Franco Albini and the design of the ephemeral (1936-1958): archival sources as traces of the evolution of a method

This paper refers to two research studies, based on primary archival resources, developed through the study of the materials collected by the Fondazione Franco Albini, an institution that considers one of its primary goals to be the enhancement of its extensive archival heritage dedicated to the work of one of the most important Italian architects of the twentieth century.
The first concerns the author’s work on the project for a “Virtual Museum” of Franco Albini’s exhibition designs. A research study that became the opportunity for an in-depth examination and discovery of previously unpublished works by Albini, in which the author brought together all the drawings up to a scale of 1:1, including project reports, photos and available documents, in an attempt to restore the memory of his exhibition designs, lost by virtue of their ephemeral nature. The second research study, still underway, unveils a folder from the archives titled “Furniture Prospects”, which casts light on a previously undisclosed story. Developed during the war years, it constitutes a precious collection of objects and furniture designed by Albini, confirming this as a decisive and prolific period in his career. These two sources reinforce the thesis that views the Thirties and Forties as a time of fertile experimentation, and a founding basis for his major architectural works and industrially-produced furniture of the postwar years.

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Franco Albini and the “Gommapiuma” Pirelli. For an history of natural rubber foam in Italy (1933-1951)

The history of design for comfort, in particular for seats padding and springing, has its first milestone in the well-known Siegfried Giedion’s Mechanization takes Command book of the 1948. Unfortunately a piece of this history, mostly forgotten, doesn’t appear in this publication, and it regards the industrial program adopted by Pirelli, between 1933 and 1940, for the application of the so called “Gommapiuma Pirelli” in the field of home upholstery. In particular, a programmatic “twist” emerges in this micro-story between one group of Milanese rationalist architects and Pirelli company industrial support. Focal point of this investigation is a little book written and edited by Franco Albini titled La Gommapiuma Pirelli alla VI Triennale, exactly dedicated to the different applications of foam rubber in as much types of seats designed by Albini, Bottoni, Minoletti, Pont, adopted in different exhibitions of the VI Triennale of Milan in 1936. A history that, as written by Albini in his text: “il gusto moderno trova nel materiale il mezzo per raggiungere forme nuove e caratteristiche”. However a story that, maybe for the historical period when it happened, fall in a foggy oblivion just after the World War II, so that during the first 50s there was the conviction that rubber foam and a new type of springs called “nastrocord” (1948 patent), for the first time used together, were the starting point of the modern upholstery furniture.


A museum for Industrial Design in Milano, 1949-64

At the end of the 1940s, the debate surrounding the need for an industrial design museum re-emerged. This study reconstructs three projects developed for the city of Milan between 1947 and 1964 in three different locations: a Museum of Architecture and Decorative and Modern Industrial Arts or Modern Museum for the Applied Arts at the Palazzo dell’Arte, a section or permanent exhibition at the Museum of Science and Technology, an International Museum of Modern Architecture and Industrial Design at QT8. It highlights, on the one hand, the urgency of the question – which led to the development of specific museological concepts for industrial design by supporters such as Gio Ponti or Alberto Rosselli – and on the other hand, considering that nothing came of it, the difficulties connected to the ways in which design began to spread throughout Italy in the twenty years that followed World War II.