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Close up of Marco Zanuso

Great Masters | Marco Zanuso

Marco Zanuso (portrait)

“Design is the most sophisticated form of applied art that man can boast. If there is no quality, there is no design. Formal quality communicates beauty and love. Physical quality, on the other hand, depends on how an object is constructed. Once upon a time it was said to be made in a workmanlike manner”. Marco Zanuso

Marco Zanuso ‘Master of product design’, as defined by Francois Burkhardt, (1) was born in Milan in 1916. After graduating from the Milan Polytechnic in 1939, he wore the uniform of a staff officer in the Regia Marina (the Kingdom of Italy’s naval corps) for about four and a half years. In 1945 he opened his own studio where he worked as an architect, town planner and designer. Marco Zanuso invented “the process of a new profession, that of product designer, certainly connected with architecture, but more by the parallelism of conceptual methodologies than by practice which, on the contrary, would be quite different”. “(Burkhardt 1994) (1)

From January 1946 to December 1947 Domus was directed by Ernesto Nathan Rogers, Marco Zanuso was editor-in-chief and editor of “Casabella-Continuity”. A lecturer at the Milan Polytechnic until 1986, he held one of Italy’s first five chairs in industrial design. His projects include the Olivetti headquarters in Sao Paulo, Brazil (1955) and Argentina (1955-1957), the Necchi factory in Pavia (1961-1962), IBM in Milan and Rome, and the Piccolo Teatro in Milan. The furniture he designed included Antropus for Arflex (1949), Lady for Arflex (1951), an armchair upholstered with latex, and the Triennale sofa (1951), exhibited for the first time at the IX Triennale in Milan, where Zanuso won a Grand Prix and two gold medals.

Two different color combinations for the Lady armchair(1951 – “Lady” armchair for Arflex – Marco Zanuso – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

In 1956 he received the Compasso d’Oro award for the 1100/2 sewing machine for Borletti. He collaborated with Richard Sapper from 1958 to 1977, from this union came furniture and objects that marked a new direction in design, such as the Lambda chair for Gavina (1959-1964); the stackable 4999 children’s chair for Kartell (1961-1964), the first produced in injected propylene; the TS502 radio for Brionvega (1964); the Grillo telephone for Simes (1966) Compasso d’oro in 1967, also known as the “telephone in the palm of your hand”, the first attempt to innovatively resolve the ergonomic relationship between mouth and ear.

The Grillo telephone designed by Marzo Zanuso(1966 – “Grillo” telephone for Simes – Marco Zanuso – Richard Sapper- Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

Doney (1964) and Black (1969) televisions for Brionvega. Member of CIAM (Congrés Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne) and INU (National Institute of Urban Planning). In 1956, with others, he founded the ADI (Association of Indestrual Design) and was its president from 1966 to 1969. (2) In 1972, together with Richard Sapper, he presented the project for a living unit at the exhibition “Italy the new domestic landscape” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. They proposed mobile environments to deal with different situations: from emergency accommodation to a second semi-permanent residence. Mobility is achieved by designing the unit so that in the closed position its measurements and structural specifications correspond to those of standard containers. Another quality of this project is the possibility of combining the unit with another container element, which can be equipped with similar internal modules as needed, thus expanding the original capacity, which is calculated for a couple to the needs of a family with children. (3)

Marco Zanuso's installation for the Italy(1972 – New York – Exhibition “Italy the new domestic landscape” – Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

Architect Piero Castiglioni also participates in the exhibition with Italian architect and artist Ugo La Pietra, who designs the “Casa Telematica” as a living cell for the occasion.
The Studio in via Presolana 5 sees a collaboration with Marco Zanuso: architectural lighting and Hi-Fi system design for a private home in South Africa in Lydenburg in 1975. In 1973, architect Piero Castiglioni and his father Livio followed the construction site of the private home together with Marco Zanuso, defined by architect Piero Catiglioni as a “construction site man”.
“When his daughter Federica graduated from high school, she asked her father what qualities were needed to be a good architect. Her father’s answer stunned her! Because he answered: “You need the physical!”. Being an architect is a very tiring job because you have to be on site when it’s cold, when it’s hot, climbing on scaffolding, … Following the construction sites is a considerable physical effort. This is how the architect decided to begin his story… He continues “The client of the private villa in South Africa, leafing through an architectural magazine, was struck by the beauty of the design of the Arzale House in Arzachena, Sardinia (1962 – 1964) and decided that his stone villa should be designed by Zanuso”. Through the photos, taken during a trip to Lydenburg, in 2013, (forty years after the construction site) we enter this architecture that blends perfectly with the surrounding landscape. The stone walls run parallel for 240 metres with vegetation pushing in between. The house has few windows on the side facing the hill, vegetation growing on the roof terrace. On the other side, in front of the house, there are green paddocks, fenced in for the horses. The horizontal progression of the paddocks is emphasised by the design of the building, with long parallel ‘corridors’, some covered, some open. The structure is made of reinforced concrete; the interior walls are made of plastered brick, with a cavity and then a stone facing.

Overall view of a private house in South Africa(1973 – South Africa – Private home – Marco Zanuso – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

The Luce architect was called by Zanuso to design the Bank in Via Manzoni. This palace was the first hotel in Milan (then Hotel Continentale) to have electric light, along with La Scala and the Manzoni theatre. While the first private palace in Milan to have electric light was Palazzo Bagatti Valsecchi. Other projects include a restaurant in Via Manzoni in Milan (1985) and for the “Compasso d’Oro 1994” at the Palazzo dell’Arte Triennale (1995).
“Very helpful with the workers, he adapted a lot to situations, a man of construction.” Piero Castiglioni

Light and Design

In 1952 BBPR and Marco Zanuso commissioned a large supply to Arteluce for the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, an important public work of architecture. The following year Marco Zanuso took charge of the renovation of the Arteluce shop in Via Matteotti, a reference point for designers at that time.

A desk lamp with a different purpose. It is not meant to be an operating lamp, but to illuminate a table placed in an environment that is not necessarily an office. (4) This icon of Italian design was selected for the “Quirinale contemporaneo” exhibition – a project strongly desired by President Sergio Mattarella and curated by Cristina Mazzantini – as a tribute to the creativity and productivity expressed by our country over the last 70 years. The lamp was placed in the Sala di Druso. Other design icons present at the Quirinale Palace are the Parola by Gae Aulenti and Piero Castiglioni (1980) and the Flûte magnum by Franco Raggi (1999) for Fontana Arte, the Atollo by Vico Magistretti for Oluce (1977), Sampei by Enzo Calabrese and Davide Groppi (2011) for Davide Groppi, Biagio by Tobia Scarpa for Flos (1968), 99. 81 by Gio Ponti for Venini (1946), Ilio by Ernesto Gismondi for Artemide (2013), Tolomeo Mega by Michele De Lucchi and Giancarlo Fassina for Artemide (1986), L’Arco by Achille Castiglioni and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni for Flos (1962).

  • 1963 – “275” table lamp for Oluce – Marco zanuso

Detail view of the 275 table lamp(1963 – “275” table lamp for Oluce – Marco Zanuso – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

Dialogue between Marco Zanuso and Franco Raggi – Year 1999

You mean you can design by theme, almost irrespective of place and time?

No. However, the theme gradually emerges, partly from the place, perhaps from your history, or from other situations, but I don’t think you can reconstruct what goes on in your head, at least I can’t. However, I will have done four projects in my life in which the relationship between idea, site and final realisation is so clear and precise.

What makes a project an adventure?

I think the place and time, historical coincidences, the client…

Don’t you have a style?

No thanks. Maybe I have more of a curiosity. Like when you meet a woman and you want to understand her by observing how she behaves. There are characters, qualities, defects, ways of expressing yourself that attract you, that urge you, that make you act towards something new that you don’t yet know what it is. The project is a similar story.

And the client?

When the right one is there, it’s like falling in love.

How many times have you fallen in love?

A few. Definitely with Adriano Olivetti, he was a man of extraordinary charm, a great entrepreneur and intellectual at the same time.

View of the roof of the Olivetti headquarters(1955 – Brazil – Sao Paulo – Olivetti Headquarters – Marco Zanuso – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

Intellectual how?

He thought it was possible for the factory and industry to consciously produce culture and not just profit. Then I fell in love with Ludovico Biraghi, the president of IBM. But with Olivetti it was really an “encounter”, a stroke of lightning, an amazing case.

How did it go?

I was a young man, editor-in-chief of Domus, and Rogers was running it; BBPR had drawn up the Ivrea master plan for Olivetti, and they presented it at Villa Reale. The fact that an entrepreneur commissioned a master plan says a lot, but Ernesto said: “Why don’t you come”, and so he introduced me to Olivetti. A week later, this guy came into my office in Via Carducci; I had some stuffed church-type chairs and only one drawing table where I was sitting, he took one, turned it around, sat down in the American style and said to me “I would like you to take care of the project for my new plant in Buenos Aires”… just like that, boom.

Could it happen today?

I believe that some people are unique, and their uniqueness is also linked to a time when the qualities of manager, intellectual and politician could coincide in the same person at the highest level. Because Olivetti was the first Italian manager to decide to deal globally, on the ground, with ‘those others’.

Who were those others?

The Americans, Underwood for typewriters. And the fascinating thing is that, while designing the factory, we started to think together about the factory of the future, the one for electronics that was being born.

It wasn’t just an architectural project?

I learned there what a modern factory layout is…

Before, what did you call it, just the “plan”…

A factory is a machine and the layout is its three-dimensional working diagram. It wasn’t a matter of making more or less beautiful sheds, but of penetrating all the subtle veins of the production process, of the relationship between its parts, and resolving it in terms of space, time, dimensional, technological and human relations.

You designed a lamp for the Nuovo Piccolo Teatro, for the foyer. Like a cold star, in a cold space, why?

External view of the New Piccolo Teatro(1977-’86 – Italy – Milan – Nuovo Piccolo Teatro – Marco Zanuso – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)

I can say that the space has two faces: the foyer and the hall. The first without colours and the second warm. A box inside another box. I believe that theatre today is like that. Once there was the theatre of the king, then there was the theatre of the bourgeoisie, built by the bourgeoisie for the bourgeoisie, used only by the bourgeoisie, who arrived by carriage, and the boxes belonged to them and were an extension of the house. Today that world no longer exists, theatres are cultural structures paid for by public money that produce or should produce culture and not just shows. So the foyer, that somewhat cold foyer is waiting to be used for other things.

Dialogue between Marco Zanuso and Franco Raggi (5)

(1) Matteo Vercelloni, Riccardo Bianchi, Design, Milan, 2004, Mondadori
(2) Anty Pansera, Dizionario del design italiano, Milan, 1995, Cantini Editori
(3) Charlotte & Peter Fiell, Design del XX secolo, 2001, Taschen
(4) Alberto Bassi, La luce italiana, Milan, 2003, Electa
(5) Courtesy Franco Raggi: Dialogue between Marco Zanuso and Franco Raggi published in Flare – Architectural Lighting Magazine – n°21 – September 1999 – page 80

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