• Itineraries

About beauty and harmony: geometry as a functional base and aesthetic model

Geometries of light

Magistretti's work is constantly marked by reference to geometry as the inspirer of shape and the conceptual model of the object, an instrument to achieve that «concept design that is so clear that you don't even need to design it» (from "Interview to Vico Magistretti for De Padova website"). The geometry theme particularly emerges in the lighting sector as the rational paradigm of the construction of the form and the configuration of the light flow, as is evident in many lamps such as Nemea (1979; "Una lampada inversa" in Modo, 1979), Eclisse (1967) or Mania (1963) for Artemide, both consisting of a several hemispheres, or Sonora (1976; "Le stanze di Vico Magistretti" in Case da Abitare), a single perfect spherical cap, or again Atollo (1977; "Atollo" in De-sign, 2001) - both produced by Oluce - which arose from the juxtaposition of geometric forms including the cylinder, the half sphere or a truncated cone. The leading geometric theme that is evident in the creation of lighting objects often has the permanently underlying and inter-related second theme of a hidden technicism: the idea or necessity to conceal the mechanisms and technological devices to give free rein to the formal purity and the apparent simplicity of the object, as for example in the wall and table lamp Kuta (1980, Oluce), characterised by a minimalism of Japanese heritage.


A design method based on extreme simplification is the one present ever since Vico Magistretti's first youthful designs that materialized in a rich series of furnishings produced for the RIMA exhibition displayed at the Triennale in 1946, of which the wall bookcase is perhaps one of the most significant pieces, based on the idea of the sparingness of the component parts, reduced by leaning the support structure against the wall. The same version was later displayed at the "Il mobile singolo" ("Single Piece of Furniture") exhibition at the Galleria Fede Cheti in 1948 ("Mostra del mobile singolo. Da Fede Cheti, Milano" in Domus, 1949). On the one hand, simplification as a design method is applicable to all different scales of objects, from a lamp to the kitchen but, at the same time, the success of Magistretti's poetics, which is expressed in elegant and emblematic objects such as the Snow lamp for Oluce (1974; "Flash Due" in Abitare, 1975; "Un design per tutte le stagioni" in Casa Vogue, 1974), a synthesis of elegance and simplification born of the encounter between a methacrylate cone and a metal sphere painted black, or Caori, the simple living-room table-container in lacquered wood produced by Gavina in 1962 (Caori catalogue, Gavina). Simplification also means resorting to traditional forms and materials, such as the wood used in the collection of tables and chairs designed for Montina (909 catalogue, Montina; 910 and 911 catalogue, Montina; 919, 918 and 908 catalogue, Montina), or in the Thay (1976) office table compositions by ICF which are characterised by the variety and simplicity of the components, available in different dimensions and finishes, in order to provide the solution to any functional need ("Incontro con Vico Magistretti" in Casa & Giardino, 1980). Lastly, simplification as an act of creation, as a reflection on the reduction to essential functional elements, as is the case of the Spiros coat rack designed in 1987 for Acerbis and conceived as a broomstick (as in the Broomstick collection by Alias), which develops an innovative use with the simple addition of a few elements: wooden pegs spirally grafted onto the support, making the final object look like a tree, to lean against the wall.


The theme of modularity, which is transversal to the constant inspiration drawn from simple geometry, and reliance on simplification as a design method, is typical but not exclusive to the numerous projects signed by Magistretti for Schiffini for household kitchen environments. The repetition of a single element or structure that through small differentiations would make several composition options possible, is indeed a key prerequisite in designing kitchen systems: in Timo (1968, Schiffini) for example, the overall modular design is emphasised by the graphic treatment of the coloured edges that, in addition to performing a functional task, support the compositional unity (Timo catalogue, Schiffini) as in the Soviore kitchen (2003, Schiffini), in which the geometric pattern becomes not only the decorative line but the functional base of the composition, or also in Cina (1986, Schiffini), where the principle of repetition/reflection also extends to the symmetric range hood. The same regulating principle is also adopted in the design of the container furniture of the MB55 series designed in 1972 for Poggi: a juxtaposed repetition of single elements on wheels. Modularity therefore as a compositional "guarantee" of unitary harmony, as in the Serie Coda tables by B&B designed in 1972 (Tema catalogue, B&B), in which the rhythm is beat by the alternating panels in natural fir and lacquered bands, or in the Samarcanda system, again for Poggi in 1969, where drawers and containers in multi-layered beech plywood can be freely stacked to compose living-room furniture, chests of drawers, tables and desks that can be independently stacked or combined thanks to the standard depth of the elements which make them "compatible" ("A Milano: per collezionare arte moderna" in Interni, 1978). The poetics of modular aggregation, featuring a rhythmic and almost organically expandable nature, returns in the series of suspension lamps Triclinio, Pentaclinio, Eptaclinio, all of which are emanations and compositions of the Clinio lamp (1967) designed for Artemide - that uses the same diffusor as the preceding Omega lamp (1962) - modularly repeated to form a large-sized lighting group to meet functional needs that were different from the requirements of the spaces in which the lamps were installed, such as the Artemide showroom on Corso Monforte set up by Magistretti himself ("A Milano" in Ottagono, 1972).

Rosa Chiesa and Ali Filippini