Door 6: Gae Aulenti

Photography by © Gorup de Besanez

Some people break barriers, some do it consciously, some a born with that talent. A person, who did so, all her life, but still flew under the radar, was the Italian architect and designer Gae Aulenti.

Interior for the Olivetti showroom in Paris, 1966/67

Born in 1927 in Friuli, Gaetana Aulenti defied conventions from an early age. Her parents wanted her to become a "nice society girl", so she initially studied art, but quickly changed to architecture at the re-known school Polytecnico in Milan, and graduated in 1954 as one of two women in her year.

Gae Aulenti’s 1960s ‘Locus Solus’ stools and table for Poltronova at the set of the film "The Swimming Pool"

After her graduation, she started writing for the magazine Casabella as an art director and also taught at schools like the Venice School of Architecture and Milan School of Architecture at her alma mater. Next to it, she started to work privately as an architect and interior designer for corporate clients like Olivetti or FIAT. She founded her own studio only in 1970.

She also designed stages for theatre and opera. Important to mention is her close collaboration with the director Luca Ronconi. She pointed out that  working for theater helped her understand movement within architecture, which then came in handy for her bigger projects.

Gae Aulenti at the construction site of Musée d'Orsay

The project, she is most famous for, is her repurposing of the former train station Gare d'Orsay into a museum for mainly french Art, now called the Musée d'Orsay. As the exterior remained, she was responsible for designing the interior including the arrangement, decoration, furniture and the fittings of the museum. This led her to make other museums like the museum of Asian art in San Francisco or the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in Barcelona.

Interior of Palazzo Grassi, redesigned by Gae Aulenti

Despite her success, she never employed more than 3 to 4 people, as she wanted to be in control. Her products like the infamous Pipistrello (bat) lamp are still produced today and are on display at museums like Museum of Modern Art in New York. Gae Aulenti died in 2012 aged 84 years old in Milan, leaving behind over 200 completed works.