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Great Masters | Joe Colombo

Joe Colombo (portrait)

“All objects that are needed in a house must be supplementary to the usable space; therefore they should no longer be called furniture, but rather “equipment”. Joe Colombo 1970

Joe Colombo initially worked as a car salesman, just think of the convertible bed he designed in 1969, then he worked as a photographer, in the 1960s he turned to design and in about ten years he became part of the history of Italian design with his projects.

Between the pages of the book Joe Colombo – L’invenzione del futuro published by Vitra Design Museum | La Triennale di Milano, I find clippings of articles about Joe Colombo’s exhibition from 16 September to 18 December 2005 at the Milan Triennale. An article from CASAMICA September 2005 reports the words of the exhibition’s curator Mateo Kries: “At the moment when it became clear that rationality alone would not solve all problems, his ability to combine design rigour with vision and experimentation opened up new horizons”.
Joe Colombo “The designer who invented the future” (title of an article published in Corriere della Sera on Friday 16 September 2005).

Group photo of the designers at the Kartell stand(1969 – Kartell Stand at the Salone del Mobile – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

Susanna Legrenzi defines it as ‘The Dendy of Design’. In an article in GAP CASA 93 on page 112, Giampiero Bosoni wrote: “Some have portrayed him as a designer with a ‘temperament endowed with creative flair, inclined to a cosmonautical aesthetic” (Frateili); others associate him with the Castiglioni brothers ‘as an interpreter of “seeing” with sometimes marked ironic touches’ (Pansera); some have included him in the category of the last champions ‘of the idea of the object-instrument: the ideal product for a society of homogeneous consumers” (Branzi); some have placed him in the ivory tower of “a naively machinistic futurism – the future, the Germans would say, as Kleine Moritz imagines it” (Gregotti); finally, there are those who have compared him to a model of Renaissance life “spent with obsessive intensity in the exercise of good design” (Fagone).
His passionate search for an anthropic space based on the new space-time values, which he so promptly anticipated, derived from the continuous evolution of communication and transport systems. The “integrated usable habitat” was an obsession for him, which manifested itself in the last years of his profession with the projects of the Rotoliving (1969) and Cabriolet-bed (1969) monoblocs, together with the futuristic Visiona (1969) and Total Furnishing Unit (1971) habitats. The image of a visionary and utopian designer is attributed to his avant-garde and experimental research.

Overall view at the Cologne furniture fair(1969 – Furnishing of the experimental Visiona I interior at the furniture fair in Cologne – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

Cesare Colombo, known as Joe Colombo, was born in Milan on 30 July 1930. He studied painting at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts and attended Architecture at the Milan Polytechnic. Following the death of his father, he took over responsibility for an electrical equipment company: the artistic training he had learnt at Brera came together with the world of industry, enabling him to intuit the possibility of using new plastic materials such as abs, fibreglass, PVC, etc. In the 1950s, he only frequented Jazz Clubs in Milan, such as the Santa Tecla, one of the first after the war. Present at international events such as Bio in Ljubljana, Expo in Montreal, Eurodomus in Genoa, Turin and Milan. He took part in design exhibitions in Japan, the United States, the Soviet Union, Brazil, England, France and Scandinavia. (1) His obsession was speed: by car, on skis, and above all, in thought. This is confirmed by Gae Aulenti, a close friend, who recounts: ‘One day Columbus prophesied to me: “Soon we will all have pocket telephones”. At the time, it was an unprecedented vision’. (2)

Lamp Design

Active designer in the research of new materials such as methacrylate, polypropylene, ABS, fiberglass, and new light sources such as mirrored and halogen lamps.
With the “Acrilica” lamp Joe Colombo began his career as a designer. It consists of a Plexiglas convector and a lacquered metal base that contains the source: a neon tube. This first project of his, with his brother Gianni, received the gold medal at the XXIII Milan Triennale in 1964. (3) A lamp without light, in the sense that the source is concealed, a “traduzuine” of Colombo’s reflections on the role of light in art. But resolved in a design language, both in the design and in the adoption and use of industrially produced materials, methacrylate but also neon. (4)

  • 1962 – “Acrilica” table lamp for Oluce – Joe and Gianni Colombo

Detail of the Acrilica lamp for Oluce(1962 – “Acrilica” table lamp for Oluce – Joe and Gianni Colombo – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

  • 1964 – “Aton” table lamp for Oluce – Joe Colombo

The Aton table lamp on(1964 – “Aton” table lamp for Oluce – Joe Colombo – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

  • 1964 – Lamp with revolving lampshade for Kartell – Ignazia Favata – Studio Joe Colombo
  • The Ragno garden lamp can also be used as a seat. The diffuser is made of Fresnel glass, originally used as an insulating material for high voltage.
    1964 – “Ragno” garden lamp for Oluce – Joe Colombo

Spider garden lamp(1964 – “Ragno” garden lamp for Oluce – Joe Colombo – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

  • 1965 – “Spider” table lamp for Oluce – Joe Colombo

The Spider lamp for Oluce(1965 – “Spider” table lamp for Oluce – Joe Colombo – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

Designed for mass production. There is a ceiling lamp and two table versions, one of which has storage compartments.

  • 1965 – Methacrylate table lamp for Kartell – Joe Colombo

The Coupé series of lamps includes two different lampshades, one cylindrical and one hemispherical, which can be combined with various bases and pedestals, becoming table, floor, wall and ceiling lamps.

  • 1967 – “Coupé” floor lamp for Oluce – Joe Colombo

Side view of the Coupe floor lamp(1967 – “Coupé” floor lamp for Oluce – Joe Colombo – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

Alogena is the first indoor lamp with a halogen bulb. Colombo solved the problem of dissipating the heat produced by the lamp with ventilation openings that give it a technical and elegant appearance.

  • 1970 – “Alogena” floor lamp for Oluce – Joe Colombo

Halogen designed by Joe Colombo(1970 – “Alogena” floor lamp for Oluce – Joe Colombo – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

  • 1970 – “Topo” table lamp for Stilnovo – Joe Colombo

The Topo table lamp(1970 – “Topo” table lamp for Stilnovo – Joe Colombo – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

In the decade of the Seventies, lighting fixtures were created by recovering materials and models from the technical sectors and the world of work: the “tortoise”, a lamp used on construction sites, was re-proposed for rustic or casual environments. The lamps used in photographic studios, with fins or flags to control the flow, suggest new forms and technical devices. Joe Colombo’s Triedro is an example of this trend. (5)

  • 1972 – “Triedro” clamp lamp for Stilnovo – Joe Colombo

Triedro designed for Stilnovo by Joe Colombo(1972 – “Triedro” clamp lamp for Stilnovo – Joe Colombo- Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

Joe Colombo and Livio Castiglioni

“Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1972, the most famous Italian designers design and illustrate their ideas on living. Ettore Sottsass, Gae Aulenti, Alberto Roselli, Marco Zanuso, Gaetano Pesce, Joe Colombo and many others were selected. Total Furnishing Unit is Joe Colombo’s latest project. An autonomous living cell characterised by maximum flexibility. The project was completed under the direction of his assistant Ignazia Favata, because Joe Colombo died on 1 July 1971 during the preparations for the exhibition. A film on the Total Furnishing Unit was produced for the exhibition, with the collaboration of his brother Gianni and the architect and lighting expert Livio Castiglioni. (6)

(1) Anty Pansera. Dictionary of Italian Design, Milan, 1995, Cantini Editore
(2) Susanna Legrenzi. Article The Dandy of Design, p. 130
(3) Mateo Kries, Alexander Von Vegesack, Joe Colombo Inventing the future, Weil am Rhein, 2005, Vitra Design Stiftung
(4) Alberto Bassi, La luce italiana, Milan, 2003, Electa
(5) Piero Castiglioni, Chiara Baldacci, Giuseppe Biondo, Lux: Italia 1930-1990. L’architettura della luce, 1991, Berenice, Milan
(6) Mateo Kries, Alexander Von Vegesack, Joe Colombo Inventing the future, Weil am Rhein, 2005, Vitra Design Stiftung

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