Generally speaking in the second half of the 19th century Italy was in late in the field of industrial development. One of the most important manifestations concerning the relationship between industry, applied arts and architecture was the International Turin Exposition in 1902, where we could recognise the great Art Nouveau’s triumph; this was the first chance for a world-wide comparison between Italian industrial tradition and the other big international countries’, especially the European powers.
It was an extremely successful exposition with great influence on Italian industrial design and on its specificity. It was in this period that furniture design came to life (design of fanciful furniture conceived by authors like Duilio Ciambellotti, Ernesto Basile and the Bugatti brothers). It was the time of luxury industry, that’s to say fancy objects industry, including Florentine Richard Ginori porcelaine (whose art director from 1929 was Gio Ponti). Other examples could be Salviati’s and Venini’s glasses (wich fixed the great Murano’s tradition). Obviously Italian liberty came to life thanks to the huge Italian atistic tradition; smiths, glass craftsmen, cabinet makers, carvers, potters took nature as an example for buildings, furniture, pots, glasses and lamps’ decoration.
The vanguard movement that more influenced the idea of an aesthetic revolution of the world was Futurism; it was closely related to fascism and its ‘spiritual leaders’ were Tommaso Marinetti and Umberto Boccioni. Even if futurist objects didn’t never exit from craft dimension, the revolutionary power of their idea kept intact.
It was near to and anticipated the Bauhaus movement, too.
Italy knew an intense industrial design development during the first world war, from 1910 to 1920 which were decisive years mainly for car, plane and general mechanical industry. War is a really important component for industry organization because of its faculty to become serial, so it was possible to apply to it the industrial design’s principles.
The following step was the organization of a new group of young people which looked at the European rationalist movement (called Italian rationalism) whose point of departure and centre of interest was architecture. In 1930’s their work was very important and significant and their experiences were promoted by the “Triennale” di Milano where we could find the most significant confrontations between Italy and Europe; they were always more interested in furniture and interior planning.
Rationalist movement also came out as a battle against the existing antidemocratic dictatorship. In 1933 lots of the leaving prototype created (designed by Albini, http://www.aboutitaliandesign.info/piero-bottoni.html – Bottoni Bottoni, Figini, Pollini, Lingeri, Terragni) were inspired by the standardisation concept rended through new industrial materials like securit glass, buxus, linoleum, steel, even if fascist regime architecture remained the predomininating and most modern one in Italy during the period between the two world wars, so the most representative personality of the period was Giuseppe Terragni whose best creation was the ‘casa del fascio’ in Como whose furniture suggested again the Bauhaus’ language (simple geometric forms and the employment of materials that gave the idea of transparency and lightness). In Terragni, simple geometric forms and confort joined together and this was one of the most evident Italian rationalism’s signs.
Fascism accomplished a remarkable propagandistic effort and young Italian rationalist architects put it to use, but their vanguard work was in contrast with a market modern objects demand lack; so, talking about rationalist furniture, it is correct to say that it was at a sperimental stage yet.
Actually the project’s culture knew great growth between 1920’s and 1930’s thanks to trade journals engaged in a modern living concept. The most important were “Domus” (founded in 1928 by Giò Ponti) and “Casabella” (originally called “La casa bella”). This second review became the Modernism’s official voice thanks to Giuseppe Pagano and Edoardo Persico’s articles. During these years the “Triennale di Milano” came to life (the first four editions – from 1923 to 1940 – took place in Monza); it took place inside the Giovanni Muzio’s masterpiece building and it was the biggest opportunity to show new project’s ideas.
During this first stage Italian designers choose to uniform their style to the international style, afterward Italian originality became worldwide famous and recognizable mainly in research and home prototypes fulfillment. Rationalists created refined objects and furniture which were craftmade products anticipating real “industrial design”. The most interesting personalities in this stage were Giò Ponti, Mario Asnago, Claudio Vender, Franco Albini, Piero Bottoni and the above-mentioned Giuseppe Terragni. Pietro Chiesa is another standing out figure in that time; he projected in collaboration with Giò Ponti a rich set of technically and formally innovative lighting devices as the “luminator” (1936). It was the first indirect light lamp, that’s to say a lamp created by upwards reflection, never conceived in Italy before.
Automobilistic industry is among big off the shelf productions the first to follow an international model, Fiat company in particular made use of craftsmen knowledge to give propulsion to the automobil’s evolution. So the typical winning Italian model came to life just in 1930’s fusing aesthetic/aerodynamic research and mass production. There were Fiat cars as popular models, Lancia cars addressed to wealthy customers, Alfa Romeo cars for speed lovers and extraordinary exclusive cars designed by Pininfarina. We should mention some storic models like Fiat Balilla and Fiat Topolino (economy cars of the first period) and Fiat 500 and 600 (economy cars of the second period). Dante Giocosa won in 1959 the Compasso d’Oro prize for his 500 project and this was a really rare case in automobile history. Fiat 500 is nowadays a collectible piece and it has been reshaped so many times during the last forty years.
Vespa Piaggio was another revolutionary novelty in automovil design field; it was designed by Corradino d’Ascanio and constructed for the first time in 1945 by Enrico Piaggio. It was an absolute novelty bacause of its innovative framework nowadays extant. Among its innovative features we could find enclosed engine studied to avoid clothings damages, comfortable driver position (the most confortable as possible), easily replaceable tires, it was simple to park and to get on. During the last fifty years the market has known more than one hundred Vespa models.
At the same time the Innocenti company made the ‘lambretta’ (designed by Cesare Pallavicino). Vespa and Lambretta are two important pieces of Italian history and they keep at be a people heart’s piece.
Radio was one of the most remarkable post war period’s objects of design. It had been tested during war time and now used as unique mass communication medium (radio broadcasting), turning from luxury object into mass product; it was an extremely interesting object for rationalist architects. Franco Albini created between 1938 and 1940 a hi-tech ante litteram excellent example.
In a rising but not completed production process yet, Olivetti company took a leading role in the field of industrial design in a wide range of employment from advertising to building trade.
During the second world war a big part of the Italian construction legacy had been destroyed, so it was important to find new ideas to reconstruct the country: this was an interesting challenge for designers and architects who were called to renew Italian dwelling places in a technical and functional way. Some companies carried out interesting sperimental works; these were Feal company creating steel fittings, Olivari company creating door handles and Bticino company creating electric power control devices. In 1950’s also the new modern furniture companies obtained extraordinary findings, particularly stackable kitchens industry and home appliances industries. This last mentioned Italian industry became in a few time the second world-wide exporter after United States, with objects created by Alberto Rosselli, Marco Zanuso, Achille Castiglioni, Piergiacomo Castiglioni and Gino Valle (he cooperated for a long time with Rex-Zanussi company).
In 1950’s industrial objects became a symbol of this new renaissance period; Italy suddenly found out that modernity means welfare, comfort and a best type quality of life. So next to home appliances we could find furniture, lamps, a vaste range of objects for home and free time, radio sets and television sets that gave life to a typical 50’s gay image.
In the same years the new furniture’s shapes for serial industrial production had an important role. Young rationalist architects could finally put in practice their training knowledge. Some important names of the period to mention are Franco Albini, Ignazio Gardella, Luigi Caccia Dominioni, Vico Magistretti, Ettore Sottsass, Marco Zanuso, Achille and Piergiacomo Castiglioni and the BBPR group (Banfi, Belgiojoso, Peressutti, Rogers).
The Italian design excitement and sperimentation found its peak in 60’s, when a great number of ordinary objects were produced. There was a rapidly increasing national and international market demand, people usually bought objects more for their names then for their real worth. In these years other designers had a big importance: Mario Bellini, Vico Magistretti, Gae Aulenti, Angelo Mangiarotti, Enzo Mari, Rodolfo Bonetto, Marco Zanuso.
Massimo and Lella Vignelli made great success in the United States as representatives of the purer Italian design.
In the second half of the 70’s the ‘post-modern’, or ‘neo-modern’ became the most significant movement in Italy. The new phenomenon emerged thanks to vanguard designers (Branzi, Deganello, De Lucchi, Sottsass) and above all thanks to Alchimia group (founded in 1976 by Alessandro Guerriero) and Memphis group producing unusual objects which didn’t belong to any tendency. The style was extremely provokative and kitsch and it became in a few time the guiding style of the new Italian design.
Instruments for Italian design promotion were the Compasso d’oro prize, exhibitions like the Triennale and the new Salone del Mobile in Milan and the big objects-manifests like Italian ocean liner laying up for United States.
Nowadays furniture design is the biggest Italian industrial design range for which Italy is the worldwide leader, but we can also find lighting design, automotive design and the emerging graphic and web design.