Ettore Sottsass- Italian Architect and Designer (1917- 2007)

Italian architect and designer is today best known as the founder in the early 1980s of Memphis
Ettore Sottsass devoted his life and work to dismantling the past in his various roles as artist, architect, industrial designer, glass maker, publisher, theoretician and ceramicist. Born in Innsbruck in his mother’s native Austria in 1917.

During the revolutionary years from the end of the ‘sixties to the mid-seventies’ Sottsass was a central figure in avantgarde culture. His activity ranged from aereas more pertinent to anthropology, psychology, poetry, literature or art. the definitive surpassing of rationalism, this attitude led to the founding of alternative schools and magazines, to writing, design drawings, photographs and endless debates. These are the years of counterdesign or ‘radical design‘, a movement which Sottsass inspired.

Info source: http://www.designboom.com


Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007)
Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007)

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Sottsass agreed to become a creative consultant to Polotronova, a furniture factory near Florence. As a consultant (1958–80) for Olivetti, he designed some of his most memorable products, including the Elea 9003 computer (1959) and the red plastic Valentine portable typewriter (1969). Sottsass graduated (1939) in architecture from the Turin Polytechnic, and after his World War II military service, he settled in Milan, where he was commissioned to design furniture for postwar public housing. After being introduced to Pop art during a 1956 trip to the U.S., he joined Olivetti.

Info source: http://www.britannica.com

sottsass-typewriter-001
Olivetti, Valentine (1969)

Image source: http://www.theguardian.com

Which were the companies and designers with whom he worked?

By the late 1970s, Sottsass was working with Studio Alchymia, a group of avant garde furniture designers including Alessandro Mendini and Andrea Branzi, on an exhibition at the 1978 Milan Furniture Fair. Two years later, Sottsass, then in his 60s, split with Mendini to form a new collective, Memphis, with Branzi and other 20-something collaborators including Michele De Lucchi, George Sowden, Matteo Thun and Nathalie du Pasquier.

Info source: http://design.designmuseum.org

Which are the main features of Sottsass’s architecture?

Sottsass founded “The Memphis Group” in 1980 in response to ambient minimalism and functionalism. Pinned as an significant group of the Postmodern architecture and design movement, the aesthetic of the Memphis Group is defined by their use of asymmetrical shapes, “bright colours, kitsch suburban motifs and cheap materials like plastic laminates”. 

Info source: https://wolfeyebrows.wordpress.com

Ettore Sottsass, Maui house (1997)

Image source: http://www.theguardian.com

What was Memphis?

Memphis embodied the themes with which Sottsass had been experimenting since his mid-1960s ‘superboxes’: bright colours, kitsch suburban motifs and cheap materials like plastic laminates. For the young designers of the era, it was an intellectual lightning rod which liberated them from the dry rationalism they had been taught at college and enabled them to adopt a more fluid, conceptual approach to design. The Memphis collective’s work was exhibited all over the world, until Sottsass quit in early 1985. 

Info source: http://design.designmuseum.org

What was Sottsass Associati?

Ettore Sottsass began 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 industriesSottsass 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.

Info source: https://en.wikipedia.org

 Ettore Sottsass, The Carlton room divider (1981)
Ettore Sottsass, The Carlton room divider (1981)

Image source: http://www.theguardian.com

Which work symbolizes the essence of Sottsass’s style?

The totemic “Carltonroom divider is an outstanding example of his Memphis designs. Although intended for a luxury market and of fine workmanship, it is made of cheap plastic laminates rather than fine woods. The vivid colors and seemingly random interplay of solids and voids suggest avant-garde painting and sculpture. Yet, typical of Sottsass, underlying the surface brilliance is an entirely logical structural system, of real and implied equilateral triangles.

Info souce: http://www.metmuseum.org

For more references, please also visit: www.jbdesign.it/idesignpro

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