In memoriam: Pierluigi Cerri (1939 – 2022)

We remember Italian architect and designer Pierluigi Cerri, who died on 29 November 2022 aged 83

Pierluigi Cerri portrait
(Image credit: press)

Pierluigi Cerri passed away on Tuesday 29 November at age 83. The Italian architect, designer, curator, editor, academic and three-time Compasso d’Oro laureate was a polymath and a visionary: his work spanned from design to fashion, from exhibition curation to architecture, leaving an everlasting mark on the contemporary creative industries. Cerri created some of the most iconic visuals of our times by interpreting ideas into functional objects and refined graphics.

Pierluigi Cerri: ‘I’m interested in forms that survive history’

Archive photography of Ouverture sofa by Pierluigi Cerri for Poltrona Frau

‘Ouverture’ sofa for Poltrona Frau, 1982

(Image credit: Courtesy Poltrona Frau)

Architect and urban planner Stefano Boeri paid his respects through an Instagram post: ‘Pierluigi Cerri has left us. He had the rare gift of elegance, which in graphic design means translating concepts and ideas into clear, composed signs; endowed with a grace that seems innate.’

Born in 1939, Cerri belonged to the generation who has made and continues to make the history of architecture and design. Among his friends was Renzo Piano, who, in an interview, described Cerri as ‘a shy boy, with a slight note of ennui, of boredom, in his eyes. As if the fundamental feeling towards life should be to watch it.’ Cerri commented on his years at the Politecnico as a time when he and his peers learnt and watched, absorbing life and its lessons.

Pierluigi Cerri table for UniFor

Naòs table for UniFor, part of a collection including a range of shapes and sizes

(Image credit: Courtesy Molteni Group)

From the beginning of his career as a founding member of Gregotti Associati in 1974, Cerri was fascinated by smaller projects. He was after beauty, perfection even, and this was a restless quest that could not wait decades to come to fruition. ‘I am too anxious to engage in long-lasting “wars”. Waiting 20 years to see the realisation of a project would drive me to anxiety,’ confessed the architect.  

The separation from Gregotti was natural, organic – ‘After all, already in the years when we worked together, it was as if another studio had evolved: mine, aimed less at large-scale architecture. While [Vittorio Gregotti] was designing the Bicocca, I was oriented towards interior design, small-scale architecture.’ Cerri focused not only on smaller architectural commissions but also on product and visual design. While creating forward-looking furniture for some of the most prominent design companies such as UniFor, B&B Italia, Fontana Arte, Arflex, Molteni&C, and Poltrona Frau (which most recently reissued his ‘Ouverture’ sofa), Cerri gave shape to elegant objects with a purpose. 

Pierluigi Cerri Salone del Mobile logo

Pierluigi Cerri's logo design for Salone del Mobile

(Image credit: Courtesy Salone del Mobile)

Among his most renowned graphic projects are the visual identity of the Venice Biennale in 1976 and the creation of Prada America’s Cup corporate identity – the iconic and effortless red line – but also the the corporate identities of Salone del Mobile, MART Museum of Contemporary Art of Trento and Rovereto, Triennale di Milano, and many others. 

A figure with a distinctive graphic signature and creative intuition, Cerri was also heavily involved in publishing as he created graphics for leading publishing houses, such as Electa, Einaudi, Bollati Boringhieri, Bompiani, Skira and La Nave di Teseo. He also curated and directed magazines including Casabella and Rassegna and he won several competitions and awards – including the Compasso d’Oro in 1995, 2001 and 2004.

Restless and visionary, Cerri was constantly on a quest for perfection. Still, his vast and eclectic remit allowed him to experiment and excel in numerous fields, capturing the beauty of design and architecture of his time. Perfection is impossible to achieve, but Cerri’s objects, graphics and legacy are timeless, eternal – and we’d say almost perfect. As he once revealed in an interview, ‘I’m interested in forms that survive history.’

Maria Cristina Didero is an independent design curator, consultant and author, who has contributed to many publications over the years. Didero has consulted for companies such as Vitra, Fritz Hansen, Lexus, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, Valextra among others. Based in Milan, she works internationally, curating exhibitions for institutions: some of her most recent projects include Nendo: The Space in Between and The Conversation Show at the Holon Design Museum, Israel; FUN HOUSE by Snarkitecture at National Building Museum, Washington D.C.; SuperDesign a project about Italian radical design, NY; Vegan Design, or the Art of Reduction by Erez Nevi and The Fish and The Crowd by Carlo Massoud, Milan. In April 2022 she curated a Mathieu Lehanneur exhibition at the Triennale in Milan called The Inventory of Life, while in July she debuted a project at the MK&G in Hamburg titled Ask Me if I Believe in the Future, alongside a series of ongoing collaborations. She was appointed 2022 Curatorial Director of Design Miami/. She is currently preparing two projects for Milan Design Week 2023.