Mario Bellini...not just an architect

Mario Bellini (born February 1, 1935, Milan) is an Italian architect and designer. He graduated from the Milan Polytechnic - Faculty of Architecture in 1959 and began working as an architect himself in the early 1960s. He is the winner among others of 8 Compasso d’Oro and prestigious architecture awards including the Medaglia d’Oro conferred on him by the President of the Italian Republic.[1]


Like many other Italian architects, his activities range from architecture and urban planning to product and furniture design.

His career as a product and furniture designer began in 1963, and from 1963 to 1991 he was chief design consultant for Olivetti. For many years he designed furnishing products and systems for B&B Italia and Cassina, TV sets for Brionvega, and hi-fi systems, headphones and electric organs for Yamaha.

For five years he worked as an automobile design consultant with Renault.

In 1972 he was commissioned to design and build the prototype of the Kar-a-Sutra mobile environment for the exhibition “Italy: the New Domestic Landscape” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York[2][3].

He has also designed for Fiat and Lancia (notably the interior of the 1980 Lancia Trevi), lamps for Artemide, Erco and Flos, and office furniture for Vitra.

Other firms for whom he has designed and/or continues to design products include (in Italy) Acerbis, Bras, Driade, Candy, Castilia, Flou, Kartell, Marcatrè, Meritalia, Natuzzi and Poltrona Frau; (in Belgium) Ideal Standard; (in Germany) Lamy and Rosenthal; (in Japan) Fuji and Zojirushi; and (in the USA) Heller.

His early international success grew rapidly during the first two decades, especially in the design sector, and reached its peak in 1987 with a personal retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art of New York. At the time the museum already included 25 of his works in its Permanent Collection, including a remarkable set of Olivetti machines as well as the furniture for B&B and Cassina - such as the famous "Cab" chair - and the innovative office chairs designed for Vitra.

MBA's headquarters of 1,500 square metres in Milan were designed by Mario Bellini himself in the early 1990s, and today an average of 30 to 35 architects.

In 1999, MBA obtained ISO 9001 quality certification.

After a first superficial look at Mario Bellini’s work, we seem to notice an opposite tendency in two ways of designing that clearly distinguishes two types of products that are quite different to each other. On one side we have the electronic devices, like the ones designed for “Brionvega" and “Olivetti" in the 60s, using a rigorous and analytical method… On the other we have the furniture designed for "B&B Italia” and “Cassina” that often in the final result, seem to match with the Empiricism theories and with the germination of an organic process, stopped and crystallised in the place wanted by the designer...[…]  But if we take a closer look at Mario Bellini’s designing intentions and his modus operandi, we realise that the differences are more virtual than real and that there is a complex deep connection between opposite experiences.  In one of his first studies, we can find a key element that could help in the correct interpretation of his work as well as defining a correct chronological order of it: the elastic membrane for the Olivetti’s typewriters keys. Designed in the mid sixties, this membrane can be considered an eloquent programming statement and a formal orientation. This happens in the moment of moving from an ergonomic functional button that requires to be hardly pushed by the human hand, to a button that exalts tactile feelings by needing only a light touch.
This membrane then, becomes a tensional structure that implants a bones and skin relationship, which is very important for his future designing characterised by organic features… Mario Bellini’s design training takes place in a historic moment in which the debate about functionality is not prevailing anymore as it was in the 50s. The operators start to have a less dogmatic approach, because at this time these principals have been acquired by everyone. Even though he accepts the functional approach, Bellini is open to new experiences, driven by the taste of curiosity and the empiric investigation, mainly operating the furnishing sector. 
The design’s notion is carried out by Bellini as a phenomenological experience, an project activity aimed to modify the human physical environment...
Cit. Un' Industria per il Design - La ricerca, I designer, L'immagine, B&B Italia pag.110 - Edizioni LYBRA immagine

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