Joe Colombo (1930-71)

Italian painter, sculptor, architect and designer, born and active Milan.


Colombo studied at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts to 1949, and then at the Politecnico di Milano, where he graduated in 1954. A proponent of the Movimento Nucleare, Colombo was active as an avant-garde painter and sculptor during his twenties. In 1953, he executed a ceiling design for a Milan Jazz club, and in 1954 designed three "television shrines" ¬ó outdoor installations showcasing television sets as miniature theaters ¬ó for the Triennale di Milano. He took up architecture in the late 1950´s, designing a number of ski chalets and a condominium building. He briefly assumed control of the family electrical equipment business in 1959, using the factory as an experimental playground.

Colombo opened a design office in 1962, and over the next decade would produce a large body of innovative work. He theorized that technology would transform domestic life, and that the traditional room would give way to modular habitats ¬ó or, as he put it, "spaces conducive to meditation and experimentation, to intimacy and to interpersonal exchanges".

He sought to achieve these new environments with new materials, including fiberglass, ABS, PVC, and polyethylene. His Universale chair (1965) was one of the first to be manufactured from a single material. Other early commissions included the Impronta armchair (1961), the Acrilica lamp for O-Luce (1962), and the Roll chair (1962). His most unusual creations reflect his interest in modularity. His Mini Kitchen, exhibited in 1963 and manufactured by Boffi, housed a complete battery of cooking equipment and cutlery inside a small cabinet mounted on wheels. His Total Furnishing Unit (1969), an integrated living environment, combined all the amenities of a house, including a kitchen, bathroom, living and sleeping areas, divided into "functional stations". The Boby taboret (1970), another popular Colombo design, is still manufactured today by Bieffeplast.

By the time of his premature death from heart failure in 1971, Colombo had become a cult figure. He received the Compasso D'Oro in 1970, and the Total Furnishing Unit was posthumously exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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