The bombings of World War II destroyed Milan. The city had shelters alarm systems, and citizens fled to the suburbs and neighboring towns. The last attack took place on April 13th, 1945. Milan started building temporary lodgings in the following years, and important companies like Pirelli moved their offices and productions out of the city. Milan was changing, and these were the years of the debut of Vico Magistretti.
First an architect and later a designer, he was 100% Milanese. A Milanese who went international, since his works reached the international stage, he even received an award in the United Kingdom. His views were as straightforward as his aesthetic, and he was proudly a member of the new Italian design movement and modernism in general. All in the shadow of Milan’s Dome.
- The Life and Career of Vico Magistretti
- Between Modernist and Concept Design
- The Most Iconic Pieces of Vico Magistretti
- More Works by Vico Magistretti
- Memory Is (Was) Important
The Life and Career of Vico Magistretti
Vico Magistretti was born in Milan in 1920. He came from a family of architects. After a few years in Switzerland during World War II, Magistretti returned to Milan to study architecture at the Politecnico. He graduated in 1945, and he started working in his father’s studio, the architect Pier Giulio Magistretti. The war ends, and the cultural movement shifts. So does architecture.
The immediate years after the conflict are the years of cultural associations born to protect what was left after the bombings. These were also the years of reconstruction when the government financed anonymous and impersonal buildings. People who had left the city were starting to move back, but they had nowhere to go. So, the idea of “home” became more powerful, even in the work of Vico Magistretti.
Thanks to innovations like plastic, the industry was developing, and even design was taking a new path. Magistretti had a hand in each of them, and he participated in the city’s Triennale exhibit. During the 50s, the Italian architect kept his momentum going by building projects like the tower in the park in Revere street. While he kept working on architecture projects throughout the 60s, in the 70s, Vico Magistretti started shifting towards design. He created decor, furniture, and daily objects while staying true to his aesthetics and beliefs.
Through the decades of his career, the Italian designer received awards, honorary memberships like the one with the Royal College of Art in London, and the golden medal at the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers. Magistretti worked in Milan, Tokyo, and Lausanne. Precisely the villa in Epalinges (near Lausanne in Switzerland) is one of his latest projects, dating back to 2005. His last design work was the glass desk Gemini in 2006, the same year of Magistretti’s death.
Between Modernist and Concept Design
Vico Magistretti believed in simplicity. He didn’t like excessive decorations and redundancy. Instead, he believed in practicality and functionality. The modernism movement embraced minimalism, and it focused on the nascent industries. The economic boom was bringing innovation and technology to both architecture and design. Hence, prefabricated buildings, materials like steel and concrete.
The architect from Milan wasn’t the only Italian creator to adhere to this aesthetic. So did others, among them all Gio Ponti. These concepts of modernism applied to Magistretti’s works, both in architecture and design.
“The task of the architect is to look at usual things with new eyes,” said Magistretti, “get rid of schemes and rules. When I create a table, first of all, I ask myself if it’s right for it to be flat.”
The Italian creator didn’t disdain everyday objects. He disdained elaborate patterns and designs. To him, simple lines, forms, and shapes created the best result. Magistretti’s idea was to produce works that were both useful to the industry and the people. His creations were made for industrial production, but they were also made to adapt to any taste, need, and space. Like a modernist, he wanted to build each piece of his projects for everyone, from the big picture to the details.
Concept Design in the Idea of Home
After World War II, rebuilding Milan and architecture meant rebuilding the concept of “home.” That’s when producers, architects, and designers (like Afra and Tobia Scarpa) met to create Italian design, a movement that Vico Magistretti defined as “miraculous.”
In fact, concept design (and even modernism) dealt with big ideas, like the idea of “home.” Places, people, and furniture had potential, and these generations of designers wanted to exploit it. The conversation focused on functionality and taking advantage of the space, materials, and technology. Finishes and details were just as important, so these designers and architects also thought about the small picture.
Vico Magistretti believed in creating a comfortable and functional home, in every detail, no matter how big or small. There is no ideal home with ideal objects and furniture. On the contrary, each couch, chair, or lamp has to adapt to the owner’s needs and preferences. He wanted to create a frame that people could fill. In the mass and chain production era, objects looked the same, and there was a lot of production. To the Italian designer, the challenge was creating something with a concept.
“I have to manage the volumes, the games of light, and the spaces,” said Magistretti, “to create a frame that is charming and correct and that allows the introduction of things.” Things like his pieces of furniture, some of which are still in production nowadays.
The Most Iconic Pieces of Vico Magistretti
During his career as a designer, Magistretti produced 334 objects, and 20% of them (65 total) are still in production decades later. The designer worked for important companies such as Cassina and Artemide to produce timeless pieces, still inspiring in the 21st century. Here are 18 of his most iconic pieces:
- Carimate chair, Cassina, 1959
- Model 122 chair, Cassina, 1962
- Dalù lamp, Artemide, 1966
- Eclisse lamp, Artemide, 1966
- Telegono lamp, Artemide, 1966
- Selene chair, Artemide, 1966
- Golem chair, Poggi, 1968
- Gaudi armchair, Artemide, 1970
- Vicario armchair, Artemide, 1970
- Maralunga sofa, Cassina, 1973
- Fiandra armchairs, Cassina, 1975
- Atollo lamp, Oluce, 1977
- Nuvola Rossa bookcase, Cassina, 1977
- Andrej bed, Flou, 1980
- Pan chair, Rosenthal, 1980
- Sindbad sofa, Cassina, 1981
- Veranda sofa, Cassina, 1983
- Mauna Kea chair, Kartell, 1993
- Maui chair, Kartell, 1996
During an interview year into his career, Magistretti said that designing chairs was one of his favorite things. Why? For the passion, he made in them. He wanted to make them as simple as possible because he worked by the motto “less is more.”
Carimate and Model 122 Chairs
In this research for simplicity and functionality, the Carimate chair was the first one that Magistretti created in 1960 for the Italian company Cassina. First designed for the Golf Club in the city of Carimate, this chair features a wooden structure and a seat of straw, a revisitation of an Italian furniture classic. Always for Cassina, Magistretti made the model 122 dining chair in 1967. It’s a stackable chair with a black lacquered wood structure and curved plywood backrest.
Dalù and Eclisse Lamps
In 1965, the designer created the Dalù and Eclisse lamps, another one of his most famous works. He liked the creative side of these lamps, which play with the idea of concentric spheres to remind the viewers of nature. They are table lamps made in steel, and they feature technological innovation. People could regulate the light with a round, full-body, almost reminding them of an eclipse. So, it fits any need and room.
Golem Chair, Telegono Lamp and Selene Chair
The Golem chair dates back to 1968, and it features a high backrest that follows the shape of the body for maximum comfort. Just like his other chairs, the Golem features simple yet elegant materials like wood. Two years before, Magistretti designed the Telegono lamp, which looks like a sculpture and it features the same light innovation as the Eclisse. This time, the material is melamine. In 1969, the company Artemide launched the Selene chair, another research of simplicity, created out of a wooden model and made of plastic. Magistretti designed it for mass production and, every five minutes, a Selene came out.
“The seat and back are simple curved surfaces. The legs were, for me, the true image of the piece with a thin volume like the leg of an ordinary wooden chair,” described the designer, “It was a fun work with the model maker carpenter on the wooden model.”
Gaudì, Vicario Armchairs and Maralunga Sofa
The Gaudi and Vicario armchairs use the qualities of reinforced resin to propose a durable piece of furniture produced by Artemide in the 70s. Resistant, they were also perfect for outdoor spaces like gardens and patios. The Maralunga sofa dates back to 1973, and Magistretti designed it for Cassina as a set that also included an armchair and a pouf. It’s just as resistant as the Vicario and Gaudi, although the sofa features materials such as steel, plastic, polyurethane foam, and polyester wadding.
More Works by Vico Magistretti
Always for Cassina, Magistretti created the Fiandra set in 1977. The set includes an armchair and sofa, all modular and with a wooden structure. The final piece is the pouf. The Atollo lamp dates back to 1977, and it’s made of metal and glass. It features simple geometric shapes and elements, like the dome at the top. The same year, Magistretti also designed the Nuvola Rossa bookcase for Cassina. Still in production nowadays, this bookcase features wood as the main protagonist. Simple and elegant, the Nuvola Rossa symbolizes the designer’s aesthetic.
In 1980, the Andrej bed launched two versions: a fabric bed with washable coverings or a classic model with a wooden structure. Each element can be disassembled to make transport and assembly easier. During the same decade, Vico Magistretti created the Pan chair, which also included a complimentary table for Artemide, with the goal of comfort. The Sindbad sofa is one of the designer’s favorite works. Magistretti was almost emotional and nostalgic. He created in 1981 for Cassina with steel, polyurethane foam, and a covering in fabric.
Another couch is the Veranda sofa, produced in 1983. The Italian designer created it for every occasion, including the outdoors. It’s a versatile piece of furniture with a foldable backrest, and the seating elements are independent. The backrest can also become the headrest, while the seat can become the footrest. In the 90s, the creator designed the Mauna Kea and Maui chairs for the company Kartell. Still in production nowadays, these chairs come in many colors and both hard and soft versions. Once again, “adaptable” is the adjective to describe them. And, as anything Magistretti did, they were comfortable and functional.
Memory Is (Was) Important
With each piece he designed, Vico Magistretti had the same goal: to create a home for anyone. His creations were adaptable, and they fit any space, situation, and need. He used the inspiration from the past and traditional Italian design to create a new and modern version of it. A version that adapted to modern society and the boom of the industry. Italian design was beginning a new chapter, and designers like Magistretti, Afra and Tobia Scarpa, and Achille Castiglioni were the avant-garde. Always with an eye to the past.
“For Italian design, memory has been important,” said Magistretti, “Italian design started in the 60s, and now, 40 years later, this cultural phenomenon is still going on and creating.”
Just like Vico Magistretti kept creating until the very end, and he also received the Compasso d’Oro for his career in 1994. His last design piece was the Gemini table, where he used the elegant material of glass to create a table that is the symbol of concept design. The Gemini represents the designer’s aesthetic, which is filled with precise elements, innovation, and passion.
The strength of Vico Magistretti lies in his passion and respect for the materials. He always stayed true to his ideas of beauty and design throughout his long and successful career. That’s how he managed to take his idea of Italian design abroad, inspiring people in the United Kingdom, Denmark, and the entire design world. The bombings of World War II left destruction and wounds in Italy (and in Europe), but reconstruction gave people a fighting chance. Thanks to designers like Vico Magistretti.