The years from 1950 to the first half of the 70's represented years of a total socio-cultural revolution in Italy. At the conclusion of a war that was disastrous from every possible point of view there was an enormous desire to reconstruct the country and improve living standards. With great difficulty Italy struggled to modernize and all aspects of life had to change and be up dated.
And in fact in the field of industrial design everything did change and update : from fashion to automobiles, from home furnishing to the reinforced concrete structures of PierLuigi Nervi, everything was subject to re-thinking and everything became redesigned with a creative frenzy that involved all areas. In this intensely creative context, an incredible number of dazzling lighting fixtures, mostly for interiors, were put on the market. They were marvelous 'luminous objects' and in some cases almost pieces of sculpture.


Since the lamps began to also be designed by architects the association 'lamp = lighting' slowly became the more important association of 'architect designed lamp = lighting design'. And so the Italians thought of themselves as masters of lighting design.

Around this time, some architects and the better lighting manufacturers, who had been designing and manufacturing beautiful lamps, began to understand the technical and psychological problems inherent in 'architectural lighting'. The people actively involved in lighting design, however, did not have the academic background specific to the profession of lighting designer but were mostly architects and engineers who had at very best taken some college course in lighting calculations. They had become lighting designers by imitation and intuition and were completely self taught.


But the world was changing and so was Italy. Italians began to travel and to work abroad. They visited other countries, stayed in top hotels and they began to understand how in other places, first of all the US, the visual perceptions to which they were exposed were very different from the ones they received in their own 'bel paese'. The restaurants had a special atmosphere, the buildings were often well lit, the museums were marvelously lit, the historical buildings and sites dramatically emphasized etc. and, most important of all, the lighting companies and all of those who were involved with lighting in one way or another took part in international conventions where they could follow the development of this dynamic industry. In short people began to wake up !

The English firm, Concord Rotaflex in conjunction with the American firm Lightolier introduced Europe to a catalogue full of architectural lighting products, mostly for interiors, which were decisively avant guard. Bit by bit these products spread throughout the European countries and created a fertile terrain for the development of many other lighting fixture manufacturers.
Towards the very beginning of the 60's some adventurous Italian manufacturers began timidly to introduce the first 'downlights' on the market. Others preferred the shortcut of becoming foreign reps for the already highly competitive and well equipped manufacturers abroad. As a consequence more and more Italian firms began to see a bright future in architectural lighting and began to develop their own product lines. And here we are at the birth of brands that are dedicated exclusively to architectural lighting fixtures. Finally the market offered the tools for creating serious lighting design projects.

After having studied and worked in the US I returned to Italy in 1981 to open a lighting design firm in Rome. I was immediately subject to a deep seated prejudice, that in Italy for all of the above reasons, these lighting experts had no need for a 'lighting designer'. Every potential client relied either on its construction company or at best on a lighting manufacturer who would not only furnish the necessary materials for the lighting project but would also do the 'lighting design'' naturally using fixtures from their own catalogue.

Public lighting projects were practically inexistent. There was simply street lighting. On the rare occasion that there was a decision to light a fa'ade or a fountain or some other artistically worthy object the city technical staff or the electric company was called upon to provide a scheme which was usually developed in conjunction with the customary lighting manufacturers. The museums, overwhelmed with financial problems, considered lighting to be the least of their problems and so even here when the question was addressed it was always as a minor detail among the many problems of museum management.

Probably the very first lighting design projects were for hotels belonging to American hotel chains that packaged their products in the USA and then exported them intact to the local site. This was also the start of my firm's involvement with projects inside of Italy. In fact, as the only member of the International Association Of Lighting Designers (IALD) in Italy I was then the only lighting designer acceptable to a North American client. In Italy there began to be the awareness that, in many countries, lighting, both interior and exterior, was something that should be designed by a specific professional figure'..the lighting designer. In this period however the best architectural lighting fixtures were being produced in Germany where both the conceptual and the technological product features were (and in my opinion, still are) far superior to those that even the best Italian manufacturers were offering at the time.

Bit by bit an awareness began to develop in Italy, first in the private sector mostly with hotels and then public projects , a small castle here, a small historical town center there and so on and this is also the moment that the problem of lighting design in Italy is born'.particularly in the public sector.

Part 2 -->