The Italian Light Industry & FLOS as an example of a Design devoted firm – Gwangju, Korea, 19th October 2005
by Rodrigo Rodriquez, FLOS Vice chairman
One of the themes used by organizers to promote this brilliant and energetic Gwangju Design Biennale International Conference, has been “Design is Light”. So, I will begin my speech with some consideration about light. Afterwards, I will say some words on the Italian design, and, later, I will illustrate the profile of FLOS. At the end, I will dare to enter into a delicate theme: the comparison between Korean and Italian design.
Artificial, and namely electric light has become such an intimate part of our everyday life that to turn the switch to transform darkness into light is an almost unconscious gesture … until there is a power cut. It is only since about 125 years that we enjoy of the contribution of this technology to our daily life, and during this period designers, architects and artists have applied their talent to enrich the esthetical and functional features of the humble light bulb.
But the real lighting design has become a reality only in the late 1950s, thanks to booming economy growth and the emergence of a youth-based consumer society highly receptive to experimental ideas, as well as the greater accessibility to new materials, including the synthetic ones.
The Italian design
Not only because I am an Italian, I feel that the Italian design has offered the best opportunity to the light design to take off: designers as Gino Sarfatti, Achillle e Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Joe Colombo, Vico Magistretti, Ettore Sottsass, Tobia Scarpa (of course, also several not Italian deserve to be mentioned – two among all, Verner Panton and Richard Sapper) are bench marks of the history of the light design history.
In fact, the Italian design has been – and is; but for how long it will keep such a preminent role ? – the paradigm of how an innovative phenomenon is the result of a mix of ingredients. Let’s try to summarize them:
A) Italy had lost the 2nd world war, and at that time our country was poor and severely destroyed, and Italian wished to recover, being ready for new interior decorations, new objects, new environment
B) talented architects could not design buildings, because there was not yet enough money to erect them, and were prepared to concentrate their genius into design less expensive objects
C) smart entrepreneurs grasped the weak signals coming from consumers potentially receptive to that new, and hired those architects
D) because of the European armies which came to fight among themselves during the Renaissance had infused Italian blood with several Dna, the Italian design was born naturally international, so able to satisfy worldwide tastes and needs (like the pizza…)
E) presidents of manufacturing firms and their staff were and are instinctually able to proactively interact with designers and put the firm’s know how at the interested service of their innovative ideas- by know how I mean from the prototype to the marketing of the final product
F) such a probably unique ability makes the Italian design industry the preferred one by foreign designers, also Philippe Starck is used to say “je suis un designer Italien qui par hazard est né in France” (I am an Italian designer by chance born en France).
Going back to the light, designers and manufacturers could enjoy the development in lamp technology, from the first incandescent bulbs to the latest LED, passing through halogen bulbs and fluorescent and neon tubes as well as new plastics materials: from self-skinning PVC “Cocoon” to synthetic polymers. So, adding a wide range of materials language which offers to consumers new psychosensorial experiences and emotions. Two growing concerns had recently offered in the same time new opportunities and potential turning-points. One is the growing attention to the finite nature of the world energy resources, stimulating energy-savings light appliances combined with longer-life performance. The other is ergo-ophtalmology: much concern to safety and comfort of the consumer, awareness of how artificial light can affect, either positively or negatively, the well being of human.
The Italian light industry
FLOS is one of the about 2.200 Italian firms which compose the Italian light industry, with about 20.000 employees all together, less than two per firm, as an average. Our sector is typical of the Italian industrial system, whose fragmentation is both a strength and a weakness. A strength, because every morning thousands of entrepreneurs open the doors of their plants and offices and endeavour to be more competitive, more effective, and, some of them, more innovative. A weakness, because is no more true that “small is beautiful”, in a globalized market which demands increasing resources and size to combat severe competition. Anyway, thanks to design, the Italian lighting sector is worldwide number one in export, as far as the percentage on total production value regards: US $ 1.400 million on total production of US $ 2.500 million, which means 55%. EUROLUCE, the international biennale Milan Light Show organized by COSMIT, has certainly supported this success. 500 exhibitors, 140 of which not Italian, 192.000 visitors, more not Italian than Italians, are meaningful numbers. Do you know how many South Koreans have visited last edition EUROLUCE, April 2005 ? 1,986 ! warmly I invite 15 more in 2007, to breach the ceiling of 2000 South Korean! by the way, North Korean visitors have jumped from 94 in 2001 to 592 in 2005.
FLOS, the sweet burden of leadership (with Power Point images). FLOS was born in 1962, in the exciting atmosphere of the period when the Italian design sprouted. Thanks to Chairman Piero Gandini – whose greetings I convey here to you – and a highly qualified and motivated staff we are, since a long time, experiencing the sweet burden to be a co-leader, both in growth – our turnover has more than doubled in the last six years, thanks also to the acquisition of the Spanish company Antares, well specialized in technical lighting – and in position in the world market. Despite our modest size, our internationalization policy is based upon a network of subsidiaries, aimed to have a better control of our image and identity, and to give both the home furnishing and the contract market a complete range of products and services. Our Light Contract Division provides light projects and custom-made products to offices, museums, hotels, show-rooms and shops, churches, collective spaces in general, directly or in collaboration with clients’ architect and interior designer.
Korean and Italian design
When, some years ago, I have met the sweet Korean singer-star Yang HeeEun, she explained to me that both Korean and Italian languages, although belonging to different linguistic stocks, have their syllable ending with a vowel – which is, by the way, the why because there are so many outstanding Korean opera singer. As you know, the great German conductor Herbert von Karajan praised Jo Su-Mi as having the kind of voice that we can hear just once in a hundred years.
Another likeness between us is that both our peninsulas are geographically allocated in the same latitude. But our approach to innovation is different. We have just seen the presentation of his multifacet very innovative ICT designs by Mr. Young-Se Kim.
Also, I have read on New York Times what is happening at Songdo City, the man-made island off the Incheon coast to have it become probably the first U-city (Ubiquitous city), to grant citizens a real U-life. As you know, a U-city is where all major information systems share data, and computers are built into the houses, streets and office buildings. One example has impressed me: they are studying pressure-sensitive floors in the homes of older people that can detect the impact of a fall and immediately contact help. Here is one severe difference. In Europe, Ubiquitous computing infringes privacy. In Asia is viewed as an opportunity to show off technological prowess and attract foreign investments. So, we belong, and we contribute to create, different innovation approach and culture. And how important and valuable are those differences! Let me mention one Italian initiative which contributes to enhance the importance of a design-diversified world. The Designing Designers Convention among the Universities Design School in the World, hold in Milan during the Salone Internazionale del Mobile, organized by the Faculty of Design and COSMIT, is aimed to discuss the method to teach design in all countries to maintain the differences as an expression of each countries and design cultures. Please allow me to make a proposal, even to propose an agreement, consistent with Korean and Italian specific talents. You go on to design ICT and high technological tools and software. We Italian will continue to design products and interior comfortable atmospheres.
You, technological leaders.
We, human quality of life leaders. How do you feel ?
Kam Sa ham me da