Vico Magistretti (portrait)
“I remember that Gigi Caccia Dominioni gave me, when I got married, a lamp that he had made with Livio Castiglioni: a transformer with a photo stand and a sewing machine bulb on top. This was also a way of filming anonymous objects which, by applying a new way of looking at the world, can become something else”. (1)
In that historical period, in the immediate post-war period, designers used to meet every week to chat with other professionals: artists, men of letters, philosophers, … Vico Magistretti remembers “We kids were talking on equal terms with the greats of the Modern Movement in Milan like Lingeri, Gardella, Albini, with Milan bursting with energy”. Vico Magistretti
In the 1970s Piero Castiglioni frequented his father and uncles, met and got to know the great masters of the Milanese design and architecture scene, including Vico Magistretti. With Vico, in addition to a friendship and laughter, he also worked with them on collaborations, such as the exhibition design for Cassina in Via Durini in Milan for the Salone del Mobile.
You tend to be considered one of the most representative of Milan designers, but are you actually from Milan?
I would call myself not only (Milanese) but (milanesissimo). My family goes back twenty generations!
Come now …
Well, not exactly twenty, but since the end of the seventeenth century, anyway. For example, do you know that building opposit, the convent in Via Conservatorio?
Well, my great-great grandfather, Gaetano Besia, built it during the reign on Napoleon III.
So, you think that the quality of design is linked to a large extent to concept?
The most inspired design can be described over the phone. Looking at the brothers Castiglioni, take the Arco lamp, which again I am not that crazy about, but the concept is sheer genius, it’s invention in its purest form. You know, if I can, I try only to do conceptual designs.
Is it easier or harder to achieve innovative solutions in lighting?
I think it is harder because the outcome depends largely on two things: the light bulb, and the way the energy is transmitted. You see, as long as we have to pipe the current down wires, through sockets and transformers, all we have left to play with are the light bulb, and the way we filter or reflect the light that is emitted.
So, do you believe that you have only created decorative lamps?
To a certain degree, but I do not think this is a bad thing. I think a determining, constant of lighting design is that it oscillates between technology and decoration, between standards and objects.
Do you believe in lighting standards for offices, and so forth I think it is another “international-level” load of nonsense.
I think it is an international nonsense; in other words, the problem cannot be posed in quantitative terms, it cannot be reasoned as if it always has to be noon, even architecture thinks it is linked to variations in the external environment and it is beautiful when the light in a room changes. (…) And the light must also be different.
Courtesy Franco Raggi: Dialogue between Vico Magistretti and Franco Raggi (2)
“When the “Eclipse” lamp came out, I was convinced that success was not due to the fact that I designed it, that nobody cared, but that it solved an eternal problem economically. And then there is another aspect that makes me re-evaluate design, the fact that when you choose and buy an object it then enters the house and starts to influence everyday life; that is, you enter people’s lives through the front door, without smuggling. This fact gives design a charge of economic authenticity, it places it, so to speak, anthropologically between necessity and the limit (…)”. Vico Magistretti (3)
In the archives of the Vico Magistretti Foundation in the Design section you can find the projects of 70 lamps, some of which have become icons of Italian Design.
“With Gismondi I explained a lamp over the phone, a good design means talking, talking a lot, design does not need drawing but a clarity of concepts: Italian Design, was born in this sense, design is very beautiful because it works with others.” Vico Magistretti
(1967 – “Clitunno” floor lamp for Artemide – Vico Magistretti – The exhibition Normal Things. Living with Vico Magistretti ” – Photo courtesy: Giulia Chinello)
(1967 – “Eclisse” table/wall lamp for – Photo courtesy: Book “Quattordicesima Triennale”)
(1976 – Sonora” pendant lamp for Oluce – Fondazione Vico Magistretti – Photo courtesy: Giulia Chinello)
(1978 – ” Melilla” table lamp for Oluce – Vico Magistretti – The exhibition Normal Things. Living with Vico Magistretti ” – Photo courtesy: Giulia Chinello)
“Look at usual things with unsual eyes. A beautiful English saying. Looking at everyday things with an unusual eye because everything is already there, it’s just a bit hidden.” Vico Magistretti
Italian Design has changed the style of Italian houses. Vico Magistretti, one of the protagonists of this cultural and productive phenomenon, is celebrated in Genoa by an interesting anthological exhibition … (4)
This exhibition recounts the special relationship between manufacturers and designers, based on close collaboration, that has made Italian design a unique phenomenon in the world for its dynamism and durability.
Architect Piero Castiglioni tells us an amusing episode, which in this period is very current. During a conference, at the end of the 90s, Magistretti says “In twenty years’ time you will no longer go to work, you will work from home except on Mondays”. To the question “Why only Mondays” he answered: “Because on Mondays we will talk about football”.
“A genius, he inherited from Gio Ponti the way to create design objects, he had a freshness, the sparkle of the moment, like for example the Sinbad sofa” Piero Castiglioni
“I had to design an armchair and I came up with an English horse blanket”, “an upholstered one without upholsterer, a blanket to try and change”. (5)
“He advised all his friends to cover their own sofa with a blanket and thus transform a sofa into an elegant object. His heir could be Pier Luigi Cerri.” Piero Castiglioni
Piero Castiglioni and Vico Magistretti are among the designers selected for the exhibition “Quirinale Contemporaneo – L’arte e il design del periodo repubblicano nella Casa degli Italiani”. Design objects representing Italian excellence such as the lamp “Parola”, designed by Gae Aulenti and Piero Castiglioni for Fontana Arte and the lamp “Atollo” by Vico Magistretti for Oluce.
(1) V. Pasca, Vico Magistretti, The elegance of reason, Milan, 1999, p. 51
(2) Courtesy Franco Raggi: Dialogue between Vico Magistretti and Franco Raggi
(3) Courtesy Franco Raggi: Dialogue between Vico Magistretti and Franco Raggi