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

Cover
Maria Bellini's fruitful, era-defining career is being celebrated in his first monograph, by Enrico Morteo and published by Phaidon
(Image credit: Phaidon)

Mario Bellini (opens in new tab) is one of those rare designers whose work can truly be said to span generations. A cursory glance through this new Phaidon monograph (opens in new tab) – 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 (opens in new tab) 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.

Olivetti A4 electronic accounting machine, 1975

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. Pictured: 'Olivetti A4' electronic accounting machine, 1975

(Image credit: press)

Cassina 'Le Mura' sofa range, 1972

Cassina 'Le Mura' sofa range, 1972

(Image credit: Bruno Falchi & Liderno Salvador)

right are working models, the organic shapes recalling a human hand

The 'Olivetti Divisumma 18', an electronic calculator from 1973. Pictured right are working models, the organic shapes recalling a human hand

(Image credit: press)

eller Ultra' Bellini chair, 1970, Cleto' Munari gold jewellery, 1986

Pictured left: 'Heller Ultra' Bellini chair, 1970; pictured right: 'Cleto' Munari gold jewellery, 1986

(Image credit: press)

Cassina 'Bruco 1' lounge chair, 1965

Cassina 'Bruco 1' lounge chair, 1965

(Image credit: press)

Mangiare


(Image credit: press)

Bellini was involved in planning a magazine on behalf of the publisher Electra. Pictured here is Album issue 1; 'Album proposes to be a magazine with a clear mission: a new magazine about design... a magazine about artificial nature from an anthropological point of view – that is to say, anthropocentric,' he explains

Kar A Sutra

Bellini's experimentations with the automobile were prescient. Pictured here: the Kar-a-sutra, 1972.

(Image credit: Studio Castelli)

Via Lattea

Meritalia 'Via Lattea' sofa range, 1970.

(Image credit: Oliviero Toscani)

Opera table 2014

Meritalia 'Opera' table 2014

(Image credit: Meritalia)

Minerva Ga

'Minerva GA 45 Pop' portable record player from 1968. Bellini was inspired by the elegance of a handbag when making this compact model

(Image credit: press)

Cassina 'Teneride' prototype office chair, 1970, Minerva GA 45 Pop' portable record player,1968

Pictured left: Cassina 'Teneride' prototype office chair, 1970, Pictured right: 'Minerva GA 45 Pop' portable record player, 1968.

(Image credit: Bruno Falchi & Liderno Salvador, Alberto Fioravanti)

Mario Bellini, Artemide Area lighting range, 1974

Pictured left: Mario Bellini,  Pictured right: Artemide 'Area' lighting range, 1974

(Image credit: Ugo Mulas)

INFORMATION

Mario Bellini: Furniture, Machines & Objects by Enrico Morteo, £60, published by Phaidon (opens in new tab)

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.