His work was much like a fairground, full of vibrancy, whimsical figures and playful objects. With bold lines and bright colours, he turned even the most inanimate household objects into pieces of art. A case in point is the Anna G corkscrew for Alessi. For someone who was the face of joyful design, Mendini was equally involved in the radical design movement of the 1970s. He went on to be part of the Memphis, a collective formed in the 1980s that abolished the creative limits previously dictated by the industry. He founded the Atelier Mendini in 1989, and went on to collaborate with some of the biggest names in the industry including Magis, Cartier, Hermes, Swarovski, Venini, Cappellini and Zanotta among others. We got four of his fellow design compatriots, colleagues, collaborators and co-creators – Michele de Luchhi, Giulio Cappellini, Fabio Novembre and Alberto Alessi to share a page from their book of life with him.
MICHELE DE LUCCHI SHARES HIS THOUGHTS ON MENDINI’S PHILOSOPHY AND STYLE OF WORK
His drawings are the perfect diagrammatic representation of his thoughts and work as an architect and designer. They are composed of several strokes, shapes and colours used together, and the meaning can be gathered only from the whole, as the details are just necessary, but independent, parts.
As a matter of fact, this has been the crux of more than 50 years of creation of architectural works, objects, pieces of furniture, paintings, sculptures and magazines. From radical architecture to Alchymia, to re-design, to Groningen, to Alessi, to Swatch, and Casabella, Modo and Domus along the way: there is a profound coherence in the process of creating compositions of elements to create meaning that goes beyond the individual components.
His has always been a collective work of aggregation, be it in professional work, with creative management or magazine editorial boards.
For the editorial board of an architectural magazine, the production process involves a continuous gathering and combining of projects of different kinds in a quest to highlight a common meaning that makes a formal, conceptual, philosophical constant clear. The beauty and vivacity of a magazine, its appeal and its charm lie precisely in discovering, page after page, images and text that are conventionally incoherent, but surprisingly consistent. This is the magical talent of Mendini who was able to adapt this process to the architecture and design profession.
Thus, all his projects are clear combinations of conventionally incoherent and surprisingly consistent elements. It is an exceptionally generous attitude because it involves collective work and continuously adapting projects as individual contributions grow. But this was his forte, nurtured by infinite patience and calmness, and probably stemming from his clarity of thought.
His drawings express it well, with their technical simplicity, rigour for extra strong A4 paper, clear and sharp strokes and pure and luminous colours. His drawings represented his soul.
GIULIO CAPPELLINI ON HIS FRIENDSHIP WITH MENDINI
Alessandro Mendini was a great character of enormous talent and modesty. I met him many years ago and almost immediately struck a great friendship. In fact, he was a person who knew how to put you at ease and was always curious to learn new things.
Working with him, I decided to produce the Proust armchair because it is a fundamental piece in the history of contemporary design, and a few years later when I asked for a new piece, the Proust Geometrica was born.
One day, I went to his studio with some of my collaborators to choose some of his paintings and objects for an exhibition. My collaborators were amazed to see so many beautiful pieces and I remember that Alessandro asked me, “But do you really think that my work is so beautiful?” This was the modesty of the great maestro.
Our last project with him was the Diavoletti Family vases, objects that perfectly reflect his approach to design. Mendini with his irony and zest for life will be an indelible memory among all the people I have been lucky enough to meet in my life.
FABIO NOVEMBRE ON MENDINI AS HIS HERO
Shannon’s information theory estimates that linguistic redundancy, or the use of superfluous words to communicate a concept, is approximately 70%. This seemingly hard-hitting figure is corroborated when we find ourselves transcribing audio recordings of speeches or interviews.
The big exception that proves the Shannon rule has a name and a surname: Alessandro Mendini.
A lot of material found online confirms my belief: Alessandro has never wasted a word!
This, however, was a philosophy of life: Everything that may appear exaggerated and maximalist in Mendini’s work is nothing but a process of subtraction, achieved with clean, never casual, moves.
Like his way of living: austere, almost monastic, unimaginably sober and honest.
Speaking of which, I have a memory going back to two years ago – during Salone del Mobile, we were both called for a photo shoot along with other designers. After completing the session everyone got back into their chauffeur driven cars and dashed off to their other engagements, but I saw Alessandro walking towards the Underground. Smiling, I asked him if he felt comfortable taking a lift on my scooter and, with his usual affectionate politeness, he replied saying that the Underground was the most convenient and the fastest solution. He was 85 years old and was the real superstar of the group, besides being my hero!
ALBERTO ALESSI ON HIS FRIEND, ALESSANDRO
Damn it! Of course I knew that sooner or later it had to happen, it will happen to me too and to those around me, but like an ostrich I kept my head in the sand and tried not to think about it. Sandro was always there, in the little upstairs office of Atelier Mendini on Via Sannio, always willing to lend an ear and offer his precious, sometimes enigmatic opinion. I had put our ritual Milan lunches on hold, four a year, during which we would chat about this and that, about our job and our life.
Alessandro was a friend who stood by me when times were tough, a kind and rigorous mentor from whom I learned many things, practically the architect I trusted more. His influence at Alessi is great: he was the one who brought to the company designers as Aldo Rossi, Bob Venturi, Michael Graves and many others, such as the young King-Kong duo.
It is by no means easy to describe Alessandro Mendini’s relations with myself and Alessi. What I can say is that for me, he has been the master, in a vaguely Socratic fashion, who gradually introduced me to the many mysteries of our fascinating profession. When people ask me what Mendini did for us, what his role was, I can only smile: Sandro was such a sui generis consultant that his position cannot really be described outside its context: a relationship similar to Peter Behrens’ with AEG of Rathenau.
But sometimes, there really are no words, and so I won’t say anything more.