German-born, Italian-based industrial designer Richard Sapper (1932-2015) is internationally celebrated for his unique sensibility, which is considered to be a blend of Teutonic rationality and Mediterranean style.
Sapper’s education was diverse—he studied philosophy, anatomy, and engineering, but graduated with a degree in business from the University of Munich. Upon completion, Sapper worked in the styling department of Daimler Benz in Stuttgart, before relocating to Milan in 1958. There he worked for a time in the office of Italian design master Gio Ponti (1891-1979). He opened his own design studio in 1959 and quickly earned a reputation for reinventing existing technology for new consumer products. He won his first Compasso d’Oro in 1960 for his Static Table Clock for Lorenz, which was repurposed from war-surplus torpedo timers.
Between 1957 and 1977, Sapper began a long collaboration with Italian architect-designer Marco Zanuso (1916-2001). The pair started out working as design consultants for the Italian electronics manufacturer Brionvega. Over the years, they took on projects for many other brands, and, along the way, pioneered a new postwar aesthetic known as techno-functionalism. Successful designs by the pair include Lambda Chair for Gavina (1959), Doney 14 TV for Brionvega (1962)—the first fully-transistor television—the Grillo Telephone for Siemens (1966), and a series of houses for the landmark Italy: The New Domestic Landscape exhibition in New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1972.
Among Sapper's best known solo designs are the Tizio Desk Lamp for Artemide (1972)—one of the best-selling lamps of the 20th century—and the 9091 Kettle for Alessi (1983). Through the course of his career, Sapper produced successful and innovative designs for many well-known Italian and international brands, including B&B Italia, FIAT, Heuer, Kartell, Knoll, Magis, Molteni, Pirelli, and many others. In the 1980s, Sapper became the chief industrial design consultant for IBM and Lenovo, creating the very first design for the ThinkPad laptop (1992).
Sapper has won many awards and accolades, including multiple Compasso d’Oro awards (1960, 1962, 1964, 1967, 1979, 1987, 1991, 1994, and 1998), the Lucky Strike Award from the Raymond Loewy Foundation (1992), and the Federal Republic of Germany Grand Merit Cross (2012). Sapper’s work has been featured in many museum exhibitions and permanent collections around the world, including New York's Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cooper Hewitt Museum, and Brooklyn Museum; and London's Design Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum.
Sapper passed away at the age of 83 in 2015.