10 November 2017

Franco Albini
Milan’s design culture: life stories as told by the Franco Albini Foundation
The thought
The search for an order

“It is through our works rather than through ourselves that we spread our ideas”

His work was informed by a critical awareness that demanded tight control of the design process and an interpretative poetic lightness that generated new and surprising results.

Franco Albini believed in researching “method”: he thought that the imagination had to be kept in check in order to discern “the meaning of things”, the “soul of objects”. This could only be achieved through the self-discipline that characterised the way in which he operated, which consisted of taking objects – and architecture – to pieces and then putting them back together again.

Lead and Zinc Room for Montecatini, La Campionaria Fair, Milan, 1941

Olivetti Store, Paris, 1959

His projects were always underpinned by the search for an order, a method that discounted the arbitrariness of fantasy, and always by the succinctness that engendered a spirit of poetic lightness, a challenge to the laws of gravity.

His quest for the nub of things, achieved by gradually subtracting the superfluous, of reducing things to the bare essential until the “nothingness” described by Persico was reached, in which everything levitates, nothing touches the ground. This was the case with the temporary displays at the Triennale and the Fiera di Milano during the Thirties, in Olivetti’s Paris shop during the Sixties, the Marcenaro house in Genoa, and Villa Formiggini in Varese. It was also thus for his design objects, pushed to the limits of sustainability.

Casa Marcenaro, Genova, 1954

Casa Marcenaro, Genova, 1954

Franco Albini never gave proper “lessons”, rather guidance and encouragement to observe the world, taking in the details, colours and shadows of the things that surround us.

His teaching essentially consisted of a school of life, its content laid down gradually without one being aware of it, steadily taking root, as his pupil Renzo Piano and his son Marco Albini said.

Albini’s tuition consisted of silences, most of which were due to “nursing”, or rather mulling over projects on which he was currently working and which he kept going over in his mind while engaged on other things, in line with Franca Helg’s principle of “holding a project in one’s lap, the way one does a child”.

Exhibition on Ancient Italian Goldworking, VI Triennale di Milano, 1936

Scipione Exhibition, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, 1941

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