Gae Aulenti born in 4 December 1927, was a prolific Italian architect whose work ranges from industrial and exhibition design, to furniture, graphics, stage design, lighting and even interior design.
She was well known for several large-scale museum projects, including the Musée d´Órsey in Paris in 1980, the Contemporary Art Gallery at the Centre Pompidou also in Paris, the restoration of Palazzo Grassi in Venice, and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
Aulenti was one of the few women designing in the post-war period in Italy, where Italian designers sought to make meaningful connections to production principles beyond Italy. This avant-garde design movement blossomed into an entirely new type of Italian architecture, one full of imaginary utopias leaving standardization to the past.
Aulenti’s deep involvement in the Milan design scene of the 1950s and 1960s formed her into an architect respected for her analytical abilities to navigate metropolitan complexity in every medium. Her defiant disposition was evident from the beginning when she 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.
Her distinctive outlook soon found favour among the leading patrons of the time. She caught the attention of Gianni Agnelli, chairman of the Fiat empire, for which she designed showrooms in Turin, Zurich and Brussels – dynamic compositions of contorted routes criss-crossing between cars raised on inclined platforms. Agnelli became a close friend and later commissioned her to renovate the Palazzo Grassi in Venice as an exhibition space, and to build a ski lodge in St Moritz.
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 and also designed sets for RAI, Teatro la Scala in Milan, and Odéon-Comédie Française in Paris and worked with Luca Ronconi at the theatre design workshop in Prato (1976-1979).
Aulenti has taught at IUAV in Venice and at Politecnico di Milano. The many awards she has won include a Legion of Honour in France (1987) and the Praemium Imperiale in Japan (1991).