Marco Zanuso was born in Milan in 1916. He studied architecture at the University Politecnico di Milano, and immediately after graduating, he changed his uniform for the Italian navy.

March Zanuso. Image via Mohd. March Zanuso. Image via Mohd.

However four and a half years at sea, and being aboard various ships didn’t hinder his passion for architecture. As soon as he returned to Milan, Zanuso resumed his relationships with university friends and started his journey, to what would become a brilliant career. His first step took him to printed media, where he worked as an editor for architecture magazines, Domus and Casabella.

Soon, great opportunities appeared, such as collaborations with established companies around Milan. For Zanuso, the most significant collaboration was with the company Arflex, where he designed the chair Lady. Arflex was founded in 1948 by the tire manufacturer Pirelli and produced innovative foam designs, and Zanuso made an important contribution to the research of the material, which was both modern and new.

Marco Zanuso, "Superautomatic", Borletti sewing machine mod. 1102, 1956. Photo: Paolo Monti. Marco Zanuso, "Superautomatic", Borletti sewing machine mod. 1102, 1956.
Photo: Paolo Monti.

During this period of time, the architect also designed a pioneering sewing machine for the company, Fratelli Borletti. The sewing machine’s design was completely new, daring, and had excellent features. The design was widely appreciated and earned Zanuso his first Compasso d'Oro, a prestigious prize for industrial design.

In the following years, the economic boom gave great impetus to the time’s creatives, and  Zanuso started his 20-year long collaboration with the German designer Richard Sapper. Sapper had moved to Milan in 1958, after ending his work with Mercedes-Benz. These were the golden years for Italian design. The works by Zanuso and Sapper, along with designs by Gio Ponti, Studio BBPR and Achille Castiglioni created the idea of Italy as the Mecca of design and for what is still known all over the world as Made in Italy.

Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper for Brionvega, the TV Doney, Photo: Morand & Morand. Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper for Brionvega, the TV Doney, Photo: Morand & Morand.

One of the first designs by the Zanuso-Sapper duo was the TV Doney, in 1962. The TV was made for Brionvega and was the first portable transistor TV ever manufactured in Europe. The unusual and new-thinking shape of the Doney brought the designers a shared Compasso d’Oro the same year.

Zanuso was standing at the top of his career, and his importance for Italian post-war design was unmistakable. His use of innovative materials and groundbreaking ideas for new functionalities for mass-produced objects produced changed the design game for years to come.

Marco Zanuso, two examples of "Grillo" telephone made for Siemens. Marco Zanuso, two examples of "Grillo" telephone made for Siemens.

In the following years, the design duo took home a number of awards for their excellent pieces. The K13 children’s chair by KART, entirely made of plastic, and the iconic Grillo telephone for Siemens are only two examples of the many great designs by Zanuso and Sapper.

Left: The "K1340 "chair was the first to be made entirely of reinforced plastic. Image via Tajan. Right: An advertisement of the time. Image via © Kartell. Left: The "K1340 "chair was the first to be made entirely of reinforced plastic. Image via Tajan.
Right: An advertisement of the time. Image via © Kartell.

Marco Zanuso combined rationalism and innovation with advanced technology throughout his career. The design genius, who never shied away from the unknown died in 2001 after a long illness in his hometown Milan.

Can't get enough? Check out more designs by Marco Zanuso at Barnebys.

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