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Joseph Licciardi | Axolotl Luminaries

This issue we introduce something new. Each quarter we will put a series of questions to an industry 'luminary' to get an insight into both their talent and their feel for the future. This issue we introduce Joseph Licciardi. Joseph’s name as a designer and his products are now sought after and exported all around the world. 

With a reputation for high quality and innovation his company Vetrosystems Pty Ltd and his partners Schiavello Pty Ltd have just formed a new entity called OMVIVO which means "Conscious Living". OMVIVO encapsulates the best of both companies’ abilities and represents a new point of view on design for the international marketplace.

What keeps you inspired?

Life keeps me inspired. Being alive, enjoying and seeing things around me. Meeting people. Eating wonderful food from clever restaurateurs leave lasting impressions. Today, I really love what is happening here and the great talents this country is now bringing out. Perhaps because we are exposed to the best from the world (and the worst!) and we don’t have this sense of the super ego because it is already assumed that we are not necessarily the best! So as such we have a much more humble approach to excellence. This is in a way a reminder of human imperfection. I think one of the most beautiful things about us is our imperfections – we should be aware of it.

And of course the most important inspiration is my wife, she gives me a great impetus.

What project do you consider to be your greatest achievement so far?

This is a hard question, because I don’t look back into projects as such as a great achievement, in most cases it’s more the experience of getting through to the finish of the project or product. One thing that had a particularly great impression on me and that was when I began to learn about the malleability of glass. I used to work in the 70s creating glass furniture but the pieces mainly just used plain sheets. However in the late 80s to early 90s I was exposed to an artist in Melbourne, John Greg, who worked in forming glass. We pushed the known parameters of the time and achieved the first large pieces of toughened formed glass.

Aside from that, the next project is always the best project as far as I’m concerned. 

Have you ever refused to comply with a client request or design? If so, why?

A variety of times when I’ve been asked to reproduce someone else’s designs. Or when they want the world for no money.

Are there any architects whose work encapsulates your own ideals? 

What ideals ? My ideals keep changing, I keep learning that what was important yesterday is actually not so important today. As I grow older I suppose I’m getting a little more sensitive to values which are probably more long term, designing to create as little ‘damage’ (environmental) as possible. I read and I see and look at people around me who give me glimpses of this type of work, so really there are too many designers whose work I admire and that encapsulates some of my own ideals.

Did/do you have a mentor?

As far as aesthetic values are concerned, my manager, Laurie Carew, at George’s was a great mentor. He taught me a lot about shapes, importance of lighting, displaying something correctly which often creates 60 or 70% of the products value! If something that’s not so great is superbly displayed it sells. He also had a great sense of humour. Da Vinci was also a fantastic luminaire, he was a typical renaissance man, an incredible talent of the time. Le Corbusier’s forms are poetry. Massimo Morozzi taught me not to take things or ideas on their surface value - there is much deeper thought in design. Massimo was the inspiration behind my most successful product so far, the Washplane®. 

Which Australian building excites you the most?

I don’t know if I have ever found one building that gives me all of the things I like. I guess if it’s a large building, I would say I definitely respect the Opera House in Sydney, it’s a building that I never really liked 100% but I admire what it is and the pleasure it gives to people, that’s a great asset in a building. For a more normal building, I love what Nonda Katsalidis delivered as the Ian Potter Gallery at Melbourne University. So clever for the cost, it resolves practical issues when displaying art within parameters that were quite stringent. It’s a wonderful example of modernist principles with today’s technology.

What do you see as key trends over the next couple of years in domestic or commercial design?

Contemporary design at last has come of age, especially in the residential market. There is much more awareness to designing with the environment and people in mind. Friendly work environments are much more in vogue these days. Designs are more courteous, gentle for the everyday worker. Aside from these two main things, I’m not really the best person to ask about trends (to me design is not about trends, it’s the result of human intellect)! I do think we are much more aware these days… we don’t necessarily fall for "what’s in" as much. So many people like different things and that’s one of the great things – design is much more individualistic. In fashion today, for example, you can have 20 different directions and all of them are valid! 

Which trend in architecture or design are you totally over?

The abuse and over use of trendy materials that go beyond the real value of the material. They forget what these materials are really used for or suited to and then they just abuse it. There is nothing worse when it comes to true design. It’s sad to think that what a client gets will be in today and out tomorrow, so the lifetime of their house and the materials used are so incredibly short.

Do you see a lot of development in Melbourne over the next year or so?

Hopefully there will be some ‘down time’ soon which brings in some good sense, when there are tougher times more creative things happen… people have to work harder, be more imaginative, leaner. That’s always good. Melbourne is enjoying great times. We are practically creating two new cities at Southbank/South Melbourne and the Docklands. And there’s a lot to be done yet.