Gae Aulenti produces another runaway success when she combines three kinds of glass, each made from a different production, craft or industrial process.
Blown opal glass is used for the directional shade; the stem is in transparent industrial borosilicate glass, particularly resistant to impact; the base is in bevelled industrial glass.
Parola is still considered a textbook example of how craftsmanship can fit into an industrial scenario, as well as being a flagship for FontanaArte’s glass manufacturing status.
Table and floor versions were created in 1980, and a year later a wall-mounted model was installed as lighting for Palazzo Grassi in Venice.
Gae Aulenti (1927-2012) was an Italian architect and a prolific designer of furniture, lighting and theatre sets. Aulenti was one of the few women working in architecture and design in postwar Italy and her talents found a vast range of outlets, from showrooms for Fiat and Olivetti to sets for La Scala, the opera house in Milan, to private villas for the rich. But it is for her work in museums and exhibition design that she was best known - and for her largest project, which also proved to be her most divisive.
She was chosen in 1981 to convert the Beaux Arts-style Gare d'Orsay railway station in Paris into a new home for impressionist art. Her proposal transformed the cavernous central hall, a magnificent barrel-vaulted train shed lit by arching roof lights, into an open exhibition space, with the insertion of modern industrial materials. Original cast-iron beams and plaster rosettes were contrasted with wire mesh partitions and new rough stone walls, on which the collection, of mainly French art from 1848 to 1915, was daringly hung.
Her defiant disposition was evident from the beginning. Born in the town of Palazzolo dello Stella, near Trieste, Gaetana Aulenti decided to study architecture as a form of rebellion against her parents' desires for her to become "a nice society girl". On graduating from Milan Polytechnic in 1954 (as one of only two women in a class of 20), she joined Casabella magazine and quickly became part of the "Neo Liberty" movement. Reacting against the dominance of modernism and the monotonous legacy of the Bauhaus, it argued for a revival of local building traditions and individual expression - something that Aulenti pursued in all aspects of her life, as a fierce opponent of fashion.
Throughout the 60s and 70s, Aulenti produced furniture for Milan's major design houses.
In the early 80s she was the artistic director at FontanaArte, creating timeless lamps and furnishing elements for the company that are still in the catalogue. One of her most famous pieces, a coffee table in the form of a thick square of glass supported on four black casters, is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The houses she went on to design in the 70s and 80s shared a similarly postmodern sensibility. With echoes of buttresses and primal pitched-roof forms, they reveal a taste for references to pre-classical architecture and a sense of elementary construction. In many ways they are a strong reflection of her character, described by the Italian writer Alberto Arbasino as "a cross between bucolic charm and the solid mentality of an engineer".
Such a combination was perhaps a necessary weapon in such a male-dominated profession. Aulenti said she managed to get her way with tough construction crews by making them think of her as their mother "whom they must please", and she had an equally commanding approach to working with existing buildings by revered architects.
Aulenti enjoyed what she called the "double ambiguity" of working in existing contexts, juxtaposing elements of the past with the present. As well as the Musée d'Orsay and the Palazzo Grassi, she designed the permanent collection galleries of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, the Palacio Nacional in Barcelona and, most recently, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
"There are plenty of other talented female architects, but most of them seem to link up with men," said Aulenti, who divorced twice. "I've always worked for myself, and it's been quite an education. Women in architecture must not think of themselves as a minority, because the minute you do, you become paralysed. It is most important to never create the problem." During her lifetime she received many prizes and awards, including: "Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur" (Paris), Honorary Member of the American Institute of Architects; Praemium Imperiale for Architecture (Tokyo), "Knight Grand Cross" of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (Rome), honorary degree in the Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, USA). Source: The Guardian
In 1881, Luigi Fontana starts his business in Milan, manufacturing float glass for the construction industry. As the century draws to a close, the company is producing refined bespoke and one-off glass furnishing accessories.
In 1931 the architect, designer and founding editor of Domus magazine, Gio Ponti is invited to take over the company’s art direction. Several of the pieces he designs for FontanaArte are still in production, including the 0024 Suspension, Bilia, Pirellina, and Pirellone lamps, and the Tavolino 1932 coffee table.
In the mid-thirties, Gio Ponti decides it’s time to give a boost to Luigi Fontana’s line of prestigious furnishing accessories and invites Pietro Chiesa to join him in the art direction.
Chiesa is a distinguished master glazier who enlists the craftsmen from his own workshop to join him.
It is a short leap to the launch of FontanaArte, a new division with a mission to develop products with a more artisanal feel, ranging from stained glass to limited series of furnishing and lighting accessories.
As the years roll by, Pietro Chiesa plays a key role in the company as his creative verve offers ample proof that he is a versatile master of vast cultural and technical expertise. He designs over a thousand different pieces, some of which make design history and which remain in production today, including the 1932 curved-glass Fontana table, the Cartoccio vase (1932), and the Luminator floor lamp (1933).
In the mid-Fifties French master glazier and decorator Max Ingrand, renowned for his stunning stained-glass church windows, is invited to the art direction team. He takes the company towards more intensely industrial production but always keeping the craftsmen in his sights.
In the seventies, Architect Gae Aulenti, who had already worked with the company in the past, becomes another leading light in the corporate renewal process.
Her first move was to makeover the collection, personally designing lamps and furnishing accessories that are still in the catalogue. At the same time she recruited a team of young contributors, validating the corporate mission to scout talent and acknowledging the importance of various strategic communication levers.
FontanaArte’s legendary success is forever linked to Ponti, Chiesa, Ingrand and Aulenti, but also to its reliance on prestigious partnerships, initiating in winning alliances with internationally renowned architects or emerging young talents who all have contributed to what is a phantasmagorical collection in many ways: lighting with personality inspired by established styling.
Base in transparent glass, stem in borosilicate glass, diffuser in opaline blown glass
Diameter 20cm, height 53cm
Braided black and white cord
1 × 6W E14 LED
Made in Italy
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