In 1994, Mario Nanni decided to set up a new lighting company. But not simply a firm that would design and manufacture lights to sell. That would have been too easy. Instead, he decided to start up a new type of organisation, one that encompassed everything he loved about light and design, and one that would completely embody his philosophy in every aspect of its existence. He named it after the main street, indeed the only street in his little hometown of Bizzuno, near Rimini on Italy’s east coast. Coincidently this was the childhood stomping ground of Federico Fellini, another creative Italian who never took no for an answer.
Nanni wanted to invent new solutions to architectural and design problems – to human problems – not simply to shed light on dark spaces. In the process he has illuminated the imagination of the design community. If a project had a particular problem that could be solved with a lighting solution, Nanni’s company would address it and eventually come up with an elegant and unexpected answer. These products would then become available for others to use. As with human nature, answers to the most personal and particular questions often provide the most universal solutions, and hence the catalogue grows with each ‘one-off’ project that is tackled.
Viabizzuno grew quickly, the back catalogue expanding as its influence spread throughout the architectural community of Europe. In fact, it’s now the second largest lighting company in Italy. The company now has 180 employees (with an average age is 28), and is one of the few Italian design firms left that still makes all its products in Italy.
This month, Viabizzuno opened its first showroom in Australia, in Sydney’s Chippendale. Melbourne will follow next year and the company already has a list of representatives in the other states. The Sydney showroom is located on the renovated top floor of a 30s industrial building. It’s a light space, even without the illumination of their countless products, with windows on all sides. From the roof deck, the inner suburb’s once drab industrial skyline is being enlivened by mixed-use redevelopment and new architecture is making a comfortable home amidst the old. Up here, Viabizzuno is able to show off its outdoor products, which include a market umbrella lit from within and a number of steel and bronze fittings.
John Bechini, who has worked in the upscale architectural field for many years, manages the Australian headquarters. We asked him about the particular style adopted in their showroom. “It’s a response to the individual space, but strictly within the brand’s design parameters,” he says. “Mario is very careful to make sure the brand is totally consistent. He has designed everything right down to the heat sensitive coasters we place under our clients coffee and the perché non chocolates we offer them. Viabizzuno even has its own wine and olive oil.”
The Italian headquarters is an amazing building in itself, quite apart from the gallery and workshop it creates for the company’s light fittings. Partly made from wooden shipping pallets, it plays artfully with light and shadow. Says Bechini: “They even have accommodation for visitors so that they can be immersed in the aesthetic.”
The lights themselves have an art installation feel about them. Brass and bronze are used in a raw form so that they will gain an aged patina. Bulbs are often exposed and many controls have a tactile feel. Shapes vary from the strictly rectilinear to free form.
As well as light fittings, Viabizzuno has a product called 094, which actually has no power, no cables and emits no light. It’s an architectural profile made from plaster and aluminium that creates a knife-edge for the recessed track systems. It also makes a wonderfully sharp delineation for a dropped ceiling or any other special effect. Lights sit behind it in many combinations and colours to create extraordinary effects.
Viabizzuno works directly with architects and interior and lighting designers, so you will need one of these to obtain them, but you may have already seen their products, since they provide lighting for the retail spaces of many of the top brands like Armani, Prada, Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Other high-profile installations include the headquarters of the Venice Biennale, Braganca contemporary art gallery in Portugal, an extraordinary illuminated altar canopy in Alba cathedral and the Piazza dei Theatri in Cairepro, where lights slowly rise from the roofline of the surrounding buildings as night falls, appearing languidly like a rising moon.
As with so many of Viabizzuno’s works, there is poetry here, as well as humour, beauty, science and architecture. Not just light, but life.
Level 3, 13–15 Levey Street Chippendale
(02) 9305 8500