“The key to the Selene chair was the section of the leg. I think I dealt with the problem by using a particular technology in the most proper way possible, but without allowing myself to be conditioned by it, or even inspired by the idea of modernity for its own sake.” – Vico Magistretti
Hailed as one of the masters of modern Italian design, Vico Magistretti’s work includes a dazzling array of architecture, furniture and everyday objects.
Vico Magistretti was born in Milan in 1920. He graduated from the Polytechnico in Milan in 1945. In the wake of the devastation of World War II, the young architect was inspired by modernist ideals. He sought to create a new kind of design which was simple, functional, rational, elegant — and anonymous. He wanted to produce “anonymous traditional objects” which seemed to have evolved organically rather than to have been designed. This attitude was evident already in the first pieces he exhibited in the late forties, including bookshelves suspended from metal tubes, a bookcase which resembled a ladder, and stackable tables.
As Italy slowly recovered from the war, Magistretti developed a reputation as an avant-garde architect. Buildings he designed in the fifties, such as the Corso Europa office block and the Villa way of Arosio, were considered avant-garde and controversial. But his desire to give modernism a human face was perhaps most evident in his product design. For example, in the Carimate chair, Magistretti reinterpreted the traditional rush-seated chair with a modern aesthetic. This chair first produced in 1962, also marked the beginning of his long collaboration with Cassina.
In the sixties, Magistretti’s fascination with the possibilities of industrial production led to his groundbreaking work in plastic. In constant dialogue with technical experts, he imparted beauty and dignity to a modern material. In the Selene stacking chair and the Vicario and Gaudi armchairs, all produced by Artemide, Magistretti took advantage of the strength and fluidity of reinforced polyester to produce chairs which were sculptural, comfortable and — thanks to industrial production — affordable. Magistretti developed the innovative S-shaped leg to withstand maximum tensile stress in a graceful way.
These chairs were among the highlights of the groundbreaking 1972 MoMA exhibition “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape”, which highlighted Italian designers’ focus on encouraging a free, informal lifestyle. Other Magistretti products in the show were the Eclisse table lamp with adjustable shade, the Giunone metal floor lamp with four rotating shades, all produced by Artemide, and the wooden Golem chair, produced by Poggi.
Magistretti has influenced generations of designers with his emphasis on what he calls “concept design.” Concept design, he says, “starts from a precise executive and functional concept and is so simple that it endows the object with its distinctive character.” This type of design is so simple that it can be described without a drawing. He rejects the opposite way of working, which he calls “styling design” and which means useless or redundant decoration.
Magistretti has said that his designs are “autobiographical, like a diary or a little private world.” Throughout his career this rich inner life has been the source of an incredible variety of unique and innovative products. Take the Sinbad armchair, inspired by the sight of an English horse blanket. Or Silver, an aluminum chair which pays homage to Thonet chairs, but which was also inspired by the square-holed egg baskets which Magistretti saw in Japanese markets. Or the Atollo lamp with its glowing shade delicately balanced on its base.
In the course of his long and productive career, Vico Magistretti has won innumerable awards and honors, including three Compasso d’Oro awards. His work is in museums worldwide. In his Milano studio the maestro continues to create designs whose simplicity and freshness express the essence of the maestro’s spirit.