Italian furniture designer and architect
“It is more through our work than through ourselves that we disseminate ideas.”
Franco Albini (born October 17, 1905, Robbiate, Italy–died November 1, 1977, Milan, Italy) was an Italian furniture designer and architect and one of the most important members of the Italian Neo-Rationalist movement. Born in Robbiate, a commune 30 kilometers northeast of Milan, he studied architecture at the Politecnico di Milano, graduating in 1929. That same year, he began his professional career at the studio of Gio Ponti and Emilio Lancia, where he would eventually work for three years. It was during his time at the Ponti and Lancia studio when Albini had the opportunity to meet many of the notable architects of the time, including Le Corbusier in Paris and Mies van der Rohe, who worked with Gio Ponti at the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona. But it was probably his meetings with the critic, essayist, and designer Edoardo Persico, the Napolitan editor of Casabella magazine, that had the greatest influence on him and persuaded him to turn toward Rationalist architecture.
In 1931, Franco Albini opened a studio on Via Bartolomeo Panizza in Milan with architects Renato Camus and Giancarlo Palanti. This was a time of great architectural activity and innovation in Milan, as in 1933 the Palazzo dell’Arte of the V Triennale di Milano (Milan Triennial) opened to become a catalyst of Rationalist thought and a place to experiment with new materials, solutions, and methods. read more.
Given his distinct talent, Franco Albini was asked to participate in several of the Triennales in Milan throughout his life. At this time in Italy, the main role of the exhibitions was not to promote products or commerce, but to inform and communicate new ideas. For this reason, the events not only carried significant prestige, but also allowed artists and architects to exchange important ideas and concepts at a time when the world was going through deep introspection and fast-paced exploration. In 1933, at the young age of 26, Albini participated in his first Triennale, the V Triennale di Milano, with fellow contemporary architect Giancarlo Palanti under Rationalist architect and Casabella magazine Director Giuseppe Pagano Pogatschnig. Together, they worked on the design of the Steel Frame House in Parco Sempione. This was Albini’s first attempt to design and build mass-produced, inexpensive, and high-quality houses and furniture using the latest materials, technology, and industrial production.
In 1934, Franco Albini participated in the influential Aeronautical Exhibition in Milan. Beyond being a place to display the fast-paced advancements in aeronautical technology, the exhibition gave Albini a venue to explore important concepts about the myths of science and technology, the role of the arts, the concept of a humanistic civilization, and the idea of not necessarily the future but the infinite.
For the VI Triennale di Milano in 1936, together with a group of young designers gathered by Pagano, Franco Albini presented spaces and furniture of three types of accommodations, including the iconic and idiosyncratic Room for a Man. In Room for a Man, Albini displayed his ironic approach to the fascist myth of an athletic man and proposed a low-cost housing and furnishing alternative. The result is an efficient, disciplined design, even though he chose to use marble, a traditional and expensive material, on the walls and floor.
In 1940, for the VII Triennale di Milano, Franco Albini participated in the exhibition Living Room of a Villa. In this project, Albini decided to separate himself from the then-prevalent Rationalist approach of Giuseppe Pagano and its imminent use of modern architectural technology and adherence to functionality. In Living Room of a Villa, he used natural elements like trees, integrated figurative and abstract art as part of the architectural project, and diffused the boundaries between exterior and interior spaces.
For the commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Triennale di Milano in 1954, Albini designed, along with Franca Helg, the Hall of Honor at the Palazzo dell’Arte.
Important architectural projects
During the 1930s, the studio designed four important public housing projects: one in the Baracca district in San Siro (1932) and three in the neighborhoods of Fabio Filzi (1936–1938), Ettore Ponti (1939), and Gabriele D’Annunzio (1939).
In 1935, Franco Albini designed his first villa without the collaboration of other architects, the Villa Pestarini, a project that won him praise from many of the architects in Milan, and in 1940 he designed the building and furnishings of Villa Neuffer in the town of Ispra in Lago Maggiore. Villa Pestarini and Villa Neuffer fall within a series of projects that Albini developed through his interactions with wealthy Milanese clientele, including Falck, Caprotti, Vanzetti, and Ferrarin, for whom he designed and completed numerous furnishings and interiors during his first years of professional activity.
In Genova, Albini contributed important designs for the Palazzo Bianco (1949–51), Palazzo Rosso (1952–62), and Tesoro di San Lorenzo (1952–56) museums. In 1961, he designed the Reascent building in Rome, and in 1962 and 1963, he and Franca Helg worked on designing many of Milan’s Line #1 subway stations.
Important product and furniture designs
Franco Albini’s industrial design, and in particular his furniture design, was a major part of his professional focus. In 1928, a year before graduating, he designed the now-iconic Albini Desk, for which he combined steel, glass, and wood with a striking minimalistic balance. The Albini Desk was later produced by Knoll in 1949. During the 1940s and 1950s, he created many successful furniture designs, some with a few variant designs at different times.
A particular influence on Albini’s success was his long and fruitful collaboration with the furniture maker Poggi, for which he made several important designs, such as the highly stylized Luisa chair (1949–1950), for which he was awarded the Compasso d’Oro in 1955; the very successful and iconic LB7 bookcase system (1957); the Cicognino side table (model no. TN6, 1953); the Rocking Chaise, originally designed for his house in 1938 but later relaunched with Poggi under the name PS16 in 1956; the Stadera desk (1958); the LB10 library (1958); and the PL19, or Three Pieces, armchair (1959).
Albini’s other important furniture and product designs include the custom-built Mitragliera (Italian for machine gun) lamp (1938–1940); the Veliero bookcase, originally designed by Albini for his apartment in 1939 and made with two main V-shaped wood uprights and held together by a tensile structure supporting the shelves, but redesigned and reintroduced by Cassina in 2011; the popular Margherita and Gala chairs (1951), both made over a rattan and reed structure for Bonacina, the rattan furniture company founded in Lurago d’Erba in Brianza; the Fiorenza armchair for Arflex (1940), which he originally designed for his apartment and for the “Living Room in a Villa” exhibition for the VII Triennale and which he subsequently modified in 1952, 1956, and 1967; and the Orion 23-inch TV for Brionvega (1962).
From 1952 until his death in 1977, Franco Albini collaborated with designer and architect Franca Helg in creating important home designs, such as the model TL 22 desk and the model PL19 Tre Pezzi lounge chairs (1957) for Poggi; the Ochetta model 3052 sconces (1962) and the model 2050 ceiling light (1963), both for Arteluce; and a series of TV and radio sets for Brionvega, one of which was displayed at the Triennale di Milano. Franca Helg also collaborated on designing variations to the already existing library systems designed by Franco Albini, such as the LB10 bookcase system.
Albini received three Compasso d’Oro awards: the first one in 1955 for the Luisa chair; the second one in 1958, was the National Price award; one in 1958, and the third one for his work, alongside Franca Helg and Bob Noorda (Noodra for his contributions to the signage of the project), in designing the Line #1 subway stations in Milan.
For more information on Franco Albini, please visit:
Fondazione Franco Albini
Last updated: October 18, 2019
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