Born in 1927 in Udine, Italy, Aulenti studied architecture and graduated from Milan Polytechnic in 1954, initially working for the architecture and design magazine Casabella Continuità from 1955-65 as an art director under influential editor Ernesto Nathan Rogers.
She was one of very few women working in post-war Italian design and became part of a group called ‘Neo Art Nouveau’.
Her Pipistrello light of 1965-66 for Martinelli Luce had an obvious Art Nouveau look but also featured a telescopic shaft so the light could be used as a table or floor lamp.
Aulenti taught architecture at the University of Venice from 1960-62, and at Milan Polytechnic from 1964-67. During this time, she was also designing furniture pieces for Zanotta and the important Milan department store La Rinascente (where Giorgio Armani began his career in fashion as a window dresser).
In 1964 she won first prize at the Milan Triennale for her work in the Italian Pavilion, which, inspired by the paintings of Picasso, used mirrored wall panels decorated with cut-out silhouettes of women.
Throughout the ’60s and ’70s, she designed lighting for Kartell, FontanaArte and Artemide, as well as furniture for Zanotta and showrooms for Fiat and Olivetti. She also started working for Knoll (her contributions continued until 1985) and designed theatre sets.
In 1972, Aulenti created one of the installations for the ‘Italy: The New Domestic Landscape’ exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Typical of her style, it consisted of a divided room punctuated by pyramidal shapes at each corner, designed to emulate buildings in a skyline and to remind the viewer of “the interaction between objects of design and architectural space”.
Aulenti’s product designs favoured pure geometric forms, and most have a sculptural presence that goes beyond the practical.
Her 1967 King Sun table lamp featured nine semicircular transparent fins radiating from a red metal base like a stylised sun.
By way of contrast, her 1964 Locus Solus floor light is a fine bent rod in apple green that looks like a giant plant shoot sprouting up through the floor.
Best known for
Aulenti’s greatest claim to interior fame is her work during the 1980s on the conversion of the disused Gare D’Orsay railway station in Paris into a museum of late 19th-century art – the Musée D’Orsay – for which she received the Légion d’honneur from the French government.
As for Aulenti’s design work, it’s hard to pick a single piece, but 1972’s Mezzo Pileo floor and Pileino table lamps for Artemide are contenders.
Pictured below is Patroclo table light (mouth-blown glass encased in a wire cage) from Artemide
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