Yorkshire Post - Property
In praise of a designer whose work stands the test of time
ANYONE over the age of 50 will remember a time when there were no mobile phones, let alone smartphones.
Phone boxes were used for telephone calls not for housing defibrillators or village book swaps. “High viz” jackets were a rarity and at the start of the 1970s, only four per cent of school leavers went to university. It is now over 40 per cent.
Those days were a time of inflation, strikes, a fuel crisis (with the first issue of petrol coupons since World War II), political uncertainty, all much like today.
Then, in 1972 along came Richard Sapper’s design of the Tizio desk lamp. It was revolutionary in so many ways. The base is very heavy as it houses the transformer which gives it great stability and means that there are no wires to the light bulb. The frame itself discreetly conducts the low voltage electricity and looks like a geometric miniature crane.
The lamp head can be rotated through 360 degrees, instantly converting it to an uplighter and the arms are counterbalanced so that whatever position is required, it will always stay there.
It was originally made in black with a small red dimmer switch and red snap fasteners with a tiny bulb more commonly fitted in motor cars but today there is an LED option.
Even if there was an accident and the light was knocked over and fell to pieces, it could easily be re-assembled as the various parts are held together with press-studs which simply snap together, no tools needed.
Not surprisingly, it was a great success and taken into many museums’ design collections. It has been in constant production by the original manufacturer, Artemide, in Italy.
After 25 years, a special matt silver anniversary edition was produced and now after 50 years a golden anniversary limited edition has been made in bright red, pictured, each with Richard Sapper’s signature.
The light has appeared in many films, including Bond movie Moonraker, and it looks today just as modern as it did half a century ago.
Richard Sapper died aged 83 in 2015 leaving an impressive legacy. Many of his designs were far ahead of their time, such as the folding scooter of 1979 which was aimed at being a solution to traffic congestion in Milan and other large cities, or the X 126 “Softnose” concept car for Fiat, which absorbed shock in minor accidents up to 20 kph and could bounce back into its original shape.
This took Sapper back to his early engineering days at Mercedes Benz where he worked in the 1950s. In many ways, he merged the worlds of engineering and contemporary design with an understanding of the way we live and work.
Hence his appointment in 1992 as principal international industrial design consultant for IBM and his creating the first “ThinkPad 700C,” the first notebook computer.
The breadth of his work varies from a modular axel system for earth moving machinery to cookware and furniture. He was also committed to teaching internationally including at The Royal College of Art, in London.
Much has changed in the past 50 years but it’s reassuring that a design that looked futuristic back then should still be around, still looking modern and still a leader in its field. Perhaps that is the real measure of good design.