Foscarini is the third largest Italian lighting company and yet they do not own a factory. Their entire production relies on collaboration with skilled artisans, each of whom is specialized in a particular material or craft, from glass to carbon fiber. The company is now lifting the veil on this with Maestrie (Master Skills), a narrative photographic and video project by the artist Gianluca Vassallo. In addition, for the first time, Foscarini is allowing the press to visit some of these facilities—which is why we recently visited Crea, a small family-run artisanal workshop that specializes in the production of concrete design objects. The company is located in Valcamonica, surrounded by beautiful mountains and blue lakes, and is where the Aplomb (one of the most popular lamps of the Italian lighting company) is produced.
Crea was focused on traditional building and construction activities until 2007 when designers Paolo Lucidi and Luca Pevere brought up the idea of making a lamp in concrete. Apparently Giampietro Piccinelli—the owner and founder of Crea—told them it was impossible, but the designers convinced Piccinelli to work on the first prototypes—a move that ultimately breathed new life into the company. Piccinelli says, “They found us on the Yellow Pages and, at the beginning, we did not even want to accept this challenge. But had it not been for Lucidi, Pevere and for Foscarini, we probably would not have overcome the crisis of these years and today we would have closed.”
“When our production partners say ‘impossible,'” Carlo Urbinati, Foscarini’s CEO adds, “We at Foscarini understand that we are on the right track, because ‘impossible’ sometimes just means ‘never done before.'”
When experimenting with and developing the Aplomb lamp, the concrete cracked frequently, and there were plenty of flaws and stains. To overcome these problems they worked on the composition of the concrete and mold form (entirely constructed by Crea) until they obtained the ideal product. It was ultimately released by Foscarini in 2010. At first it came only in shades of gray but then colors were introduced—very soft tones, similar to those of classic ceramic, colors like pastel yellow, brick red, olive green. All colors are obtained by mixing pigments with concrete and devoid of paint and painting. Since, Aplomb has grown into a complete family of products, with three variants for the suspension lamp, floor and wall versions too.
Despite its sleek, industrial look, the Aplomb is entirely handcrafted. First, the liquid concrete is poured several times from one container to another to make bubbles disappear. Then the mixture is poured into the molds. The result is an irregular and colorful texture on the surface of the mold. Carlo Piccinelli (son of the owner and creative director) tells us that from time to time molds are cleaned, “But it’s a shame,” he says, “Because they look like Jackson Pollock’s.”
The concrete-filled molds are then placed in a heated closet at 35-40 degrees centigrade, where they dry for a few hours. When stiffened, the excess material is removed and the mold gets opened, revealing the funnel of the final product—still to be perfected. To define the piece, the ends are milled—partly with a machine and partly by hand. The surface is pleasantly imperfect and crossed by a constellation of microscopic holes; unique and unrepeatable in each lamp.
The next step is sandblasting, which makes the cement extremely pleasant to touch: smooth and silky. Before being sent to the facility that will implement the electrical system, Aplomb is immersed in a liquid that makes it waterproof and easy to take care of. Even when worked through machines, human hands and eyes are present. For such a popular items from a major firm, the evidence of the workers at Crea defines the brand’s aesthetics and values.
Process images by Paolo Ferarrini, product images courtesy of Foscarini