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Through conceptual rigour and a deep understanding of materials, Angelo Mangiarotti designed sculptural lamps informed by architecture and art.

As an architect, designer and sculptor Angelo Mangiarotti played with shape and scale in a profound and yet playful way. A sketch of the entrance to the Armitalia compound in Cinisello Balsamo from 1968, could be a working drawing of the Lari lamp, produced ten years later. A 50-metre high water tower designed in 1961 in the form of a truncated cone or mushroom shape was echoed in the Saffo and Lesbo lamps, Secticon clocks and alabaster containers. 

“Frankly his buildings seem like industrial products, and his industrial designs and furniture resemble buildings,” says Uyeda Makoto, a Japanese editor who produced a book on Mangiarotti in the 1960s. “If a building by him were reduced in scale to a size that would fit on top of a desk, it would become not an architectural model, but an industrial design. One can also imagine the reverse.” 

Complex, hard to classify and unorthodox, Mangiarotti created a body of work encompassing buildings, product design, furniture, lighting, and sculpture. “He may not have liked being called a maestro and yet such was the conceptual rigour and intensity of his design practice – covering the widest themes, technologies and materials – that he was indeed a true maestro,” says Andrea Campioli, who worked alongside Mangiarotti when he taught at the school of architecture, urban planning and construction engineering at the Politecnico di Milano. 
 

Born in Milan in 1921, Mangiarotti graduated in architecture in 1948, just after the end of the second world war. He worked in the US in the early 1950s coming under the influence of Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe and Konrad Wachsmann. On his return to Milan, he opened an architectural firm and 20 years later founded an office based in Tokyo. 

An avowed proponent of anonymous design, Mangiarotti believed in making objects that “last longer than us”, to that end espousing “simple principles, elementary concepts and primary materials”. The fundamental starting point of any object was its usefulness, he said, but there were many more strands at play than mere function. The materiality, the shape, and above all the process, a conceptual way of thinking that applied to any or all projects irrespective of size or purpose. 

“For Mangiarotti the key aspect was not the scale at which he designed for a specific context – architectural or objects for use – but the process by which he arrived at the final outcome,” says Francesca Albani, a professor at the Politecnico. “He applied the same methodological approach, whether he was designing a residential building or a vase, a water tank or a glass, a stadium or a storage unit.”  

The hidden quality of his product design was to favour a single headline material – alabaster, wood, marble, glass – looking for the sense of the material. “I am religious in my own way and I say: ‘In the beginning there was matter’, to say that material exists with its reasons and must be faced with humility,” Mangiarotti once said. “You need to know it, feel it, know what it can do and what you can make it do, without distorting it. Look for its limits. This applies to architecture, to design, to sculpture.” 

 

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"Even architecture, you can touch it, you can feel it, maybe you can ‘ weigh ’ it ; with other senses, but what I ha ve always looked for is the sense of the material, of every material from cardboard to gold."

The Mangiarotti lighting collection

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