Joe Colombo 1930-1971)
To pose a first question concerning Joe Colombo, it is perhaps best to simply ask, "Why is he so famous?" The response, as well, may be put simply, Cesare Colombo, who chose to go under the first name, Joe, is one of the most influential and representative designers of the modern epoch. In his brief life (he died in 1971 at the age of 41) he managed to produce
the precursors that have indicated for so many designers a profoundly innovative line of investigation, always centered on his "positive" idea of the future. Driven by a feverish experimentation, he embraced many different fields, ranging from painting to architecture to home furnishing and industrial design. On the whole, the portfolio of this remarkable designer displays a
strong radicalism, an extraordinary capacity for ingenuity and transgression. It is product of a strong-willed adhesion to the "spirit of the modern" that Joe Colombo sought to liberate from historical impasse and inherited tradition.
He began his activity in the Fifties, in Milan, as an aspiring painter. He was, in fact, one of the leading figures (along with Baj and Dangelo) in the "Nuclear Movement," which sought to abolish established aesthetic conventions and models of affirmation in favor of a vision of the
world in constant mutation. Joe Colombo's work in this period is typified by open forms, transformations and explosions of color (interestingly in the same reds, yellows and browns he will use for his subsequent design pieces). The technical experimentations and repetition of signs in these early works often leave evidence, as in the case of a postmark, of the tendencies that will later
drive him so deeply into the theme of modularity for his furnishing designs. He displayed this budding orientation toward architectural design as early as the Milan Triennial in 1954, where he exhibited a series of "Edicole Televisione" (Television Newsstands), consisting of open television sets. He would ultimately abandon painting in 1958, as the Nuclear Movement's
early disruptive force had fully run its course and, consequently, offered little to the Milan artist in terms of new spaces for research. There followed a series of utopian architectural projects, highlighted by subterranean cities that anticipate the adventuristic and futuristic character that would come to trademark Joe Colombo's oevre as a whole.
It is along this trajectory that he moves into the Sixties, to his furniture and object designs for industrial production that are always underlined by his sense of the strong relationship between architecture and design. The rapport he sought was for objects of design to be born organically from the interior spaces they were to inhabit, or, out of their inevitable
confrontation with them. It is enough to recall the famous "monoblocks," which are simply put "machines for living" that gather into a single space numerous functions. Take for example also the options for food preparation provided in the "Mini-Kitchen," designed for Boffi in 1963; a "tool" for sleeping such as the "Cabriolet-Bed" from
1969, and the kitchen storage unit, "Rotoliving," projected also in 1969 for Sormani (And, this is not to mention his multitude of living room accessories: lamps, televisions, bars, telephones, radios, ect). Or, consider all the tools he grouped in the "Total Functioning Unit" which was presented amid remarkable fanfare to The New York Museum of Modern Art in 1972.
The idea that underlies each of the objects used in the home is their integration within a complete functional space, especially insofar as they become tools as opposed to furniture.
We must also remember Colombo's re-structuration project of a hotel in Sardinia in which he utilized the perspective of a counter-ceiling to produce a particular mode of indirect lighting. It is this idea that ultimately gives birth to the "Acrilica" lamp (still in production by O-Luce!) which utilizes a curvature of methacrylate to diffuse light indirectly.
Joe Colombo was consistently moved to seek possible solutions to everyday problems of living, as he, himself, was quick to underline: "All the problems that confront us today must be resolved on the social level, moreover, they must resolved globally and must involve projects for the future. Therefore, we must no longer live the idea of the worker-bees our time
depicts to us, but we must live for ourselves, for our existence, for a mode of living that coincides with the actuality of today and of tomorrow.
As we have said, all of the principal characteristics of Colombo's work render themselves legible across the diverse spectrum of his projects. Among them, his extraordinary capacities for vision and for inventiveness stand clear. We may say that it is the "preeminence of fantasy," which he applies in his early experiments with painting and carries throughout
his relentless pursuit of solutions not offered before, that sets his example so high and attracts so many imitations. (Is is not the case that the blueprint for the fiberglass boat appearing in the futuristic gallery of the James Bond films is a transformation of Joe Colombo's "Elda" chair?) We are, as well, forever aware of his absolute technical mastery, which leads him to
success in so many experiments with new materials and technologies. For example, there is his love for plastic materials (ABS, polyethylene, methacrylate, PVC, fiberglass) In 1967, after much experimentation, it was in fact Colombo who with Kartell realized the first plastic chair, which was injection-molded and produced completely by machine.
This technical mastery was applied as well to the rethinking of topologies for many tradition furniture and object designs. It is sufficient to remember his numerous projects in which attention was concentrated not so much on the light source, per se, but the many joints, attachments, switches, systems of suspension, and normal lamps filtered differently he developed
to realize his role in establishing a new lexicon for lighting fixtures. Or we may consider his beautiful works in glass: the "Smoke" glasses designed for one to be able hold comfortably a cigarette while drinking; the "Double," which are two glasses in one making it possible to simply turn the glass over for a sip of water or aperitif, and the "5 in1," in
which the five glasses each fit one into another to be stored (displayed) as an isolated sculpture of glass. In conclusion, let us look to a single object among so many, that one most loved by architects: the "Boby" push-cart, which none of our studies have excluded. It is a multi functional container, on wheels, designed in 1970 for Bieffeplast, in the conviction (that we,
after joe Colombo, seem to share now without reservation) that there must be no distinction between the furnishings of the office and those of the home.