Ettore Sottsass  

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Olivetti Valentine, designed by Ettore Sottsass, first released on Valentine's Day 1969
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Olivetti Valentine, designed by Ettore Sottsass, first released on Valentine's Day 1969

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Ettore Sottsass (14 September 1917 – 31 December 2007) was an Italian architect and designer of the late 20th century. His body of designs included furniture, jewelry, glass, lighting and office machine design. He founded the Memphis Group and flirted with the Situationist International for a (very) short time. He was also connected to the radical design movement and was part of an iconoclastic generation of Italian designers that included Luigi Colani, Alessandro Mendini, Gae Aulenti and Joe Colombo. His best-known product is the Olivetti Valentine typewriter. His 1981 "Carlton Cabinet" was to many people their first de facto exposure to postmodernism.

Contents

Early career

Sottsass was born on 14 September 1917 in Innsbruck, Austria, and grew up in Milan, where his father was an architect.

He was educated at the Politecnico di Torino in Turin and graduated in 1939 with a degree in architecture. He served in the Italian military and spent much of World War II in a concentration camp in Yugoslavia. After returning home in 1947, he set up his own architectural and industrial design studio in Milan.

In 1959 Ettore Sottsass began working as a design consultant for Olivetti, designing office equipment, typewriters and furniture. Sottsass was hired by Adriano Olivetti, the founder, to work alongside his son, Roberto. There Sottsass made his name as a designer who, through colour, form and styling, managed to bring office equipment into the realm of popular culture. Sottsass, Mario Tchou, and Roberto Olivetti won the prestigious 1959 Compasso d’Oro with the Elea 9003, the first Italian mainframe computer.

Throughout the 1960s, Sottsass traveled in the US and India and designed more products for Olivetti, culminating in the bright red plastic portable Valentine typewriter in 1969, which became a fashion accessory. Sotsass described the Valentine as "a brio among typewriters." Compared with the typical drab typewriters of the day, the Valentine was more of a design statement item than an office machine.

While continuing to design for Olivetti in the 1960s, Sottsass developed a range of objects which were expressions of his personal experiences traveling in the United States and India. These objects included large altar-like ceramic sculptures and his "Superboxes", radical sculptural gestures presented within a context of consumer product, as conceptual statement. Covered in bold and colorful, simulated custom laminates, they were precursors to Memphis, a movement which came more than a decade later. Around this time Sottsass has said,

I didn’t want to do any more consumerist products, because it was clear that the consumerist attitude was quite dangerous.

The feeling that his creativity was being stifled by corporate work is documented in his 1973 essay "When I was a Very Small Boy". As a result, his work from the late 60s to the 70s was defined by experimental collaborations with younger designers such as Superstudio and Archizoom, and association with the Radical movement, culminating in the foundation of Memphis at the turn of the decade.

Memphis Group

In 1981, Sottsass and an international group of young architects and designers came together to form the Memphis Group. A night of drinking and listening to Bob Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" gave the group its name. Memphis was launched with a collection of 40 pieces of furniture, ceramics, lighting, glass and textiles which featured fluorescent colors, slick surfaces, intentionally lop-sided shapes and squiggly laminate patterns.

The group's colorful, ironic pieces were hailed as one of the most characteristic examples of Post-modernism in design and the arts. Sottsass described Memphis in a 1986 Chicago Tribune article: "Memphis is like a very strong drug. You cannot take too much. I don't think anyone should put only Memphis around: It's like eating only cake."

Sottsass Associati

Whilst the Memphis movement in the eighties attracted enormous attention around the world for its energy and flamboyance, Ettore Sottsass was simultaneously assembling a major design consultancy which he named Sottsass Associati. The studio was established in 1980 and gave the possibility to build architecture on a substantial scale as well as to design for large international industries.

Sottsass Associati, primarily an architectural practice, also designed elaborate stores and showrooms for Esprit, identities for Alessi, exhibitions, interiors, consumer electronics in Japan and furniture of all kinds. The studio was based on the cultural guidance of Ettore Sottsass and the work conducted by its many young associates, who often left to open their own studios. Sottsass Associati is presently based in London and Milan and continue to sustain the work, philosophy and culture of the studio.

Other works

As an industrial designer, his clients included Fiorucci, Esprit, the Italian furniture company Poltronova, Knoll International, Serafino Zani, Alessi and Brondi. As an architect, he designed the Mayer-Schwarz Gallery on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California, with its dramatic doorway made of irregular folds and jagged angles, and the home of David M. Kelley, designer of Apple's first computer mouse, in Woodside, California. In the mid-1990s he designed the sculpture garden and entry gates of the W. Keith and Janet Kellogg Gallery at the campus of Cal Poly Pomona. He collaborated with well known figures in the architecture and design field, including Aldo Cibic, James Irvine, Matteo Thun.

Sottsass had a vast body of work; furniture, jewellery, ceramics, glass, silver work, lighting, office machine design and buildings which inspired generations of architects and designers. In 2006 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art held the first major museum survey exhibition of his work in the United States. A retrospective exhibition, Ettore Sottsass: Work in Progress, was held at the Design Museum in London in 2007. In 2009, the Marres Centre for Contemporary Culture in Maastricht presented a re-construction of a Sottsass' exhibition 'Miljö för en ny planet' (Landscape for a new planet), which took place in the National Museum in Stockholm in 1969.

One of his works, Telefono Enorme designed for Brondi, is part of the MOMA Collection.


Industrial Design

  • Macchina per scrivere Lettera 36
  • Calcolatore elettronico Elea 9003 per Olivetti (1959)
  • Macchina per scrivere Tekne 3 per Olivetti (1964)
  • Macchina per scrivere Praxis 48 per Olivetti (1964)
  • Personal computer M 24 per OLivetti (1984).
  • Armadi Superbox per Poltronova (1966)
  • Macchina da scrivere portatile Valentine per Olivetti (1969)
  • Specchio Ultrafragola per Poltronova (1970)
  • Mobili Grigi per Poltronova (1970)
  • Contabile A 5 per Olivetti (1974)
  • Televisore Memphis per Brionvega (1980)
  • Elemento angolare Cantone per Zanotta (1981)
  • Libreria da parete Suvretta per Memphis (1981)
  • Lampada da tavolo Ashoka per Memphis (1981))
  • Mobile da soggiorno Casablanca per Memphis (1981)
  • Mobile divisorio Carlton per Memphis (1981)
  • Lampada da tavolo Tahiti per Memphis (1981)
  • Lampada da terra in metallo Treetops per Memphis (1981)
  • Mobile da soggiorno Beverly per Memphis (1981)
  • Tavolo Mandarin per Memphis (1981)
  • Vaso in vetro Mizar per Memphis (1982)
  • Vaso da fiori Altair per Memphis (1982)
  • Mobile da soggiorno Malabar per Memphis (1982)
  • Coppa in vetro Deneb per Memphis (1982)
  • Portafrutta in argento Murmansk per Memphis (1982)
  • Vaso da fiori Sirio per Memphis (1982)
  • Portafrutta in vetro soffiato Sol (1982)
  • Tavolo Palm Spring per Memphis (1982)
  • Tavolo da salotto Park Lane per Memphis (1983)
  • Vaso in porcellana Tigris per Memphis (1983)
  • Lampada da tavolo Bay per Memphis (1983)
  • Tavolo City per Memphis (1983)
  • Vaso in vetro soffiato Alioth per Mepmhis (1983)
  • Portafrutta in vetro soffiato Aldebaran per Memphis (1983)
  • Vaso in porcellana Euphrates per Memphis (1983)
  • Vaso in porcellana Nilo per Memphis (1983)
  • Vaso in vetro soffiato Alcor per Memphis (1983)
  • Central Park Square Table 3471 per Knoll (1983)
  • Tavolino Cream per Memphis (1984)
  • Specchio con laminato plastico Diva per Memphis (1984)
  • Tavolo basso Holebid per Memphis (1984)
  • Tavolino Hyatt per Memphis (1984)
  • Tavolino Mimosa per Memphis (1984)
  • Tavolino Ivory per Memphis (1985)
  • Credenza in legno Freemont per Memphis (1985)
  • Consolle Tartar per Memphis (1985)
  • Piatto in ceramica Rucola per Memphis (1985)
  • Bridge Chair with Arms with Arms per Knoll (1986)
  • Vaso a stelo Pasifila per Memphis (1986)
  • Vaso Agelada per Memphis (1986)
  • Vaso a stelo Amaltea per Memphis (1986)
  • Vaso a stelo Ananke per Memphis (1986)
  • Vaso a stelo Astidamia per Memphis (1986)
  • Vaso a stelo Astimelusa per Memphis (1986)
  • Vaso a stelo Atamante per Memphis (1986)
  • Vaso Clesiteria per Memphis (1986)
  • Vaso a stelo Erinna per Memphis (1986)
  • Carrello Manhattan per Memphis (1986)
  • Vaso a stelo Neobule per Memphis (1986)
  • Mobile in legno Max per Memphis (1987)
  • Mobile bar Nairobi per Zanotta (1989)
  • Cassettiera Mombasa per Zanotta (1989)
  • Tavolino di servizio Lipari per Zanotta (1992)
  • Specchio sospeso e tappeto in lana A Shiro per Memphis (1998) (serie POSTDESIGN: Lo specchio di Saffo)
  • Specchio Enterprise per Memphis (1998) (serie POSTDESIGN: Lo specchio di Saffo)
  • Specchio La grande triade per Memphis (1998) (serie POSTDESIGN: Lo specchio di Saffo)
  • Specchio e metallo laccato Più o meno Iside per Memphis (1998) (serie POSTDESIGN: Lo specchio di Saffo)
  • Specchio e metallo laccato Specchio grande per Memphis (1998) (serie POSTDESIGN: Lo specchio di Saffo)
  • Specchio con perspex Ambuja per Memphis (1998) (serie POSTDESIGN: Lo specchio di Saffo)
  • Piatto per doccia Megaplan per Kaldewei (1998)
  • Vasca da bagno Centro Duo Ovale per Kaldewei (1998)
  • Lampada lunga Gala (2000) per Memphis(serie POSTDESIGN: Mobili Lunghi)
  • Lampada piccola quadrata Jagati per Memphis (2000) (serie POSTDESIGN: Mobili Lunghi)
  • Libreria in due pezzi Kantha per Memphis(2000) (serie POSTDESIGN: Mobili Lunghi)
  • Mobile CD Kapota per Memphis (2000) (serie POSTDESIGN: Mobili Lunghi)
  • Specchio quadrato Mahapatti per Memphis (2000) (serie POSTDESIGN: Mobili Lunghi)
  • Vetrinetta in cristallo Padma per Memphis (2000) (serie POSTDESIGN: Mobili Lunghi)
  • Lampada piccola lunga Pattica per Memphis(2000) (serie POSTDESIGN: Mobili Lunghi)
  • Lampada in filo di ferro Upana per Memphis (2000) (serie POSTDESIGN: Mobili Lunghi)
  • Lampada Abat-Jour per B&B Italia (2005)
  • Vasca da bagno Mega Duo Ovale per Kaldewei (2006)

Per le Vetrerie Venini:

  • Scultura di luce Colonna di luce
  • Scultura di luce Pavillon
  • Plafoniera Firenze
  • Vetro soffiato e lavorato a mano Medusa (edizione limitata)
  • Vetro soffiato e lavorato a mano Goburam rosso (edizione limitata)
  • Composizione con base in marmo-portoro e vetro soffiato e lavorato a mano con particolari decori in vetro lattimo Marito e moglie (edizione limitata)
  • Vetro soffiato e lavorato a mano Yemen
  • Composizione coppa e base in vetro opalino soffiato e lavorato a mano Puzzle

Architettura

Premi e riconoscimenti

Scritti ed interviste

  • Architetture indiane e dintorni, Napoli 1998
  • Lo specchio di Saffo, Postdesign, Milano 1998
  • Epifanie Brevi, Ed. Lythos, Como 1998
  • Trattato di architettura, Ed. Lythos, Como 1999
  • Mobili Lunghi, Postdesign, Milano 2000
  • in collaborazione con Ettore Sottsass Jr. e Enzo Cucchi, Esercizi, lberico Cetti Serbelloni Editore, Milano 2002

Sottsass and the SI




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