Angelo Mangiarotti (portrait)
“I would say that the fundamental starting point for designing an object of design lies in its usefulness to people. An object that is not born of a need cannot even be considered as belonging to this category, design.” Angelo Mangiarotti
26 February 2021 is a significant date because one hundred years ago Angelo Mangiarotti was born in Milan. The Vico Magistretti Foundation celebrated Vico’s Hundred Years in 2020. He graduated in Architecture from Milan Polytechnic in 1948. From 1953-1954 he was a visiting professor at the Institute of Design of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He took part in the “LOOP” competition in Chicago, where he met Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius, Mies Van Der Rohe and Konrad Wachsmann. After graduating, Nanda Vigo also left for America to work for Frank Lloyd Wright. Angelo Mangiarotti returned to Italy in 1955 and opened a studio with Bruno Morassutti, a collaboration that lasted until 1960. With him he designed the sewing machine model “44” for Salmoiraghi in 1958 and the table clock “Secticon CI” for a Swiss company in 1961-1963. In 1963-1964 he held a course at the Istituto Superiore di Disegno Industriale in Venice. His architectural language became the expression of a new relationship between man and the environment. His design philosophy was inspired by the characteristics and possible production techniques; thus he created heterogeneous typologies: the chewing-gum distributor for Rhea Vendors; the polyurethane armchair for Cassina (1965), the “Cub 8” wall unit for Poltronova (1965).
(1955-Chewing-gum dispenser for Rhea – Angelo Mangiarotti – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
In 1969 he began working with Skipper. As one of the founding members of Adi, he has received awards in Italy and abroad, such as the Culture Olympiad award for the design of a club for young people at QT8 in Milan (1952) and the Aip award (1972) for industrialised building work. The “Cruscotto” kitchen for Snaidero (1974). In 1974 he was a visiting professor at the Ecole Politecnique Fédérale in Lausanne, in 1976 at the Univesity of Adelaide and at the South Australian Institute of Technology in Adelaide; in 1982 he was an adjunct professor at the Faculty of Architecture in Palermo; in 1983 he was an adjunct professor at the Chair of Composition at the Faculty of Architecture in Florence, and in 1989-90 he was an adjunct professor at the Faculty of Architecture in Milan. From 1986 to 1992 he was art director of Colle Cristalleria. In 1989 he founded the Mangiarotti & Associates Office in Tokyo. (1) In 1994 he was awarded the ADI Compasso d’Oro for his career. In 1997 he became contract professor at the degree course in Industrial Design at the Faculty of Architecture of the Politecnico Milano. In 1998 he received an honorary degree in Engineering from the Faculty of Architecture. Technischen Universitat of Munich. In 2002 he received an honorary degree in Industrial Design – Faculty of Architecture at the Milan Polytechnic and many other awards. (2)
“Angelo Mangiarotti differs from other figures of the first generation of Italian design in his ability to adapt the product to be designed to its function, its use, the characteristics and the required conditions of the materials used”. (3) The following list confirms that in his activity as a designer Mangiarotti reserved a very important role for plastic research. His research, always carried out with rigorous respect for the characteristics of the material, is the definition of the form of the object as a quality of the material. Among the design objects listed in the Design section of the Angelo Mangiarotti Foundation page, we select lamps. The first lamp with solid perspex diffuser is dated 1962, “Lesbo” blown glass lamp (1966), “Saffo” blown glass lamp (1966), “Cnosso” modular ceiling lamp in plastic material (1967), “V+V” (Giogali) modular glass hooks for lighting, (1967), blown glass lamps (1967), “Cementa” outdoor lamp in reinforced concrete (1971).
(1971 – “Cementa” outdoor lamp for Candle – Angelo Mangiarotti – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
Speaking of “correct” weights and thicknesses, explain to me “Cementa”, an outdoor lamp made of exposed cement… is there a certain semantic short-circuit, solid, massive cement that becomes a luminous object?
…. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but that lamp has a slightly… different, less cultured history. I used to work in Brianza making factories, and coming back by car in the evening it was always… dark and foggy, cold, and on the road there were these poor girls, prostitutes who burned their tyres to keep warm… and I had the idea of making an object that would give them light and warmth and that they could sit on, and, since it had to be on the road, it would work like a kerbstone….then the idea adapted to the market and became a garden lamp…
A let’s say … brutal lamp. Does harshness have to do with durability?
My colleagues don’t do it so much, but I like to think that the things we make have to last longer than we do, and to last I have to use simple principles, elementary concepts, primary materials….gravity wasn’t invented by me, nor was the male and female joint…
Dialogue between Angelo Mangiarotti and Franco Raggi (4)
Spirali” lamps (1974), “Lara” lamp (1978), “Egina” lamp (1979), “Alola” lamp and “Cerbero” lamp (1980), “Elias” alabaster lamps (1983), Boleto”, “Clessidra”, “Chierico”, “Accelsa”, “Sorella”, “Mezzagiara” Murano glass lamps (1985), “Etrusca” lamp (1986), “Pericles” and “Paride” lamps (1986), Aida” table lamp and “Daisy” hanging lamp in blown glass, “Pergamo” moulded glass lamp, “Techne” aluminium lamp (1988), “Dumbo” outdoor lamp (1996), “At Iovis” and “Sic Venus” lamps (1997), “Elios” lamp (2002), “Ono”, “Kino”, “Tema”, “Plexi 2” lamps (2005),
(1966 – “Lesbo” table lamp for Artemide – Angelo Mangiarotti – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
Giogali, designed for Vistoso in 1967, is the modular lighting system that revolutionised the use of glass. A modern interpretation of the traditional Venetian chandelier. The characteristic of the project is its modularity. The basic element is in fact a folded ring of blown glass which, when hooked to other rings, can create infinite compositions. All the glass hooks are handmade. A magical encounter between design and craftsmanship.
( “Giogali” Suspension lamp for Vistosi – Angelo Mangiarotti – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
Where does your love of making, of manual skills, of materials come from?
My father was a baker, he made bread, he did it himself, he had his shop in Via Bocchetto in Milan, behind the Bank of Italy, near the Ambrosiana… Under the shop, above the house, I was born there. Some things I shouldn’t say, but… it’s true that when I was a kid I used to go to school and I’d come out of the shop and see this pasta growing…
What time did you leave at dawn?
No… it wasn’t bread dough, it was the one used for the sliced parcels of pastry called ‘ugly and good’… in short, I would touch and smell this dough, and I believe that the primary sense of matter, which is something that can be used to make certain things and not others, certain thicknesses, certain shapes, and that there is a way to make them well… a series of gestures and ingredients, somehow have something to do with the way I feel… but I don’t know how, and so it is better not to say.
Do thicknesses, shapes, smells, manual skills have more to do with design than with architecture?
Architecture too, you can touch it, you can feel it, maybe you can “weigh it” with other senses, but what I have always been looking for is the sense of the material, of every material from cardboard to gold… of course in recent times I have been trying to manipulate materials with more advanced technology.
What kind of evolution? Are you interested in new materials?
I’m interested in all of them, especially the old ones, where the way changes, the possibilities of working change.
(1966 – “Saffo” table lamp for Artemide – Angelo Mangiarotti – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
… this is a magazine for marble workers, a magazine about machines for working marble. There’s innovation there. In Italy we are very advanced in this sector, there is real competition, research. And ideas do not come from architects or engineers, but from technicians. Today you can think of marble shapes with machines that work on four axes, five axes simultaneously. Before you worked on the usual three.
Does your work have to do with the necessity of technique versus the freedom of form?
The problem is the same as always: if I take a material and I don’t give a damn and I want to be a star, I ask for anything, thinking that someone will solve the problem because there are technologies and today almost any form is possible, and then I am a poor man; I am religious in my own way and I say: “in the beginning there was matter”, to say that the material exists with its own reasons and must be approached with humility, you have to know it, feel it, know what it can do and what you can make it do, without distorting it. Look for its limits. This applies to architecture, design and sculpture.
Who was your teacher?
I don’t believe in masters, but those who open your head, Ernesto Rogers opened mine.
(Ernesto Nathan Rogers – Lodovico Barbiano di Belgiojoso, and Enrico Peressutti – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
At the Polytechnic?
No, we were interned in Switzerland after ’43. For different reasons we didn’t agree with Fascism very much and we found ourselves in Zurich where there were some extraordinary people, one of whom was Max Bill, and we went to see Rogers, sometimes we brought him sardines, and we discussed everything, and Rogers fascinated me by talking about architecture and art. In the last period we were in Vevey, and from there you could see at night the glow of the villages in Haute-Savoie burning, and I said to him: “Ernesto, you’re Jewish and you’re of a certain age, but I can’t stay here”, and so I crossed the border again and went to be a partisan in Val d’Ossola. Ernesto had this passion for teaching, for discussion, for training.
… when the war was over he called me to work in the BBPR studio; I didn’t have a degree, I studied and worked there for a few years; one day Ernesto said to me “do a survey of all the tall buildings in Italy”, which meant the towers. They were starting studies for the Torre Velasca. Then I didn’t agree with the final design, but it didn’t matter because he and Belgiojoso and Peressutti were wonderful people.
Is this desire to avoid form and style in favour of method, the ethics of the project?
I don’t know about ethics; if anything, they avoided rhetoric. One day Max Bill asked me what I thought of Louis Kahn, and I said, tell me what you think! And he tells me that he doesn’t think he’s a good architect, in the sense that, apart from his own, he doesn’t teach good architecture. Here’s the damn problem: at a certain point in Italy the students’ projects were all Louis Kahn, then finished Kahn, Aldo Rossi, then the deconstructivists, then the minimalists; the problem with our culture is that it is subordinate, imitative, provincial, and originality is not rewarded….
What does drawing mean to you?
Everything, if I speak I draw, if I draw I speak.
(1960 – Building for housing via Quadronno Milan – Angelo Mangiarotti and Bruno Morassutti – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
How can many people design, do you think participatory design is possible?
Years ago I was in Tokyo in a street of small traditional houses. I saw a woman walking with a child on her shoulder, carrying a wooden and bamboo panel in her arms. I followed her, she came to a house where there was a panel just like that but all smashed, she took it, threw it away and put the new one in. What I mean is that the elements of living and the home for that culture were simple, intimately connected to daily life, manageable on their own, not mysterious, complicated, or dropped in from above … you can’t move a wall in your own home by yourself.
So you are talking about a shared project rather than a participatory one?
Knowledge. We live, we inhabit spaces, we use objects about which we know almost nothing. How they are made, why they are made this way and not another way, where they come from … but maybe they are “signed”. Well, I’m not interested in signing, I’m interested in working on humanly generous projects.
Dialogue between Angelo Mangiarotti and Franco Raggi (5)
(1) Anty Pansera, Dictionary of Italian design, Milan, 1995, Cantini Editori
(4) Courtesy Franco Raggi: Dialogue between Angelo Mangiarotti and Franco Raggi
(5) Courtesy Franco Raggi: Dialogue between Angelo Mangiarotti and Franco Raggi