Designing with light is a fascinating concept. Light is energy—how do you harness that? Mario Nanni, designer and founder of the lighting company Viabizzuno, has become a master at it. Based in Italy, it produces ingenious fixtures that create a mood, style, and story. Viabizzuno has collaborated with blue-chip architects from around the world: It has set aglow the grotto of Peter Zumthor’s Therme Vals in Switzerland, illuminated Michelangelo’s Moses in the tomb of Pope Julius II in Rome, created a symphony of light for Oscar Niemeyer’s Palazzo Mondadori in Milan, and set the scene for solemn contemplation inside David Chipperfield’s Inagawa Cemetery in Japan. Viabizzuno also works on fashion, hospitality, and institutional projects, and dabbles in editorial, furnishings, and culinary work, too. At the core of its design philosophy is observation, which is critical to Nanni’s creative process. Surface sat down with him to learn more about his approach and his plans to set new realms alight.
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Tell us about Viabizzuno’s history. I grew up on via Bizzuno, 17, in the province of Bizzuno, Italy, and founded Viabizzuno in 1994. From day one, design has been the company’s focus. Viabizzuno has stayed true to its roots in the Romagna region and today, our campus is located on via Romagnoli. Our story is one of many people, of passion mixed with a practical approach, of daring and tenacity—foundational elements to realizing a dream. For years now, Viabizzuno has served a range of international clients by revealing how light must blend with architecture, space, and people. We don’t design for a single light source, rather, we need to research the right light.
Whatis the driving force behind your work?
We create culture through light. The two elements at the core of our company are craftsmanship and engineering. Our strength is developing custom fixtures, finding new solutions, and integrating light and architecture to create an identity. I learned the electrician’s trade from my grandpa when I was 12; today, I still channel that artisan know-how, applying similar methods to commissions with architects who have different styles. It is through observing and understanding natural light that we learn to work with it. Only through this study does the vocation [of a lighting designer] rise, which has become our passion and expertise.
What does good design mean to you? We believe that designing is a way of being, thinking, and acting. It’s the building-up of ourselves, the constant work toward improvement. We design both to enhance and complement a space, analyzing all aspects of the environment: sounds, color, images, words, needs, surroundings, etc. Without studying all elements, the design goal is missed. Design is not simply a profession, but a way to establish a relationship with life and others. A designer could be a cook, an athlete, a teacher, an architect, a sculptor, a painter—even my mother (when she cooks, she’s unbeatable)—and surely a dreamer with dirty hands from hard work.
What projects do you currently have in the works? Our current projects are heterogeneous and involve the whole team, from those at our the headquarters in Bentivoglio to [designers at] our new technical laboratories in London, Shanghai, and New York. We just collaborated with David Chipperfield Architects on the inauguration the Royal Academy of Arts in London, and the reopening of an ancient marble quarry in the hills of Vicenza. We’re also wrapping up projects with the Kunsthaus Zürich [museum] in Zürich and the James Simon Gallery in Berlin. We also contributed to Peter Zumthor’s latest work, which is a villa in southern England. In Milan, we’re illuminating the historic Galfa Tower; in Japan, we’re lighting a new skyscraper. We’re working with the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Cabos Mexico and the Blue Radisson Hotel in Rome. Viabizzuno is also engaged in its home city and is working closely with City Hall and the University of Bologna to study the ancient center and create an open air gallery.