Massimo Vignelli – Modernist Designer

Massimo Vignelli is a designer with work completed in several areas from interior design, environmental design, package design, graphic design, furniture design, and product design through Vignelli Associates, which he co-founded with his wife, Lella. His clients at Vignelli Associates have included high-profile companies such as IBM, Knoll, Bloomingdale’s and American Airlines.

massiomo vignelliHe has said, “If you can design one thing, you can design everything,” and this is reflected in his broad range of work.

vignelli designsVignelli works firmly within the Modernist tradition, and focuses on simplicity through the use of basic geometric forms in all of his work.

History of Massimo Vignelli

massimo vignelli designs Vignelli was born in Milan in 1931. As a teenager, he became fascinated with design and made friends with many great architects of his day. With their influence he went on to study architecture at the Politecnico di Milano and later at the Università di Architettura, Venice. In Venice, Massimo Vignelli also met Lella Valle, who would become his wife. Born in Udine in 1936, Lella Valle also studied architecture.

From 1953, Massimo Vignelli began working as a glass designer for Venini. The 1955 Massimo Vignelli ‘Fungo’ lamp is one of his finest early designs, featuring an elegantly curved, mushroom silhouette.

Massimo Vignelli taught from 1958 until 1960 at the Chicago Institute of Design. During these years, Lella worked in New York for Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. In 1960 the couple returned to Italy and opened a practice in Milan. Massimo Vignelli joined bob Noorda and Jay Doblin in founding Unimark International, a design consultancy, in Milan in 1965.

That same year, the Vignellis moved to New York, where they opened a Unimark branch in 1966 that specialised in developing corporate logs and designing the corporate look of major firms. In 1971 the practice became Vignelli Associates. Vignelli was also involved with filmmaker Gary Hustwit at this time in the documentary Helvetica, about the typeface of the same name.

Firms and institutions whose corporate image was styled by the Vinellis include Knoll International, for American Airlines, Bloomingdales, Cinzano, Lancia, United Colors of Benetton, Ford Xerox and the International Design Centre Ne wYork. In 1972 they designed a new signage system or the New York subway.

For Poltronova, the Vignellis designed ‘Saratoga’ (1964), a stringently austere seating system composed of straight edged elements of lacquered wood. In 1979 the Vignellis designed the ‘Metafora’ table for Casigliani, boasting a substructure of geometric blocks, spheres, cylinders, and pyramids on which rests a rectangular glass top. It was followed by similar designs, including the 1983 ‘Ambiguita’ table. In 1984 the Vignellis designed the ‘Kono’ table with a conical substructure and a glass top; in 1985 they came up with the ‘Pisa’ table, with bodies standing at an angle, and ‘Mesa’ another table. The Vignellis also designed furniture for Knoll, Poltrona Frau and Poltronova. The Vignellis also designed the New York Artemide showroom.

Massimo and Lella Vignelli agreed to donate the entire archive of their design work in 2008 to the Rochester Institute of Technology, near Rochester, New York. The archive will be exhibited in a new building designed by Lella and Massimo Vignelli, to be known as The Vignelli Center For Design Studies. The building, which opened in September 2010, includes among its many offerings exhibition spaces, classrooms, and offices.

“The Vignelli Center for Design Studies will house our comprehensive archive of graphic design, furniture and objects,” said Vignelli.

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