D’Alesio & Santoro: light between poetry and science

Lighting as a new research frontier: Carlo D'Alesio and Piero Santoro introduce their vision of light, between "traditional" applications and visionary studies on photobiology.

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Highlights

Carlo D’Alesio and Piero Santoro have succeeded in creating a complementary reality for working with light in all of its aspects, tackling lighting projects of very different scales and goals with the D’Alesio&Santoro studio, and pushing this discipline to the limit with MEG, the consultancy firm that operates in the field of applied photobiology. 

1. Carlo D’Alesio, Piero Santoro. Foto Copyright Luca Benedet, 2021

The duo’s first approach to light dates back to their university days, in 2002, with their participation in the Lights for the Future international competition at the German Light+Building fair. Selected as the only Italians in the student category, they interpreted the recognition as a stimulus to continue working on the topic. After earning their degree and a master’s degree in light design and technology at the Milan Polytechnic (where they have supervised several teachings, up to today) they separate professionally by undertaking different paths: for 5 years, Carlo works in METIS Lighting, while Piero is in the Light division Management System of 3M, mainly dealing with film optical technologies. Over those years, despite their professional careers in different companies, D’Alesio and Santoro shared a continuous exchange and comparison on the theme of light, culminating in their first participation in the Salone Satellite in 2005, and then in the official birth of the D’Alesio&Santoro company In 2010. 

The duo’s first approach to light dates back to their university days, in 2002, with their participation in the Lights for the Future international competition at the German Light+Building fair. Selected as the only Italians in the student category, they interpreted the recognition as a stimulus to continue working on the topic. After earning their degree and a master’s degree in light design and technology at the Milan Polytechnic (where they have supervised several teachings, up to today) they separate professionally by undertaking different paths: for 5 years, Carlo works in METIS Lighting, while Piero is in the Light division Management System of 3M, mainly dealing with film optical technologies. Over those years, despite their professional careers in different companies, D’Alesio and Santoro shared a continuous exchange and comparison on the theme of light, culminating in their first participation in the Salone Satellite in 2005, and then in the official birth of the D’Alesio&Santoro company In 2010.

Alongside the studio, and together with Design Group Italia, in 2018 the duo founded MEG, a consultancy company on applied photobiology, a discipline that studies and investigates the interaction of light with living organisms, as a bridge between research and industry. The professional duality is summed up by the couple with the binomial “light for humans – light for non-humans”, different areas of application for a common growth strategy based on years of study, theoretical preparation and empirical experimentation. «Artificial light is in our opinion the largest and most extensive prosthesis of the human race – D’Alesio and Santoro say – A shared prosthesis. The fact that artificial light exists is a response to a deficiency in our photoreceptors. A jaguar wouldn’t need that. When bioengineering will allow the human eye to overcome its natural limits, there will no longer be a need for lighting design and lamps».

2. "Fotobioreattore Photo-B-Otic presso l’installazione di ingresso al Padiglione Italia EXPO 2020 Dubai, ideata da CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati per ENI S.p.A." - Foto Copyright MEG, 2022

You have been working in the lighting field for over 15 years. What direction has your research taken?

Carlo D’Alesio:  «I don’t want to dwell on the formal language of light, on the aesthetics or on the application of new sources; in D’Alesio&Santoro, our research is mainly entrepreneurial. Our professional backgrounds merged into the company quite early, everything we earn is reinvested to grow the firm’s structure. We want to be solid, organised, we want to give ourselves procedures that are clear and applicable to every aspect of the job, while avoiding making them too stringent or suffocating. Technological research is instead the basis of MEG».

3." Piero Santoro in copertura totale anti-UV presso un allevamento di Hermetia Illucens" - Foto Copyright MEG, 2022

Piero Santoro: «Our academic training took place in conjunction with the birth of Solid State Lighting (LED, OLED, Laser). Unlike colleagues from previous generations, we have not suffered the transition from traditional “electric” light sources to a “digital” source with different and more sophisticated control possibilities. The intrinsic potential of the technology made us reflect on what the applications of all Solid State Lighting could be beyond general lighting, linked to well-being or more pushed on the scientific front. We approached higher plants and thus MEG (acronym for Mutable Efficient Growing) arrived in 2013, a domestic and connected greenhouse, but behind which lay the broader concept of applied photobiology.  The skills learned on the cultivation of plants were then applied to algae – for which we hold patents and other assets – to mushrooms, to the breeding of insects for industrial purposes. During the pandemic we worked on the sanitization of air and surfaces. Today with MEG we deal with photobiological consultancy in “frontier” areas, and our customers are mostly university departments throughout the country and research and development centers of large companies, such as ENI and Green Has Group».

4. “Maglite Dart”, “Zippo Lantern”, “Phycotrone” - Styling e Fotografia Copyright Luca Benedet, 2021

Visual comfort, safety, a sense of “beauty” are needs that a lighting project must respond to. What is your approach?

Carlo D’Alesio: «Those who work with light are dealing with the most pervasive entity of physical reality. Light is at the bottom of our retinas, it penetrates us to allow us to see, there is natural light (which scientifically speaking comes from outside the Earth system), there is artificial light from lamps and the light emitted by objects of common use, such as computer monitors or smartphone screens. Everything merges and con-fuses, with an immense scale of values, which for us humans, as far as we have managed to understand up to now, starts from the galaxy itself with the concept of a light year up to a minimal invisible entity, the photon . Setting aside any philosophical thoughts for a moment, when designing there is always a triangle made up of times, costs and performance. The designer must move within these parameters looking for the best compromise. Only the artist is actually free to disregard them».

5. “Stazione di Roma Tiburtina, panoramica livello terra” - Foto Massimo Di Filippo, 2019 D'Alesio&Santoro (CC-BY-NC-ND)

You have signed projects of any size, from Tiburtina station to intimate works, such as the Cartier installation at the Milan Design Week in 2022. What is the common thread that joins all your works together?

Carlo D’Alesio: «The trait d’union is the extreme pervasiveness of the matter we deal with. At the basis of all our work there is a pragmatic approach. For example, in the cases of Rome Tiburtina FS and Brescia AV we sought compliance with the stringent specifications and regulatory constraints, in order to guarantee as much safety as possible, complying with the stringent regulations of every area. When you’re lighting a railway junction, there is little room for artistic ambitions, and the aesthetic theme is reduced to having as little impact as possible on the built environment. Instead, the creative gesture is extremely important in a temporary exhibition project such as the one for Cartier at the Salone del Mobile 2022 – a transitory space you have only 7 days to visit allows you to experience much more than an infrastructure with a life span of at least 15 years. We have also worked on events for Balich Wonder Studio, and in these cases the artistic and language experimentation has been very high. The approach remains different from time to time, based on the context and the client. There is no all-purpose recipe for the perfect lighting design».

6. “Cartier: the Culture of Design at Milan Design Week 2022” - Foto Copyright A&S Team, 2022

Piero Santoro: «Whatever the field of action, our work is a bit like “shaping the intangible”. Ensuring certain lighting values, uniformity, chromatic correspondence, perceptive contrasts, is always linked to the understanding of a material that remains intangible to the will of man. With D’Alesio&Santoro and with MEG, we treat light in many different ways. We also have some collaborations based on the integration of light in consumer industrial objects, studying how light can communicate with the user, for example in vending machines, heavy industry machines or charging stations for electric cars, such as part of our operations together with Design Group Italia. Being absolutely transversal is perhaps, to date, our identity code».

7. “Stazione di Brescia, dettaglio settore AV” - Foto Massimo Di Filippo, 2020 D'Alesio&Santoro (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The scientific application of light is at the heart of MEG. Let’s talk about light for non-humans…

Piero Santoro:  «The initial spark was a reflection on the evolutionary possibilities of narrow-band LED technologies, commonly known as “single-wavelength”, to be applied in a different and more scientific way with respect to the more than ten-year-old theme of human-centric lighting or the lighting entertainment industry. We therefore found ourselves immersed in the world of applied photobiology, we studied the photo-induced biochemical mechanisms a lot. We began to see light as an “actuator”, looking for stimulating interlocutors who could stimulate us. MEG’s is an infinite and new world, popular studies are dated and stop at an analogical approach. There is a lot to discover, for example we are studying the role of photobiology in circularity processes. From the cultivation of plants to that of microalgae or, again, to that of photo-enriched Vitamin D fungi. We are approaching the aerospace industry to be able to produce oxygen in confined vital systems. In a lunar base or an expedition on a long journey to Mars, the production of oxygen and food must be a self-regenerating and potentially zero-waste process. Our greatest ambition is to become an independent research center on applied photobiology and beyond, to discover new unexplored frontiers».

 

 

www.dalesioesantoro.it

www.megscience.com

 

 

 

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