Ernesto Gismondi: Artemide and the revolution of light

On December 31st, 2020, Ernesto Gismondi, a very ingenious man who gave much to Italian design, died aged 89

An aeronautical engineer, in his many interviews, he always stressed that he would have liked to build a missile. In the end, he did not build the missile, but he used his competence to establish one of the companies that best represent made in Italy production in the world, Artemide.

Ernesto Gismondi with the Discovery lamp, winner of the Compasso d’Oro Award

It is always quite difficult to summarize in a few lines a life so rich in experiences – one could write entire volumes on the history of Artemide and Ernesto Gismondi. Moreover, Ernesto Gismondi studied as an engineer, and later, throughout his very long career, he became an entrepreneur, a designer, a teacher. He had held numerous positions in various associations such as Assolombarda, Federmeccanica, Confindustria and, by designation of the President of the Republic, he was a member of CNEL, the National Council for Economics and Labour. Vice-President of ADI, the Association for Industrial Design, he was internationally renowned for the fundamental role he played in Italian design.

Callimaco lamp, designed by Ettore Sottsass for Artemide. Ernesto Gismondi was a member of the Memphis movement

Artemide lamps and made in Italy design

Perhaps the easiest way to really understand Ernesto Gismondi is to trace the history of Artemide and its products, some of which have become part of the history of design. Founded in 1960 by Ernesto Gismondi with architect Sergio Mazza, until the early 1970s Artemide produced both lamps and plastic furniture.

Alfa, table lamp designed by Sergio Mazza in 1959

As Gismondi explained during an interview, the idea of plastic furniture came from his thorough knowledge of the material, which was used in the missile industry. Artemide’s furniture was made of fiberglass resin, which was “gelcoated” with a final layer of gelcoat that made the surface particularly shiny and soft. But plastic of such high quality was very expensive, therefore, after the first oil crisis, the idea of furniture was abandoned in favor of lighting. (Left, Selene; right, Gaudì; both by Vico Magistretti)

Among the countless lamps produced by Artemide over the years, some have been so successful that they are still in production today. The table lamps Eclisse, by Vico Magistretti, or Nesso, designed by Giancarlo Mattioli and Gruppo Architetti Urbanisti Città Nuova, are among them. Artemide’s icons also include Boalum, by Livio Castiglioni and Gianfranco Frattini, and Aggregato, by Enzo Mari, two successful lamps with different use. Finally, the Alfa lamp, designed by Sergio Mazza in 1959, is still produced as well. (In the pictures, left to right, top to bottom, Nesso, Eclisse, Boalum, Aggregato).

Design is technological innovation

The Tizio table lamp, a worldwide success, was created in 1972 by Richard Sapper. Tizio relied on a car bulb, a very small 12V 50W halogen bulb. Such a small bulb made it possible to obtain a lamp with a very small head. The other innovation was that Tizio had aluminum rods instead of wires to conduct electricity from the base to the head.

Tizio, designed by Richard Sapper, 1972

In 1987, Michele De Lucchi and Giancarlo Fassina took on an interesting challenge and created an updated version of the classic balanced-arm lamp. De Lucchi and Fassina used aluminum and steel, which lightened the structure both visually and physically; the result was Tolomeo, a worldwide success to this day. Many different versions of the Tolomeo lamp were developed.

Tolomeo, Michele De Lucchi and Giancarlo Fassina, 1987

Artemide and the technology of the future

The long history of Artemide has ranged from lamps for residential use and technological systems, for architecture and public spaces, in the pursuit of the best light for daily well-being, “The Human Light”. Artemide’s research continues to this day, also thanks to Carlotta de Bevilacqua, Ernesto Gismondi’s wife and for many years a crucial figure in the management of the company. In recent years, the synthesis between research and development of new technologies has led to increasingly advanced lamps and systems, especially with the use of LED. Among the decorative LED lamps, we can mention Pipe, by Herzog & De Meuron, Empatia, by Carlotta de Bevilacqua, Demetra, by Naoto Fukasawa. (In the pictures, from left, top).

At the beginning of October 2020, on the occasion of Milano Design City, Artemide presented Integralis, a system integrated in many products able to sanitize environments (patent pending).

Artemide products have received many awards. In the picture, you can see Discovery, designed by Ernesto Gismondi, winner of the Compasso d’Oro Award 2018, in the Green Pea shopping mall, in Turin. In 2018, Ernesto Gismondi received also the Compasso d’Oro Lifetime Achievement Award for his long career.

Discovery lights by Ernesto Gismondi for Artemide, on the façade of Green Pea

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