Alessandro Mendini (b.1931) Italy’s famous design thinker

Alessandro Mendini, Percoto, Italy, 24th September 2014. (Photo by Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images)
Alessandro Mendini, Percoto, Italy, 24th September 2014. (Photo by Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images)

Alessandro Mendini (b.1931) played an important part in the development of Italian, Postmodern, and Radical design.

He was co-founder of Studio Alchymia (with Alessandro and Adriana Guernero) in 1976. Before that, he was editor of Casabella (1970 – 1976), and in 1976 he took over from Gio Ponti as the editor of the highly influential magazine Domus.

His designs show how much he liked to mix different cultures and ways of expressing himself. He made graphics, furniture, interiors, paintings, architecture, and more, and he also wrote many articles and books. He was known for being a very enthusiastic judge at competitions for young architects. He taught at Milan’s University.

Education

He graduated from Politecnico di Milano in 1959 with a degree in architecture. 

Biography

One of the “movements” he started in the 1970s was called “Banal Design.” It was all about rediscovering decoration, especially the complicated, brightly coloured, and often garishly abstract decoration used by industry in textiles, plastic laminates, and wallpaper. Until then, progressive designers had looked down on this kind of decoration.

Alessandro Mendini artwork on display at Contemporary Art
Alessandro Mendini artwork on display at Contemporary Art & Design auction preview at Bonhams. (Photo by rune hellestad/Corbis via Getty Images)

Mendini’s “Banal Design” thesis said that design is all about the way things look on the outside. This seems obvious until you remember that designers who thought they were part of the Modern Movement had been thinking that design was about getting the structure right for decades. If the structure was right, the overall look would also be right.

Manufacturers of mass-produced decor have often taken ideas from any source or culture they thought would make them money. Mendini played a funny game with this idea of borrowing in his own “banal” designs. He made a number of designs that were very busy and had names like “Proust’s New Armchair” (1978). Together with people from Studio Alchymia, he also made room sets based on the same idea as Banal Design.

Mendini has also been interested in changing things that already exist. So, for example, a carpet cleaner, a coffee maker, or a shoe would have a number of brightly coloured plastic circles or arrows added to it to highlight its shape or volume.

Recognition

Alessandro Mendini was awarded several international prizes, including the Compasso d’Oro in 1979, 1981, and 2014. In 2011, he was awarded with the title Doctor Honoris Causa of the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan. In 2014, he was awarded The European Prize for Architecture by the Chicago Athenaeum and The European Centre for Architecture, Art, Design and Urban Studies. He held an honorary title from the Architectural League of New York as well as the title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from the French Republic.

Sources

Alessandro Mendini – Wikipedia. (2011, September 14). Alessandro Mendini – Wikipedia; en.wikipedia.org. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alessandro_Mendini

Bhaskaran, L. (2008). Design of the Times.

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing. https://amzn.to/3ElmSlL

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