An introduction to italian design history

With a history that reads like the heritage of Western Civilisation, you’d be forgiven for thinking that ‘Old Europe’ and Italy’s cultural were one and the same. The Roman period and Middle Ages led to the Renaissance, which ushered in some of the most beautiful and distinctive creations and works of art known to man. Today, Italy enjoys the status of global pacesetter and benchmark in the arenas of style, design and fashion at a rate that exceeds even its most venerated rivals.

However, it hasn’t always been an easy ride, and drawing a link between the modern Italian design we adore today with the art and rich cultural heritage of Italy’s past requires us to understand that even the greatest cultures experience their ups and downs.

grattacielo Pirelli_'Pirellone'_by gio ponti (1958)

Pirelli Skyscraper aka ‘Pirellone’, literally “Big Pirelli”, Milan, Italy. Designed by Gio Ponti in 1958 It is a 32-storey, 124.1 m high, building ordered in 1950 by Alberto Pirelli, the president of the Pirelli, to housing the company headquarters

In the aftermath of the Second World War, a huge segment of Italy’s construction legacy had been destroyed, and thus the impetus was on the nation, still reeling from reparation costs, debt and drain on national resources, to invent a new future for itself. The architects and designers of the time took it upon themselves to renew buildings, public spaces and homes in a technical and functional manner; the surge in innovation spread to other areas, and the 50’s saw new innovations in industrial objects, including kitchens and home appliances, as well as the discovery of a new way of transport: the 500 by Fiat was the affordable car for the family which literally ‘motorised an entire nation’.

Fiat_fiat_500_1957_pubblicità

The original Fiat 500 as presented in a commercial picture 500 (1957). It was the car of the ‘Italian economic boom’ after the WWII.

The ‘Dormitio chair’ designed by Gio Ponti in 1950. In The post-war period the mixing of architecture and design was clearly evident.

The ‘Dormitio chair’ designed by Gio Ponti in 1950. In The post-war period the mixing of architecture and design was clearly evident.

Newly ‘hedonist’ Italy realized that modernity also meant comfort, quality and a better standard of living, and advancements in design extended further into the domestic domain to include furniture, lighting and a range of objects for leisure. The 60’s signified a peak in the fervour surrounding the new art form, and the international market became a significant segment of the demand that often outstripped production.

Hotel ‘Parco dei Principi’, Sorrento, Italy. The interiors were designed by Gio Ponti in 1962.

Hotel ‘Parco dei Principi’, Sorrento, Italy. The interiors were designed by Gio Ponti in 1962.

‘Arco lamp’, designed by Achille & Pier Giacomo Castiglioni for Flos (1962).

‘Arco lamp’, designed by Achille & Pier Giacomo Castiglioni for Flos (1962).

‘Il Cubo’ Radio by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper for Brionvega (1964).

‘Il Cubo’ Radio by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper for Brionvega (1964).

Today, Italy is known for its dominance and excellence in multiple design disciplines, including lighting, architecture, graphics and fashion. With its advanced technical institutions and universities, a new crop of ambitious and wonderfully creative talents enters the workforce each year, providing the nation’s storied design and aesthetic tradition to continue to flourish well into the future.

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