1920/2020 Vico Magistretti

The coronavirus pandemic is severely impacting the global economy, including the world of architecture and design. Nevertheless, it important not to underrate the “power of crisis”. It can cause many problems, but it also creates opportunities for progress and innovation. The recent exhibition "1920/2020 Vico Magistretti" - held at the Italian Cultural Institute Tokyo - was the occasion to celebrate a renowned Italian designer that revealed in his long career how a crisis can generate opportunity.

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All photos taken by Lamberto Rubino

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Organized by the Italian Cultural Institute and ITA-Italian Trade Agency in Tokyo, in collaboration with the Vico Magistretti Foundation and the Italian Embassy - the exhibition is included in the series of initiatives for the annual Italian Design Day event. This year is the centenary of the birth of Vico Magistretti and the show – curated by Rosanna Pavoni and Margherita Pellino with Maria Vittoria Capitanucci - retraced the sixty years of his career. Three sections were dedicated respectively to biography, architectural works and design objects, including ten iconic furnishings on display, borrowed by the Italian brands Artemide (Artemide Japan), Cassina (Cassina Ixc.), De Padova (Interiors Inc.), Flou (II Design), Oluce (Studio Noi Inc.).




Vico Magistretti was one of the most prominent exponents of the so-called phenomenon of “Italian Style”, which began in the immediate post-war period. Characterized by a special relationship between designers and manufacturers, this period promoted Italy and its culture in the world, thanks to great attention for detail, research and durability. As Magistretti himself claimed, “an object of good design must last a long time, fifty or even a hundred years”.

The Vico Magistretti studio-museum foundation launched this year an impressive digital archive (archivio.vicomagistretti.it), which includes all the materials related to the architect life and career from 1946 until 2006, year of his death. All these contents can be accessed in different ways such as timelines, routes, keywords and georeferenced map.

While researching among the materials above, I came through an exciting interview to Vico Magistretti in the newspaper "Il Messagero" (1990). Here, in a few paragraphs, is probably contained the sum of his teachings. He starts mentioning how he learned the qualities necessary to be a good designer. “The study of Latin and Greek has allowed me to distinguish between essential things, those that are less important and those that are not at all”.

Vico Magistretti started to design right after the second war, in a depressed society committed to rebuilding the country. At that time Neorealism and Italian Style were born, the most important cultural movements of the twentieth century. "There was very little money" recalls Magistretti in the interview. Then he started to design simple objects. Simplicity is one of the ideas that have guided him through his long career. "It is challenging to do simple things. Simple things are always the result of extreme complexity”. The same simplicity mixed with the complexity that identifies the objects exhibited here in Tokyo. Here is a selection of the best products, among the ones included in the exhibition.

Eclisse by Artemide (1965)

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This lamp – permanently exhibited at MoMa museum in New York - won the prestigious “Compasso d’Oro” award in 1967, thanks to its fascinating balance between form and function. Through its smart rotating cap, it can provide both direct and diffused light.

Atollo by Oluce (1977)


This product radically changed the way of conceiving a table lamp, through its essential design based on cylinder cone and semi-sphere. These three elements create different types of light effect, based on the shapes and materials.

Lousiana by De Padova (1993)

This armchair is inspired by a saddle. It invites the user to touch the handmade sewing. Magistretti adopted natural leather to create sinuous curves that become more beautiful with ageing. 

Pascal by Oluce (1983)


This lamp synthesizes Vico Magistretti's design aesthetic to perfection: pure geometric shapes, united together to create functional and symbolic compositions. By using two independent switches for the cones, Pascal transforms a floor lamp into a reading lamp.

Cassina – Maralunga (1973)

This sofa firstly introduced the concept of adjustable-height head-rest. To achieve this transformability, Magistretti proposed a bicycle chain embedded in the foam cushions. A simple yet ingenious solution that generated one of the most imitated sofas in the world.

I would like to end this article with a quote of Vico Magistretti that keep inspiring me every day as an architect and designer here in Tokyo.

“I love making architecture, but the design offers more chances to adhere to everyday life. Architecture is infinitely more difficult than design, but the design allows you to communicate with people".