Ettore Sottsass was born on 14 September 1917 in Innsbruck, Austria, and grew up in Milan where his father was an architect. He was educated at the Politecnico di Torino in Turin and graduated in 1939 with a degree in architecture. He served in the Italian military and spent much of World War II in a concentration camp in Yugoslavia. After returning home in 1948, he set up his own architectural and industrial design studio in Milan.
All through the 1960s, Sottsass travelled in the US and India and designed products for the company Olivetti, including the bright red plastic portable Valentine typewriter in 1970, which was more of a design statement item than an office machine. While continuing to design for Olivetti in the 1960s, Sottsass developed a range of objects which were expressions of his personal experiences traveling in the United States and India. These objects included large altar-like ceramic sculptures and his 'Superboxes' which were sculptural gestures presented within a context of a consumer product, as conceptual statements.
Sottsass had a vast body of work; furniture, jewellery, ceramics, glass, silver work, lighting, office machine design and buildings which inspired generations of architects and designers. In 2006, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art held the first major museum survey exhibition of his work in the United States. A retrospective exhibition, Ettore Sottsass: Work in Progress, was held at the Design Museum in London in 2007. In 2009, the Marres Centre for Contemporary Culture in Maastricht presented a re-construction of a Sottsass' exhibition 'Miljö för en ny planet' (Landscape for a new planet), which took place in the National Museum in Stockholm in 1969.
One of his works—Telefono Enorme, designed for Brondi—is part of the MOMA Collection.