One Book and Why

One Book and Why: Architect Thom Mayne Recommends . . .

By Thom Mayne April 6, 2023

This month on “One Book and Why,” architect Thom Mayne recommends Italo Calvino’s reflection on what makes great writing, Six Memos for the Next Millennium.



At the time of his death in 1985, the celebrated Italian author Italo Calvino (Invisible Cities) was at work on six lectures on the qualities in writing he most valued, and which he believed would define the century to come. In Six Memos, Calvino devotes one “memo” each to the concepts of lightness, quickness, exactitude, visibility, and multiplicity (the author died before completing the last memo — on consistency). — Designers & Books

The book’s enduring relevance in the “next millennium” Calvino anticipated comes across in these thoughts from Mayne:

“It’s a book I’ve returned to for 30 years. Calvino begins with beginning itself: a human desire for establishing immeasurable goals and obsession with infinite possibilities; a visual intelligence built by our perceptions of the world and further teased by our imagination; the digressions inherent in the creative journey (festina lente, ‘hurry slowly’) and abstraction as a method requiring exactitude, precision and discipline; a fastidiousness for measuring the chaos around us and excitement in connecting the complexity of quotidian life; an envelopment of social, cultural, and ecological networks that are encyclopedic yet unfinished—fragmented yet whole—that we can follow to multiple ends. Together, enmeshed, they propose ‘lightness’ as a form of openness and engagement.”

By Italo Calvino
Translated by Patrick Creagh
Paperback, 176 pages, 2016
Mariner Press/HarperCollins (first published in English by Harvard University Press, 1988)

See other designers who recommend this book.

Find previous installments of “One Book and Why” on Designers & Books. In this occasional series, we ask designers to recommend one book that has inspired them recently — and why it did.


comments powered by Disqus