Artemide and the light of life
This year Artemide is celebrating its anniversary. Time to reflect on past achievements? Well maybe, but this is a company that has always looked to light to break new ground in the future.
Talking about research and innovation in the case of Artemide, historic Italian leader in lighting, is like talking about its own DNA. Just think that its founder, Ernesto Gismondi, today 89 years old, is an aeronautical engineer with a second degree in missile engineering. When he started Artemide in January 1960 (the company is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year), Italy was experiencing that golden age when great architects met great entrepreneurs and gave birth to numerous design companies that wrote the history of modern design. Gismondi, originally from Liguria, educated with rigour and discipline, arrived in Milan by plane from Rome, where he taught at the university. Thanks to his first wife, architect Emma Schweinberger, he encountered this new reality of design. He invested 370,000 lire to create Artemide, a name that he chose because of classical studies and in order to appear in the phone directory before Azucena, Caccia Dominioni’s design company.
Yang LED by Carlotta de Bevilacqua, photographed during the tests of electromagnetic compatibility. Photography by Martino Lombezzi, commissioned for DAMN°75
Success came quickly to Artemide and soon elegant and flexible lamps like Tizio and Tolomeo were on desks everywhere, as they still are today. Since the beginning, Gismondi's aspiration has been to internalise skills to differentiate it from competitors. Back then it was about production, today it is about electronics. In 1987 there was already the R&D facility called Giacinto Gismondi and in 2015 the company’s innovation centre was enlarged, near Artemide’s factory in Pregnana in the province of Milan, where engineers and mechanics are committed to study photons for innovative solutions.
In the centre they do not talk about lamps, but about light. In state-of-the-art laboratories there are tests on the resistance of various components to temperature, shock, sun, humidity, and even of saline mist, to evaluate longevity and thus, sustainability. The light spectrum is analysed by a 10m-high goniophotometer (one of the biggest in Europe), while in an isolated separate room, emissions in the atmosphere and the electromagnetic compatibility with other elements present in a home environment are measured. “These tests demonstrate our great attention towards the environment and mankind both in the private and in the public sphere,” explains Carlotta de Bevilacqua, Gismondi’s wife and Vice President and CEO of Artemide. “After all, light is, along with air and water, one of the fundamental elements for the existence of man and nature, so designing light and distributing it in the world means improving life.” Mankind in the centre: a guiding idea of the company since the 1990s when it began its “sustainable journey”, putting emphasis less on the product and more on its performance in relation to those who live with it. It is the marriage of humanism and science at the root of the company’s corporate culture that is still perpetuated through the attention on research, on the beauty of technology, and on the dissemination of knowledge by way of light.
Details from Artemide's research centre. Photography by Martino Lombezzi, commissioned for DAMN°75
Artemide’s research is not about transitory aspirations, the numbers add up. In a company that invests 6% of its profit in research, with 10% of its employees in that sector, there have been 26 patents filed in the past four years, including eight in 2019. For an apparently simple lamp called Alphabet of Light, which was designed in collaboration with the Danish studio BIG, which de Bevilacqua is a great supporter of, there are two invention patents, one for electromechanical joints and another for mixing chamber optics, so there is no waste of energy. Another innovative project involving BIG is the Gople lamp, which combines the ancient tradition of glassmaking (Artemide has a 50% controlling interest in an historic glassworks in Venice) with RWB LED technology to develop a lamp that helps plants grow.
Even though he is nearly 90 years old, Gismondi is still ground-breaking: for his Discovery (which won the Compasso d’Oro award in 2018) he achieved a uniform lighting effect thanks to an algorithm that engraves a plate of PMMA , thus behind an emotional lighting scenario there is a very complex technology that can be managed with the Artemide App. Another new frontier of research are Geo Li-Fi and Li-Fi, which involve transmission of data through light. Even after 60 years, Artemide continues to be the leader in cultivating the future in the present.
By Silvia Anna Barrilà