By the 1960s, it could be argued that lighting design had come of age. This was influenced by several factors—booming post-war economic growth, the emergence of a new youth market eager to challenge established ideas about modern style, and the continuing development of lighting technologies and new plastics that encouraged greater experimentation with form and cheaper production. Italy had become an innovative manufacturing center investigating new materials and methods, and many of its young designers, including Gae Aulenti, were starting to question the rational severity of international modernism.
The Pipistrello (Italian for bat) lamp, is one of several lamps designed by Aulenti in the 1960s, when new plastics and plastic-molding techniques were making it possible to create almost any shape imaginable. The lamp’s name refers to the sweeping curves of the molded, segmented methacrylate shade that from some angles resembles a bat’s outspread wings. When lit, the translucent, opalescent material provides a diffused light. The shade glows, casting a soft light upward and a brighter light for work or reading below. Versatility and multiple function were also primary elements of Aulenti’s design. Configured here at the height of a table lamp, the central metal post is composed of three sections. The post can telescope from under two feet to over three feet, allowing the form to be used as a table lamp or low floor lamp. The modestly flaring enameled aluminum base is very stable. It is unobtrusive enough to stand on a desk or table, or next to a chair in a domestic interior. The functional yet expressive form of the Pipistrello lamp has become a design icon of the pop era.
Cynthia Trope is Associate Curator of Product Design and Decorative Arts at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.