Deep in Le Corbusier’s Parisian archives, stacks of notebooks reveal sketch upon dusty sketch of modern design history. Specifications are scrawled in looping cursive, pen marks growing faint on aging paper. Even the most legendary lighting designers have seen their creations skirt the edge of obscurity with the passing of time. But for some designers like Le Corbusier, Vico Magistretti and Charlotte Perriand, the ever-ticking clock of time does not relegate their genius to the padlocked door of the past. Thanks to the aptly named Masters collection, the dust has been blown from hand-drawn sketches and prototypes and, with original integrity still intact, Italian lighting brand NEMO has brought these designs up to date, up to code and back to life.
Featuring families of luminaires—from floor and table lamps to pendants and sconces—originally designed for private French chalets, apartments and ateliers in Paris and the Parliament and High Court of Chandigarh, the Masters collection re-introduces the highly architectural designs of Le Corbusier, Magistretti, Perriand and other lighting masters of the 20th century.
From the Mind of Le Corbusier: Lampe de Marseille, Projecteur and Parliament
Best known as a leading man of architecture’s International Style era, a subset of Bauhaus and 1920s and ’30s modernism, Le Corbusier’s minimalist sensibility translated seamlessly to his lighting designs which feature many of the same pure, linear elements that can be found in his buildings.
“Space and light and order. Those are the things men need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.”–Le Corbusier
Designed for the Unité d’Habitation between 1949 and 1952, Le Corbusier’s Lampe de Marseille was “a machine for making light.” In his 1925 book “The Decorative Art of Today,” Le Corbusier had already declared that he found it senseless to “make chandeliers in the old-fashioned style.”
Drawn to the straightforward efficiency of industrial lamps over the “old-fashioned” decorative ones, the designer channeled his strict functionalist creed into the making of his Lampe de Marseille, composed of two cones allowing for simultaneous and opposing up and downlighting with two arm joints that support maximum adjustability even as, in its sconce construction, the lamp remains affixed to the wall.
Just a few short years later in 1954, the architect-designer began work on his Projecteur luminaire for the Chandigarh High Court in India. A unique, nautical-appearing fixture, Projecteur remained unreleased until 2012, when its designs were discovered in the archives of the Le Corbusier Foundation in Paris.
As NEMO’s production team only had access to a side view of the lamp’s design, they had to imagine and rebuild the functional aesthetic of the fixture, including finishes and details that would suit, and not betray, the original design. Another shining example of Le Corbusier’s interest in the interplay of fundamental shapes, the aluminum-encased fixture is simply composed of a cylinder attached to a half-moon, subtly adorned with black chromed screws and small metal parts to hold its sandblasted glass shade in place.
“Our eyes are made to see forms in light, light and shade reveal these forms; cubes, cones, spheres, cylinders or pyramids, are the great primary forms which light reveals to advantage…these are beautiful forms, the most beautiful forms.”–Le Corbusier
Created a year before his death at the age of 77, Le Corbusier’s 1963 Parliament design was devised for his Chandigarh Capitole city design project. Strongly influenced by 1950s’ modernism and industrial design—as is par for the course with Le Corbusier’s body of work—Parliament is a two-way light source constructed from primary shapes made all the more noticeable by the use of lacquered aluminum in various colors for each individual component.
Postwar Reclamation: Vico Magistretti’s Claritas
In 1946, just months after the official end of WWII, Vico Magestretti worked with Mario Tedeschi to produce Claritas. Having shared a love interest as teenage boys, a young woman by the name of Claritas, the designers worked together to create a curved lampshade reminiscent of the hat donned by their youthful crush. Using reclaimed metal originally intended for wartime use, Claritas’ postwar design is far from the battlefield, yet is constructed from a series of tubes that used war-industry technology to curve and weld the metal together, creating a slim and adjustable domestic fixture.
From the Chalet of Charlotte Perriand: Potence Pivotante
Strongly influenced by the work of Le Corbusier (whom she began assisting at the age of 24), Perriand’s work took a minimalist, highly functional approach to interior spaces. Followers of the French architect say that her lighting designs were not conceived by the mind of a designer, but by the mind of an architect—that Perriand thrived in designing and scaling fixtures for the individual spaces for which they’d been created.
Turning her eye toward the functionality of furniture and the arrangement of interior environments, many of Perriand’s most notable works were originally designed for her own living spaces, like the Potence Pivotante. Created in 1938 for her mountain chalet, La Vieux Matelot, Potence Pivotante is a subtle statement luminaire that optimizes the efficiency of light. Offering maximum adjustability and ease of use, the L-shaped sculptural design hinges at its base, allowing the fixture to be positioned wherever light is needed along the arm’s circular path. Combining tubular metal with an opal sandblasted glass shade, the minimalist, matte-black finished fixture stands as a testament to Perriand’s work with simple materials and clean lines.
From sconces with swinging arms that once lit mountain-side getaways to cone-shaped floor lamps that bring unexpected color and two-way illumination to modern interiors, NEMO has searched the depths of those dimly lit Parisian archives and collected some of the great architectural designs of the last century, allowing the Masters collection to shine bright and stand the test of time.