Italian architect and designer Alessandro Mendini writing a document on his desk wearing a black shirt

Alessandro Mendini

Italian designer and architect

“I treat objects as if they were human beings; I make them smile.”

Alessandro Mendini

Alessandro Mendini (born August 16, 1931, Milan—died February 18, 2019, Milan) was an Italian designer, architect, editor, and essayist who played an important part in the development of Italian design during the second part of the 20th century. Aside from his artistic career, he worked and wrote for Casabella, Modo, and Domus magazines. In the 1970s, he was one of the main personalities of the Radical Ddesign movement, and in 1979, he became a partner of Studio Alchimia, where he worked with Ettore Sottsass and Michele De Lucchi.

Mendini graduated from Politecnico di Milano in 1959 with a degree in architecture and worked from 1956 until 1970 as a partner with architect Marcello Nizzoli at his industrial design studio Nizzoli Associati. In 1973, he cofounded the architectural and urban planning studio Radical Design Group.

Alessandro Mendini’s Passion For Writing

But Mendini soon discovered his real passion for writing and, in 1970, he started his career as an editor; first as the managing editor of Casabella magazine from 1970 until 1976. In 1977, he then founded his own magazine, Modo, where he served as the managing editor until 198o, when he became the managing editor of Domus magazine until 1985. In 1988, Mendini founded his second magazine, Ollo, where he was a director until he died. read more

Alessandro Mendini changed the landscape of modern design through his quintessential works of postmodernism. Through his involvement with Studio Alchimia, Mendini drove the concept of Banal Design, exploring an assertively kitsch and whimsy style as an effective way for disrupting notions of value, function, taste, and style to encourage individual thinking. Just as works of other periods express the human values and sensibilities of their corresponding eras, Mendini’s work contributed to bringing into the heart of design those “values” and “sensibilities” that have been eclipsed by commercialism and functionalism.

Pointillist style used by Alessandro Mendini for the Proust Chair
Detail of pointillist style used by Alessandro Mendini for the Proust Chair

Prominent Alessandro Mendini Furniture And Product Designs

Among his most well-known designs are the 1978 Poltrona Kandinsky, a chair with Kandinsky-inspired decoration; the 1979 Poltrona di Proust, an armchair designed in collaboration with artist Franco Migliaccio and with the shape of a baroque chair from 1700s, but painted in pointillist style for Alchimia; the 1978 Kandissi sofa for Alchimia; the 1981 Cipriani liquor cabinet for Memphis;  the 1984 Colonna Cabinet for Bruno Gregori; and the 2008 Mania cabinet. He collaborated with leading Italian design companies and international brands, including Zanotta, Driade, and Poltronova.

In 1983, Mendini started a long partnership with Alessi, first collaborating in the experimental project for the successful Tea and Coffee Piazza set project, which gained wide notoriety, and then developing many other household products often in the form of whimsical anthropomorphic shapes, such as the series of Anna G. corkscrews (launched in 1994), and the the iconic Vaso Viso vase (2001). With regards to the Anna G. corkscrew series, a design inspired by Mendini’s friend the artist and designer Anna Gili, Mendini said: “I like irony, I like to play a game, I like to stay far away from rhetoric: that’s the reason why I let the objects I design express all these ideas, turning them into a sort of toys you can use even though you’ve grown up.”

Anna G. corkscrew by Alessandro Mendini for Alessi
Anna G. corkscrew series by Alessandro Mendini for Alessi

Awards and Exhibitions

Alessandro Mendini was a member of the Domus Academy and of the Associazione per il Disegno Industriale (ADI) and was a prolific writer and exponent of the intersections of design, taste, values, and function. He received the Compasso d’Oro of design in 1979 and in 1981, and was an honorary member of the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. He was named Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in France, received the honor of the Architectural League of New York, the honorary degree at the Polytechnic of Milan, and the European Prize for Architecture Awards in 2014. His work has been included in many exhibitions including the recent exhibition “Radical: Italian Design 1965-1985, The Dennis Freeman Collection.” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (February 14, 2020–April 26, 2020).

Alessandro Mendini and his brother Francesco founded Atelier Mendini in 1989, where he remained active creating furniture, products, and architectural designs in the studio right up to the time of his death.

For more information on Allessandro Mendini, please visit Atelier Mendini

Last updated: August 23, 2020

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