Italy's Iconic Radical Design Artists

Image Courtesy of Memphis Milano

In the 1960s, as a number of Italian designers grew impatient and dissatisfied by the state of mainstream design and architecture, a new movement was born – Italian Radical Design. Officially lasting from 1966 – 1980, the movement emphasised striking colours, scale distortion (ie. giant chairs that make you look small), and used irony and kitsch. The function of the object was to subvert the way you thought about the object.

The design movement was a reaction against what many avant-garde designers at the time saw as the perfectionist aesthetics of Modernism. The Modernist designers placed emphasis on style rather than inventiveness and originality, resulting in design that made the artists plenty of money but did little to push design forward. This sense of dissatisfaction with the increasingly lack of the social relevance of design for the sake of greed led Italian designers to stage a revolt.

The Radical Design movement sought to create objects and living quarters that were unique rather than embracing style, mass production, consumerism, sales and greed. Their designs were meant to be functional, not necessarily beautiful. Where Modernism followed the idea that objects should be permanent, these Radical Design rebels felt that objects should be temporary and easily replaced. The result was design that was revolutionary, iconic and influential, even today – but who were some of the designers responsible for Radical Design’s most renowned moments?

Ettore Sottsass and Memphis

Ettore Sottsass Jr. was a key spokesman of the Radical Design movement once it took off and grew in popularity. One of his first and most inventive designs was a series of monolithic cupboards, made deliberately tacky with cheap plastic laminates – his way of arguing against the pompous nature of Modernist design. In addition to this, Sottsass went on to design the iconic Olivetti portable typewriter. In 1981 Sottsass founded Memphis, an iconic design group that divided opinion with their colourful furniture inspired by pop art. 

Image Courtesy of Pablo Sanchez

Vico Magistretti

Vico Magistretti’s Selene chair, a series of stackable plastic chairs, laid the blueprints for a chair design that is so commonplace today that it can be hard to remember its origins. The Selene chair was made of reinforced polyester and could be stacked – simultaneously saving storage space and inviting the user to participate in the design.

Image Courtesy of Paolo Mazzoleni

Paolo Lomazzi

The famous Joe Sofa (1970) was designed by Paolo Lomazzi and named after Joe Colombo, a legendary Italian designer. The iconic sofa resembles a giant baseball catcher’s mitt - an overblown symbol designed to communicate on a very basic level, suggesting that forms don’t have to be invented, they can just be recycled.

Image Courtesy of Expertissim

Archizoom Associati

Founded 1966 in Florence by Andrea Branzi, Archizoom Associati studio invented ‘Superarchitecture’ alongside fellow studio Superstudio. ‘Superarchitecture’ endorsed creative processes similar to Pop Art in architectural and design development, exemplified by objects such as the Superonda sofa, which invites unconventional postures due to its waved shape.

Image Courtesy of Quittenbaum