When Mario Bellini saw the future
The designer’s new monograph shows how his mid-century electronics foreshadowed later tech developments
Enrico Morteo’s Mario Bellini: Furniture, Machines & Objects is an excellent study of an Italian designer who from the 1960s onwards never allowed the demands of mass consumerist production to compromise his aesthetic ideals. Furthermore, having secured a prestigious position at Olivetti in the early 1960s, he produced a series of designs, which are not only a delight to contemplate, but also demonstrate a shrewd understanding that the future of electronic devices was in miniaturization.
Bellini first showed this in his CMC 7 magnetic character encoder, which won the 1964 Compasso D’Oro prize, triumphing over established Olivetti designer Ettore Scottsass’s electric typewriter. As the 60s wore on Bellini’s career blossomed and he produced items which are at once magnificently chic period piece, and also visionary in their design.
The first of these is the Minerva GA 45 Pop (1968), a portable record player. Its optional colours, including red, green and orange, bring to mind the later iMac. In its sleek, economical, handbag-like contours, it also reminds us of later innovations such as the CD Discman. In today’s postmodern, vinyl-fixated age, it feels like an incredibly desirable device.
In the early 1970s, Bellini turned his attention to microelectronics. His Olivetti TVC 250 video terminal was designed to integrate machine with desk. With its cyclopean eye and keyboard embedded into the desk surface, it resembles a Star Trek work station more than anything that actually came to pass in the field of desktop technology but as such, is all the more marvellous to behold. Far from appearing like a quaint example of 70s techno-naiveté, you wonder if perhaps its time has yet to come.