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Martinelli Luce. An interview with Emiliana Martinelli

by Daria Verde

Compasses Magazine

DV: Last year, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Cobra lamp – to which Compasses dedicated a special on its 27th issue – Martinelli Luce organized a call, inviting participants to give it their personal interpretation. After this important moment of confrontation – which confirmed the strength of an iconic design – what has been drawn from the unprecedented points of view of the 23 designers who have accepted the challenge?

EM: The designers welcomed my invitation to revisit Cobra with great enthusiasm, happy and also a little worried, having to interpret and interact with a historic and iconic lamp, created by a designer who has carried forward in time his ideas and has conducted the company since its foundation in the 1950s. A design challenge for everyone in search of a logical motivation, trying not to alter the strength and the character of Cobra, which is one of a kind.

Undoubtedly, putting together everything was a laborious project, but it raised everyone’s interest – press, customers, art galleries, social media – giving a high resonance to our brand on the market and also to the designers who participated. In addition to this, the many interesting interpretations of Cobra have comforted us in our company philosophy, that is to favor the simplicity and the essentiality of our design, making it timeless and therefore always fashionable.

DV: This was not the first occasion in which Martinelli Luce took advantage of external collaborations for the realization of its products, often succeeding in identifying young promises of the field. Which were the most prolific relationships in this sense?

EM: We have undertaken this collaboration with young designers for several years now, both in order to give them a design opportunity and an incentive in this not easy profession – where everyone is looking for the well-known designer – and to enrich our collection with new energies and experiences.

The first external designer was a very young Brian Sironi with his first project, the Elica lamp. Since the very first meeting between us and the designer there has been a good feeling, to the point that we quickly realized the prototype and presented it to the public. Elica immediately raised amazement at the Fair in Milan on the occasion of its presentation, marked by the Young Design award for “the amazement” in 2009. Afterwards, Elica won numerous other important prizes, including the Compasso d’Oro in 2011. The collaboration with Brian was a peculiar experience on both sides, just like those with other designers who have created many interesting products in recent years, designers with whom we collaborate and who are enjoying great success. I would say that Martinelli Luce has had an important relationship with all of them and that it will continue its search for fresh talents.

DV: Despite being a constantly growing company, expanding more and more towards the international market, all your work – from product design to the graphics of commercial materials – is permeated by a unified vision. What is the secret of such a strong and lasting identity?

EM: Martinelli Luce is a family business, which was born with my father Elio and continues “at home” with my management. Until a short time ago the head was unique, except for some important collaborations with external designers, and today that head is mine.

A head that has always wanted to control the corporate image, its communication and its graphics. All this in order to maintain the unitary sign that identifies the brand, that is the choice not to follow the fashions and styles that have alternated over the years, trying to raise certain emotions and certain sensations originated from the harmony that derives from the cleanliness of the graphic sign, from color, from simple geometric shapes, from minimalism, in a design synthesis that has always characterized us.

DV: Today, more than ever, there is an interpretation of design in a recklessly aesthetic key. How do your products – which instead don’t give up their practicality, while paying great attention to the formal aspect – interpret the relationship between aesthetics and function?

EM: The aesthetic result is not the primary objective to be pursued during the project: in the first place there is the satisfaction of a set of parameters such as function, usability, color, size, ergonomics, etc. For an object, being aesthetically “beautiful” derives from the harmony with which these parameters combine to determine an emotion in the observer/user. The function comes first: it is primary. Aesthetics is the consequence of the harmonious whole.

DV: Since the foundation of the company in the 1950s, the landscape of world design has seen consistent, or even revolutionary innovations, both in the field of representation and in that of production. How has the company managed to accommodate to these transformations, always riding on the crest of a wave?

EM: It is necessary to swim hard and constantly so that the waves do not roll us down, they will always be there, higher or lower, weaker or stronger, but we have always tried to continue our journey renewing ourselves. It is precisely this attention to the new – tastes, production technologies, materials, light sources – that allowed us to propose objects that are innovative not only from a formal standpoint, but also from a technological point of view.

DV: About that, how much has the potential of parametric and algorithmic processes influenced the world of design and how much has your company been influenced or, vice versa, resisted an excessive influence of these innovative technologies, maintaining a craft dimension?

EM: We have always tried to take advantage of new technologies and have used, for many years now, the parametric CAD, linked to digital design, which today is indispensable for the production of any design. For particular projects, we are looking into the new generation technologies related to 3D printing, which we have been using in the company for the production of small series and prototypes. Of course, with these interesting technologies we cannot currently realize mass production, also for their high costs, but we are experimenting and certainly in a few years it will be possible to realize components for our production; it is only a matter of time.

DV: In the landscape so far outlined, does the sketch still play an essential role in the work of a designer? How important are manual skills in the original design of a product?

EM: For a designer the sketch is essential, as it allows you, as soon as you have the creative flash, to stop the idea on a sheet of paper, today even on a tablet. Otherwise you forget it. Manual skills for me are basic, but, unfortunately, I realize that they are missing in many young people, perhaps influenced by computer design, which is useful, but the first thing remains visualizing and then sketching, deleting, outlining the idea.

DV: Martinelli Luce has always been involved in the realization of important site-specific projects for public environments, such as schools and shopping centers. Which of your works describes best the company’s approach to lighting design?

EM: For all these years we have carried out many projects for public clients or for public places, from schools to offices, museums, and shopping centers. One of the latest interesting, entertaining and spectacular works, which required a more laborious lighting design, is the intervention at the Marrakech airport. Another project, important for the conceptual aspects related to the site, is that at the artistic high school in Lucca, where, in addition to our standard lamps, new devices were specifically designed on customer request, as well as in the case of important shopping centers.

 DV: Thanks to the constant search for new ideas, technologies and production systems, Martinelli has always played a vital role in the evolution of light sources. In your experience, what is the potential of LED devices today and how have they expanded the horizons of Italian lighting design?

EM: LEDs have certainly changed the way we design, representing a real revolution, and every day their evolution continues. The potential of these sources is undoubtedly very strong because they make it possible to obtain results that were unthinkable until a few years ago. The design of lamps is revolutionized with futuristic solutions and is no longer influenced by the bulb shape of incandescent lamps or by the elongated shape of halogen lamps. The availability of point-like light sources, to be arranged as desired, has freed the designer from the shape and size of classic lamps. I would say that the LED replaces the “sun”.

LEDs are constantly evolving, even if there are still a series of problems regarding the quality constancy of the product and its reliability, as well as that of power supplies – often the weak link in the chain – but the pleasure of having a source of light that can take any color and even imitate the variation of sunlight during the day makes us understand that we are only at the beginning of a revolution.

 DV: What are Martinelli Luce’s plans for the near future?

EM: As for Martinelli Luce’s projects, the main ones are the expansion and penetration of the brand in new markets such as China, North America and Middle East. Within the company, we are proceeding with the acquisition of new professional figures, both technical and commercial, which we consider indispensable to face these new projects.

As for the lamps, we are studying ideas in order to solve acoustic problems in environments such as offices, restaurants and large spaces, solutions that we consider useful to improve the customers’ comfort and the employees’ quality of life, forced to work in noisy environments for many hours.

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