Founded by Vittorio Livi in 1973, FIAM designs, develops and produces items of furniture in curved glass, creating them through a combination of craftsmanship and industrial processes, actually merging tradition and innovation, hand-crafting and design. Vittorio Livi came to know and appreciate glass from a very young age. Glass, solid and fragile, natural and artificial, ancient and industrial all at the same time, is a mass of seeming contradictions, and Livi loved it for just that, as well as for its practical qualities. Glass is environment-friendly and hygienic: it may look simple, because of its transparency, but both its chemistry and its physics are really very complex. And this material of vast potential was virtually only used in the world of furniture for the production of small accessories or ornaments. And so in the young Vittorio Livi’s creative mind, a dream began to take shape:
glass would become a unique star in the world of fine design, being used to produce items of furniture which would be astonishingly solid yet beautifully transparent; design items which would rise above the age of their production, untouched by the passing years, spaces and fashions. From its earliest days, FIAM immediately focused on innovation as the driving force for achieving its business and cultural aims. This innovation would proceed on three fronts.
The success of the complex process by which glass is transformed into the finished product relies on the experience of skilled craftsmen, who carry out various operations: silver-coating, bending, decoration, fusion, engraving, grinding and carving. A glassworking professional, capable of predicting, quantifying, controlling and finding the right alternatives in every single case.
During the bending process, the master craftsman’s experience and his ability to work in perfect harmony with the furnace operator are fundamental for controlling the shapes produced and the success of the operation. In spite of the state-of-the-art technology used to forge it, the finished item is unique: a crafted work of art.
Therefore, at FIAM the master craftsman is considered just as important as the designer in the piece’s creation.
FIAM sees a designer’s ability to take risks with shapes as a welcome challenge to its technical expertise. The company has even created one-off technologies to produce some pieces. For example, in 1982 Massimo Morozzi came up with the design for the Hydra coffee table, with very pronounced shapes it would be difficult to obtain with the machinery then available. So FIAM invented a special machine (called the Paser) capable of pushing water and abrasive powder to a speed of one thousand metres a second – three times the speed of sound! And to produce the Illusion table by Philippe Starck, FIAM had to create a plant capable of processing glass at one thousand degrees.
Hand-in-hand with its innovation in design, Livi has always invested heavily in innovation in technology. Industrially produced glass reaches FIAM in the form of sheets. After the initial cutting, grinding and milling stages, the sheet is ready for bending, a process which starts with preheating to 630 degrees. It is fundamental for the glass’s temperature to be absolutely uniform during this stage, because even tiny differences cause the sheet to break. At less than 600 degrees, the vitreous mass crystallises and can no longer be moulded, while at a higher temperature it may become too free-flowing. To deal with these problems, over the years and as technology evolved, the small natural gas-fired bending furnace used to process the glass was replaced with another, larger, oil-fired one, and then by another powered by electricity, to guarantee better control of temperatures and the transformation of the heat from static to dynamic. Instead of refractory bricks, nowadays insulation is provided by high-tech ceramic insulating tiles of the kind also used on the space shuttles. Originally made from clay, the die is now produced in thermal steel. Fiam has now reached its fifth generation of glass bending plants: the master glass craftsman is now assisted by ground-breaking technologies in terms of both instruments and materials, enabling the company to rise to the increasingly challenging demands of the Designers who wish to work with this peerless material.