Architect, designer and theoretician Gae Aulenti (1927-2012) died late Wednesday night in her Milan home at the age of 84. The Palazzolo della Stella native will always be remembered as being one of the few well recognized women that worked in Italian postwar design. Throughout her career, Aulenti’s multi-faceted talent contributed greatly to the evolution of art, architecture and design.
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Upon graduating from the Milan Polytechnic School of Architecture in 1954, Aulenti established a private practice in Milan where she quickly made a name for herself with a broad spectrum of contemporary work that ranged from architecture to industrial design. For nearly a decade, Aulenti worked as a graphic designer and as part of the editorial staff of the influential design magazine Casabella. She also served on the directorial board of the later Lotus International magazine. During the early 1960s, she began to involve herself in a number of diverse projects throughout Italy while simultaneously emerging as a teacher and lecturer.
Like many of her contemporaries, Aulenti designed series of furniture throughout the 1960s for the department store, La Rinascente. Two of her best known pieces were the 1964 “April” folding chair, which was stainless steel with a removable cover, and her 1984 plate-glass “Sanmarco” table.
Aulenti’s architecture was often supplemented by her keen theoretical studies of the work. However, as described by R Gallery, “she maintained a modest and very personal view of the elements of home design, believing that the inhabitant makes the space”. In an 1970′s interview with Vogue her “advice to whoever asks me how to make a home is to not have anything, just a few shelves for books, some pillows to sit on. And then, to take a stand against the ephemeral, against passing trends…and to return to lasting values.”
Aulenti is well-known for several large-scale museum projects in the 1980s. Most notably, she was named Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur by the French government for her highly acclaimed transformation of a former train station into the Musée d’Orsay in Paris (1980-86). She also designed the Contemporary Art Gallery at the Centre Pompidou in Paris (1982-85), the Palazzo Grassi in Venice (1985-86) and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (2000-2003).