Palainco Seriously light minded

Acrilica, the first golden medal for Joe Colombo

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Cesare ‘Joe’ Colombo was a designer for only 10 years, but his huge talent enabled him to win more international design awards than most designers in a lifetime. Together with his brother, Gianni, he received his first Medaglia d’Oro for a lamp at the XIIIth Trienniale in Milan in 1964, only two years after starting his own studio for interior design and architecture. The prize was awarded for their transparent table lamp Model 281, produced by Oluce. The lamp is called Acrilica, because its striking and expressive curved shape is made of acrylic.

  • Joe Colombo (1930-1971) grew up under circumstances ideal for a future designer. His musically-talented mother encouraged her children to spend their childhood drawing and making Meccano constructions. His father was an industrialist who owned a factory that produced electrical appliances. In 1958, illness forced him to hand over the business to his sons, giving Joe the opportunity to use the factory as an experimental space for the latest production techniques and materials. These active formative years later allowed Joe Colombo’s creative and innovate mind to flourish.

  • 01_Palainco_Oluce_Joe_Colombo_Table_Lamp_281_Acrilica_Portrait- Joe Colombo, with his inseparable pipe.

    Early in 1962, when he was 31 years old and 10 years before he passed away, Joe Colombo opened a design studio in Milan. Here he worked on architectural commissions, mostly interiors for ski lodges and mountain hotels, but also on product design. One of his first and most successful designs was the transparent table lamp Acrilica, which was produced by Oluce in the opening year of his design studio.

    This design of the Acrilica was developed based on a concept previously used for the design of the entrance hall of Hotel Pontinental in Sardinia. In this hotel Joe Colombo used the perspective of a counter-ceiling to produce a particular mode of indirect lighting and prisms that reflected and refracted the light. Unfortunately, we were not able to find a picture of the design.

  • 03_Palainco_Oluce_Joe_Colombo_Table_Lamp_281_Acrilica_Hotel_Pontinental_Sardinia--2 The hotel still exists, but it is unclear whether Joe Colombo's construction is still visible.

     

     

  • The lamp was made of methacrylate (PMMA), more commonly known as acrylic or acrylic glass or by trade names Plexiglas or Perspex, among several others.

    The production process seems rather straightforward. The material first gets heated, then pressed in order to get the proper shape. Finally, it is finished by means of polishing.

    It was nevertheless very difficult to make the lamp, we are told by Michele Moro, production technician for Oluce in 1962. In a video on the website of Oluce he says: “The design was very difficult to make, due to the thickness of the material. It took months of work before we managed to get this curve, as we couldn’t get the light to come out the way we wanted.” But also after the development phase it remained challenging to produce it, as Michel Moro indicated: “Every time you try to bend, cut or clean the lamp new problems crop up.”

  • 04_Palainco_Oluce_Joe_Colombo_Table_Lamp_281_Acrilica_Production_Process- It all starts with a basic piece of methacrylate.
    05_Palainco_Oluce_Joe_Colombo_Table_Lamp_281_Acrilica_Production_Process- After it is being heated the methacrylate is put in a press.
  • 06_Palainco_Oluce_Joe_Colombo_Table_Lamp_281_Acrilica_Production_Process- Later on it is finished by means of polishing.
  • Methacrylate is often used instead of glass, as it is lighter than regular glass and it allows superior transmission of light. Exactly these intrinsic characteristics of the material lead to the design of the lamp. Thanks to the conductive properties of acrylic, light emitted from a hidden source in the painted steel base of the lamp is moved along the transparent curve and eventually gives off both direct and ambient light. As a result, it is just as if the light is climbing up. Or as Franco Lettera, former production manager of Oluce, expresses in the video: “This lamp somehow anticipated how fibre optics would work, in other words the principle of taking light from one end and transporting it to the other.”

    Joe and Gianni Colombo also came up with another version, that has a more complicated curl, but this design was never taken into production.

  • 07_Palainco_Oluce_Joe_Colombo_Table_Lamp_281_Acrilica_Prototype- A prototype that was never taken into production, probably because of its complexity.
    08_Palainco_Oluce_Joe_Colombo_Table_Lamp_281_Acrilica_Prototype-
  • The Acrilica table lamp was Joe Colombo first masterpiece in lighting and in our humble opinion he fully deserved the Medaglia d’Oro at the Triennale in Milano, as the construction of the lamp is innovative and beautiful at the same time.

    Fortunately for us, his inspiration was far from gone after having designed the Acrilica; many famous and prize-winning lamps would follow. We can’t promise we won’t be writing more about him in future nor will we eliminate the possibility of having a lamp designed by Joe Colombo in our shop (at least once in a while).

  • Unless otherwise stated, all material is sourced and/or generated internally. All rights reserved.

    • Text: Oluce & Palainco
    • Image sources: Catalogo Diseno, MoMA, Oluce & the Palainco Archive

    The article and its contents may not be copied or reproduced in any part or form without the prior written permission of the copyright holders.

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