Door 22: Enzo Mari

Photography by © Jouko Lehtola

Politics in art is a sensitive subject, but even more more so and rarer in the field of design. A master at it was the Italian designer Enzo Mari. Infused by his political views he saw Design having a social responsibility and was quite outspoken about it and said things others would not dare like calling Rem Koolhaas a "pornographic window dresser". 

16 Animali for Danese, 1957

He was born in 1932 in Cerano in the Piedmont region. When he was two years his family moved to Milan, where he went to school. He dropped out in his early teens to support his mother as his father was unable to work after an illness. He took on many different, but labor intensive jobs that early informed his political views.

Box Chair for Castelli, 1971

Not having a high school diploma he was only able to study at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Brera, where he studied painting and sculpture, but also already gravitating towards design. After graduating, he opened his own studio in 1952 in Milan. First success was with his work for Danese called 16 animali, a wooden puzzle with 16 different animal shapes made from a single piece of wood. This led to fruitful collaboration with Bruno Danese and his wife Jacqueline Vodoz.

Through his studio he worked for different companies like Castelli and later Muji. In the early 60's started to teach at Scuola Umanitaria in Milan. Various teaching appointments would bring him also to other schools in cities like Carrara, Florence, Berlin and Vienna. His teachings fueled also his theoretical approach as he was a big design thinker and theorist.  This is most visible in his project Proposta per un’Autoprogettazione originally from 1974, but later adapted for more projects like the Ecolo in 1995. Through proposal for self design he cemented his beliefs that design should be egalitarian, economic, but still beautiful.

Ecolo for Alessi, 1995

In his six decades long career he made over 2000 designs, which are on displays on museums all over the world like the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Swiss architect summarized his work by saying that he "thought creatively and built logically". Enzo Mari died this October from COVID-19.