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Ettore Sottsass

& Sottsass Associati

Ettore Sottsass was born in Innsbruck in 1917. After graduating as an architect from Turin Polytechnic in 1939, he worked on several architectural projects during the post-war years before becoming the artistic director of furniture manufacturer Poltronova in 1957 and, a year later, the design consultant for office equipment manufacturer Olivetti, for whom he designed the Elea 9003 computer (1959) and the Valentine typewriter (1969), among others. Sottsass started creating his first ceramic works during the late 1950’s, following a trip to the Middle East. In 1960, he opened his first design office, Ricerche Design, with clients including the likes of Alessi, to name but one. As the forerunner of the “radical Architecture” movement, which renounced pure functionalism and modern rationalism, Sottsass was actively engaged in the theoretical debates of the 1960’s and 1970’s. After establishing the groups Global Tools (1973), a counter-school of architecture, and Alchymia (1976), which endeavoured to apply the “radical” principles of the preceding years to design, Sottsass, together with some younger colleagues, founded the group Memphis in 1981, which rapidly became synonymous with “New Design”. The same year, Sottsass also created his Sottsass Associati agency, with which he carried out numerous architectural and design projects. The works on display here are the result of his fruitful collaboration over the last fifteen years with the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres and that of his agency Sottsass Associati with chemical industry giant DuPont. Both projects illustrate Sottsass’ love for experimentation with regard to colour, forms and materials.

Scenography by Adrien Rovero
The scenography by young Swiss designer Adrien Rovero (*1981), which places the porcelain works of Ettore Sottsass on a platform measuring 1.45 m in height, provides a monumentalised perspective from different points of view of the vases which - whether seen from the outside or through the little hatch appear as pieces of architecture or architectural models. “The installation challenges scale, through its urban vision, its geometrical landscape and its over-sized objects. (…) Viewers can contemplate the landscape around the table, can satisfy their appetite for details by putting their heads through the centre of the platform, or can take a more distant and peripheral view by climbing on the external stand. From these three vantage points, viewers fully discover the ceramics” (Adrien Rovero). A direct dialogue is thus established with the architectural forms made of Corian for the project entitled Exercises in Another Material.

“Songs and landscapes”

Ettore Sottsass and the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres

During his initial collaboration with the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres from 1994 to 1996, Ettore Sottsass created 14 vases and one table centrepiece, before adding another five objects (vases, bowl, centrepiece) in 2006, combining porcelain with glass, marble and string. Following in the tradition of the designer of practical use items, Sottsass called his objects “vases” and gave them names that conjure up a host of associations: 14 names of women hailing from the world of literature and five originating from known gypsy songs. By adding a few playful details and vivid colours characteristic of both himself and the Sèvres factory, Sottsass lightened up his ceramics, which typically display an architectural character and assume a strict form between sculpture and object. As a result, the over one thousand colours belonging to the National Factory were joined by a new coral-tinged orange-red colour, henceforth known as “Sottsass Rouge”. The technical effort required to manufacture these items, which consist of several individual pieces, is hidden behind their final perfection, owing to an accumulation of skills encompassing more than 250 years. The choice of clay, turning and throwing the vases, joining the individual elements, the repeated burning, the enamelling, gilding and subsequent burnishing all require expert craftsmen, who together form part of a production group and whose survival these days is ensured by the French State at the highest artistic level.

“Exercises in Another Material”

Sottsass Associati and DuPont

The fourteen architectural forms grouped together under the title Exercises in Another Material are the result of a study carried out by Ettore Sottsass’ design agency Sottsass Associati in 2000 to assess the potential of a material named Corian, invented during the late sixties by DuPont. Having experienced good results with Corian during his interior design work at Malpensa’s new airport, Sottsass suggested in 2000 that DuPont launch the product in an innovative manner by going beyond its typical use for countertops and highlighting its colour diversity. The abstract forms thus designed by Sottsass Associati, reminiscent of architectural elements such as columns, walls, room dividers and similar, not only sound the depths of the specific characteristics of this material, but also its technical and aesthetic limits. “We needed to discover how far the boundaries of this material could be stretched, the limits beyond which it droops and grows silent, becomes boring. Also, we needed to discover those boundaries beyond which even colours begin to loose their intensity and their presence, to fall apart. And we needed too, to find out how the new material would cope with the proximity of other materials, like wood, or stone, or chrome or neon light.” (Sottsass)

The experimental nature of these 14 architectural forms, both monumental and playful and without any concrete functionality, allowed Sottsass Associati to further push the boundaries of the traditional designer.


  • Marie-Claude Beaud

Exhibition design:
  • Adrien Rovero

In collaboration with DuPont and the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres