The illumination giant, Artemide, representing the design prowess of Italy at a global level was founded by Ernesto Gismondi in 1960 in Pregnana Milanese, Italy. Born on 25 December 1931 in Sanremo in coastal northwestern Italy, Ernesto Gismondi received a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Milan Polytechnic in 1957 and one in Missile Engineering at the Professional School of Engineering in Rome in 1959. An influential member of the Memphis Design Movement, he was also an associate professor of Rocket Engines for Missiles at Milan Polytechnic.
A Budding Entrepreneur
Gismondi says “the desire to do something on my own came to me while I was still at university.” In 1959, a young Gismondi had work experience at Breda and abroad, including a collaboration with NASA. Initially, he came up with an idea to produce missile parts. However, he realised the amount of capital required for such a venture. Instead, he came up with Artemide to produce lamps. The inspiration behind this was his meeting with architect Sergio Mazza who suggested that Gismondi make lamps.
Based in Pregnana Milanese, Italy, the Artemide group now has 24 subsidiaries. Artemide products are distributed in 55 branded showrooms in over 98 countries worldwide. The manufacturing units are located in Italy, France, Hungary and Canada and two glassworks and one Research and Development supported by prototyping labs. Of over 750 employees, around 60 engaged in Research and Development highlights the importance of innovation in the company. This innovation is backed by sociocultural investigation, state of the art technological facilities and collaborations with renowned architects and designers.
Artemide’s foundation stone was to balance the design and production processes. In the words of Ernesto Gismondi, “that in order to remain competitive on the market you need an authentic and quality project and a fair price. And this is only possible by working on the production process within the company. A good designer must know the value of doing. The fact of thinking about making a specific product and how to produce it is always strategic”.
Artemide: The Italian style of Illumination
The first lamp, Alfa, was designed by Sergio Mazzain in 1959. Even in the formative stages, the illumination giant boasts of iconic designs like the Eclisse by Vico Magistretti for which the company received the Compasso d’Oro Award in 1967. The 1960s also saw Artemide experiment with plastic furniture, producing Selene, the first chair printed in one piece.
The 1972 lamp, Tizio by Richard Sapper was the first lamp with a halogen light source. A symbol of Italian design worldwide, this product really put the company on the map. The first manufacturing unit was set up near the company headquarters in Pregnana Milanese.
Ernesto Gismondi first designed a lamp in 1975, the Sintesi. Enzo Mari collaborated with the company on multiple occasions, for the Polluce in 1965 and for the Aggregato in 1976 with both products the bestsellers at the time of launch. The first subsidiary of Artemide was inaugurated in the United States of America in 1980. 1982 saw the creation of the Aton bar, the first Artemide system resulting in the formation of the Litech division, a predecessor of Artemide Architectural.
In collaboration with Michele De Lucchi and Giancarlo Fassina, Artemide launched the Tolomeo lamp in 1987. The extensive use of this Italian made design in homes and offices made the firm a household name and earned them the Compasso d’Oro in 1989. VeArt, a historical Venetian glassworks facility was acquired by Artemide in 1991 and a mouth-blown glass collection was manufactured including Milano-Torino in 1991 and Milano- Venezia and Venexiana in 1993.
Artemide received the Compasso d’Oro Award for lifetime achievement in 1995. This was followed by the company filing a patent that allowed them to customise their collections right from the use of colours to different relations with light management that can be adapted to scenarios that best suit the users’ current frame of mind and emotions. The Artemide Architectural division formed in 1997 and Light Fields, a publication on light perception and culture was released in 1996.
The Human Light
Over the years, the approach to the design process has been experimented with and today, the philosophy stands as an amalgamation of the learning experiences – “the approach to human and responsible light goes hand in hand with design and material savoir faire, combining next-generation technology with ancient wisdoms, a perfect expression of sustainable design.”
What remains constant, however, is the principle of ‘applied research.’ Having experienced the colossal shifts in technology from the electric realm to the field of electronics, evolving the designs with the current trends.
In 1996, a new manifesto, The Human Light, was released that expressed the company’s vision of shifting the focus from the light to people to produce lights that served the needs of humankind. The culmination of this concept of ‘The Human Light’ can be seen in Discovery which was honoured with the Compasso d’Oro in 2018. The lamp is in the metallic form of a primary shape. But when switched on, it emits light inside.
Ad Gismondi himself says, “Discovery is the perfect synthesis of Artemide’s values, knowledge, innovative research and know-how, because it is a project in line with the needs of architects (it frames perspectives, shapes spaces through the play of voids and solids, creates scenographies with different colour options). But the light it emanates is punctual, healthy and functional: the precision of the controls allows a balancing of the flows with respect to the emitting surface which guarantees perfect visual comfort, in line with the UGR standards for workplaces in any installation position.”
The 21st century saw Artemide hopping on to the global trends with LED lamps like Sui and Kaio by Carlotta de Bevilacqua and Gismondi respectively marked the beginning of the LED Revolution. In 2004, the lamp Pipe by Herzog and De Muron was yet another recipient of the Compasso d’Oro Award. A collection for total environmental quality through Air, Light, Sound and Other was launched in 2006. The same year, a new line of products, ‘The White Light’ based on the TunableWhite technology were released.
Half a decade later, the IN-EI creation was developed in collaboration with Japanese fashion designer Issey Myiake which received the Compasso d’Oro Award in 2014. After taking over Danese Milano in 2014, the company initiated research on Li-Fi, lights used for data transmission in 2016. This was followed by the launch of the Artemide App. in 2019, Artemide signed the United Nations Global Compact, committing to adapting and implementing sustainable and socially responsible policies.
Gismondi: The Lighting Genius
Gismondi received multiple accolades throughout his career as an engineer, lecturer and entrepreneur including the Compasso d’Oro Award for lifetime achievement in 2018. The recipient of the Ernst and Young Prize for Entrepreneur in 2008 and 2009, he was conferred with ‘Cavaliere del Lavoro’, an Italian award for important figures in the industry by the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. He was also the Vice President of ADI, Italy’s Association of Industrial Design.
The doyen of the lighting industry passed away aged 89 on 31 December 2020. In his memory, Milanese architect Stefano Boeri tweeted: “He illuminated the world with Artemide, used plastic for the first time to make furniture, raced with his head held high in the seas of politics and entrepreneurship, and opened new horizons in design. I will miss his anti-rhetorical genius.”