Angelo Mangiarotti is an architect, designer and artist. Born in 1921 in Milan, where he graduated in 1948, he spent the latter half of the Twentieth century developing intense international relations, not only as a conference speaker and lecturer (he taught in the United States, in Switzerland, Australia and in Venice, Palermo and Milan) but also as a project designer, opening his Mangiarotti & Associates Office with headquarters in Tokyo in 1989.
He belongs to a generation of architects that believe that design should be backed by theoretical thinking. It is thus that he expresses the premise for his work in “In nome dell’architettura”, published in 1987: his work evolved from his initial designs for residences in Milan, to industrial buildings, office blocks, and then in his projects for Milan’s underground train network and railway stations. François Burkhardt has written on Mangiarotti extensively and well (“Angelo Mangiarotti”, published by Motta, Milan 2010).
Here it would be interesting to check some of the assumptions, and look for confirmation by observing some of his designs. Let’s take two, which saw Angelo Mangiarotti designing for the Molteni Group: a series of furniture in 1964 (Giuliana Gramigna mentions them in her “Repertorio 1950-1980”, published by Arnoldo Mondadori, Milan 1985); and the headquarters of UniFor, the company formed in 1969 that has developed and produced projects for offices, when Molteni&C. extended their range of interest from household furniture to the workplace. Consider the 4D furniture designs for Molteni (1964). They feature a particular complexity that calls for close analysis.
First of all, they are modular, and thus tackle the subject of versatility of use for that new space which (at the time) modified the traditional Italian home, the living room (also fitting furniture with casters to facilitate moving it around). Here Mangiarotti applied the same concept to furnishing that he had already tried in architecture, where he often worked with prefabricated units. But the 4D series also belongs to that tradition of the modern movement that had been investigating the possibility of mechanizing furniture production, organizing it as compositions of mass-produced parts, starting from those designed in Frankfurt by Franz Schuster in the late 1920s.
Compared to those, they acquire the elegance of a bourgeois home, ennobled by walnut teamed with marble tops (and the attention to and taste for matching materials is typical of Mangiarotti). But then take a look at the uprights: they are marked by plastic vertical grooves, which do facilitate grip but in fact give the expressiveness of each item a very strong mark. Then observe the Unifor building in Turate dated 1982. Structurally clean cut, it develops Mangiarotti’s research into reinforced concrete prefabricated building systems. The components are designed so as to leave the ceiling free, while the uprights of the glass-clad walls are made of a particular type of extruded aluminium.
The result is clearly an industrial-style building, but the clearness of the construction gives it a particular elegance. Now observe the interiors, starting from the spiral staircase that links the foyer with the office floor.
And in front, on the grass, stands a large stone, plastically abstract statue: the conclusion of a design pathway that starts with structural solutions, goes on to the idea of building with components and lastly links up again with the plastic power of sculpture, in a process that strives to connect architecture, design and art: it is almost as if he were re-proposing, in the second half of the century, that mantra adopted in the Bauhaus of the 1920s: “Art and technique... a new oneness”.
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