Franco Albini, 1905-1977

Franco Albini was born in Robbiate in 1905 and after his childhood and part of his youth, he moved to Milan.

He graduated at Politecnico of Milan, Faculty of Architecture, in 1929, and He collaborated for 3 years in Giò Ponti and Emilio Lancia’s office. He probably had his international contacts here; at The International Exposition of 1929 in Barcelona (where Giò Ponti takes care of the Italian Pavilion and Mies van der Rohe the german one) and in Paris, wherehe visited le Corbusier’s office, as Franca Helg used to tell.

Throughout these first 3 years, his works were undoubtedly related to XIXth Century. His meeting with Edoardo Persico marks a clear turnover towards rationalism and the group of writers for “Casabella” magazine. Persico’s quite sharp and ironical comments to some Albini’s drawings for office furniture, caused him a deep upsetting. “I spent days of real anxiety – tells Albini – I had to give an answer to all questions. I had a long fever”.

The new phase that meeting provoked begins with the opening of his own first office at Via Panizza with Renato Camus and Giancarlo Palanti. The group of Architects starts taking care of social housing, participating the competition for Baracca neighborhood in 1932 and then realizing Ifacp neighborhood: Fabio Filzi (1936/38), Gabriele D’Annunzio and Ettore Ponti (1939).

During those years, He also worked for his first private villa (Pestarini), that Giuseppe Pagano, architect and critic, presents this way: “This coherence – that someone calls intolerance, and it is the base of agreement between art’s fantasy and profession’s practicalness, instead – in Franco Albini is so deep-rooted to turn theory into moral attitude”.

It is mostly in the context of exhibitions that the Italian architect experiments the compromise between rigour and poetic fantasy, that Pagano was talking about; He conceived all the elements that would become recurrent in all types of his work – Architecture, Interiors, Design. The 1933 opening of new Triennale of Milano, in Palazzo dell’Arte, becomes an occasion to express the highly innovative character of rationalist thinking, a place where to experiment new materials and solutions, but most of all a “method”.

Art of exhibiting was cultivated by young rationalist architects as a communication lab, an open field to space solutions.

For the Vth Triennale, Albini, with Giancarlo Palanti, sets the steel structure house (with R. Camus, G. Mazzoleni, G. Minoletti and coordination by G. Pagano), designing also its furniture. For the next Triennale in 1936, marked by Persico’s early death, Franco Albini, together with a group of young architects around Pagano, takes care of the exhibition of Dwelling, where he presented 3 types of lodgings. The staging of “Room for a man”, at that same Triennale, allows us to understand Albini’s ironical and sharp approach, as a man and designer: it was about existenzminimum and the project’s reference was to Fascism’s myth of athletic man, but it was also an occasion to think of low cost housing, surface reduction to minimum and respect for the way of living.

In the same year Albini and Romano design the exhibition for the Ancient Italian jewellery: vertical uprights, simple linear poles design space. This element is recurring in other works, like Scipione exhibition (1941), Vanzetti stand (1942) and Olivetti shop in Paris (1956). The architectural space is readable through a grid, introducing a third dimension, the vertical one, with a sense of lightness and transparency.
Upright is also used in design objects, such as Veliero bookcase in 1940 and LB7 bookcase, produced by Poggi in the Fifties.

As an evolution of the vertical upright, disassembling and reassembling of architectural parts, and use of module represent the elements of a method that tends to simplify complex things to essential nucleus.
Franco Albini is a complete designer, whose work includes Architecture, exhibitions, urban planning and object design. Among his masterpieces, are museums in Genova, Pirovano mountain hut in Cervinia, Rinascente in Rome, subway stations in Milan, inspiring the subway lines of S.Paulo do Brasil and New York.

Quiet, rigourous, ironical man, Franco Albini works unceasingly by a moral code that accompanies his works throughout his all career. He firmly believes in the social role of Architect, as a profession at people’service. He considers it the reason itself of his existence.