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Who was Angelo Mangiarotti and What was his Impact on Design?

Discover Angelo Mangiarotti, the Italian architect, designer and urban planner famous for his dedicated and revolutionary research on different production materials. From his impactful Milanese architecture that shaped the history of the city to his iconic product designs, Mangiarotti’s touch is still present today in our cultural landscape and industry practices.

Sinuous curves and unexpected joints, architectural encounters of masculine and feminine, furnishings and lights with great formal power. The design legacy of Angelo Mangiarotti, ten years after his death, is monumental. Each project contains a design lesson, an idea to be inspired by, to which many projects of the new generation of designers, of which Mangiarotti is one of the favorite masters, concretely refer. His furnishings – primarily those produced by Agapecasa – are characterized by essential lines accompanied by design ideas of great impact. There is a deep knowledge of materials and a total confidence in furniture engineering. Mangiarotti experiments with daring joints, asymmetries, new balances never experienced before. And this is how he leaves his mark, offering the world a series of furnishings and accessories that go beyond time and are not afraid of changing trends.

 

Angelo Mangiarotti’s Life and Career

Angelo Mangiarotti was born in Milan on February 26th, 1921, and graduated with a degree in Architecture from the renowned Politecnico di Milano. That same year, he took the opportunity to assist the preparation of the VIII Triennale, effectively introducing him to the vibrant Milanese atmosphere of the design world. He later moved to the United States as a visiting professor of the Illinois Institute of Technology, where his encounters with Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Gropius among others became instrumental in defining his personal style as a professional.

Back in Italy, in 1955 he launched a 5-year partnership with his colleague and friend Bruno Morassutti, where Mangiarotti took his first steps in the architectural landscape of Milan: from those days is the famous “Casa a tre cilindri” in the San Siro district, a fine example of architecture perfectly blended with its with urban planning and renovation process. The studio took this innovative approach of structural research even further with the design of an apartment complex in Via Quadronno, and later with the commission of the new Quartiere Feltre in a joint effort with a group of acclaimed Milanese architects. His architectural vision deeply reflected in these early works: Mangiarotti viewed the discipline as a form of functional art, an artisanal process that had to follow the importance of functionality and intellectual rigor. This was true also for his opinion of industrial design, that he approached with the same care of a craftsman and the precision of a urbanist. As a restless innovator, Mangiarotti rarely stayed still in one environment; after his experience with Morassutti, he ventured in the automotive sector working with Alfa Romeo first as a consultant and then as a product designer, working closely with engineers that encouraged and fuelled his passion for material research. While he never lost side of his calling as an architect, these experiences contributed to the expansion of his activities into product design, becoming one of the founding members of the still present ADI, the first Italian association for industrial design.

Angelo Mangiarotti’s activity as an architect proceeded parallel to his career as a product designer and lecturer all over the world. During the 1960s, after receiving the chair of Industrial Design at the University of Venice, he delved deeply into materic research, a topic that had always fascinated him and for which he would become internationally recognized: starting with explorations using marble, glass and wood, he designed a number of iconic industrial products such as the glass blown Lesbo and Saffo lamps for Artemide, and later the renowned Eros and Eccentrico tables in fine Carrara Marble for Agape. His armachiar IN 301, created for Zanotta, is considered one of the most iconic designs of all time, and is now part of the permanent collection of the Triennale di Milano. His peculiar approach has been described as fitting many different design movement, from the influences of the technology-driven Modern Movement to the strictness and severity of rigorous functionalism. While it’s true that his many ventures have definitely been inspired by these guidelines, Mangiarotti developed such a personal method that labelling him as a rigid exponent of a single current would not do justice to his almost ingenuous method of conceiving new ideas and turning them into trends themselves.

“My works have always stemmed from the interest, the curiosity I have for matter and the ways it can be worked; and then sometimes finding solutions pushed to the limit. It’s necessary to focus on the choice of the materials with which the object will be realized, because of the delicate relationship that is then created with the form.”

His experimentations continued well into the 1980s and 1990s, where his partnership with Cristalleria ColleVilca gave him the opportunity of working with one of the oldest crystal workshops in Italy, for whom he created a collection of sculptural glasses and pitcher with his signature fluid lines and exceptional craftsmanship. For Galleria Fatto ad Arte, he designed exceptional bowls and vases with prized alabaster from Volterra: these pieces, with hollowed-out sections and circular shapes, are considered a masterful example of the marriage between artisanal tradition and innovative design. Soon, it was clear to design experts that this continuous process of research and experimentation was not guided solely by a desire of disrupting the status quo of design and architecture: Mangiarotti’s groundbreaking techniques were guided by an excellent know-how that he shared with engineers and production experts; the meticulous studies on form and shape were executed while never losing sight of true beauty and aesthetics, creating timeless pieces that would sustain the test of time.

 

Angelo Mangiarotti is also remembered for his long-lasting passion for sculpture, a natural consequence of his interest in materials and further detachment from functionality. His sculptures, created with the intention of adorning some of his buildings and to be showcased in town squares, were conceived inspired by the relationship of dynamism, by the duality of full and empty spaces. Today, some of them can still be admired in public places, such as the stunning “Massacro a Sant’Anna” near Lucca, in Tuscany, and the stone composition “Cinque stele dialogano alle Cinque Terre” in the Liguria Region. During the decades that spanned his career, Angelo Mangiarotti was able to immensely shape and influence the fields of architecture and industrial design: from his commission of the Feltre District in Milan and the buildings in the central Via Quadronna in Milan, to his steps towards the famed Italian automotive sector, up until his avant-garde product designs and tableware pieces: a true example of creativity, innovation and continuous research that continues to inspire today’s masters.

 

Angelo Mangiarotti’s 10 Most Iconic Designs 

1.Eccentrico table by Agapecasa

In Angelo Mangiarotti’s furniture production, tables are among the most significant and sought-after elements. In particular Eccentrico is the image of the designer’s research who knows how to move with absolute ease through the founding principles of architecture. His confidence is such as to allow him an experiment taken to the extreme. This is where Eccentrico was born, in the dining and living room versions. The elliptical top is inserted asymmetrically into the inclined cylindrical leg: everything seems impossible but instead it is perfect. The choice of material adds even more depth to the project: a precious marble in different finishes that makes Eccentrico an authentic furnishing sculpture.

Eccentrico rather strangely (given its name) finds itself at the focal point of Mangiarotti’s research into gravity joints and his explorations on the theme of inclined bodies. In this project, weight, geometry and material coexist in an explicitly delicate balance. Eccentrico unashamedly exposes its inner workings yet manages to keep an aura of magic.  The elliptical table-top is asymmetrically embedded into an inclined cylindrical leg blocking any vertical sliding by means of friction given by its eccentricity, using its own weight to push down and fully close an otherwise open joint. The Eccentrico table became a real structural landmark, making Angelo Mangiarotti one of the great furniture “builders” of the 20th century. Tavolozzo (not in production) is another notable  example of this line of thinking. This time the top is made of glass. The particular geometric conformation of the eyelet requires incredibly precise manufacturing processes that push craftsmanship and the materials themselves to their very limits. 
Vera Laica is another project worth mentioning. In this case the human element (the wearer) becomes a fundamental component of the joint itself. The mere act of wearing the ring ensures that the two pieces it is composed of, will stay together.

 

 2. Loico bookcase by Agapecasa

Like Eccentrico, the Loico bookcase is also in marble, an unusual material for this type of furniture yet perfectly in line with this design. Mangiarotti lends this material to modularity, designing a stackable bookcase made up of two lateral cylinders in which to fit the shelves according to different configurations. The result is of great visual impact while remaining extremely elegant and composed. Angelo Mangiarotti designs by crossing the knowledge of the qualities of materials with technologies to bend them to his purpose and, vice versa, to bring out the most convenient form from technology. The bonds between the parties, borrowed from experiences in prefabrication and architecture, complete the definition of the project. Thus was born Loico, a program made up of cylindrical and stackable load-bearing elements and shelves that are fixed in the appropriate joints to create bookcases with modular measures both in height and in width. A system of marble tables as a cornerstone of research on interlocking furniture without joints or locks: for the “Loico” tables the construction solution involves a gravity joint between the top and the leg, obtained thanks to the truncated conical section of the itself. Loico is more than a product, it is a system imagined with multiple different shapes and sizes, each with a peculiar interlocking point, and where the elegant design of the slots open on the perimeters and at the corners of the tops is determined by the elimination of the most fragile that would not have withstood the stresses: sophisticated detail and a key to understanding a real constructive invention.

 

3. Lari lamp by Karakter

The Lari table lamp, produced today by Karakter, is a luminous architecture that evokes, on a smaller scale, the design style that Mangiarotti translated into his buildings. Round shapes alternating with grooves give a perfect balance to the lamp. The design enhances the hand-blown glass, this material is in fact the true protagonist of the lamp. The light canopy rests on a discreet aluminum and steel base that also contains the electrical components. A real table sculpture. Karakter is a Danish design company founded on a spirit of exploration, courage and an uncompromising attitude to quality. Rooted in the Scandinavian design tradition with an international outlook, Karakter presents a portfolio of furniture, lighting and objects that is relevant, honest, expressive and sometimes playful. Aspiring to build an enduring legacy, we work with contemporary designers such as Aldo Bakker and PlueerSmitt and present works by the masters Bodil Kjær, Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Paul McCobb, Joe Colombo and Angelo Mangiarotti. Each piece has a clear, undeniable expression, ensuring it pride of place in private homes and public spaces worldwide.

 

4. Lesbo by Artemide

A similar principle is applied to the Lesbo lamp for Artemide which, however, returns a completely different formal result. Also in this case, the metal base contains all the electrical components and is a support for the hand-blown glass element. The shape is organic and immediately recognizable and resembles that of a mushroom. The light produced is soft and relaxing, a slight indentation on the top makes it dynamic and interesting.

The Lesbo table lamp was designed by the Italian designer Angelo Mangiarotti for Artemide Italy in 1967. The concept behind Angelo Mangiarotti’s Lesbo lamp was to “evoke architecture as a pool of water”. Before you go thinking too much about that Lesbo name, you should know that Angelo Mangiarotti named it Lesbos after the ancient Greek Island “Lesbos”. The Artemide Lesbo lamp is made of hand blown Murano glass and its base is made with polished metal to disguise the light source. This distinctively sensual and elegant table lamp will most certainly compliment any space with its beautiful soft diffused light.Artemide has been a worldwide leader in lighting design with an unparalleled commitment to technological innovation, research and human interaction. Established in 1959 by Ernesto Gismondi and Sergio Mazza, the company specializes in the manufacture of lighting designed by architects and has created award-winning collaborations with some of the world’s most talented designers including Naoto Fukasawa, David Chipperfield, Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel, Karim Rashid and Herzog & De Meuron.

 

5. Giogali by Vistosi 

The Giogali lighting system has a completely different setting: it consists of a series of crystal hooks to be assembled in a different way. The result is a show of reflections and transparencies that enhances the material and has a strong decorative impact that can be appreciated even when the lights are off. An expression of the most poetic and delicate nuance of Mangiarotti’s production. Vistosi, based in Treviso, Italy, is a lighting company whose history in Venetian glassmaking dates back to the 16th century. With a characteristic blend of industry, creativity and tradition, Vistosi invests in new production methods to create Italian lighting with uplifting artistry.
Their products, which range from mouth-blown pendants to wall sconces with handmade, glass links, are truly heirloom-quality designs.

 

6. Morassutti Warehouse, Padua

The Morassutti warehouse is an iron warehouse. The structure is in reinforced concrete with two longitudinal spans and a sheet-metal roof in which hexagonal sheet-metal tubes form the crossbeams: the lateral enclosure walls (where definitive) are in corrugated aluminum sheet and glass, supported by a structure in bent steel sheet; light enters the interior from above, through cylindrical channels in sheet metal inserted in the tubes of the roof and protected on the roof by transparent domes. The building has an extraordinary physiognomy: on its own, it determines the character of the entire area in which it stands, the zone of industrial suburbia that surrounds it. This expressive power does not lie in an exaggeration of forms, in any technical or representative display. Its forms are simultaneously fantastic and proper. They do not exaggerate the theme; they discover it. A pure, simple construction, without particular needs, to be used as a warehouse of material for trade. 

 

7. Tre 3 Chair 

Mangiarotti then set up his own architectural practice. Faithful to industrial design, he first worked as a consultant for the Italian manufacturer Alfa Romeo. Already noticed for his avant-garde architectural creations with Bruno Morassutti, Mangiarotti was then snapped up by the biggest design furniture publishers (Artemide, Cassina, Knoll) for whom he produced furniture pieces, some of which have become cult. Tre 3 is a comfortable chair made of traditional materials and featuring simple but elegant construction details. Three rectangular-sectioned legs, two front legs at the sides and a central leg at the rear, are joined together by a solid T-shaped cross structure, which is as stable as a traditional chair with four legs. A piece of leather has been placed in the high rear leg which gently descends to smoothly and seamlessly give shape to the back and seat. Tre 3 is a rereading of the kind of chair previously created by leading figures of Nordic design. The “3T” chair took Angelo Mangiarotti closer to the work of another great 20th-century maestro, Carlo Scarpa, who influenced all those designers who believed attention to detail was something to be explored and honored.

 

8. Via Quadronno, Milan

The building is one of a kind in Milan, fitting perfectly with an approach between structural research, prefabrication and a new architectural vocabulary that the two architects expressed over the span of their careers, first as partners and then separately.

Originally planned as a double project, it has a stronger urban design sense than the cylindrical houses (1956-1960) in the San Siro area by the same architects. This is because it makes itself a pivot point between the new development of the area between Via Crivelli and Via Quadronno designed as a large, open public green space in the dense surrounding built area. The apartment building was designed as a complex in which the system of parking lots, which was created on the building’s sides rather than under it, has its own architectural importance. The garages are perceptible and covered by an accessible lawn, set within a system that marks a path, starting from a metal fence, of designed elements such as the metal and wood cantilever roof, the travertine ramp, followed by a green slope, and a glazed reception, with a gray stone table and postal boxes; lastly is the transparent, suspended bridge that leads to the actual residential building. This building, free from street alignment, has a consistent relationship between its broken-line polygonal layout and the volume’s sculptural quality, in a complete surpassing of any traditional compositional hierarchies, drawing on northern European models of the era to follow an open configuration of “continuous façades”. The building’s structure (reinforced walls and columns) clearly reduced the constraints on the plans of the apartments, which are two per floor. This gave individual tenants the choice of free interior distribution. Likewise, the composition of a single façade is also variable. A façade based on the random alternation of windows and wood panels give the volume a constantly changing contour.

The plan of the apartment building complex is asymmetrical. Starting from a single stairwell in the center, two wings developed with different configurations, following the sun’s orientation and the view of the green space in front of the house. As a result, the best exposed areas have mainly glazed outside walls, and the service areas have an alternation of solid walls with cement uprights and wood slat or glass panels. The design’s guiding theme remains the prefabrication of the system of panels (with screening interior shutters where they are not filled in with wood) and a design that included climbing plants from the start, which have become the project’s hallmark feature.

 

9. Mater Misericordiae Church in Baranzate, Milan

The realization in 1957 of the Mater Misericordiae church in Baranzate, in collaboration with Bruno Morassutti. A building with a brutalist exterior that mixes materials inside: concrete, metal, glass, wood, polystyrene, etc. The two architects have succeeded in producing a soft and mystical light inside the church. The restoration project of the Church of Nostra Signora della Misericordia at Baranzate had the purpose of restoring the original appearance of the architectural complex, adapting it to the comfort and use requirements. It refers to the building opened on November 7, 1958 and to its project developed in 1956-1957 by Angelo Mangiarotti and Bruno Morassutti with the collaboration of Aldo Favini for structures. The project archietecture implies an interpretation of “restoration” where the renovation of the building raises the question of the distinction of the parties, of the explanation of “added ” and “original.” The same authors have clearly identified the new components, detaching them from their original context for position and characteristics, as it had already been done for the bell tower in 1985. The project identifies the masonry and the façade diaphragm as a place for new installations and new construction elements. It also gets the space in the boundary between inner and outer places, in material layers, highlighting the difference between old and new in a project that is fully based on the difference “between” the material “inside” the building.

 

10. The 3 Cylinder House

On an irregular terrain in the San Siro district of Milan, architect-designer Mangiarotti and architect Morassutti were asked to design nine apartments of approximately 100 sqm each. In order to comply with the strict regulations set by the municipality, and in addition to provide each apartment with enough daylight, they proposed three cylinder-towers, each containing three floors with one apartment. A central concrete mushroom-shaped pedestal supports each of the towers, leaving the ground level open, and providing place for a children’s playground, a communal terrace and a small caretakers apartment. A joint core containing the elevator and staircase links the three towers.
In the centre of each apartment floor is a rectangular space, with load bearing walls on all four corners. This central room provides access to all surrounding spaces which are – with the exception of the bathroom and kitchen – flexible in function and size: the radial walls can be arranged according to the needs of the tenants at that moment. The upper floor apartments have the luxury of a private roof terrace, accessed by spiral stairs in the apartment’s entrance hall.
The outer facade expresses the different layouts of the floors. The arrangement of closed wooden panels and floor-to-ceiling glass openings varies per floor and gives the complex a dynamic appearance Built from 1959 to 1962, this complex of three cylindrical buildings stands out from the usual sobriety of Milanese architecture. Mangiarotti and Morassutti designed the project with an original specification at the time: to design individual housing units. Thus, each of the 3 cylindrical volumes houses one flat per floor, overlooking the entire circumference.

 

Angelo Mangiarotti’s work demonstrates a pursuit of synthesis, of architectonic truth and design suitability rarely found simultaneously in a single personality. Angelo Mangiarotti stands apart from the other figures of the first generation of Italian design for his capacity to adapt the product to be designed to its function, its use and to the characteristics and conditions required by the material utilized. For Angelo Mangiarotti sculpture is a coherent but diversified part of his overall research on design and construction. In his career, he managed to express himself cohesively through all of these mediums, merging beauty and functionality with high quality materials that elevate the everyday to something special and precious. 

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