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Ettore Sottsass
Personal information
Name Ettore Sottsass
Nationality Italian
Birth date September 14, 1917(1917-09-14)
Birth place Innsbruck, Austria
Date of death December 31, 2007 (aged 90)
Place of death Milan, Italy
Buildings Mayer-Schwarz Gallery
Beverly Hills, California
Design Olivetti Valentine typewriter
Nine-0 Chair

Ettore Sottsass (14 September 1917 – 31 December 2007) was an Italian architect and designer of the late 20th century. His vast body of designs included furniture, jewellery, glass, lighting and office machine design.

He was educated at the Politecnico di Torino in Turin and graduated in 1939 with a degree in architecture. Sottsass was best known as the founder of the early 1980s Memphis collective. He also designed iconic electronic products for Olivetti, as well as beautiful glass and ceramic work. [1]


Early Career

Typewriter Valentine (1969)

Sottsass was born September 14, 1917, in Innsbruck, Austria, and grew up in Milan, where his father was an architect. He served in the Italian military and spent much of World War II in a concentration camp in Yugoslavia. After returning from the war in 1947, he set up his own architectural and industrial design studio in Milan.

In 1959 Sottsass then began working as a consultant designing the Olivetti's electronic equipment, typewriters and office furniture, despite having a lack of technical knowledge. Sottsass was hired by Adriano Olivetti, the founder, to work alongside his son, Roberto. Sottsass made his name as a designer for Olivetti who, through colour, form and styling, managed to bring office equipment into the realms of popular culture. [2] Sottsass, Mario Tchou, and Roberto Olivetti won the prestigious 1959 Compasso d’Oro with the Elea 9003, the first Italian calculator.

Throughout the 1960s, Sottsass travelled in the US and India and desiged more landmark products for Olivetti culminating in the bright red plastic portable Valentine typewriter, which became the ultimate fashion accessory for the “girl-about-town” of that era.[2] Sotsass described the Valentine as "a biro among typewriters." Compared with the typical drab typewriters of the day, the 1969 Valentine was more of a statement item than industrial machine.

While continuing to design for Olivetti in the 1960's, Sottsass developed a range of objects which were expressions of his personal experiences travelling in the United States and India.[3] These objects included large alter-like ceramic sculptures and his "Superboxes"; radical sculptural gestures presented within a context of consumer product, as conceptual statement.[4] Covered in bold and colorful, simulated custom laminates, they were precursors to Memphis, a movement which came more than a decade later.[5] Around this time Sottsass has said,

I didn’t want to do any more consumerist products, because it was clear that the consumerist attitude was quite dangerous.[6][7]

The feeling that his creativity was being stifled by corporate work is documented in his 1973 essay "When I was a Very Small Boy",[8] and subsequently his work in the 70's was defined by experimental collaborations with younger designers such as Superstudio and Archizoom, [9] culminating in the foundation of Memphis at the turn of the decade.

Memphis Group

In 1981, Sottsass and an international group of young architects and designers, came together to form the Memphis Group. A night of drinking and listening to Bob Dylan’s ‘’Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again’’ gave the group its name. Memphis was launched with a collection of 40 pieces of furniture, ceramics, lighting, glass and textiles which featured fluorescent colors, slick surfaces, intentionally lop-sided shapes and squiggley laminate patterns.

The group's colourful, ironic pieces were considerably different from his earlier, more strictly modernist work, and that was hailed as one of the most characteristic examples of Post-modernism in design and the arts. Sottsass described Memphis in a 1986 Chicago Tribune article: "Memphis is like a very strong drug. You cannot take too much. I don't think anyone should put only Memphis around: It's like eating only cake."

Other Works

As an industrial designer, his clients included Fiorucci, Esprit, the Italian furniture company Poltronova, Knoll International, and Alessi. As an architect, he designed the Mayer-Schwarz Gallery on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, California, with its dramatic doorway made of irregular folds and jagged angles, and the home of David M. Kelley, designer of Apple's first computer mouse, in Woodside, California. In the mid 1990's he designed the sculpture garden and entry gates of the W. Keith and Janet Kellogg Gallery at the campus of Cal Poly Pomona. He collaborated with well known figures in the architecture and design field, including Aldo Cibic, James Irvine, Matteo Thun.

Sottsass had a vast body of work; furniture, jewellery, ceramics, glass, silver work, lighting, office machine design and buildings which inspired generations of architects and designers. In 2006 the Los Angeles County Museum of Art held the first major museum survey exhibition of his work in the United States. A retrospective exhibition, Ettore Sottsass: Work in Progress, was held at the Design Museum in London in 2007. In 2009, the Marres Centre for Contemporary Culture in Maastrcht presented a re-construction of a Sottsass' exhibition 'Miljö för a ny planet' (Landscape for a new planet), which took place in the National Museum in Stockholm in 1969.[10]


  • Hans Höger, Ettore Sottsass jr. - Designer, Artist, Architect, Wasmuth, Tübingen/Berlin 1993
  • Barbara Radice, Ettore Sottsass, Electa, Milano, 1993
  • F. Ferrari, Ettore Sottsass: tutta la ceramica, Allemandi, Torino, 1996
  • M. Carboni (edited by), Ettore Sottsass e Associati, Rizzoli, Milano, 1999
  • M. Carboni (edited by), Ettore Sottsass. Esercizi di Viaggio, Aragno, Torino, 2001
  • M. Carboni e B. Radice (edited by), Ettore Sottsass. Scritti, Neri Pozza Editore, Milano 2002
  • M. Carboni e B. Radice (edited by), Metafore, Skirà Editore, Milano 2002
  • M. Carboni (edited by), Sottsass: fotografie, Electa, Napoli 2004
  • M. Carboni (edited by), "Sottsass 700 disegni", Skirà Editore, Milano, 2005
  • M. Carboni (edited by), "Sottsass '60/'70", Editions HYX, Orléans, 2006


  1. ^ Stewart, Jocelyn Y. (January 5, 2008), "Ettore Sottsass Jr., 90; Italian designer put passion, delight in utilitarian objects", Los Angeles Times: B9,,1,1340930.story?coll=la-news-obituaries&ctrack=1&cset=true 
  2. ^ a b Designer who helped to make office equipment fashionable and challenged the standard notion of tasteful interiors
  3. ^ Radice, Barbara. ETTORE SOTTSASS: A Critical Biography. London, Thames and Hudson, 1993.
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