Black and white portrait of Italian architect and designer Umberto Riva

Umberto Riva

Italian architect and designer

Umberto Riva (born June 16, 1928, Milan, Italy) is 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 influenced the field of Italian design for nearly a century.

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 has enjoyed success in 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 space, was echoed in his subsequent spaces, such as the Casa Vernizzi (Paris, 1988). Other architectural landmarks of his career include: designs of 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).

Notable Furniture and Light Creations:

Among his furniture and light works are the very successful, and now iconic, E63 table lamp made out of ABS plastic for Bieffeplast (1963); the Medusa lamp from VeArt (1970); the Metafora table lamp for Fontana Arte (1980); the Sospesa table lamp for Barovier & Toso (1984); 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).

Beyond Riva’s architectural, furniture and light designs, his work has also been showcased in publications as well as in exhibitions around the globe.  Most recently his work was showcased at the 2019 exhibit “Forme: Umberto Riva architetto designer” at 10 Corso Como, in Milan. He also exhibited at the “Design and Architecture from Postwar to Today” from the Collection of Francesco Moschini at Poggio a Caiano’s Scuderie Medicee in 2002; and had a solo exhibition “Umberto Riva. Sistemazioni Urbane” at Palazzo Bosdari, in Ancona (1997). Riva’s has also received various 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.

Last updated: June 19, 2019

For additional information, please visit the following:

Umberto Riva.” Context.

Umberto Riva.” Tacchini.


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