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 mixing different cultures and expressing himself. He made graphics, furniture, interiors, paintings, architecture, and more and wrote many articles and books. He was known for being a very enthusiastic judge at competitions for young architects. He taught at Milan University.
He graduated from Politecnico di Milano in 1959 with a degree in architecture.
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.
Mendini’s “Banal Design” thesis said that design is all about how 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 were right, the overall look would also be correct.
Manufacturers of mass-produced decor have often taken ideas from any source or culture they thought would make their money. Mendini played a funny game with this idea of borrowing in his own “banal” designs. He made several very busy designs with names like “Proust’s New Armchair” (1978). The chair’s ornate and hand-painted surface, inspired by a 19th-century painting by Paul Signac, stands in contrast to the functionalist ideals of modern design. The Proust Chair has become an iconic piece of Postmodern 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 several brightly coloured plastic circles or arrows added to highlight its shape or volume.
Alessandro Mendini was awarded several international prizes, including the Compasso d’Oro in 1979, 1981, and 2014. In 2011, he was awarded 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 and Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from the French Republic.
Mendini’s influence extended beyond furniture and product design. He was also an architect, designer, writer, and editor, actively contributing to the design discourse through his writings and editorial work. His diverse body of work and his collaborations with various manufacturers and institutions helped promote the ideals of Italian design and its experimental and expressive nature.
Overall, Alessandro Mendini played a crucial role in the development and promotion of Italian design, particularly within the realms of Postmodern and Radical design. His innovative and unconventional approach continues to inspire designers and shape the design field today.
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.