If you were asked to name one designer who sums up the pioneering spirit of the sixties better than any other it would have to be Joe Colombo.
This was the man who made televisions retract into the ceiling, enclosed minibars in moving walls, built climate-controlled sleeping pods and envisioned the freelance work environment the way it is today.
He even came up with ideas for a subterranean nuclear city. Following on from his Elda Armchair, Colombo designed and perfected the first all-plastic chair to be injection moulded from a single material and sold commercially. The plastic fantastic Universale pipped Verner Panton’s Panton Chair to the post.
Originally designed in die-cast aluminium, after two years of experimentation and research with the Kartell factory Colombo shifted to the oil-based ABS plastic that Lego hopes to ditch by 2030.
After initial designs faded, Kartell encouraged Colombo to change to nylon and then injection-moulded polypropylene. Lighter, stronger and more resistant to colour changes, “It never ages, never breaks, can be thrown out the window, left outside, immersed in water, transported to the North Pole or the desert, and it will always look like new” said an advertising slogan at the time.
Reissued in 1979 as the 4867, the Universale was stackable, easy to clean and a doddle to move, with the hole in its back working as a handle.
Detachable legs were available in different lengths so the height of the chair could be adjusted for use as a side chair, dining chair or bar stool, and were also finished with a tiny slice of plastic that acted as a foot and slotted in subtly underneath, making it easy to replace as it wore down.
Colombo’s Universale helped former plastics lab Kartell raise the profile of plastic throughout the world, taking it from the thrifty to the sublime.