Ettore Sottsass: 1917-2007
He leaves behind generations of devotees for his trailblazing designs.
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 2/13/2008 12:00:00 AM
Ettore Sottsass, architect and designer extraordinaire, lived to see 90 and just missed ringing in the New Year. He died on December 31 at his home in Milan. For more than six decades, Sottsass shook up the Italian landscape and design worldwide.
He was best known for Memphis. Those attending the 1981 Salone del Mobile will never forget its shock of the new. Wild and wacky furniture, lighting, textiles, and ceramics created by the 64-year-old Sottsass and his posse of 30-something designers, were adored and abhorred. Sottsass loved the controversy. And, he lived to see Memphis's resurgence. Interior Design Hall of Famer Carl D'Aquino, for one, is currently awaiting a piece from a European dealer—the circa 1982 Carlton Biblioteque—for a Central Park West apartment.
"Sottsass was an agent of change," says Richard Koshalek, president of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and director emeritus of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. "His only consistency was quality."
Sottsass left his bold mark on the industrial design arena, giving the world a Valentine with the crimson typewriter introduced by Olivetti on February 14, 1969. As a consultant for the manufacturer from 1958 to 1980, he designed computers, electronics, and office furniture. He also collaborated with Knoll, Alessi, Poltronova, and DuPont, and with peers including Matteo Thun (another Hall of Famer) and Aldo Cibic.
On a larger scale, he practiced architecture. Projects include Milan's Malpensa airport, yacht interiors, a Beverly Hills gallery, and a Silicon Valley home for design entrepreneur David M. Kelly.
In 2006, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art presented the first American retrospective of his work. Subsequent exhibitions took place at the Design Museum in London, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the inauguration of the Friedman Benda gallery in New York.
"Once you've met him, you know design is a noble profession," Koshalek adds. "He had great optimism, ideas, and, most importantly, a sense of humanity."
Born in Innsbruck, Sottsass graduated from the Politecnico di Torino and considered Milan his home.
To view a selection of the designer's works, click above to start the slide show.