Hartmut Jatzke-Wigand

Hartmut Jatzke-Wigand

Brionega Part 2

Television Sets


"When the first public TV-shows were broadcasted, television sets were boxes made of plastic, paint-sprayed metal or wood with artificial maple veneer, representing everything that was then seen as an American product, and consequently, as a focal point. We, on the other hand, see a need to create objects with a high technological and qualitative standard, with a design that expresses this standard. Our approach to the object television set was autonomous; we wanted it to anticipate the future, to radiate innovation as well as reliability. The one thing that was lacking in the expression of this process was an area of design" (Ennio Brion, 1983) 1).


Ennio Brion's statement on the designing goals in audiovisual products at the Brionvega S.p.A. - throughout the world, this trademark is seen as a synonym of the ltalian 'bel design' - will be the guideline to the following contribution 2). We would like to analyse: Which of these products can claim an exemplary design? Which designing principles guide the work of the various designers that were entrusted with the product?


1954 The first television sets


At the beginning of the 1950s, Giuseppe Brion saw the economic possibilities in the new medium of television. He was engaged in the development of a broadcasting chain as well as in the foundation of a national ltalian broadcasting station. On January 3rd, 1954, RAI took up regular broadcasling (fig. 1) 4).


Also in 1954, Vega Radio Televisione presented the first television set completely produced in ltaly (fig. 2). The casing was expensively veneered. The whole impression was one of costliness, allowing the set to be integrated into the living room culture. Designing experiments first started in 1956. Vega Radio Televisione produced a 17 inch television set with a metal casing - the 'Metallico' (fig. 3) 5).


1958 - 1961 'Antares', 'Yades'


In 1958, Giuseppe Brion entrusted Marco Zanuso with the formal design of the casing of the 'Antares', following given technological conditions (fig. 4) 6). The fundamental designing principles of Marco Zanuso consists in doing without the hitherto indispensable framing of the picture tube 7). lnstead, the visible part of the picture tube is set in the convex part of a transparent plastic pane. This part corresponds wilh the concave line of the pane that follows the lineation of the casing front (fig. 5) 8). The corners of the lacquered wooden casing are subdued - the whole appearance is one of 'softness'. In 1960, the 'Antares' was elected product of the year by the committee of the XII. Trienale 9). lt immediately became a commercial success and was produced by the Brionvega S.p.A. until 1968 in a series of technological variatons.


For 1961, the engineers of the Brionvega S.p.A. stress the technological peak achieved by the 'Yades' as compared with concurring products: non-reflecting bonded-shield velvetone picture tube, the automatic station coordination combined with a fully automatic contrast and light adjustment (fig. 6) 10). Additionally, an ultrasonic remote control (design: Marco Zanuso, Richard Sapper, fig. 7) was developed. "The design must emphasize the function of the television set - the television picture" 7). This principle guided Marco Zanuso in his work on the 'Yades'. The frame of the lacquered wooden casing confers a minimal limitation to the picture tube. lt is separated from the plastic pedestal with integrated loudspeakers and control panel. The control elements are arranged in order of their use; large rectangular keys stress their specific functions.


1962 'doney 14" ', 'Orion 23" '


In 1962, Marco Zanuso, along with his partner Richard Sapper, designed the tecnologically and formally innovative 'doney 14" ' (fig. 8). The 'doney 14" ' is conceived as a portable, compact, optionally network - independent television set, based on the newly developed transistor technology.


An important principle in Marco Zanuso's design work is to conceive the object only after having thoroughly studied the implementation of the latest technology 11). In the design overhaul of the television sets 'Antares' and 'Yades', Marco Zanuso observed the significant influence of the large platine containing the wiring and amplification elements, that was installed either vertically or horizontally into the television sets and stood in the way of a more compact design 12). The form of this platine is based upon the technical (systematic connection of building elements according to the wiring diagram) and production related conditions (e.g. submerged soldering technique). After intensive discussions with the designers, Francesco Banfi of Brionvega S.p.A. split up the large platine into five single technical function elements. These units were sandwich-packed around the picture tube according to the construction of commercial television sets (fig. 9) 13). The first trial runs with the chassis did not achieve the desired compaclness. A newly developed shorter picture tube combined with an optimal implementation on the platine units and their space-saving arrangement served to further compress the model (fig. 10 and 11).


The formal design of the 'doney 14" 'was then adjusted to the three-dimensional chassis by the designers in close cooperation with the technicians and constructors. A model for this cooperation is the leading work in product development by Olivetli 14). The harmonious casing joins the transparent front part with the plastic rear part and its characteristic slots. The 'doney 14" ' is produced by Brionvega S.p.A. in series, the complete production procedure is time-consuming and complicated 15).


The 'doney 14" ' sets a standard for portable television sets. In 1962, it was awarded the important 'Compasso d'Oro' for "the conceptional and formal solution combined with a veritable technical innovation that makes no compromises to existing designing standards" 16).


Parallel to the 'doney 14" ' Franco Albini and Franca Held designed the 'Orion 23" '(fig. 12). The plastic organic shape of the 'Orion 23"' convinces at the XXVIII. National Radio Exhibition in Milan (1962) 17). The set seems to sway over the clearly structured flat aluminium-casted frame. This visible slightness refers to an experimental radio design by Franco Albini in 1938. He reduced the carrying element of the casing down to two disks of security glass with the radio chassis in between (fig. 13) 18).


In 1963, the foundation of the Brionvega S.p.A. success can clearly be seen: Giuseppe, and later on Ennio Brion are able to employ excellent designers, each with ther own individual and imaginative interpretations of design. The Brionvega S.p.A. also takes up, represented by the design of their products, the current design trends. Thus, they had no continuous design concept or a defined style.


1963/64 'algol 11" '


The 'algol 11" ' belongs to the classical and often awarded ltalian design products (fig. 14) 19). The technical conception (Francesco Banfi and Gino Fornasini) as well as the formal design (Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper) are based upon the knowledge obtained during the development of the 'doney 14" ' (fig. 15).


In contrast to the 'doney 14" ', the 'algol 11" ' has been admitted to mass production 7). Francesco Banfi simplified the circuit diagram in this set. For the assembly he used extremely miniaturised elements. Unlike for the 'doney 14" ', the technicians and constructors do not use special elements. These are often only obtainable abroad and the production is kept at a low rate 20). The chassis of the 'algol 11" ' is collapsable, making it easier to handle (fig. 16) 21). Richard Sapper wants the extensible handle to compel to a well considered use of the media 27). We said, "it is important to design a television that can be kept in a cupboard. lt can be pulled out for use and put back again when no longer required. That is why we designed a television with a handle" 23).


The designers adapted various forms of usage. The 12 /24 V adapter, for usage without a power supply, which is coupled separately when needed. The shorter picture tube makes a slightly tilted front possible and a construction for underneath is not necessary (a foot is developed by Ettore Sottsass in 1976 (fig. 17)) 24).


The success of the 'algol' encourages in ltaly, "a development of taste and culture in consumption and living areas. They become more popular, more sophisticated and free of prejudice" (fig. 18) 25). The Brionvega S.p.A. still produces the 'algol' in consequently actualized variations.


In the build of the 'doney' and the 'algol', references to the 1956 prototype of a rollable television set for Telefunken AG (fig. 19) 26) (Hans Gugelot and Helmut Müller-Kühn at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm) meet the eye. There, as well, the picture screen is slightly slanted towards the axes of the picture tube, simultaneously, this innovative design commends an element, organic lineation.


1969 'black'


With the 'television 12 black st 201', Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper reduced the spacial requirements of the television set in 1969 (fig. 20).


"The completely closed artificial glass cube reminds one, when turned off, of a magical stone, translated into this age of modern technology. lts appearance provokes a certain irritation, since on the one hand the mysterious control elements on top signify the technical use of the object, on the other hand, the normal product association does not occur, as the screen is hidden behind one of the black sides of the cube" 27).


The picture tube can only be seen when the set is turned on. "The function of the television set begins when it is required" 27). The designers followed the idea of 'black' as a totem, as a metaphor for our modern world of media. The smooth surfaces are meant to reflect the outside world . Shortly before he died, the company founder, Giuseppe Brion, saw the prototype of 'black' and was, as Marco Zanuso recalls, enthusiastic 7). The aesthetic charm of the dark, abstract geometrical shape was varied by many artists - among them Giovanni Anselmo, Sol LeWitt and Richard Serra according to their specific artistic means (fig. 21, 22, 23) 28).


1968/1974-75 Prototypes of triangular free standing telvisions


The picture tube determines the shape of the television. There is a limit to the possible arrangements of the loudspeaker and the control panel (fig. 24) 29). Especially, Mario Bellini varied the arrangements in his designs for Brionvega S.p.A.. He concentrated on the plastic values such as the linear intersections of the surfaces, the contrasts between light and dark as weil as the lucidity of the body 30).


These design premises are clearly seen in the prototype of an opaque black three-sided television which he designed together with his brother Dario in 1968 - the 'triangolare' (fig. 25). The softness of the casing sides with the slightly swelling bulges confront the designer with clearly defined almost sharp lines (fig. 26) 31). The 'triangolare' is free standing. Like the 'aster 20" '(fig. 30) and 'black' (fig. 20) it looks like a small sculpture.


Mario Bellini varies his design concept in 1974/ 75 by creating another three-sided free-standing television (fig. 27 and 28). When not in use the screen is concealed by two doors. The function is 'hidden'. The designs are regarded as being avantgarde. Brionvega S.p.A. only produces a few of each prototypes (10 'triangulare', 5 white prototypes) 32).


lt is Brionvega S.p.A.'s basic strategy to have up to 10 prototypes designed by various designers each year, but to only have two at the most, produced 33).


1969/1970 'Helios 20" ', 'aster 20" '


Mario Bellini designs the 'Helios 20" ' and the 'aster 20" ' in 1969/1970 (fig. 29, 30). Brionvega S.p.A. is at the peak of success. They are awarded the second 'Compasso d'Oro' in recognition of their achievement. Through working with ltalian's best designers and "due to this, they achieve a design, which, in many cases, results in high cultural importance at an international level" 34).


The 'Helios 20" ' (1969) has the plain geometrical lines of a box (fig. 29) divided up by two aluminium strips. The operating elements are easy to reach on the lower semi-rounded strip. The arrangement of the sl its refers to the structure of the 'aster 20" '.


The television 'aster 20" ' (1970) is Mario Bellini's best worked out audiovisual piece of equipment (fig. 30) 35). The sides and the top with the control panel are in a harmonized proportion (fig. 31). Due to the dark air-slits and gaps, the corpus has a compact and elegant appearance. The handle-hollows at the sides assure easy transportation. The upper part of the equipment with the TV screen, can be tilted in three different positions. This ensures the best possible angle of vision 36). In 1971, Brionvega S.p.A. produces a TV like the 'aster 20" ' without the pedestal with the termination 'sider 20" ' (fig. 32).


1977 - 1981 'Monitor 15" ', 'TVC 26 alta fedelta', 'Memphis 1'


The angular design of the 'Monitor 15" ' shows similarities to the 'black' ( 1968) (fig. 33). "The 'Monitor 15"' looks like a black box which is divided into three areas. The control panel is situated in the middle and lower area. The angular sunken-in handles and the accentuated air slits are intended to create an association to the precision of military appliances" 37).


In 1981 Mario Bellini designs the 'TVC alta fedelta' following the use of forms of the late sixties (fig. 34) 38). lt is Maria Bellini's intention, that the angular ease, the solid handles, the insertions which symbolize the divided up areas of the front of the set, underline the high technological standard. In addition to this, the technical form symbolism of the control elements emphazises the tuning precision 38).


In 1981 the 'Antenna Robot' which controls the microcomputer of Brionvega television sets is developed by Mario Bellini in a perfectly reduced form (fig. 35).


The contrasts of Mario Bellini's design concepts are clearly seen in the colour television set 'Memphis 1'

(1981) (fig. 36) 39). lt is the only one of four prototypes of which Brionvega S.p.A. produces a small edition of 15 specimen 40). The angular case has an Abet Print laminate which is obtainable in various

colours 41).


1990 'Best'


With the portable television set 'Best' (1990), Mario Bellini is striving for an optimized, compact design (fig. 37). The construction of the casing has, the typical of Mario Bellini, geometrical forms for audiovisual design: square , circle, triangle 42). The casing front, half round in profile, encloses the flat dark-glass picture tube. The angular, horizontally ribbed casing back integrates the loudspeaker, the cable reel, the retractable telescope antenna with the handle. The massive metal handle on the one side, a typical Mario Bellini detail, is perfectly integrated into the case, making it weil balanced for carrying.


1992 'Ouadro'


The product named 'Quadro' (ltalian for picture) also points out, according to Mario Bellini, the future direction of television design (fig. 38). "The flat television tubes that are being developed will then be either built into or hung up onto the wall. Then only the message brought over from the set is important not its shape" 38) 43). The 'Ouadro's' big opaque black frame fences off external influences. The flat pedestal - a characteristic feature of Brionvega sets during the 80s - integrates the miniaturized electronics (fig. 39). The 'quadro' is operated by the remote control 'TLC 251'. The characteristic design is worked out by students of the Politecnico Milano 44). The buttons are arranged according to use. Coloured featurings of the buttons simplify the operating of specific functions.




"ltalian design has continually been revitalized and renewed through profound discussions about its functions and orientation" 45). Giorgetto Giugiaro's conclusion visualizes the very individual strike of the Brionvega S.p.A. designers and their television sets. Innovative product development succeeds, This is more difficult than in other areas of design, as there are many determinations that have to be followed.


Brionvega S.p.A. with their product development continue to be important for the progress of televisions. This can clearly be seen in the prototypes of their development lab which have not yet been made public ...  46).


Text: Hartmut Jatzke-Wigand

Photos: Brionvega S.p.A



Jatzke-Wigand, H.: Brionvega Part 2 Television Sets. In: Design+Design 25, Hamburg 1993, 14-27

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