Black and white portrait of Italian architect and designer Umberto Riva

Umberto Riva

Italian architect and designer

“Umberto Riva’s work is elegant to the point of being unrecognizable.”

Architect Luca Cipelletti

Umberto Riva (born June 16, 1928, Milan, Italy-died Palermo, Sicily, June 25, 2021) was a renowned architect, and furniture and light designer whose work is noted by the way in which he considers the space of his objects and their relations to their environment, and not by adhering to specific design or architecture modernist principles. Umberto Riva has greatly influenced the field of Italian design with his pursuit of discrete simplicity and practicality.

Born in Milan in 1928, Riva traveled to Venice as a young man to pursue studies in architecture with Carlo Scarpa (1906-1978). He graduated from this program in 1959 and subsequently launched his own practice in Milan the following year. Having grown up during an era of architectural and design innovation, Riva found his early inspiration developing a practice that focused on clean lines and materials, elements that elevated his creations to celebrated status.

One of the most remarkable aspects of Riva’s career is the sheer variety of his output: from diminutive table lamps to urban planning and large architectural designs, Riva has unified a diverse body of work with his vision.

Important Architectural Work:

In addition to ongoing successful collaborations with firms such as Fontana Arte–with which he collaborated for a long time starting when Gae Aulenti was its artistic director, Barovier and Toso, and Francesconi, Riva also executed several important architectural projects. For example, his work for the Casa Frei in Milan (1983-1984), which played with the architectural design in a larger consideration of the home as singular entity rather than an assembly of disparate spaces, was echoed in his subsequent spaces, such as the Casa Vernizzi (Paris, 1988). Other architectural landmarks of his career include: designs of the Casa Frei in Milan (1983-1984), the Casa Insignia in Milan (1989), the Palazzo dell’Arte in Milan (1994-1995), renovations to the Caffè Pedrocchi of Padua (1994-1998), the redesign of the Palazzo Barbaran da Porto in Vicenza (1998), the European Library of Porta Vittoria in Milan, and the Church of San Corbiniano in Rome (2011).

Chiesa or church de San Corbiniano in Rome designed by architect Umberto Riva
Church de San Corbiniano in Rome by architect Umberto Riva

Notable Furniture and Light Creations:

Among his furniture and light works are the very successful, and now iconic, E63 or Ruspa table lamp made out of ABS plastic for Bieffeplast (1963); the Medusa lamp from VeArt (1972); the Metafora table lamp for Fontana Arte (1980); the Veronese table lamp for Barovier & Toso (1985); the Franceschina table lamp, in the shape of a vase and made of aluminum, bronze and Murano glass, for Fontana Arte (1989); the Dilem lamp, an evolution of the Franceschina lamp, for Fontana Arte (1991); and the wooden table for Montina with legs of inwardly inclined wooden sheets (1997).

Veronese table lamp designed by Umberto Riva for Barovier & Toso
Veronese table lamp designed by Umberto Riva for Barovier & Toso

Beyond Riva’s many architectural, furniture and light designs, his work has been showcased in many publications, and he has also received numerous awards; among them he was named a Fellow of the Accademia di San Luca in 1999, and, along PierPaolo Ricatti, he was awarded the 2003 gold medal in Italian architecture at the Triennale di Milano.

Important exhibitions:

Among Riva’s most important exhibitions are:

  • Umberto Riva. Sistemazioni Urbane.” Palazzo Bosdari, Ancona (1997).
  • Design and Architecture from Postwar to Today,” from the Collection of Francesco Moschini. Poggio a Caiano’s Scuderie Medicee (2002)
  • Rooms you may have missed. Bijoy Jain & Umberto Riva.” Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montreal, Canada (2015-2015)
  • Forme: Umberto Riva architetto designer,” 10 Corso Como, Milan (2019)

For additional information, please visit the following:

Umberto Riva.” Context.

Umberto Riva.” Tacchini.

Last updated: July 5, 2021

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Gabriele Neri

Umberto Riva. Interni e allestimenti

Lettera Ventidue

Syuracuse, Italy (2018)


Mirko Zardini

Rooms You May Have Missed: Bijoy Jain, Umberto Riva

Lars Muller

Zürich, Switzerland (2015)


Carlo Pietrucci

Umberto Riva, La Chiesa di San Corbiniano a Roma con un’appendice delle opera di design


Rome, Italy (2015)


Andrea Fdelice

Trentanove domande a Umberto Riva


Limena, PD, Italy (2003)


Umberto Riva, Tarsetti, Turchi

Sistemazioni Urbane


Limena, PD, Italy (1980)