LucePlan, the Italian lighting company, founded in 1978 by Paolo Rizzatto, Riccardo Sarfatti, and Sandra Severi, has always been known for the elegance of its designs with their blend of technical acuity, functionality, and attention to detail. On the occasion of the opening of its New York City flagship showroom in February 2007, Architectural Lighting magazine sat down with Paolo Rizzatto and Alberto Meda to talk about their views on lighting and architecture, light's interaction with space—what it can create spatially, and how they as designers bring together ideas of illumination and technology.
A|L: What inspired you to start working with light?
Paolo Rizzatto: For me, light is the element that can make architecture visible. Without light you do not see the volume and shape of architecture. Light is the basis of architecture. Light is the play on the volumes.
Alberto Meda: For me its different, in the beginning it was about trying to find a field which was very close to technical issues. Light is interesting because it is connecting all different fields.
A|L: What was the inspiration behind the start of LucePlan? How did the two of you start your working partnership?
Paolo Rizzatto: I founded LucePlan [in 1978] with Riccardo Sarfatti, by chance really. We were good friends and studied architecture together at the same university (the Milan Polytechnic). We had this idea to make a new type of working environment. Riccardo was interested in organization and management; I was the designer. We each had different expertise; it was a good compliment. Also of course, Riccardo was already involved in light because of his father—Gino Sarfatti.
In the beginning the company was working specifically in the service of architects. Because we were architects, we knew the problems of lighting as it related to architecture, but year-by-year we began creating a small collection of lamps, and these lamps required more industrial design background. We met Alberto and we started to work.
Alberto Meda: I joined LucePlan in the early 1980s. I had worked with Kartell, the plastics company, for seven years. Then I had the opportunity to meet other companies, and make other things in materials and technology. Riccardo Sarfatti asked me to collaborate. At that time LucePlan was interested in bringing a more industrialized process to some of its products. We did a very nice lamp, which won the Compasso d'Oro—the D7—it was done with the mentality of industrialization. At the time, other products at LucePlan were tailor made for the specific project and application. Sarfatti's aim was to push in the direction of the industrialization of products. For that reason we met and he thought I would be able to help LucePlan with this.
A|L: Did you start creating your own light fixtures because as you were working on architectural projects you could not find the light you were looking for?
Paolo Rizzatto: Yes. The first models were lamps we made for our own architectural projects or directly to make the light commissioned by another architect. We are working very closely to the problem of the light. You have to be able to give it enough structure so that the light will connect to the architecture. Light also has to respond to the need of the project, to the space, to people. It has to be able to function, but also speak to the beauty of architecture and for all the possibilities you can imagine.
A|L: A luminaire is often thought of as an object, but yet it has the ability to create an articulate space through the use of light. How is the thought process and creation of a luminaire similar or different than the process of creating an architectural space?
Alberto Meda: Architecture affects your life in a general way, you are considering your special task in that moment Its similar, but it's a question of scale. In architecture you use your senses, in a way, less directed. With architecture you don't have the problem of, for example, burning your fingers, if you touch a lamp that is too hot. But the attitude, to be conscious and aware of the relation between we humans, and the architecture, always has to be present.
Paolo Rizzatto: When I was working on D7, which won the Compasso d'Oro, the goal was to find the solution of how to light a room, to make a more architectural light. I was thinking about the Kandinsky book Point, Line, and Surface as a reference. The challenge was how to make a light with a long arm, a very soft movement, and with a big radius—the arm is 2 meters long and fixed to the wall—that would make a point of light that was possible to move into the space. The idea for Berenice also deals with how to illuminate a room, but the difference is the size of the lamp. Here, it is very small—a halogen bulb. The challenge is how to achieve the same quality of movement that can start and stop exactly as you move it.
Alberto Meda: To make a different point of light, its important to be harmonic with the combination of different sources. It's another way of thinking about a source of light which gives you not a behavior, but a feeling.
A|L: How important is research as a part of the luminaire development process? Are you doing research yourself? Or working with a team?
Paolo Rizzatto: We're all working on it, but we're also looking to information provided by other companies that are engaged in research. For instance, if Philips puts some good lamps on the market, we must test and make a study of this new product.
Alberto Meda: Sometime you have an idea you would like to explore, for example, a lamp that is easy to use and to move. First though, you have to define this idea, where to go, what is the goal, and then you can begin to investigate which is possible to achieve this goal. In the case of Berenice, the goal was to make a good connection between the arms, and to solve this problem you want to have electricity in every position. In the end it is a complex of different things. The level of research depends on what you want to achieve with the design.