20th Century Italian Design : timeless mid century modern furniture
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was born in Winsconsin in 1867 and lived in Rhode Island, Iowa and Massachusetts before moving back to Winsconsin in 1878. He worked for several architectural firms and then was hired by the famous Adler & Sullivan where he work directly under Louis Sullivan for six years. In 1893 he opened his office and unleashed his vision to create unique American Architectural projects inspired by harmony and nature. He used reinforced concrete, glass, steel and sheet metal to create monumental buildings where the interior space was the key to balance and were liberated in a very organic way. He is one of the pioneer of Prairie Style architecture. His designs range from residential to commercial buildings, museums, religious houses, furniture, lighting and accessories. His famous project the Falling Water, a residential design in southwest Pensylvania became a tourist attraction. Between his major project you can find the Robie House in Chicago (1910), the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (1923) and the famous Guggenheim Museum in New York (1959) .
Franco Albini was born in Robbiate a small town close to the city of Como, Italy. He studied architecture at the Milan Polytechnic graduating in 1929. He worked at the studio of Gio Ponti and opened his own studio in 1930. His works can be found in architecture, industrial architecture, furniture and museum design and he is considered one of the most influential figure of the Rationalist Movement. During the 1940's he started collaborating with iconic furniture company Cassina creating some successful chairs and developing his signature style while building an intensive background by learning from skilled cabinet makers and craftsmen. His architectural projects include urban developments and museums which granted him numerous recognitions for cultural contributions. He also received Compasso D'Oro price for the design of the Luisa Chair, Architectural awards as well.
Afra and Tobia Scarpa have put their know-how into products ranging from home furniture to clothing. Their works can be found in museums across the USA and Europe as in the Moma and the Louvre. They won several awards such as the prestigious Italian “Compasso D’Oro” with the Soriana design, and and the International Forum Design in 1992. Tobia’s father Carlo Scarpa was also a great architect and designers from the Mid Century Period and worked with famous names such as historic Ventian Murano glass company Venini, where also Tobia worked later on. Some of the major works of the two architects include the Coronado Sofa for B&B Italia (1966) and the Soriana Sofa for Cassina 1970. With Gavina they created the “Bastiano” sofa (1961) and they designed the "Papillona" and "Pierrot" lamps for Flos in the 1977 and 1990. Their works extended to fashion where they thrived in a collaboration with fashion house Benetton. Their products played an important role in the history of Italian Design and are thriving in the Mid Century market.
Paolo Buffa was born into a well established artistic family and was considered a prodigy early on. After graduating from the prestigious polytechnic university of Milan, in the late 1920s Buffa went to work for, and directly under, the tutelage of architects and designers Gio Ponti and Cassio Ramelli. Shortly after, Buffa decided to strike out on his own where he branded himself as the designer and architect to a number of influential patrons- typically the European worthy and royalty set as well as a number of government projects. Early in his career his works were characterized by the classical-revival mode design of that era coupled with incredible craftsmanship derived from the traditional Lombardy wood working traditions. As he evolved as a designer, while maintaining the same level of craftsmanship, Buffa started incorporating more modern elements in his designs. This finally culminated in the fifties as his pieces were recognizable by their whimsical and breathtaking shapes and elements. Like his namesake (Buffa is synonymous with bizarre/funny) his pieces can have a quasi cartoonish character. Eventually, Buffa established himself as one of the founders and forefathers of the 1950s modernism movement as well as a pioneer in Art Deco. It was a far cry from where Buffa had started out. His pieces are and will always be original and iconic and he has plenty of knowledgeable admirers that would testify to that. Although his exceptional furnishings still sell at a quarter of the price of his French counterparts we think his time has come and his pieces will only gain traction from here.
Osvaldo Borsani came from a family of furniture makers. At 22 years old he took part at the fifth Triennale of Milan designing concepts for the "Minimal House" and were awarded the Silver medal. The post-war era were crucial for this young talent and after graduating from Polytechnic he was influenced by many relevant artists of that time, including Lucio Fontana, Fausto Melotti and Arnaldo Pomodoro with whom he collaborated for different projects. In 1953 he founded Tecno where he put emphasis on designs of Industrial products.
Not too long after graduating from the 'Accademia delle belle Arti' (Art Academy) in Rome, Mario Ceroli became one of the premiere leaders of the 'Arte Povera’ (Poor Art) movement which was characterized by the use of untreated and coarse materials as its leaders expressed a new openness towards materials and were driven by the pop art movement. In his collaboration with Poltronova - 'Mobili nella Valle'- the material that Ceroli chose was untreated Russian Pine. To quote Ceroli - “in my furniture there is a kind of relationship….the use of raw wood contributes to create this relationship…furniture to me is usable sculpture to be touched, to be used.”
Strongly influenced by his background as a screenplay designer - after all he was a screenplay director at 'La Scala' in Milan as well as il 'Teatro Stabile' in Turin- in its design, Ceroli’s furniture tends to explore the relationship between scultpure and the surrounding environment.
In his craftsmanship Ceroli relates to the traditional medieval craftsmen and his sculptures remind us of masterpieces of the past - including the ‘Bocca Della Verita’ , a first century fountain in Rome representing a Pagan God, the ‘Bronzi di Riace’ (the two tall, bronze statues from Calabria that have reached almost mythical proportions) as well as works by Leonardo Da Vinci.
Marco Zanuso is a great Italian designer considered to be one of the founding fathers of Italian Industrial Design which brought a revolution in the way Italians lived and perceived every day objects in the 50s and 60s.
Born in Milan, in 1916 he studied architecture in his hometown and later opened his office. He received the Milan Triennal Gold Medal and collaborated through a joint studio with Architect Richard Sapper.
With great architects and designers from the BBPR offices such as Franco Albini, Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni and Marcello Nizzoli he contributed to the development of the modern movement in the architecture and design field. He was one of the first architect to explore the use of industrial materials in design objects conceived for mass consumption and everyday use.
He was director of Domus magazine and Casabella and founding member of the ADI. In 1948 Pirelli created Arflex a manufacturer to produce seating furniture made of foam rubber and industrial material applied to home furniture. Zanuso was appointed responsible for the design of this furniture and did not disappoint. He won many awards such as 7 Compasso d’Oro awards and his products are exhibited in modern art museums around the world.
From 1966 to 1969 he was cofounder and president of "Associazione di Disegno Industriale ADI" and later on became professor of Industrial Architecture of the Milan Polytechnic.
The creative mind behind the Pirelli Tower in Milan, 60 years of career through design, architecture, painting, journalism, he is one of the most influential and creative architects of all times and one of the most respected 20th Century designer. He founded the famous Italian design magazine "Domus" and designed timeless furniture products such the Superleggera chair for Cassina. He actively participated and supported Italian design and art exhibitions and awards contests such as Triennale Milano and ‘Compasso D’Oro’ design award, one of the most important design recognition for architects at the time. He was professor of the Architecture department at the Milan University from 1936 to 1961. Gio Ponti was one of the most prominent 20th Century Designers and his concept of space was revolutionary: in an interview in 1976 he describes his vision and concept of the ‘ideal home’: a functional but minimalist space flexible and open, therefore divisible and transformable where walls were abandoned for open spaces and the sensation of coercion annulled. He envision a fluid and open space with the maximum space used for living through functional structural elements. He wanted to materialize his ideas by designing residential or rental homes and in his projects in 1931 we can see that the living space was transformed through the use of movable and divisible elements, different heights; he thought that each building had to have its own character and wanted to overcome the habit of designing homes with square rooms connected by corridors resulting in homes being all the same. In these living spaces, all bulk furniture was to be avoided, and hidden storage spaces appositely created. Therefore minimal, delicate and light furniture and object which makes us feel good must be present, so the house refrains to be a warehouse for useless objects stored in big wardrobes or cabinets. Gio Ponti furniture was, as a matter of fact, light and refined, as well as his designs for decor objects, as we can see in his collaboration with Richard Ginori.