Great Designer :: Enzo Mari

Enzo Mari Enzo Mari

Product + Furniture Designer (1932-)

One of the most thoughtful and intellectually provocative Italian designers of the late 20th century, ENZO MARI (1932-) has proved as influential to younger generations of designers as to his peers as a writer, teacher, artist and designer of products, furniture and puzzle games.

There is a possibly apocryphal story that Enzo Mari once devoted over a year to thinking about – and experimenting with – the design of a single ashtray. He worked on other projects at the same time, but the ashtray was always at the forefront of his mind.When finished, it was praised by Mari’s peers as exceptionally elegant and dramatically different from existing ashtrays. Unfortunately it proved too different for the public’s taste. The ashtray flopped and its only enduring legacy was Mari’s “two-packs-a-day” cigarette habit.

Such conundrums have characterised Mari’s career. As a designer he is too esoteric to have attained the commercial success enjoyed by fellow late 20th century Italian designers such as Ettore Sottsass and the late Joe Colombo. Yet the depth and complexity of Mari’s work ensures that he is greatly admired by the design community and, in his seventies, is still sought out as a designer.

design by Enzo MariBorn in Novara, Italy in 1932, he studied classics and literature at the Academia di Brera in Milan from 1952 to 1956. As a student, Mari supported himself by working as a visual artist and freelance researcher. In a period when Italian design was flourishing as enlightened industrialists collaborated closely with designers to rebuild their businesses, he also became interested in design and painstakingly taught himself about it.

Mari’s approach to design was predominantly theoretical. He was more concerned with its role in contemporary culture and relationship with the user than with becoming a design practitioner. After graduating in 1956 he opened a studio in Milan to continue his studies of the psychology of vision, systems of perception and design methodologies. These studies took physical form when Mari created three-dimensional models of linear elements and planes. Forced to earn a living, Mari made contact with the Italian plastic products manufacturer Danese and agreed to develop a series of mass-manufactured products.

Design BY Enzo Mari 1His first project for Danese was 16 Animali, or 16 Animals, launched in 1957. It was a wooden puzzle to which Mari applied his theories of problem-solving to create a group of simply carved animal shapes – including a hippo, snake, giraffe and camel – that join together to form a rectangle. The puzzle marked the start of a long collaboration between Mari and Danese, which continued at the turn of the 1960s with the development of containers and vases. Mari was determined to develop these products for mass production without compromising his belief that the outcome of each design project should be beautiful to look at and feel, while performing its function efficiently. Describing his philosophy as one of “rational design”, he defined his work as being “elaborated or constructed in a way that corresponds entirely to the purpose or function”.

Enzo Mari Resources


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