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Iconic Italian Design: Five Perfect Partnerships – five online talks by Dr Philippa Joseph

posted on 07/02/23


In 1945, after two decades of Fascism and the aftermath of the Second World War, Italy was a nation socially divided, with its infrastructure in tatters. Yet, with the creation of the Italian Republic in June 1946, a new democratic government, and the injection of large funds from the European Recovery Program (The Marshall Plan), Italy rose, phoenix-like, out of the ashes. The country’s post-war reconstruction was encapsulated by architect Ernesto Rogers, who said that he and his colleagues should be ready to design everything ‘from the spoon to the city’. This sense of national purpose and freedom to experiment, enabled Italian architects and designers – many still newly qualified¬ – to rapidly put into practice their architectural and aesthetic training, working from the heart as much as the head. Importantly, the adoption of chic and colourful American ‘lifestyle-inspired’ advertising by several companies, including Fiat, Olivetti and Piaggio, quickly lent an aspirational air to Italian products, that captured the broader, international zeitgeist of renewal and optimism.

This series explores five pioneering partnerships which produced some of the most beautiful buildings, cars, furniture, and products ever designed and helped to secure Italy’s creative reputation at the height of the 20th century and beyond.

They take place every Thursday from 1st to 29th June at 4.30pm (GMT +1) and, including Q&A, will probably last an hour. They are available for viewing for eight weeks after the last episode is streamed (24th August 2023).

Register for the webinar series for £65


The talks 

1. Marcello Nizzoli and Olivetti (1st June 2023)

Between 1945 and 1960, no other Italian company came close to matching Olivetti’s combination of design excellence and corporate beneficence, when business boomed under the inspired leadership of Adriano Olivetti. He encouraged close collaboration between designers, engineers and the company’s marketing department. The designer, Marcello Nizzoli, worked closely with several key colleagues to produce the world’s most highly advanced electro-mechanical calculators, and the sublimely elegant Lettera 22, the portable typewriter favoured by writers the world over.

2. Architects and Italian Furniture Design (8th June 2023)

Important partnerships especially in Lombardy in the north, were central to shifting the Italian furniture industry out of its mock-Baroque rut. Responding to Ernesto Rogers’ ‘call to arms’, many leading architects, including Franco Albini, Cini Boeri, Franca Helg, Gio Ponti and Marco Zanuso collaborated closely with furniture companies. Their designs were characterized by a timeless elegance, in which innovation and the precision engineering were applied to cane, rattan, steel and timber components alike. The small size of these companies, combined with abundant skilled artisans, meant that they could be adaptable and quickly produce prototypes for major exhibitions and fairs. This helped to rapidly establish Italian design excellence in the eyes of an international audience.

3. Dante Giacosa and Fiat (15th June 2023)

Fiat’s tiny Nuova 500, designed by Dante Giacosa, was launched in 1957. Its captivating looks, clever design and low cost, quickly won it many admirers and helped to get an increasing number of Italians mobile on four wheels, much as the Vespa scooter had done on two wheels a decade earlier. However, its design was directly influenced by Giacosa’s more innovative Fiat 600 of 1955, the company’s first with an air-cooled rear engine and monocoque chassis. By the early 1960s, Italy’s car production epitomised what became known as the ‘Italian Line’, a byword for sophisticated chic and innate elegance.

4. Pier Luigi Nervi and Reinforced Concrete (22nd June 2023)

Pier Luigi Nervi (1891–1979) designed brilliantly innovative buildings that helped showcase a modernizing Italy to the world. ‘Architecture is, and must be, a synthesis of technology and art’, he stated, and his work has been described as ‘Poetry in Concrete.’ His revolutionary designs and ingenious use of reinforced concrete created stunning buildings for the 1960 Rome Olympics and Italy Expo 61. He also collaborated with Marcel Breuer and Bernard Zehrfuss on UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris, inaugurated in 1953, and with Gio Ponti on the design of Milan’s first skyscraper, the elegant Pirelli Tower, opened 1960, which became a symbol of Italy’s remarkable industrial recovery after 1945. 

5. Anna Castelli Ferrieri and Plastics (29th June 2023)

The exciting new possibilities offered to designers by industrial plastics were fully exploited in Italy in the 1960s and 70s. The great innovator was Kartell, originally founded in 1949 by chemical engineer Giulio Castelli and his architect wife, Anna Castelli Ferrieri. Under Castelli Ferrieri’s direction, leading designers produced scores of iconic objects, furniture and lighting designs for Kartell. In turn, this encouraged several other designers to work with plastics. In 1972, the exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape at MoMA in New York brought these designs to prominence and to the attention of a global audience.

The speaker

Dr Philippa Joseph

An art, architectural, and design historian whose research covers artistic and cultural exchange across Europe, especially between Andalucía and Sicily, and the wider Mediterranean basin. Philippa also has an academic interest in, and teaches on, 20th-century Italian architecture and design. She is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, a tutor at the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education and a regular contributor to History Today.

Philippa leads MRT’s new tour Italian Design – Modernism in Turin and Milan, which runs from 23rd to 29th October 2023.

Register for the webinar series for £65

Frequently asked questions

What methods of payment do you accept?

An electronic invoice will be sent to your e-mail address 1–3 working days after you have completed our registration form. Payment can be made online using AMEX, Apple Pay, Google Pay, MasterCard or Visa.

How do I purchase the webinar series as a gift?

Please contact us specifying how many subscriptions you would like and who they are for (we require their full name and e-mail address). We will invoice you directly, and after we have received your payment we will release the webinar joining instructions to your friend(s) or family member(s).

Can I purchase a single episode?

No, unfortunately not. The series must be purchased in full.

How do I join the webinar?

An e-mail confirmation will be sent to you after you have paid for your subscription, which includes your unique link for joining the webinar. Reminder e-mails will be sent to you one day and one hour before each event. We recommend that you download the Zoom software in advance of the first webinar.

Can I watch the live broadcast(s) on more than one device?

Only one device can be connected to the live broadcast(s) at any one time. If you wish to purchase a second subscription, please contact us.

What happens if I am unable to attend the live broadcast(s)? 

A recording will be uploaded to a dedicated webpage approximately two hours after the live broadcast. For copyright reasons, these recordings cannot be made available indefinitely; access is granted for eight weeks after the final live broadcast of the series.

View itinerary for Italian Design - Modernism in Turin and Milan, 23–29 October 2023

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