The biography of Ettore Sottsass by Bianca Killmann for TAGWERC

Biography of Ettore Sottsass Junior

Ettore Sottsass Junior was born in 1917 in Innsbruck, Austria, as the son of the architect Ettore Sottsass Senior. He grows up in the Tyrol, in the shadow of the mighty Alps, and will carry throughout his life a depressing melancholy from time to time. At the age of twelve, Ettore Sottsass and his family move to Italy via the Brenner Pass. Here, in Turin, Sottsass emulates his father and studies architecture from 1935 to 1939, while in 1938 his father realizes the home of the “Casa Antonia Peintner” family in Bauhaus style, which he names after his wife, the mother of Sottsass Junior.

Postmodern epoch

Ettore Sottsass Junior is now associated with the Memphis Design Group, whose founding member he is in 1980. Designers from the furniture, ceramics and textile sectors gather in Milan to present an avant-garde, anti-rationalist and antifunctionalist design in their first exhibition half a year after its founding. Ettore Sottsass designs furniture in the style of postmodernism that today is a highly- collectible collector’s item. In the Memphis style of postmodernism, the bookshelf ‘Carlton’ was created in 1980, the following year the table lamp ‘Tahiti’ and the shelf ‘Casablanca Cabinet’, both in 1981. In 1983, the lamp ‘Pausania’ is produced, which is still produced today by Artemide. From the design maxim ‘form follows function’ the Memphis ideal turns into ‘form follows fun’.

Military time under Mussolini

After graduating with a diploma, Sottsass Junior, a recent architect, first completed his military service under Mussolini. After the war, Sottsass worked in his father’s architectural office in Turin to rebuild the ruined Italy. Here Sottsass also gets to know his future wife, the journalist Fernanda Pivano. She was also born in 1917 and moved to Turin with her parents. Sottsass and Pivano are married from 1949 until the 1970s. Together they move to Milan after their wedding. The relationship ends later because of the affairs Sottsass’.

Experiments and designs

Ettore Sottsass founded his own design studio in Milan in the early 1950s. At this point in time, the cooperation with Bitossi, a ceramics factory, begins. Seven years after starting his own business, Sottsass becomes artistic director of the furniture factory Poltronova near Florence. During the collaboration with Poltronova Sottsass professionalizes his experiments with the material fiberglass. There are a number of charismatic designs such as the mirror ‘Ultrafragola‘.

Mobili Grigi

Ultrafragola is part of the series ‘Mobili Grigi’, designed by Ettore Sottsass in the late 1960s / early 1970s. Matching the Ultrafagola mirror, the Elledue bed, chest of drawers, chairs, table and the lamps ‘Cometa’ and ‘Bruco’ are created. Common to all furnishing objects is the integrated lighting, which forms a strong contrast to the mostly gray carcass. The lighting on these objects is designed to emerge from the fiberglass body. Sottsass himself commented on the series with the words: “As for the lights coming from the gray objects, do not graves always have flickering lights that illuminate the sadness of spirits as they move through the valley of dust? Do submarines have no shivering green lights in their holds?”

First computer in Italy

As the collaboration with Poltronova begins, Adriano Olivetti accidentally crosses Sottsass way. The founder of the Italian Olivetti Group is immediately convinced by Sottsass and commissions him to develop a computer with his son Roberto and IT technician Mario Tchou. ‘Elea 9003’ is a third-generation room-filling mainframe computer system awarded by the Compasso d’Oro design prize in 1959 and the first Italian computer at all. It follows the design of various typewriters.

Sweet Valentine

The most well-known of them, is the red typewriter ‘Valentine’ of 1968, which Sottsass provided with a practical carrying case and described as a ‘pen among typewriters’. Valentine now allows creatives like Allen Ginsberg or Ernest Hemingway to work separated from their wife’s orbit all around the world. A big win. From David Bowie we know, that he sometimes wrote song lyrics on his Valentine, which changed hands in 2016 in a London auction house for well over 50.000 Euros.

Mettsass, Manhattan and Pattern

In the 1970s, Sottsass collaborated with BD Barcelona to produce the table ‘Metsass’ and a series of table accessories such as the Ashtray, Manhattan’ or the Vase ‘Shiva‘. During an exhibition at the Venice Biennale, Sottsas meets journalist Barbara Radice. He is in his late fifties, she is in her early thirties. In the same year, the couple marries and Sottsass moves into the apartment of the native Italian. A little later, Sottsass joins the designers of Studio Alchimia to Adriana and Alessandro Guerriero and Alessandro Mendini. The patterns ‘Bacterio’ (1978) and Spugnato (1979) date from this period. At Memphis’ time, the patterns’ Veneziana ‘(1981) and’ Rete 2 ‘(1982) are created, all produced by Abet Laminati.

Back to architecture

With his departure from the Memphis Design Group, the Milanese by choice is once again focusing entirely on his company Sottsass Associati and is returning to architecture when he designed stores for the German fashion label Esprit in 1985. In the late 1980s / early 1990s, a series of objects for the companies Zanotta and Alessi, such as the cutlery, ‘Nuovo Milano’ in 1987. As part of the art project Busstops, Sottsass designs a shelter in 1994, which until today is standing in Hanover, more precisely at the junction Königsworther Platz, a former parade ground from the 19th century. What follows is the airport Malpensa in Milan in 2000.

Design awards and collections

Ettore Sottsass Junior has received many awards, including three times the Compasso d’Oro design award (1959, 1970 and 1989). Sottsass designs are represented in almost all major design collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art / New York. At the age of 90, the visionary on New Year’s Eve in his apartment in Milan succumbs to a heart failure that occurs as part of a viral disease. In his designs, however, the architect and designer is still immortal. In the TAGWERC Design STORE you will find the spirit of Sottsass in his exclusive design objects for your own four walls.

Author of the biography: Bianca KILLMANN
The biography is protected by copyright.

Ettore Sottsass Design, manufactured by BD Barcelona Design.

Table Mettsass

Vase Shiva

Ettore Sottsass Design, manufactured by Poltronova.