Ettore Sottsass (1917-)

Italian architect, industrial designer and design theorist, born Innsbruck, active Milan.


Sottsass' father was himself a prominent architect who had studied in Vienna under Otto Wagner. The family settled in Turin in 1929, and it was there that young Ettore entered the Politecnico to begin his professional training. World War II erupted shortly after his graduation in 1939, and Sottsass was subsequently drafted into the Italian Army.

After the war, Sottsass worked with his father on several reconstruction projects; by 1947, he had opened his own office in Milan. He became a frequent contributor to Domus, the architectural journal founded by Gio Ponti, and established himself as a painter, set designer, and exhibition curator. In 1958, he was approached by Olivetti to create office machines for their new electronics division. Despite his lack of technological experience, he designed a mainframe computer and several popular typewriters.

Sottsass traveled extensively, often finding inspiration abroad for his work at home. A trip to India yielded a collection of ceramics, and his American travels infused his work with a pop aesthetic. In the late 1970s, Sottsas began an association with the anti-design collaborative Studio Alchymia. Later, in 1981, he founded the Memphis furniture and furnishings group. It produced several icons of 80s design, including the Casablanca and Carlton shelving units (both 1981).

Today, Sottsass is a living legend. His firm, Sottsass Associati, has designed everything from buildings to lamps for clients such as Artemide, Zanotta, Zumtobel, Poltronova, Vitra and Alessi. A three-time winner of the Premio Compasso d´Oro, his work has been exhibited in museums and galleries the world over.

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