An era-defining oeuvre: Mario Bellini’s first monograph

An era-defining oeuvre: Mario Bellini’s first monograph

Mario Bellini is one of those rare designers whose work can truly be said to span generations. A cursory glance through this new Phaidon monograph – the first dedicated to the Italian designer – reveals the expected parade of candy-coloured forms and elaborate era-defining shapes, but there’s much, much more to his long-running and still very much active career.

Bellini first came to prominence as an outstanding designer of machines, translating the function of technology into form that was both aesthetically harmonious and easy to understand. It was the heyday of Italy’s dominance of the electronics manufacturing industry and in his hands the typewriter, telephone and hi-fi became playful, friendly objects, their complex innards seamlessly integrated by sleek, colourful aesthetics. For the first time, technology was the equal to the creations of his contemporaries in furniture and architecture, a bold counterpoint to the dry functionalism of the German product design of the same era. It’s an approach we now take for granted, as technology is increasingly accepted as an extension of our selves.

Even Bellini’s experimentations with the automobile were prescient. The Kar-a-sutra concept of 1972, developed in collaboration with Cassina and reproduced here in all its lime green glory, neatly prefigured the rise of the people carrier more than a decade later. Its lounge-style, reconfigurable seating still has great relevance for the interiors-focused, quasi-autonomous cars of the future.

The monograph concludes with an illustrated chronology of all Bellini’s product design and furniture, including the work he did for Olivetti and Brionvega in the 1960s and 70s, but also chairs, lighting and more for B&B Italia, Vitra, Artemide and Cassina, with whom he has enjoyed a long and fruitful collaboration. If that wasn’t enough, Bellini spent several years as editor of Italy’s most influential architecture magazine, Domus, illustrating a career spent at the apex of modern aesthetics.

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