist Ben Mills, to curate the Gardiner Museum‘s annual 12 Trees: Let There Be Light exhibit. The results are diverse, ranging from angular tree shapes made of refracted light (as in Polymétis‘ Lit, above left) to displays of sparkling whimsy (as with Julia Callon‘s Disco Tree, above right).

Photo: George Pimentel

Our favourite comes courtesy of Jordan Söderberg Mills, who we recently named a product designer to watch. Called Abstract, the installation pays tribute to the Norse Yggdrasil, a mythical tree that’s believed to be the predecessor to the Yuletide tree. Like most of Mills’ work, Abstract uses light to change perceptions. “Artists have been trying to capture light in their own manner for generations, through chiaroscuro, photography or stained glass,” he said in an interview, “and this is my way of doing that.”

Upper House Hotel by Yabu Pushelberg

Earlier this year, interior design studio Yabu Pushelberg collaborated with the Czech glass company Lasvit on two major product lines: the Otto glassware collection and Cipher lighting. This month, the studio revisited both those projects with an illuminated tree installed in the lobby of the Hong Kong luxury hotel Upper House.

Its rhombus-shaped grid is made of LEDs and hand-blown crystal components mounted onto a champagne-hued brass frame. It all results in what the hotel calls a “bespoke Christmas tree,” which will be auctioned off post-holiday season, with proceeds going to The Society for AIDS Care.

The Sledge Tree at Kew Royal Botanic Gardens

Christmas at the Kew has become a light-filled London tradition, and this year it has a distinctly modernist bent. The site within the botanical park grounds has been outfitted with various festive displays, including BAT Studio’s More Bubbles, an installation that floats coloured bubbles over revellers (below).

Another impressive collaboration is between Budapest design house Hello Wood and London lighting studio Creatmosphere. Called Sledge Tree, the structure is constructed from 365 wooden sleighs stacked to a height of 11 metres. Revellers are drawn to its ever-changing light show, but it has a message that goes deeper than simple cheer. It’s actually a commentary on the reality that London has had little winter snow for years due to climate change, making holiday sleigh riding in the city a thing of the distant past.

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