8 ETTORE SOTTSASS b1917

A towering figure in post-war Italian design. Architect, designer and philosopher-poet, who never fails to surprise and intrigue.

WHO: A towering figure in post-war Italian design. Architect, designer and philosopher-poet, who never fails to surprise and intrigue.

WHAT: Forever associated with the launch of the Memphis movement in 1981, Sottsass has designed buildings, exhibitions, ceramics, lighting, furniture, typewriters and computers in a career stretching from the Forties and the period known as riconstuzione in Italy.

WHERE: Milan. (Although he was actually born in Austria and only moved to Italy in 1928. He studied architecture in Turin in the Thirties).

WHY: Sottsass has defined design as ‘debating life’. He has spent his professional life pursuing design as a cultural activity – raising its status from a manual to a conceptual level and eroding distinctions between design and fine art. In the process he has managed to work for large companies such as Olivetti as well as on his own artistic preoccupations.

ICONS: Aside from the early Memphis pieces, the 1965 red Valentine typewriter for Olivetti is a classic. But Sottsass Associati is still pumping them out: check out its latest lighting range for Zumtobel.

INFLUENCE: The debt of the modern design industry to Sottsass is immense because the deliberate affront of Memphis to Modernism re-opened the debate about decoration in products and ushered in a colourful and diverse era of Post-Modernism. Graphic designers in particular took much from its decorative impulses.

ODDBALL: Sottsass is eclectic in his inspirations. In the Seventies, he explored Hindu pottery; in the Eighties, Memphis, parodically named the ‘new international style’, was taken from Memphis, Tennessee (birthplace of WC Hardy, father of the blues, and Elvis Presley, father of rock’n’roll) and from the ancient capital of Egypt.

SOUNDBITE: ‘His designs are philosophical statements or notes; their importance lies in their ability to communicate’ – Jan Burney in Ettore Sottsass (Design Heroes series). ©

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