Il Magistretti inglese

Philip Sayer

"For one reason and another, I feel I have close ties with English culture. (…) The English have understood one of the secrets of design. “To look at usual things with unusual eyes”. English culture has a knack for turning meaning upside down, for coming up with surprising combinations. Sense of need and love for reality are intertwined in British culture. Sometimes all you need to do is alter one small element of reality to create an object of high formal standard."
Vico Magistretti in Abitare, n. 314, January 1993

Il Magistretti inglese explores and elaborates on the relationship between Vico and the United Kingdom: the projects, correspondences, collaborations, conferences, and recognitions, but also the work and memories of his students at the Royal College of Art in London.

The show tells – through letters, drawings, photographs, and notes coming from the Studio Magistretti Archive amongst other sources – of a design and cultural affinity, nearly a «love story», which goes much further than Vico’s well known role as visiting professor at the Royal College of Art in 1979.

A love story which starts in the 1950’s with Magistretti’s participation in the Italian Contemporary Architecture show at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London and which goes on to speak about many projects inspired by English forms and materials, from the Caori table of 1969 to the Raffles armchair of 1988. Without forgetting the trip for the 12th Triennale to visit the English prefabricated Model Schools, and the traces of the conferences held in London, Glasgow and Belfast, the show continues to the forgotten architectural projects in Leeds or West Yorkshire.

The English Vico can also be found on display – in the form of his favourite Sinbad sofa (influenced by the English horse blankets, stables, and Royal Ascot) – in the extract from the BBC 1 programme Omnibus in October 1982, dedicated to the then world capital of fashion and design in the eyes of the British.

To complete the narrative there is the final works and memories of twenty of Magistretti’s students from the Royal College of Art, which gives a glimpse into the impact that Magistretti has had on this generation of designers. As Marco Romanelli wrote: "What was Vico doing in London? Talking about dignity, demonstrating dignity. That is, he showed his projects: he did this for twenty years. (…) Vico’s words become a wave and the wave be­ came a movement that reached us in Italy, which we welcomed as fresh regenerative en­ergy (…). We were too busy then, too seduced by these very young “mas­ters” from across the Channel to understand that Vico was concealed behind this Anglo- Saxon minimalism. Not that he would have ever said as much (maybe he didn’t even think it)".

Il Magistretti inglese – conceived, curated and delivered by young London based architects Viola Pelù and Louis Mayes – is the winning show of the Call for Curators launched by Fondazione Magistretti on the occasion of the International Conference Vico Magistretti: Between Milan and the World, realised in October 2023 together with Triennale Milano.


From 11.4.2024 to 27.2.2025


Exhibition curated by
Viola Pelù
Louis Mayes

Exhibition design by
Viola Pelù
Louis Mayes

Chiara Corbani

Special thanks
Artemide, Cassina, Dinah Casson, Giuliano Ferrari, Gruppo Censeo, John Cook, Lorenzo Mazzali, Matteo Pirola, Neil Parkinson, Paul Logan, Philip Sayer, RCA Special Collection, RIBA Collections, Studio Fax, The Design Museum, Tom Wilson