In the beautiful Palazzo in via Telesio, Franco Albini’s design studio , now a museum and historical archive, where one of the “Fathers of Italian Rationalism” had worked during the last years of his career was open to the public to visit during the period of the Salone 2013.
Franco Albini was one of the leading—and most forgotten—Italian architects. Like few others, Albini has the outstanding capacity to define all the themes of design.
Albini’s quest for lightness and the process of subtraction, formed the common feature of both his architectural and product development his work
The feeling is that the time has stopped, so the rooms are still full of objects, documents, sketches and vintage photos of Franco Albini.
Since 2009, the Fondazione Franco Albini has been working on the re-release of some iconic pieces from the 1950s by one of the undisputed masters of Italian design and architecture. It seems that the desire to give new life to Albini’s furniture or, in the case of his unreleased works, to give them what they never had, is not going to come to an end
The Fondazione Albini was created precisely to protect a part of the archive and it seemed interesting to publicize the unknown part contained in a folder named “Furniture prospects” found during the classification and archival work.
The furniture was drawn by hand during the war, when there were no commissions, and Franco worked tirelessly to create an archive of ideas, some of which were adapted for private homes, but many were lost in time.
Albini’s pieces have a genuinely intrinsic value of their time – but they also remain contemporary. This value of modernity was taken from a history that has something eternal, which, as Le Corbusier said, is even more important than modernity itself.
His vast body of work has obtained the recognition and protection of the Italian nation as part of the country’s national historic heritage, protected by Fondazione Franco Albini, a cultural centre for dialogue and research aimed at making the most of the architect’s heritage.
A meditated, critical review of the foundations of the modern movement, together with a careful balancing of innovation and tradition, are the key to the significance and importance of Albini’s oeuvre.
With his “honest, ethical” design, Franco Albini left us architectural projects that attempt to improve our quality of life, objects of design combining a craftsman’s care with industrial mass production, urban projects for the needs of modern civilisation.
His insistence on reducing the bone project, dictated by an ethical attitude — the result of the difficult post-war years — today it assimilates the needs of environmental sustainability that inform smart projects.
A tour of the studio, organised by La Fondazione Franco Albini showcased approx 30 unique, new and mass-produced items designed by the great master, alongside drawings, vintage photos, interviews and 3D reproductions to help us get to know the methods and creative processes of one of the key figures in rationalist thought in architecture, home furnishings and industrial design.
This private archive of the architect, has been carefully collected over time ( by Franco’s son Marco Albini and Marco’s niece Paola ) to return the idea of poetic and functional method, rigorous and light, modern and traditional which at the time was how Franco Albini approached his projects.
Unfortunately, Franco Albini was a man of few words, and he left very little project notes behind after his death.
He preferred to act rather than report.
His projects were based in ” Craft” – he liked to call himself a ‘ Craftsman ‘. “It’s through our works that we can best spread our ideas rather than by speaking”, he argued.
“Albini design revolutionized not only the lines but also the materials and space partitioning, pushed towards poorer and natural materials (as in the famous Wicker armchairs ), and towards the space to make it more usable and interpretable in all its dimensions even in the vertical, as in his famous exhibition and showroom installations.
He believed in a way of designing “honest and ethical”, aimed at improving the quality of life, which aimed to educate the viewer, in city planning projects, which reflected the needs of modern civilization and design pieces that blended traditional quality and serialization.
He dedicated himself to designing in the field of furniture in the attempt of establishing a relation among the shapes of modernism, bounded by the new methods of industrial production, and the traditional ones that were linked to an absolute concept of grace and naturalness, and to the production methods used by the artisans.
The chairs, for example, are a constant variation on a single type already noticeable in the drawings for the Wohnbedarf competition of 1940.
Albini’s postulate is, as always, very simple: “the frame, stated in all its lean essentially, where the section of the material used is reduced to the utmost, bears the backrest and seat which rest on or are hinged to it at only one point”
The masterpiece “Luisa”, conceived for mass production, the final version of which dates from 1955, was derived from previous experiments: the chairs designed for Villa Pestarini in ’38 (white maple frame, back and seatrest frames in green painted iron with springs and spiral in steel hooked onto them) and for Minetti House in ’39, the wood and wicker easychairs for Neuffer House at Ispra in ’40, and the chairs for Hotz Institute of Cosmetic Dermatology in Milan in ’45.
The low process of variation and transformation continued with the “Adriana” experiment, a heightening of Albini’s desire to lighten, to empty and to render ephemeral.
In it the seat and backrest are divided into two separate and suspended parts, respectively.
The “Tre pezzi” armchair, a concave space with reassuring armrests, of ’59, although the initial logic was carried to a more complex outcome and its variants exist in perforated plywood, bent wood and finally, iron tube, likewise descends from the same type source.
A second clearly evident structural type is the union, with cross-piece and braces, of two X-shaped bearing elements—in a refined re-elaboration of the carpenter’s worktable trestle. His first application of this principle to design are the armchair for the “living room of a villa” at the 7th Milan Triennale in 1940, the armchair for the apartment of Albini himself (1940), and the sofa for villa Neuffer—all of which are archetypes of the Fiorenza armchair.
The furniture of the past is also simpler to make than much contemporary production because it was made at a time when the technology was more artisanal; the work was simplified.
Albini introduced the principles of the separation of structure and scope, the reduction to the essentials, and especially recognition — membership of a new object in a tradition, albeit updated. Towards the reduction of superfluous material, Albini argued that …. ” a Chair was not just for either the kitchen or dining room or living room chair only, but they were adaptable to different environments “.
Like nearly all the most important figures of the design field who were pioneering industrial production he committed himself to attempting to achieve the production of high quality creations at low prices. A large part of this creative production was therefore designed in a way that did not discard the possibility of using economic materials.
At a time when contemporary design is a bit self-absorbed, continues to repeat itself and produces a certain softness of forms, the 1930s acquires new strength with its retro-thinking.
The furniture from that period, with its bearing structure so well-separated from what is borne, basically stages all the project’s “private” elements and play on detail.
Marco Albini …. “The current economic crisis and its reduced consumption drives companies and even consumers to prefer products that have already had a “media history;” perhaps it drives us look to the past. At a moment of weak thinking or in the presence of a fluid society, perhaps the pursuit of values and pleasures rooted in a time that is more peaceful than the present is also a way to find hope.”
Perhaps we have come to realize how important it is to invest in culture, Italy’s primary resource. Classic furniture design is seen as part of those roots that we feel the need to rediscover today.
About Franco Albini
Franco Albini was a brilliant architect and urban planner, teacher, inventor of some of the pieces of furniture that have made the history of design, some of which are still in production today in more than sixty years later.
He was a skilled draughtsman and was able to deal with different scales of intervention, “from the spoon to the city”.
He taught at the University of Venice, and at the Politecnico di Torino and Milano.
He was awarded prestigious prizes and awards including three Compasso D’ Oro (1955, 1958 and 1964), Olivetti Award for architecture (1957) and the “Royal Designer for Industry” by the Royal Society of London (1971).
Ideas that have characterized his projects, in fact, seem to fit perfectly on contemporary issues.
Franco Albini = Rationalism against crisis.
In all his work, from home furnishings to industrial and museum design projects, Franco Albini always instilled a logical consistency, an extreme purity of expression and exceptional ethical and historical integrity.
The architectural and design work of Franco Albini represents a keystone of the Italian architectonic culture from the early 20th century through his intense activity revolving around a creative and rigorous approach to composition and building that expresses a particularly high degree of estheticism.
Franco Albini – Chronology
Franco Albini was born in Robbiate, Como Italy on October 17, 1905
Born into a well-to-do bourgeois family, Franco Albini always preserved fond memories of Brianza, of its gentle landscape, its traditions, and the lessons learned from its peasant and domestic culture.
The passage of time emphasized by the changing seasons, the forces tide to the principles of rationality and economy of rural work, the dictates of art applied to every occupation, the precise beauty of agricultural and domestic tools.
Franco Albini always held the poetry and the power of such a tradition in his memory, just as he always felt the reverberations of a childhood amid a happy family and long conversations with his sisters
After high school he attended architecture school in Milan, applying him self with great discipline to the eclectic course of academic studies than in favor.
Albini commenced university in 1924 / 25 and obtained his degree in architecture at Politecnico di Milano University in 1929
Franco served his apprenticeship with the Milanese Architects Gio Ponti and Emilio Lancia, in which time he had direct contact with talented cabinet-makers and craftsmen, from whom he sought to discover the potential of every craft and the range of freedom each would allow.
Then Franco Albini discovered the Modern Movement. The late-1920s were pivotal years for European modernism, with architects such as Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer in Germany and Le Corbusier in France establishing a new aesthetic and functionalist agenda that was to propel the course of 20th-century design.
His early travels took him to Barcelona and to the German Pavillion by Mies Van der Rohe; to Paris where he made a referrential visit to the studio of Le Corbusier; then encounters with Edoardo Persico, Raffaello Giolli, Giuseppe Pagano, and his contemporaries Giancarlo Palanti and Renato Camus.
These visits were crucial influences in the formation of the rationalist ideology that defined his subsequent career.
In the years between the two world wars he was very active in the field of furniture and fittings for the Triennale exhibition and trade fair in Milan.
In 1930 he opened his own architectural practice
During the 1930’s, “Progressive” architects and intellectuals where exasperated with the establishment and with Academia. Polemics between the “Modernist” and the “ Moderns” (the Progressives) used to be attributed to motives of style.
The 1930s are noted as the height of fascist Italy – Albini gravitated towards a small group of progressive Italian architects, the Rationalists, who were questioning the continuing relevance of traditional styles.
Not surprisingly, their ‘internationalist’ ideology conflicted with the fascist regime’s totalitarian adherence to the twin ideals of nationalism and tradition. Set against this regressive background, Albini nevertheless pursued his investigation of the new design language through furniture, lighting, interiors, exhibition and low-cost housing projects.
Clearly, young architects where interested in the risk, in the desire to substantially modify formal language. They probed beyond questions of form and architectural language, delving into social issues and problems of production.
During these years the most pertinent group of Milanese Rationalists gathered around Pagano, Persico, Giolli, and the magazine Casabella.
Casabella ventured to introduce criteria of modularity and seriality into architectural practice, in order to successfully industrialize the building industry.
Among the works created by him, in the 1930s, the Palazzo della civiltà Italiana in Eur with Palanti, Gardella and Romano;
In 1932 together with the architects Camus and Palanti, he created the project for the San Siro district in Milan.
In Milan, with Renato Camus and Giancarlo Palanti, realizes, in line with the themes and typological their choices of the avant-garde rationalist, housing quarters “Fabio Filzi” (1936-38)
Referred to as an “oasis of order”, Fabio Filzi takes up a whole city block. From the outside it looks like a normal perimeter slab, however the end elevations, seen from the adjacent park, reveal the real organization: 4 parallel rows of 5 story, point-access apartment slabs aligned on a north/south axis.
The Fabio Filzi quarter is probably the best example of neue saclichkeit ideas being applied to social housing in Italy.
This is one of the early projects of the Istituto Facista Autonomo per le Case Popolari (IFACP), the Facist version of the ICP (Istituto Case Popolare), the earlier national agency for the construction of low cost housing in Italy.
Mainstream European Functionalism, including ideas about standardized building components and existenze minimum is here applied to the construction of housing for the Italian working class.
Albini‘s commitment in the field of social housing allows him to express his particular sensitivity in the Organization of the space.
Even more technical and typological content and its social research on minimum accommodation and housing for all, through experimentation in the field of residential construction
Through his creations, the modern furniture design merged the Italian traditional artisanship with the new forms of modernism. In his creations, he used raw, inexpensive materials. He exploited the very skilled Italian craftsmanship. This also meant an elegant design based on a minimalist aesthetic.
Projects in line with the themes and typological choices of modern movement in whose ranks Albini plays with passion in a personal interpretation of the language. From the modern movement also made an extraordinary ability to synthesis practice, applied to concrete in reality much artifacts as “Ethereal” in conception.
In 1930 Franco Albini participated in the Monza Triennale where he showed his furniture designs.
Already in the 1930s, his objects are distinguished by a highly personal poetry, mediated by an intrinsic structural and technological genius.
Like his avant-garde European contemporaries, Albini articulated this experimental vocabulary using industrial materials – glass, metal, concrete – and the spare geometric interplay of form and line. It was during this decade that he designed his extraordinary transparent radio cabinet – radio components reassembled between two sheets of glass – and his tensile bookshelf – both radical explorations of the interplay of structure and function, of design stripped of extraneous detail.
A similar, though more humanist, aesthetic guided Albini’s room installations in the 1936 and 1940 Milan Triennales — important forums for modern design in the constrained political atmosphere of fascist Italy.
A style closely associated with Albini‘s designs was the repetitive use of the upright standard. A simple vertical rod composed a rigorously modular three-dimensional grid with horizontal display units, in the Aerodynamics for the 15th Milan Fair in 1934, the interior of the INA pavilion at the Levante Fair at Bari in 1935.
Whether working alone (Room for a Man, VI Triennale, 1936; Living Room for a Villa, VII Triennale, 1940; INA Pavilion, Fiera di Milano, 1935) or in collaboration, he always adhered resolutely to the principles and examples of the Modem Movement, as expressed by the Casabella/ Pagano group in Milan.
At the 1936 Milan Triennale, while Ponti proposed “luxurious art for the elegant house” and” luxurious handycrafts for the Italian house” within the Palazzo dell’Arte, Pagano and his group presented their case in the external pavilions for indistrialized building that would allow “a house for everyone”.
The young architects were conscious that the important large commissions were going to architects of the regime, they focussed on minor themes, often ephemeral in duration.
These activities, important in the way they helped to communicate new issues, were the focal point of intense personal research.
Collaboration was a frequent condition for young architects. Franco Albini gave his full commitment to significant projects and presentations (Milano Verde, 1938, in collaboration with Camus, Mazzoleni, Pagano, Palanti; Mostra dell’abitazione, at the VI Triennale, 1936, with Camus, Clausetti, Gardella, Minoletti, Mazzoleni, Mucchi, Palanti, Romano).
But he most freely developed his own poetics when he collaborated in small groups (the Mostra dell’Oreficeria at the VI Triennale, 1936, with Giovanni Romano) and especially when he was able to work alone.
Comparing the famous setting of “Albini Room for a Man” at the Triennale of 1936 suggested the possibility of a common convergence towards an interpretation of classic surrealist and self-referential rationalist theme of living in the home.
At the 1936 Milan Triennale, Franco Albini presented progressive designs for a rational layout for small rooms, called “stanza per un uomo” (one-man room).
Albini designed a tiny room, in which each element fulfilled one or more functions: a tabletop is integrated in a shelving system, the ladder leading up to the loft bed also functions as a clothes stand, and the bed itself is a partition for the room
In these interior architecture matures the dual character of Albini‘s research dedicated to the composition of “atmospheric space”, i.e. built spaces “with air and with light”.
The temporary installations and furniture made by Albini in the Decade 1930-40, on the one hand starts a series experiments on serial production, on the other give rise to extraordinary inventions in which architectural elements (such as “staircases suspended”, uprights, perforated ceilings etc.) defines the formation of a “real-world” environment.
In the exhibition of Antique Jewelry at the 6th Milan Triennale in ’36, they already a summed the more customary features of Albini’s idiom, with the addition of horizontal rods to bear a suite of lamps,
Franco Albini turned his attention to many fronts.
First, there was his respect for the “mie of art.” The analysis of the intrinsic reasons and conditions of the theme, of the technical possibilities of realization, could enrich one’s sense of invention and poetics but, at the same time, could be arbitrary obstacles.
He believed in studying models of central European Rationalism that proposed exemplary contemporary solutions in modem terms and in reflecting upon works from ali eras, realized by others, in order to grasp the value and the interactions of proportions, measures, volumes, and transparencies, and to understand the substance of the architectural language in question.
His penetration of the problem at hand was both profoundly reasoned and original.
In 1938, he came up with the unusual solution of a completely exposed radio receiver ( securit) , mounted within a supporting system of glass panes . The object was unique in comparison to traditional models by reducing support to two simple slabs of glass and allowing a view of the circuits of the machinery.
His sensitive solutions were always rigorously verifiable, subject to tests of feasibility and usability.
The war years, from 1940 to 1945, brought the fall of Fascism and the events of the Resistance.
Persico died; Giolli died in a German concentration camp; Pagano, a veteran of the Albanian campaign, was active in the Resistance and was hidden in Albini’s house, but he too later died in a German concentration camp.
Camus left the studio and collaborated with the Germans; Palanti, earlier active on the left, moved permanente to Sao Paolo, Brazil.
It was a time for doubt and reflection. While there was interest in looking to one’s own roots for ideas to enrich the language of the Modem Movement, there was also an awareness that the themes to be faced and the trials to be overcome were major in scale and rthat the structures, tools, and methods available were inadequate.
New dialogues emerged with the young Giancarlo De Carlo and the dynamic Giuseppe Samonà.
Albini, silent but always attentively involved, if detached, acquired a clearer knowledge of social and politicai values and, at the same time, became very interested in looking back at vernacular architecture.
Even before the war, Pagano had begun a study of “rural architecture,” one of the first investigations into the values of vernacular architecture tied to primary functions.
Along these lines Albini a mountain climber and expert on the Alps built the “Casadei Ragazzi” in Cervinia for his friend Pirovano.
He turned to certain typological elements and construction methods typical of shepherds’ huts in the Alps and in the summer pastures of the Valle d’Aosta.
Polemics and criticism of Albini‘s project immediately ensued: was it a revival ? A folkloric renewal ? Where were the sacred principles of functionality and rationality ?
During the same period, Albini approached an urban pian for Reggio Emilia (carried out in collaboration with Enea Manfredini, Luisa Castiglioni, and Giancarlo De Carlo) with a desire to find a complete and complex analytical method, capable of supporting decisions interrelated to many problems, not only spatial ones.
The creation of prewar working class quarters and urban plans, such as the one for the San Siro quarter of Milan or the one for Milano Verde, addressed simple sets of problems. They provided partial solutions, important in the way they broke with then current formalizations and in the attention they gave to issues of daylight ex-posure and distribution, but they were schematic in their approach.
The Reggio Emilia plan required a somewhat broader approach. Albini wanted to seek out certainties upon which he could base decisions and designs. The study for this plan is one of the first in Italy that focused on the actual state and complex analyses of social problems and issues of development.
In 1938, the magazine’s name was changed to «Casabella Costruzioni», and in 1940, the two words were inverted to «Costruzioni-Casabella».
In December 1943, the magazine was suspended by the Italian ministry of popular culture.
In 1945, the publisher Gianni Mazzocchi restructured the magazine, confiding it to Franco Albini and Giancarlo Palanti. Albini became a writer and editor, from 1945 to 1946 for Casabella.
During 1946, three issues of «Costruzioni» were published, including a monographic issue about Giuseppe Pagano.
The magazine was further suspended from 1947 to 1953.
The two decades following WWII were Albini’s most successful and productive years.
Coinciding with the reintroduction of democracy and Italy’s unprecedented industrial renaissance (the “Italian Miracle”), this second half of the architect’s career was notable for many collaborations with manufacturers including Cassina, Knoll, Bonacina, Arteluce and Arflex.
While innovation and functionalism were still defining criteria, the strict rationalist agenda of his earlier work was relaxed and integrated with a more organic aesthetic that embraced the new legitimacy of traditional vernacular materials.
Franco Albini promoted his own neo rationalist ideology with the purpose of creating a new style of modernity also by deploying his capabilities in the editorial field. He explored the heart of European modern architecture.
Albini’s urban planning work continued in Genoa, with a study of some important detailed plans. He developed working relationships and collaborations with old friends Giovanni Romano, Ignazio Gardella and with Genovese architects and enlightened public servants and administrators from the municipality of Genoa.
It was a period of new hope and enthusiasm. Indeed, it was in Genoa that Albini’s work achieved its highest degree of fulfillment.
Genoa is a fascinating but difficult city, full of contradictions, rich in “monuments,” in highly suggestive architectural solutions, with an urban fabric that is very distinctive but in a state of decay. During the 1950s the city officials and administrators included numerous open minded figures who had foresight and the ability to see projects through to completion.
Under the aegis of mayors Adamoli and Pertusio and ConsiglierDoria, Genoa called upon various architects from the Milan school to collaborate with local professionals and with the municipal technical offices.
Caterina Marcenaro (director of the Division of Fine Arts and History of the Municipality of Genoa from 1949 to 1971) proposed the renovation of the city’s museums, and she entrusted the Chiossone Museum to Mario Labò, Columbus’ house to Ignazio Gardella, and the Palazzo Bianco Museum ( and later the Museum Rosso also ) to Franco Albini.
Working with Caterina Marcenaro, a woman of exceptional sensitivity, tenacity, and rigor, was often difficult on account of the severity of the demands she imposed, but Albini’s working methodology was characterized by a desire to understand to the greatest degree possible the problems at stake, delving into them thoroughly.
He responded to her insightful criticisms, strengthening his work with new images and new suggestions.
It is worth noting that in all his museum projects Albini concerned himself above all with how to display the exhibited work to best advantage, without ever expressing a judgment about the work itself.
Palazzo Bianco (1949-51)
Albini would say … “There are no ugly objects, one only has to display them well.”
It was not an ambivalent position, but it was his committed way of conveying his specific role, his professionalism.
It was not in his nature to become enraptured before a piece or to assume a criticai stance; rather it was his role to make available his technical expertise and his abilities to understand the problem and to best resolve it.
The Palazzo Bianco was important both for the rigor of the museum design and for the flexible interpretation of the collections to be exhibited, for the building’s role as a historic container, and for its surrounding environment.
While Albini’s interventions were always measured and ratìonal, he succeeded in creating a particular “atmosphere.”
Objects were exhibited to be best appreciated by the public, but the space, even if basic, had an emotional charge that heightened one’s perception of the values of the materials exhibited
In addition, Albini designed the Treasury Museum (a hypogeum in the courtyard of the archbishop’s palace, adjacent to the cathedral), and the Palazzo Rosso, on the via Garibaldi.
Palazzo Rosso (1952-62)
Museo del Tesoro di San Lorenzo in Genoa (1952-56)
Marco Albini discussing Franco in Genoa
The museums of Albini are amongst the highest examples of post-war Italian museography – they innovated exhibition techniques and equipment pursuing an educational Museum concept, but at the same time integrating ancient and modern, by advancing themselves “artwork in itself”.
This new interest in vernacular architecture, promoted by the 1951 Triennale exhibition organized by Albini with Samonà and De Carlo, clarified the causes and the significance of this renewal.
The architects involved sought to insert their work within an ancient environment, clearly according to modem necessities but with great delicacy, without disturbing the older fabric with grand structures in reinforced concrete.
Albini’s Casa dei Ragazzi became an important point of reference
His interest in teaching was quite strong during the early years of his professional practice, but the political conditions and the hegemony of the academic establishment excluded figures like Albini, who were open minded and basically skeptical.
Only with the “opening” of the postwar period did Albini begin to teach, first, briefly, a course in “interior design” at the Polytechnic Institute in Turin, and then, more appropriately, in that extraordinary complex, the University Institute of Architecture in Venice, which, under the direction of Giuseppe Samonà, had assumed a leading role among architecture schools in Italy.
From 1950 to 1954 he was the Professor at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia – he taught architectural composition and interior architecture
Albini‘s commitment was intense, concentrated, tenacious, even relentless.
This fundamental character informed his teaching, both at the university level and in the establishment of his own practice.
His was a linear but rigorous and constant method, which demanded that every problem be faced without preconceptions and analyzed in depth and objectively.
The parameters to which he referred were considered in their complexity and interrelationships; the method of analysis was approached with rigid logic and a sense of experimentation, especially in terms of the drawing, which is the specific tool for making architecture.
Initially the drawing expressed the first glimmer of an idea. Bit by bit the idea was clarified, defined, and refined through the drawing.
It did not matter if one didn’t draw well; what counted was that the drawing was clear and useful for the development of the architectural idea, that it could be used with fluency, in various techniques, at various scales.
The drawing was not an end in itself but was intended to serve a function as the drawing of an architect, not of an illustrator or a painter.
The drawing would vary, whetherit was to communicate an idea or to specify the construction issues at hand. It was used to specify the idea itself, to communicate to others the intentions of the project, to control formal aspects, and to ensure the project’s feasibility. A drawing, even a first sketch, had to be in scale; if it was not, even if it were a beautiful drawing, it failed to fulfill the requirements of making architecture.
Dimension is the basis of form, and the architect’s drawing must bear this in mind.
As soon as the idea had to take shape and become something realizable, concerns for method and possible alternative means of execution guided the design process.
Along with the sheet containing the general design, numerous little sketches were produced for a joint, for a structural system, for openings, for door or window frame juncture to verify “How will this be built?” as well as innumerable orthogonal, axonometric, and perspective sketches to verify “How will this be seen?”
This continual concrete and pragmatic commitment was part of Franco Albini‘s way of looking at things made by others, whether ancient or contemporary.
Both the whole and the detail were invested with his lively and constant curiosity in knowing how things were done, in understanding why, in evaluating the effect, and in understanding the elements that these effects generated.
He had profound admiration for work well done, for the correct solution, and for work brought to resolution. The memory of things he had seen became part of his intellectual resources as an architect.
His attention to objects, to projects, to methods of execution, and to tools was in no way speculative or abstract, but was rather the attention of a craftsman who showed a broad interest in the everyday problems his work continually posed.
He wanted to demonstrate ali of this to his students, and he did convey these ideas to those who worked with him in his studio. At the same time, he became interested in the paradox of proposing solutions that were so unusual they would both renew interest in and be respectful of “tradition.”
As it was earlier for Giuseppe Pagano, tradition was charged for Franco Albini with values to be recaptured and handed down.
The construction skills of the past; the wisdom and balance of the solutions of vernacular architecture; the complex values of spaces and their geometry, linked in their modifications to the unfolding of history, of custom, of technological possibilities; the performance of materials over time; the expression and the creativity of successive cultures; the semantic value of determining elements all of this is tradition, and all of this must be present in the consciousness of a modem architect.
This is a modem architect who will work in modem terms, according to the methods and the language of his time, without betraying the society in which he is a participant and a representative, always aware of the most complex contemporary examples, but mindful of the innumerable messages that tradition contains and watchful that the “rule of art,” heeded as law in the old traditions, is respected in contemporary works.
In the 1954-1955 academic year is full professor at the Faculty of architecture in Turin, then full professor in Venice
With continual, tireless rigor he put together a school. In the midst of all the new academic movements, for the most part revivalist, amid the confusion of languages, Albini and his studio and school continued to be not only rational, but also reasonable.
The tie with the Modern Movement is a conceptual one, but it functions to overcome schematicisms and to elaborate upon language while renewing it.
Albini put together was not a movement, but a school, founded on principles, criteria, and rich but not arbitrary methods.
Between 1950 and 1970 Albini’s professional commitments grew.
The most ambitious themes and most of his collaborative projects led to new solutions. One element that was often present was the integration between traditional values and new technological research.
In 1950 Albini designed the famous and fashionable “Margherita” and “Gala” chairs, made of woven cane.
Since 1950 Franca Helg was a continual participant in the work of the studio, which was later to become Albini & Associates
Franca always worked with Franco Albini; they were a professional close-knit couple, difficult to break down, so that we can not read each other’s contamination with absolute certainty.
She was later joined by Antonio Piva and his son, Marco. Giuseppe Rizzo, Luigi Mereghetti, and Ambrogio Giani who have worked in the office for more than thirty years, and their contributions, guided by Albini’s example, have always been of the highest quality.
It is more an Association than an Office, interwoven with esteem and reciprocal affection.
Clients change, the size of projects grow, but the work always is marked by a respectful continuity with the prior twenty years of Franco Albini‘s solo professional life.
The Rinascente department store in Piazza Fiume in Rome, utilized channeling of services to punctuate and characterize the volume (prescribed by the pre existing plan), was an investigation into new construction techniques.
The prefabricated exterior wall is mounted on site, like a curtain wall, but it is by no means rigid, mechanical, or colorless, like the curtain walls in most modern commercial buildings.
The Milan.Metro project is rich in implications.
It was not only a question of turning casual, non organized spaces into homogeneous ones, analogous in their distributive qualities and in their image; this underground project that energizes the urban fabric also had to be a sign that invested the entire city.
It had to be created with particular means: on the one hand, it needed to have the robustness of railroad installations, on the other, the constructive independence of a concrete shell “finish.”
In 1958 he designed the Albini Desk for Knoll – a classic modern design which was called by some a “floating drawer and desk” mainly due to the fact that the drawer is perched on one center bar underneath the desk.
Mr Albini was actually one of the first European designers to be commissioned by Knoll to design something for them, quite ground breaking at the time considering most of the mass produced items were coming from American individuals.
The intention of this desk was to make something that was inexpensive and that was produced from raw industrial type materials so it would stand the test of time, they also needed to be easy to source since materials were scarce after World Ward II.
From 1964, he was a full Professor of architectural composition at the Milan Polytechnic.
After President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, his family and friends discussed how to construct a library that would serve as a fitting memorial.
A committee was formed to advise Kennedy’s widow Jacqueline, who would make the final decision.
The group deliberated for months, and visited with architects from around the world including Pietro Belluschi and others from the US, Lucio Costa from Brazil, and Italy’s Franco Albini.
Mrs. Kennedy and others met with the candidates together at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis, Massachusetts, and visited several in their offices.
The committee also conducted a secretive process whereby the architects voted anonymously for the most capable of their colleagues.
The third SNAM office building in San Donato, Milan where services are placed at the very end of the building, giving a distinctive cast to the volume as well as being extremely efficient.
The investigation of new materials was accompanied by a research into new forms, strictly interrelated with the necessities of function.
Along with the important commissions, there were many other ventures buildings of various sizes, exhibition and trade show installations, design projects.
Whatever the requirements, each one was approached through the most appropriate means, without making allowances for the minor scope of a job, and always enriching the environment.
He died in Milan on November 1, 1977.
Certain ventures that he had begun, such as the designs and built projects in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and the Sant’Agostino Museum in Genoa, were continued and brought to conclusion by his colleagues.
Other projects undertaken by Albini Associates , after his death include – the M.M. station in Molino Dorino, the AGIP branch headquarters in Ortona, restorations and renovations of monumentai buildings in Genoa and Milan, temporary exhibitions such as the Pitocchetto and Moretto shows at Santa Giulia in Brescia, and permanent installations, like the Marino Marini Museum in the Villa Reale, Milan were designed and carried out by his studio, which continues as a close knit unit in the school of Franco Albini.
In 1940, Franco Albini (1905-1977) designed the Veliero bookcase for his home in Via De Togni, Milan.
With two brass-tipped masts of tapering wood that rest on one point, and with shelves that float under hangers of thin steel rods, it seemed to defy gravity.
In July 1941, the Veliero appeared on the front cover of Domus, celebrated as a feat of experimental engineering, and it went on to influence the Skylon and Millennium Dome. But it was never put into production and the prototype was seen only by visitors to Albini’s house.
It used to act as a room divider between the dining and living spaces in the family apartment but after 15 years it collapsed.
Its remains were consigned to the basement and Marco Albini describes it as a “ghost piece” because, though it was mentioned in all books on Italian design, it had effectively ceased to exist.
In 2007, the architect Renzo Piano, who was Albini’s apprentice in the early 1960s, rebuilt the Veliero (which translates as Sailboat) for his retrospective of Albini’s work, Zero Gravity, at Milan’s Triennale museum.
That recreation was also unstable. When loaded with 200kg of books, the wooden base bent up at the edges, pulled by the taut guy ropes, and the glass shelves bent and broke, crashing through the ones below.
Cassina commissioned civil and nautical engineers to help solve the bookcase’s structural problems. To give it rigidity they’ve added an 80kg metal plinth, hidden beneath the ash wood base, and the shelves are now made of the safety glass used in windscreens.
The bookshelf – included in the Franco Albini I Maestri Collection alongside six other pieces by the designer (including another bookcase from the 1950s with adjustable uprights that can be firmly fixed between the floor and ceiling) – can now take up to 600kg.
Nevertheless, Albini intended the double-sided bookcase to act as a porous room divider and advises that it should not be overloaded.
He compares the bookcase to his father’s famous glass radio, which had a transparent case that showed off its technical workings, and his glass-topped desk through which you could see the steel supports.
“The philosophy of transparency, of lightness, was an important element,” he says. “It should not block like a wall. It should not be full of books which would close it.
Opened at the Milan Polytechnic in April 2005
The exhibition features select work from 1930 to 1977 by Albini and his collaborators and surveys their “neo-rationalist” alternative to high modernism.
Though Albini first came to international attention for his furniture design, by the 1950’s he had produced some of Italy‘s most influential works of architecture.
The sensitivity to context, materiality and history of these buildings transformed the very idea of modernism and helped set the stage for a more complex reckoning with modernity throughout Europe.
About Franca Helg
Franca Helg was born in Milan, February 21, 1920
Graduated from Politecnico di Milano in 1945
Franca Helg was active both in the field of architectural design and the industrial design, with major projects often in collaboration with Franco Albini, who she was associated with professionally since 1951 – until his death in 1977.
She later worked with Marco Albini and Antonio Piva.
After having been Assistant Professor of Architectural composition at the Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia and then at the Politecnico di Milano, she was a lecturer from 1967 to 1984.
Among her works, La Rinascente in Rome, Salsomaggiore Terme Luigi Zoja, the Museo degli Eremitani in Padua.
Franca Helg died June 4, 1989.
The Franco Albini Foundation is now aligned with 2 other great Foundations in Milan – the Vico Magistretti Foundation and the Studio Museo Achille Castiglioni.
They are together working on creating a consortium of foundations of the 20th century Italian architects who created the so-called Milan School.
We would like to join forces, as well as archives, with Ponti, Zanuso, Gardella, Aldo Rossi Foundations etc – to carry out joint projects and promote our heritage, for the benefit of everyone.
Franco Albini had natural gifts of fantasy. The invention of new forms, the control of proportions, the richness of composition these came easily to him.
His work, however, was not facile; thoughtful deliberation went into every project.
Albini used to say “ that an entire life was needed to design a chair“.
For example, the “Luisa” model, which first came out in 1949, reached its definitive solution in a version produced by Poggi in 1955.
His innate shyness and reserve could perhaps be daunting to those who did not trouble to examine and follow his work in depth.
Albini did not let himself get carried away by his own optimistic nature, but sought to delve thoroughly into every idea, analyzing its motives, verifying its validity, foreseeing its consequences. At the same time, he attempted to endow each project with the greatest possible individuality, enhancing the dominant formal and constructive idea.
What was difficult was the fact that choosing a particular design path meant rejecting all others; it required an effort of continual restraint, Constant self control.
john, what a wonderful presentation of albinis work! thank you guys!