Riccardo Dalisi: a tribute to "The Storyteller"


by Cristina Morozzi


Read the tribute to Riccardo Dalisi, well-known and appreciated architect, designer and sculptor. He leaves us a legacy of iconic design objects.


The research on the Neapolitan coffee maker and other creations

Neapolitan, internationally renowned architect and designer Riccardo Dalisi (Potenza, 1931 – Naples, April 9, 2022) was an eternal child, a minstrel, and a storyteller. His famous designs created from emblematic Neapolitan tin coffee pots were like lanky puppets, urban sculptures, like the giant one in Piazza dei Martiri in Naples, and were characters inspired by the traditional Italian commedia dell’arte form of theater.

Dalisi worked in a studio in Naples neighborhood Mergellina where, when the sky was clear, he could see Capri on the horizon. His chaotic studio was cluttered with prototypes, and the smallest and most random of objects he found, including on the streets, became inspiration for his creations.

In his studio – which was called the Università di strada (Street University) – he would welcome underprivileged children and teach them to unleash their creativity and to make things come to life by working with their hands and using salvaged materials. A gourmand and a thrifty man, he confessed to never throwing anything away, not even candy wrappers, and his studio was full of materials he used on a daily basis. His extremely varied creations included his coffee pot creations but also nativity figures and products for industrial companies including Alessi, Baleri Italia, O Luce, Zanotta, and Bisazza.


In 1981, he received a Compasso d’Oro award for his ability to combine design and craftsmanship on an industrial scale. In 2008, the Milan Triennale Design Museum dedicated an exhibition to him entitled Design Ultrapoverissimo (Ultra Humble Design), as well as another exhibition in 2012, curated by Alba Cappellieri, called I gioielli sostenibili (Sustainable Jewelry), displaying 100 pieces of jewelry he made by hand using tin, foil, and brass.

“His jewelry”, as Alba Cappellieri writes, “very much describes his fairy-tale world and the creatures that inhabit it: trees, flowers, stars, chimneys where doves perch, and enchanted forests populated by giraffes, lions and elephants”.

Dalisi avoided using precious materials, choosing “poorer” materials, waste, and fragments, which he called “little souls to be saved”, and bits of lava were for him precious stones. At the 2019 Neapolitan exhibition of Riccardo Dalisi and Alessandro Mendini, Rompete le Righe (Break the Lines), Dalisi’s drawings show his imaginative reality, populated with numerous characters: players, warriors, horses and riders, angels and monsters, and his constant awe for all aspects of creation.