Joe Colombo (1930-1971)
Future oriented, prolific designer Joe Colombo produced a series of innovations during his short but intensive career. He is one of Italy’s most influential product designers and leaves the world with a range of memorable design icons from the 1960’s.
Everything that Joe Colombo created was intended for “the environment of the future”, from “Universale”, a chair moulded from only one material, to the all-in-one Boby trolley. His first design missions were to create a ceiling for a Milan jazz club in 1953, and three open-air rest areas featuring “television shrines” in which TV sets where used to construct miniature theatres or shrines, for the following year’s Milan Triennale. Inspired by this he abandoned his devotion to painting and sculpture and entered the Milan Polytechnic as an architecture student. In 1962, Colombo opened his own design studio in Milan where he worked on architectural commissions and experimented with newly developed plastics such as fibreglass, ABS and PVC. These materials suited well his love for bold, folding, curvaceous forms (and hatred of sharp corners and straight lines.)
This was a rich period for product design, especially in Italy. Other designers like Castiglioni, Ponti and Sottsass had proved to manufacturers how effective design could be in helping them to market products internationally. The development of new technologies and materials, like the plastic that excited Colombo so, created new possibilities for designers. Colombo saw his role as a designer as a way of creating the future. His emphasis in lectures he gave or texts he wrote, was on change and the possibility of harnessing new technologies to produce new design solutions.
In his mission to furnish the “new type of habitat”, Colombo applied new materials to existing types of furniture. In 1963 he made the “Elda” armchair, the first to be made from fibre glass in such a large size, in 1965 the “Universale”. Obsessed by making a chair from a single material, Colombo had begun with aluminium, then ABS and, finally polypropylene. This stackable chair is also adjustable because its legs can be unscrewed and replaced with longer ones. For two years he struggled to perfect the design for mass-production and succeeded in 1967.