Italian architect Gae Aulenti died in her Milan home last week at the age of 84 following a long illness. Aulenti’s career was wide-ranging, but she is remembered best for her work on museum interiors.
Born in 1927, in Palazzolo della Stella, near Trieste, Aulenti graduated from the Milan Polytechnic School of Architecture in the ’50s, and was one of just two women in her class. Aulenti’s success as a female designer in postwar Italy is unmatched. As Aulenti told the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera last year, “Architecture is a male profession, but I never took notice of that.”
Early in her career Aulenti worked in both the graphic design and editorial departments at design magazine Casabella, and also designed furniture for La Rinascente, a high-end Italian department store. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, owns one of her pieces, a 1980 glass coffee table on wheels titled Tavolo con Ruote.
In 1981, Aulenti was selected to transform Paris’s 1900 Beaux Arts Gare d’Orsay train station (by architect Victor Laloux) into the Musée d’Orsay. The redone interior opened in 1986, meeting mixed critical reaction, but drawing crowds of visitors to the institution. This success led to further museum commissions, including the Pompidou Center’s National Museum of Modern Art, Paris (1982-85); Venice’s Palazzo Grassi (1985-86); and San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum (2000-03), which Aulenti transformed from the city’s Main Library.
Aulenti received many honors throughout her career, becoming the first woman awarded the Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest honor, in 1987. In 1991, Aulenti won the Praemium Imperiale award for architecture from the Japan Art Association. Most recently, she was honored with a career prize at the Milan Triennale, which she accepted in person on Oct. 16.