Portrait of Italian architect and designer Franco Albini seating with a leg up and looking at the camera at Italian design and furniture gallery Casati Gallery

Franco Albini

Italian furniture designer and architect

Franco Albini (born October 17, 1905, Robbiate, Italy–died November 1, 1977, Milan, Italy) was an Italian furniture designer and architect who would become 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 Mies van der Rohe, who worked with Gio Ponti at the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona and with Le Corbusier in Paris. But it was probably his meetings with the critic, essayist and designer Edoardo Persico, the Napolitan editor of Casabella magazine, that were the most influential and persuaded him to turn toward Rationalist architecture. read more.

In 1931, Franco Albini opened his first studio on Via 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. For the V Triennale di Milano, Franco Albini and Giancarlo Palanti worked under Rationalist architect and Casabella magazine Director Giuseppe Pagano on the design of the Steel Frame House in Parco Sempione in Milan. This was Albini’s first attempt to design and build mass-produced, inexpensive, and high-quality houses and furniture.

During the 1930s, the studio designed four important public housing projects: the Baracca district in San Siro (1932), 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. The construction of Villa Pestarini falls 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 wioth important designs for the Palazzo Bianco (1949/51), Palazzo Rosso (1952/62), and the Tesoro di San Lorenzo (1952/56) museums.

Franco Albini’s industrial design, and in particular his furniture design, was a major part of his 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. 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 displays his ironic approach to the fascist myth of an athletic man but also proposes a low-cost housing and furnishing alternative. The result is an efficient and disciplined design, even if he selected to use marble, a traditional and expensive material, on the walls and floor. In 1940, he designed the Veliero bookcase, made with two main V-shaped wood uprights and held together by a tensile structure supporting the shelves. In 1950, Albini designed the popular Margherita and Gala chairs, both made with woven cane. In 1957, he designed for Poggi the very successful and iconic LB7 bookcase system, an evolutionary and modular approach to the Veliero bookcase. Other well-known Albini furniture designs include the highly stylized Luisa chair for Cassina (1950), winner of the Compasso d’Oro 1955; the Fiorenza armchair for Arflex (1952); and the Rocking Chaise for Poggi (1956).

From 1951 until his death in 1977, Franco Albini collaborated with designer and architect Franca Helg in creating important home designs for the Italian companies Brionvega, Arflex, Arteluce, and Poggi.

In the 1960s, Albini worked in industrial design as well as on important architectural projects. In 1961, he designed the Rome Reascent building, and in 1962 and 1963 he and Franca Helg worked on designing many of Milan’s Line #1 subway stations. The television set he created for Brionvega in 1964 was displayed at the Triennale di Milano, and during the same year, he created various lamps for Arteluce.

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; and the third one for his work, alongside Franca Helg and Bod Noodra (Noodra for his contributions to the signage of the project), on designing the line #1 Milan subway stations.

Last updated: May 15, 2019

For more information on Franco Albini, please visit:
Fondazione Franco Albini

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