Mario Bellini.Italian Beauty

Exhibition view, "Italian Beauty"Triennale Milano

Mario Bellini.Italian Beauty

“Mario Bellini. Italian Beauty” is the title of the exhibition that La Triennale di Milano is devoting to the entire work of the world-renowned Milanese architect. Visitors are taken on an extensive journey through almost sixty years of design, architecture, exhibition installations and much more besides. This retrospective opens thirty years after the exhibition of Mario Bellini’s works at MoMA, New York, in 1987. It is a tribute to the eclectic work of an Italian designer who obtained every success on the small scale (eight Compasso d’Oro awards, and furnishings and objects that became icons, often anticipating and revolutionising tastes and styles), and on the large scale, with convention centres, trade fairs and museums across the world, from Japan to Australia to the USA and France. This examination of Bellini’s work also has the task of once again putting the subversive but redeeming role of “beauty” back at the heart of the debate, together with the inherent ability of Italian culture to be its ambassador abroad.

The exhibition is introduced by an entrance Portal/Bookcase – which provides a visual overview – and winds its way through a Gallery, which connects four Rooms and a central Room. Over 300 images hang from the ceiling, setting the rhythm for a journey without words through the architect’s thoughts, approaches, methods and poetic vision. In the Gallery, there are furnishings, objects and machines arranged by product type. In the five rooms, architecture and exhibition displays, which naturally cannot be transported, are illustrated by means of sketches, drawings, models and giant projections. This is the only way of transporting the visitor, almost in audio and visual real time, into buildings dotted around the world. One of the two passageways between the wings of the Gallery contains the Kar-a-sutra, a concept car designed upon the invitation of MoMA in 1972, while the other has a Wunderkammer made by Zetalab with a hundred photographs of objects dear to Mario Bellini. The last section of the Gallery is Next, which announces the main projects currently underway: an abrupt reversal of the Retrospective into a Prospective exhibition.

Gallery "Tables"Triennale Milano

Tables?Minimal architecture.
Designed for an obvious purpose, often used for extraordinary ritual values: family dinners, peace talks, the Last Supper...

Room, "Complexity"Triennale Milano


Mario Bellini views every project as a journey into complexity, which he views as an ally rather than an enemy. Each project is an adventure filled with exciting challenges. It is thus a journey in the form of a sort of obstacle course to be negotiated, with problems to solve and themes to work out, always bearing in mind the final objective, which is to achieve harmony and beauty throughout. This means that each venture is worked out in a new manner, never with predefined formulas, and always with an astonishing figurative and stylistic visual language. 
It is easier to perceive this complexity – which is always present in Bellini’s architecture – in those buildings or projects that are closely connected to where they are built or designed for. This can be seen in the case of the conference and exhibition centre at the Villa Erba in Cernobbio, near Como (1986-1990) and in the Risonare Vivre Club complex in Kobuchizawa, Japan (1989-1992). Another example is the Gabrio Piola di Giussano elementary school in Milan (1991-1995). 
The Villa Erba Conference Centre gently finds its way into a complex but delicate historical setting on the shores of Lake Como. How is it possible to insert a new structure into a protected park, next to the historic villa of the Visconti family? In this case, complexity is the driving force behind the design of a building that constantly interacts with the nature around it. The architecture is an almost vegetal element, taking inspiration from the greenhouses of aristocratic Lombard residences. 
The Risonare Vivre Club resort in Japan is as though lightened by its carefully calculated relationship with the surrounding landscape: the complex consists of a curved arcaded road flanked by little houses that point towards the sacred Mount Fuji and by a rectilinear area onto which the hotels give. At its ends it frames the view of the two mountain chains. The road and the square intersect and the result is like a fragment of an Italian city. Even though they were never built, another two projects – the Cultural Centre with the Civic Library and Theatre of Turin (2001-2007) and the ENI management centre in San Donato Milanese (2011) – reveal the same ability to interact with the city while including and creating stylistic innovation as well as high quality indoor and outdoor spaces. Lastly, in Brera, in the heart of Milan, two residential buildings play a lead role with the inclusion of highly contemporary elements. One has a circular courtyard, with a large magnolia at the centre, and the other a remarkable observation tower. Once again, we find complexity working for Bellini.

Exhibition video, "Italian Beauty"Triennale Milano

Gallery "Cab"Triennale Milano

A minimal structure made of steel rods, a full-length stitched leather suit and four zips. CAB was like no chair ever seen.

Room, "Fundamentals"Triennale Milano


“If I tried to understand what got me involved in all this… the pleasure of seeking and creating a by no means obvious and as yet never experimented collection… as well as the indefinable, ethereal, slightly magical fascination of the works that were made in the early years after the Great War, still permeated by a metaphysical aura...” Thus writes Bellini about his own art collection in the catalogue for the Realismo magico: pittura e scultura in Italia 1919-1925 exhibition at the Palazzo Reale in Milan in 1989. This passion for metaphysical shapes and figures is at the heart of the architectural style that was so much a feature of Bellini’s early years as an architect, which began in the 1980s and lasted until the end of the 1990s. A passion that has never faded and that is still as strong as ever, but that is now channelled into a profound metamorphosis, which has in some cases radically modified the nature of his architectural language. In those years, the metaphysical inclination of his architecture entered into a dialogue with the historic forms of architecture, which he saw more as archetypes and quotationism than as a post-modernist trend. This initial mannerism of his is clearest to see in six works, which include the Tokyo Design Center (1992), the pavilions of the Fiera di Milano at Portello (1987), the entrance square at the Yokohama Business Park (1987), the headquarters of Arsoa Cosmetics in Japan (1998) and the offices in the Via Kuliscioff in Milan (1984). It can be seen in the “magical suspension” of the central space of the water garden of the Arsoa offices and in the “heart” of the entrance square in Yokohama. But the design for a new type of Autogrill motorway service area, which was commissioned from Bellini in 1989, was where his metaphysical vocation found its highest expression, with inclined planes and simple volumes coming together in absolute purity. An arcaded road with clear, precise openings are the hallmark of the Cassina Showroom in Tokyo, Japan (1990), a sort of building within a building by Tadao Ando. Lastly, in the pavilion of the Fiera di Milano in Portello, and in the offices in the Via Kuliscioff, we can see Bellini’s keen interest in controlling and showing off volumetric values, coupled with references to the archetypal forms of architecture.

Exhibition video, "Italian Beauty"Triennale Milano

Kar-a-sutraTriennale Milano


In 1972, at the request of MoMA, I made a car-space-unit, which is now considered as the mother of all space wagons.

Gallery "Chair"Triennale Milano

Chairs: infinite variations on a theme, as in music, since time began. Even Tutankhamen's throne could have been designed today.

Room, "Metamorphosis"Triennale Milano


The year 2004 marked a turning point in Mario Bellini’s work. Two competition designs, one for the new headquarters of the European Patent Office in The Hague, and the other for the new Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne, were the beginning of a profound metamorphosis. His architectural language underwent a profound change, with the metaphysical air of his early style being replaced by a new-found freedom and lightness of composition, which brought him in line with the rapid transformation of society. The height of his “new order” in Italy came with the creation of the new Conference Centre for the Fondazione Fiera di Milano, MiCo (2012). Placed at the head of the pavilions that Bellini himself had made more than twenty years previously, also the new building immediately became a landmark in Milan, interacting with the three skyscrapers in the former Fiera district. A comparison between the two ends of Fieramilanocity – the tympanum to the north-west and the comet-like structure of MiCo to the south-east – is clear evidence of how Bellini’s artistic vision keeps evolving. From here on, his architecture and exhibition displays have become increasingly open, multifaceted and free. Three competition projects epitomise this new vision: the museum in Maribor, Slovenia (2010), the Stadtmuseum Berlin (2008), and the design for Helsinki Library (2012). The museum in Maribor is characterised by its powerful volumetric articulation, which creates extremely interesting, irregularly shaped indoor and outdoor spaces. The same air of softness and freedom can be seen in the golden inner skin that Bellini inserts crosswise on all the levels of the historic building of the Stadtmuseum Berlin. The façades of the new Helsinki Library are formed of a surface of continuous wooden slats, which are shaped gently and lightly, marking the transition between the inside and outside of the building. In this room there are also sketches of designs in this second style adopted by Bellini, including the Hortus Botanicus Patavinus (2005).

Exhibition video, "Italian Beauty"Triennale Milano

Gallery "Sofa"Triennale Milano

Upholstered furniture? Materials and techniques of the avant-garde that permit us to radically innovate them, without cutting the continious line which passes through the story of the living.

Room, "Utilitas"Triennale Milano


Architecture for architecture’s sake has never had a place in Bellini’s work, for every building lives in a relationship with its landscape and with the spirit of the place. This is not simply a form of functionalism, but rather a closely felt way of approaching architecture as a means for listening and responding to the lives of people, inhabitants and citizens. This constant listening also enables Bellini to sense needs and aspirations that are still only latent, and his architecture responds by generating new forms, new types and new places. It is incredible how a metal sphere suspended in the lobby of the headquarters of the Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt (2011) or installed as a bridge between two separate buildings of the same bank in London (2011) can transform a simple passageway into an exciting spatial experience. The offices of the Verona Forum in the former cattle market in the city (2011) appear as a large urban block with huge glazed volumes, in a number of places clad in an external micro-perforated skin. This device modifies the relationship between outside and in, between intimacy and openness. The free forms that Bellini used for in his competition design for the Pop Music Center in Taipei, Taiwan (2009), create new places that bring about the most modern spatial sensations, unlike any found in conventional concert arenas. A new level of awareness of the environment can be seen in his designs for the Italian Pavilion at the Expo in Milan (2012) and for the conversion of the former Traversi Garage (2010), also in Milan: here nature becomes an active, rather than simply decorative, element of his architecture. And it achieves a new objective, which is that of being in the city, but also in nature. This ability and focus has always been a feature of Bellini’s work. One need only think of the interior arrangement of the Ristorante il Tondorante in Bard in the Valle D’Aosta (1968), the reorganisation of the Cassina showroom in Milan (1968) and the competition design for the Piazza Anita Garibaldi in Baggio (1984). Patrons at the Tondorante sit at tables enveloped in a sort of protective skin, which introduces a new form of intimacy. In the Cassina showroom in Milan the space is divided up into a number of levels but always visually interconnected. This is a place where one can catch sight of others and meet up, but also where furniture can be bought and sold. A revolution in showroom concepts.

Exhibition video, "Italian Beauty"Triennale Milano

Room, "Theatre of the World"Triennale Milano

Theatre of the World

Mario Bellini has an innate ability to show things, to put them on stage, as it were, in exhibition installations that may either temporary or permanent in museums. This can be seen in his debut in 1962, with his design for the setting of the Compasso d’Oro awards in the Sala delle Cariatidi at the Palazzo Reale in Milan. This theatrical approach is, however, a more general feature of his architectural works, as Kenneth Frampton has pointed out. Being able to “show” basically means knowing how to create architecture because, metaphorically speaking, architecture is simply the “theatre of the world”. It is certainly not difficult to see this particularity in the many works he has carried out in museums around the world and in his numerous exhibition installations. The creation of the Department of Islamic Arts at the Louvre (2005-2012) is certainly one of the most important works of recent years, for it shows how new architecture can coexist, and indeed create a positive synergy, with a historical context as complex as that of the eighteenth-century French palace. This room also contains sketches, drawings, materials, and prototypes for the long design process that ultimately led to the creation of the Department. In the same years Bellini also designed another museum, which was that of the Palazzo Pepoli in Bologna (2003-2012). Here the creation of a highly spectacular permanent display also involved rehabilitating what had been a run-down historic building. Similarly, but this time in Australia, he totally renovated the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne (1996-2003).Exhibition installations like these also include the two great exhibitions, The Renaissance from Brunelleschi to Michelangelo, Palazzo Grassi, Venice (1994), The Triumph of the Baroque, Reggia di Stupinigi, Turin (1998) and the more recent Giotto, l’Italia, Palazzo Reale, Milan (2015-2016). Lastly, the list includes, at La Triennale, The Domestic Project and The Cities of the World and the Future of the Metropolis (1986), Christopher Dresser (2000) and Annisettanta (2007). A separate chapter contains Brera in Brera (2009-2014), a proposal for the “architectural and museological reorganisation of the monumental Brera museum complex”. This was the first to involve a total redesign of the art gallery, as well as a proposal for roofing over the entrance courtyard, in order to give it the central role it deserves.

Exhibition view, "Italian Beauty"Triennale Milano

Gallery, "Olovetti"Triennale Milano

I'm not a collector, but just someone who loves music and musical instruments, books, Magic Realism in art, lots of objects and furnishings not designed by me...
To put it simply, I'm very inquisitive.

I'm often asked: "was there really a time when machines were used just for writing?"

Library "Italian Beauty"Triennale Milano

Credits: Story

Exhibition Curated by
Deyan Sudjic
Ermanno Ranzani (Architettura / Architecture)
Marco Sammicheli (Design)

Exhibition Design
Mario Bellini Architects

3D Produzioni by Giovanni Piscaglia

Graphic Design

Leonardo Sonnoli

Set up
Way spa

Matteo Cinzio Riva, Lucio LuZo Lazzara

With thanks to
Elena Marco, MGM Marmi e Graniti

Thanks to
Artemide Spa, B&B Spa, Dario e Francesco Bellini, Bottega Ghianda, Cassina Spa, Comune di Giussano, Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione Università degli Studi di Parma, Erco Illuminazioni, Fondazione Fiera Milano, Flos, Franco Ariano/Vino erectus Società Passione Agricola, Didi Gnocchi, Horm, Kartell, Mario Bellini Architects, Meritalia, MoMA (New York), Museo del Louvre (Parigi), Museo ), National Gallery of Victoria (Melbourne), Nemo Lighting, Daniele Piazzola, Riva1920, Marco Rossi, Sawaya&Moroni, Carlo Torchio, Venini Spa, Vitra Design Museum

B&B Italia
Natuzzi Italia
Fondazione Fiera Milano

Partner Triennale architettura
Digital imagine partner
Media partner

Technical partners

Thsanks to
Salone del Mobile Milano
Silvana Editoriale
Fondazione La Triennale di Milano
Fondazione Museo del Design

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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