Founded in 1945 by Giuseppe Ostuni, Oluce is the oldest Italian design company still operating in the lighting world, a unique production excellence which translates passionate aesthetic and technological research into the potential of light into actual form. Over the years, Oluce has succeeded in building a collection structured like a tale, rich and multifaceted, inhabited by products that transcend fashion to become Italian design icons.
Its relationship with the design world begins
In 1951, Oluce successfully took part in the IX Triennale, presenting – in the lighting section curated by Achille, Livio and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni – a Luminator designed by Franco Buzzi. As was typical at that time, the company instantly gained visibility on the international panorama thanks to Domus magazine. Major success was then reasserted by Tito Agnoli with nominations at the second edition of the Compasso d’Oro awards, in 1955, for his two lamps (the 363 floor lamp and a special bookshelf model). In 1956 these were followed in rapid succession by two more nominations: one for a remarkable table lamp in polyvinyl slats and another for a pendant lamp (mod. 4461) with double perspex shade. Then, there was the noteworthy 255/387 lamp (known as ”Agnoli”), a spot light supported by a slender stem, which in 1954 marked the decline of lampshades and the adoption of highly simplified floor lamps even for home lighting.
The great Masters
In addition to Agnoli, Ostuni also worked in collaboration with Forti, Arnaboldi, Monti and Minale. But it was at the end of the 1950s, and specifically thanks to an encounter with Joe and Gianni Colombo, that Oluce took a more pronounced revolutionary direction. The Colombo brothers (only Joe would subsequently continue with his forays into the world of objects, with Gianni devoting himself to pure art) were looking for a stakeholder capable of reacting to their bold designs: and they found it in Ostuni. That alliance produced the 281 table lamp, known as ”Acrilica”, a very thick perspex curve along which the light seems rise, included in the Oluce catalogue since 1962. The 281 stands both as a possible meeting point between art and design, as well as proof of elegant use of innovative materials. Winner of a gold medal at the XIII Triennale, where Joe Colombo would also obtain two silver medals (for the ”Combi-Center” and the ”Mini- Kitchen”), ”Acrilica” put the figure of Joe Colombo up there with the greatest interpreters of that era. In 1963, Marco Zanuso designed the 275 table lamp for Oluce, with a large white perspex shade on a painted metal base, which entered into production in 1965. In 1964/66, again a new material, ”Fresnel Lens” compact glass, inspired Joe Colombo to design the ”Fresnel” family of weatherproof outdoor lamps, with a painted metal base and shade attached with steel clips. This was followed, in 1965, by the ”Spider” group, where a single lighting fixture, designed for a special horizontal spot light, could be mounted, thanks to a melamine joint, in different settings (home/office) and on different supports (table/floor/wall/ceiling), reiterating the same “family” concept of lamps. In 1967, ”Spider” won the first Compasso d’Oro award for Oluce and was presented in New York in 1972 at the unforgettable exhibition ”Italy: the New Domestic Landscape”. In 1967, Colombo had already moved on, and with the ”Coupé” model, now on display at the MoMa in New York, designed a large curved stem supporting an extremely elegant semi-cylindrical shade. The design won, the 1968 ”International Design Award” presented by the American Institute of Interior Designers in Chicago. In 1970 the ‘Halogen Lamp’ was born and it has been called by default ‘Colombo’ from then on. It has been the first halogen lamp on the lighting market, becoming an incomparable design icon, functional and contemporary at the same time.
The evocative force of lighting is as important as its functional potential, capable of translating ideas and intuition into articles. With over 70 years of experience in the field of illumination, Oluce can count on a solid background of technical and lighting engineering skills, in addition to a style that has become a true signature trademark.
Unusual materials, unexpected shapes and new lighting sources have, over time, led to revolutionary designs by Tito Agnoli, Joe Colombo, Marco Zanuso and Vico Magistretti, who since the fifties have rewritten the history of lighting.
Today, the company’s expertise shines through in its use of fine, experimental materials—stone, marble, galvanised metals and textured coatings—all carefully and competently treated by Oluce. This is accompanied by continual technological research that guarantees the use of cutting-edge light sources and processes. Blazing the trail for limitless experimentation into aesthetics and function, this confirms the elective relationship Oluce enjoys with the world of design. A vocation that has recently seen the creation of Bespoke Tailoring, a special section for contract, a dedicated “product customisation” service. In addition to the standard catalogue articles, this offers the option of tailor-made lamps for specific needs or customisable variants of products from existing collections.
DESIGNERS OF OLUCE
Over the years, the company has been able to create a collection structured as if it were a story, consisting of products capable of going beyond trends to become icons of Italian design. Oluce, already present at the 9th Triennale in Milan, throughout its long history has received numerous acknowledgements, including two Golden Compass awards, two Design Awards and the Gold Medal at the 13th Triennale in Milan. Its lamps appear in the most important permanent design collections worldwide.
Thus, the absolute geometries of Vico Magistretti, the now classical modernity of Joe Colombo, the discretion of Tito Agnoli and Marco Zanuso, have been joined by a new generation of Italian and international designers’ projects, who have been able to apply the technological innovations to the unmistakable aesthetic features of the company.
The poetic minimalism of Laudani&Romanelli, Sam Hecht and AngelettiRuzza, the dry words of Gordon Guillaumier, Carlo Colombo and Lutz Pankow; the expressive research of Francesco Rota, Ferdi Giardini, and Paolo Imperatori and the concise elegance of Astori/De Ponti and Nendo, Sam Hecht, Jörg Boner and Nendo.
The company’s most recent projects, designed by AngelettiRuzza, Giopato&Coombes, Victor Vaisilev, Nicola Gallizia, Mist-O and Christophe Pillet, confirm the company’s attitude to embody a sophisticated international style, wisely balancing tradition and innovation.
Vico Magistretti was born in 1920, in Milan. After taking his architecture degree in 1945, he immediately joined his father Piergiulio’s firm. During the war, he met both Gio Ponti, at the Regio Politecnico, and Ernesto N. Rogers in Switzerland. In the post-war period he was actively involved in the reconstruction, both on the theoretical side through the MSA (Movement for Architectural Studies), of which he was one of the founders, and on the practical side with projects for INA-Casa and QT8. He also actively participated in the Milan Triennial Exhibitions, as supervisor of various sections, as well as winning a gold medal in the 9th edition of 1951, and the Grand Prize (Granpremio) in the 10th edition of 1954. Among his most important architectural work in Milan during this period we can cite the Torre al Parco (1953-56), the Corso Europa office building (1955-57) and the Piazzale Aquilea building (1962-64). There followed a number of villas, including Arosio house in Arenzano (1958), Schubert villa in Ello (1960), Bassetti house in Azzate (1960) and Gardella house in Arenzano (1953). Finally, the apartment building at Piazza San Marco in Milan dates back to 1969-1971. His more recent work includes: the Milan Faculty of Biology (1978-81), Tanimoto house in Tokyo (1985) and the Famagosta Bus Depot in Milan (1989). A prolific designer, he won the price ”Compasso d’Oro” in 1967 for the Artemide Eclisse lamp, in 1979 for the Oluce Atollo lamp and for the Cassina Maralunga sofa. He also produced designs for De Padova, Fritz Hansen, Campeggi, Fontana Arte, Fredericia and Kartell. Since 1967 he has been a member of the San Luca Academy and the London Royal College of Art, where he was also visiting professor.
He died in Milan on 19 September, 2006.
Telling about Joe Colombo means telling the brief but intense parable of one of the greatest Italian designers, who died in 1971 at the young age of 41. It means telling about a life, as quick as lightning, of a man who strongly believed in the future and who gave us a very particular prefeguration of those fundamental 60s, when the future suddenly started to appear closer. Joe Colombo’s future was an anti-nostalgic future (he would not have recognised as ”future” the ’90s in which we live today), in which an intelligent technology would have helped every human activity, laying the foundations for completely new living models. At the time, Joe Colombo designed entire living cells. The first one was for Bayer, Visiona ’69, an integrated cell divided in ”functional stations”: the ”Night-Cell” block (bed+cupboards+bathroom), the ”Kitchen-Box” (kitchen+dining room), the ”Central-Living” (living room). These functional stations are articulated mapwise as well as sectionwise, just like the homes designed by Joe Colombo, where floors and ceilings go up and down, continuously accelerating and slowing down within the interior dynamism, where shelves hang from above and lights are deep-set in the floor. This is probably the best known vision of Joe Colombo’s future, which makes us smile today and talk about a science fiction utopia, but another one exists, one that has been subject to less analysis and which, unlike the former, proposes independent single elements, which condense functions and which are finished and ready to use.