Finnish industrial designer, Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985), was a master in the many mediums he used for his designs in glassware, tableware, cutlery, jewelry, art glass, furniture and more.
An artist and sculptor at heart, Wirkkala’s work took a necessary, practical approach after the war and turned to industrial design. A recluse that preferred the isolation of the woodlands of Lapland, Wirkkala’s main inspiration was nature and the frozen landscape of his homeland. He translated that love of home into some of his most well-known designs such as the iconic Ultima Thule (Ultima Thule is a mythological distant place located beyond the “borders of the known world”) and Aslak (a Finnish boy’s name meaning “supporter of Thorgest,” a 9th century Viking chief) glassware for Iittala.
Wirkkala also created an extensive collection of porcelain and stoneware for Rosenthal Ag starting in 1956, a career which produced eight tableware services and over 200 porcelain decorative objects, and colorful, blown glass for Venini.
And while Wirkkala is known for some of the most beautiful, modernist housewares of the mid-century, he’s also known for many utilitarian masterpieces. A plastic ketchup bottle (Paulig Company), an incandescent light bulb (Airam), the Finnish markka banknotes (1955-1981), and the Finlandia “Frozen Ice” vodka bottle (1970-2000).
A modest man, Wirkkala was “a maestro without a maestro’s affections.”
“There are no ugly objects, they need only be displayed properly.” –Franco Albini
Franco Albini (b. 1905) was an Italian Neo-Rationalist architect and designer. Neo-rationalism was a minimalist aesthetic movement that emphasized geometric forms and raw materials. Unlike its neo-classical predecessor, neo-rationalism eschewed ornamentation, and emphasized the practicality and functionality of a structure.
After earning an architecture degree in 1929, Albini joined Studio Ponti é Lancia and became an assistant to Gio Ponti and Emilio Lancia. By 1931, and during the height of Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime, Albini opened his own practice with partners, Renato Camus and Giancarlo Palanti. Together they designed “social housing” for the Instituto Fascist Autonomo per la Case Populari.
While many of Albini’s contemporaries fell victim to Mussolini, Albini persevered and explored new progressive design despite the watchful eye of the nationalist regime and the ravages of WWII bombing on Milan. By 1945, with the end of Mussolini’s regime and the reintroduction of democracy in Italy, Albini began a new era of modern design and introduced the iconic designs we know today. He received three Compasso d’Oro awards, Italy’s most prestigious design accolade. While Albini’s designs for Mussolini’s regime were out of necessity, his desire to “make rational order” of a city torn by war continued throughout his career through his large-scale civic architecture. Albini was awarded his 3rd Compasso d’Oro award for the Milan subway stations in 1964.
Considered a “founding father of Italian design” by many, Albini preferred to call himself a “craftsman.” “It’s through our works that we can best spread our ideas rather than by speaking.”
“… arguably the single greatest omission of design history.” –Nina Stritzler-Levine
Marsio (b. 1894) was a Finnish architect and industrial designer, and the first wife of Alvar Aalto. In 1920, Marsio earned a degree in architecture at Helsingin Suomalainen Tyttökoulu (Helsinki University of Technology), and four years later took an assistant’s position with a young architect by the name of Alvar Aalto. In 1925, Marsio and Aalto married and would begin a collaboration that would influence the design world for many decades to come. In 1935, the Aaltos, along with Maire Gullichsen and Nils-Gustav Hahlin, co-founded Artek Oy, a Finnish design firm with a storefront in a busy shopping district in Helsinki. There, the Aalto’s introduced their Functionalist masterpieces to Finland. In 1936, Aino and Alvar collaborated on a vase that was inspired by the dress of indigenous Lapland women, which was coined the “Savoy Vase” after it was displayed at Restaurant Savoy, a tony restaurant in Helsinki designed by the Aalto’s firm. The Savoy vase design won a competition by Karhula/Iittala and was subsequently shown at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. That accolade, however, went to Alvar alone. And again, in 1939, Alvar won 1st prize for Aino’s Finnish pavilion design at the New York World’s Fair. But one of Aino’s must enduring contributions may be her simple, but iconic Functionalist pressed glassware for Iittala. Designed in 1932, it was inspired by the ripples that form on the surface when a stone is thrown into the water. While Aino Aalto’s contributions to the Artek legacy may never be fully know, her talents are unmistakable and the ripple effect created by her known classic designs has lasted for nearly a century. Aino Marsio-Aalto died in Helsinki in 1949.
“My role as an artist is to discipline the chaos regarding information…” Abraham Palatnik
Brazilian kinetic pioneer, Abraham Palatnik (b. 1928) originally studied mechanics and physics with an emphasis on internal combustion engines at Tel Aviv’s Escola Técnica Montefiori, perhaps with the original intentions of working at his family’s furniture and porcelain businesses. Palatnik, having always been a talented artist, also honed his skills in painting and sketching under the tutelage of local Israeli artists, including the painter, Aharon Avni.
By 1948, having developed great skills in fine art painting, Palatnik returned to his homeland of Brazil, not to begin a career at his family business, but to begin his journey as an artist. After his return to Brazil, Palatnik accepted an invitation to visit Dr. Nise de Silveira’s groundbreaking occupational therapy classroom for schizophrenic patients at the Pedro II Psychiatric Hospital. Being amazed at the abilities of the doctor’s artistically untrained patients, Palatnik soon understood that artistic abilities were sometimes intrinsic capabilities and completely subconscious.
Upon this revelation, Palatnik abandoned his fine arts focus and began experimentation with light and movement. Over the next two years and using his training in mechanics, Palatnik created Aparelhos Cinecromáticos, a series of paintings that used moving light as paint. Aparelhos Cinecromáticos made its debut at the 1st São Paulo Biennial in 1951; however, that which took two years to create was not well-received. Relegated to a side room, it was excluded from the catalog due to the inability of the judges to categorize his work. However, a visiting international jury “considered it to be an important manifestation of modern art.” His experimentation went on to garner critical success and was called “the true art of the future.”
Palatnik went on to create more moving sculptures with his Objetos Cinéticos series, which comprised metal rods, wire and brightly colored wooden discs that were moved about by motors and electromagnets.
In 1954, along with his brother, Aminadav, they opened the Arte Viva, a modern furniture factory that remained open into the next decade. But perhaps Palatnik’s most well-known works are his series of lucite animals created by the duo’s art object company, Silon. Palatnik, now 90, continues to create and exhibit throughout the world.
“Her building is one of a kind… heroically sized in every way: the biggest span, the most prominent location. It’s a brave building, amazing and gutsy.… I don’t like overly designed, overly gestured work. In MASP, the building has a sweeping sense of movement, but also a neutral feel. The art is the star, not the building.” Mark English on the Museu de Arte de São Paulo
Achillina “Lina” Bo-Bardi (b. 1914) was an Italian-born, Brazilian modernist architect and designer.
After earning an architecture degree in 1939, she moved to Milan and opened Studio Bo e Pagani with fellow architect, Carlo Pagani. World War II made obtaining work as an architect difficult, so Bo took additional work as a journalist and illustrator for newspapers and magazines, including Gio Ponti’s critically successful magazine, Domus. While at Domus, Bo and Pagani, along with a photographer, toured war-torn Italy to document the destruction for Domus. This, along with the loss of her office in Milan due to aerial bombings, greatly influenced Bo’s political involvement in the anti-fascist, Italian Communist Party and, ultimately, her architectural vision. This made her life in Milan during the war anything but ordinary. Bo-Bardi once said that it was “a miracle” she escaped unharmed, as her activities with the resistance and a noticeable affinity for “new art,” caught the attention of the Gestapo.
At the end of the war, Bo married Brazilian art critic, Pietro Maria Bardi, and immigrated to Brazil where she and Giancarlo Palanti opened Studio de Arte e Arquitetura Palma, a modern furniture design firm that emphasized affordability and traditional Brazilian craftsmanship. And it is In Brazil where she would eventually establish her rationalist style in which she “put people in the centre of the project.”
In 1951, she designed her first project in São Paulo, her home, “Casa de Vidro”, a glass house that hovered on the edge of the rainforest. But it was in 1958 that Bo Bardi designed what many consider her most significant design, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo. Considered by many to be a leading example of Brazilian modernist architecture, the main body of the museum appears to be suspended from brilliant red columns and beams creating an open space underneath so as not to obscure the vista beyond the museum. The main exhibition room, unlike most museums, had floor to ceiling windows that flooded the room with natural light. The museum also implemented Bo Bardi’s unique method of displaying the art by which the art pieces were fixed to glass panels allowing visitors to move amongst the art instead of observing from a distance.
As a preservationist, which was not a popular notion at the time, Bo Bardi, was acutely aware of the relationship people have with the buildings they inhabit. About the historic district of Bahia, she said ‘[It] is not about the preservation of important architectures, but about preserving the city’s popular soul.’ So, after the coup in 1964, and once again finding it difficult to obtain commissions for new projects, she refocused her work on “adaptive reuse;” turning buildings and factories in need of rehabilitation into cultural and leisure centers. This work would continue until her death in 1992.
While never gaining the recognition of her Brazilian contemporary, Oscar Niemeyer, nor being a native-born Brazilian, Bo Bardi’s love for her adopted country and the people that lived there, inspired her to create masterpieces that were accessible to all, making her a beloved master of Brazilian Modernism.
Dieter Rams (b. 1932) is a functionalist German industrial designer known for his work with Braun and Vitsoe.
In 1947, having recognized Dieter’s talent his father enrolled his 15-year-old son in Wiesbaden School of Art to study architecture and interior design. After two years, Rams left the school to take a three-year carpentry apprenticeship after which he returned to the school and completed his degree with honors in 1953.
During his absence, the school took a decided turn toward modernism. It was then that Rams was introduced to German modernism and the Ulm School of Design. After graduating, he worked with Otto Apel’s architecture firm and was further exposed to modernism through the firm’s association with modernist colleagues in America. These brushes with modernism would prove fateful two years later when Rams accepted an in-house architect and interior design position with Braun to design new office space for the company.
Rams went to work planning a new space that included a wall-mounted shelving system. With this design, his collaboration with Vitsoe was born. With the approval of Edwin Braun, Rams took the idea to Vitsoe. One year later, the Vitsoe 606 Universal Shelving System was launched.
In the early 1960s, Rams used his architecture background and began work on a planned community in Kronberg for Braun employees. “Roter Hang” is a community of grouped and terraced bungalows that line a sloped hillside. There can be found his only fully-realized architectural design;his L-shaped dopplebungalow. Although Braun delayed the project, it was eventually completed by Rudolf Kramer in 1974. The community, as well as Dieter Rams’s personal home, which is a testament to his personal credo of “less for more,” due to its modest footprint and sparse decoration, have been granted protected status and designated a cultural monument.
Rams is known for his “10 Principles of Good Design,” one of which is “environmentally friendly.” In a 1976 speech, Rams said, “there is an increasing and irreversible shortage of natural resources.” He has long believed we must “move away from the throwaway habit” and “[that] it will be less important to have many things and more important to exercise care about where and how we live.” Dieter Rams products fully embody his 10th principle – simplicity and purity.
Dieter Rams retired from Braun in 1995, but continues to work for Vitsoe. He and his wife still live in the Roter Hang bungalow in Kronberg.
“Question everything generally thought to be obvious.”
― Dieter Rams