Portrait of Italian designer Marco Zanuso

Marco Zanuso

Italian designer

Marco Zanuso (born May 14, 1916, Milan, Italy – died July 11, 2001, Milan, Italy) was a leading Italian modernist designer and architect. His artistic legacy is robust and indisputable and it covers an ample range of furniture designs, industrial designs, and architectural projects. But he is also recognized for his entrepreneurial contributions in solving practical and essential problems by incorporating new technology, marketing and sales methodologies in the creation and promotion of modern designs. His designs imbue the modernist sensitivity in that they are not only discrete and interesting to look at, but they are all eminently functional, always serving the practical purpose for which they were intended.

Born in Milan, Marco Zanuso studied architecture at the Politecnico di Milano from 1935-39. In 1945, he opened his practice in Milan, and worked as an architect, urban planner and designer. He was the co-editor, along Ernesto Nathan Rogers, of Domus Magazine in 1946 and 1947, and of Casabella in 1948. In 1949 he become the first president of the Associazione per il Disegno Industriale (ADI), an office that he kept until 1969.  In the late 1950s, the Pritzker Prize winer architect, Aldo Rossi joined Zanuso’s studio to train in architecture and design.

Important furniture designs

In spite of his varied interests, Marco Zanuso was first and foremost a designer. Like many great designers, it was the form of the piece that truly interested and inspired him. “Through my projects I want to give form to what I call complexity.” What did he mean by that? Just following the tradition of the Italian masters of music, sculpture and art, to make the complex simple.

In 1949, Zanuso designed a chair for the Poccolo Teatro in Milan; he named it the Antropus chair in honor of the play being performed at the theatre at that time. In 1950, he started a partnership with Arflex for which he created important designs such as the popular Lady chair (1950), winner of the Medaglia d’Oro at the Triennale di Milano; the Triennale sofa (1951), the Martingala armchair (1952); the Tripoltrono, winner of another Medaglia d’Oro; and the Sleep-o-matic sofa (1954), also winner of another Medaglia d’Oro.

Marco Zanuso is probably best known to most people, however, for a rather broad spectrum of furniture and appliance designs with bright colors and innovative shapes. He developed much of this style from 1958 until 1977, when he and the German designer Richard Sapper started a prolific and fruitful professional partnership and jointly designed numerous lamps, furniture pieces, and electrical appliances. Among the most important product designs from this collaboration are the steel Lamda chair for Gavina (1961), the polyethylene 4999/S stackable children’s chair for Kartell (1961), the famous TS 502 radio (“the Cube”) and the Algol television for Brionvega (1964), and the iconic Grillo phone for Siemens in 1966. Other popular design is the 275 table lamp for the Oluce (1965), and the Maggiolona armchair for Zanotta (1974),

Important architectural projects

Among Zanuso’s most important architectural projects are: the first Arteluce store alongside famed architect, designer, and owner of Arteluce, Gino Sarfati (1953); the  Olivetti factory buildings in Buenos Aires and São Paulo (1955-1957); and the Piccolo Teatro in Milan (1974).

Important awards and recognitions

During his professional career, Marco Zanuso was recognized by the Triennale di Milano in five different exhibitions (VIII, IX, X, XI and XIII), and he received the Medaglia d’oro and five Compassi d’Oro between 1956 and 1985. The New York Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, currently has 15 of his pieces as part of its permanent collection.

Last updated: September 24, 2019

For more information on Marco Zanuso, please visit:

Marco Zanuso New York Times

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