Gianfranco Frattini (1926–2004) architect, interior and industrial designer, wood technologist
Gianfranco Frattini was born in Padua in 1926. He studied architecture at Milan
Polytechnic (1946-53), and was studio apprentice to his teacher and mentor Giò Ponti (1952-56). Graduating with a degree in architecture in 1953, he opened an architectural practice in Milan, initially with architect-designer Franco Bettonica. Frattini moved into industrial designing in order to create lighting and furniture for his commissioned interiors. Through Ponti he met Cesare Cassina, an important figurehead of Italian design, and began a design collaboration with Cassina’s namesake company. This would be followed by collaborations designing furniture and lighting for some of the world’s most famous manufacturers, including Bernini, Arteluce, Acerbis, Fantoni, Artemide, Luci, Knoll, and Lema. Frattini participated in many design shows and exhibitions, with his projects wining numerous prizes. He also cofounded L’Associazione per il Disegno Industriale (1956), a design forum for designers, companies, researchers, teachers, critics and journalists. In the 1960s Frattini created interiors for fashionable venues in Milan, such as the Stork Club and St. Andrews restaurant, as well as for commissions in Portofino and Capri.
While Frattini principally focused on interior and industrial design, he was a great connoisseur of wood craftsmanship. As well as being expert in traditional wood manufacturing methods, he experimented with innovative technologies as well. He forged a productive professional partnership with master Milanese cabinet maker Pierluigi Ghianda. Their assocation exemplified Frattini’s passion for working closely with craftsmen, and his meticulous attention to production quality. Among his most enduring designs, Frattini’s Albero bookcase stands out for its complex and sculptural cabinet work. Designed in the late 1950s, the free-standing floor-to-ceiling installation swivels 360 degrees on a vertical axis, making its adjustable cube-shaped storage spaces accessible from all sides of a room. As a centerpiece, the Albero effectively blurs distinction between its decorative and functional aspects. Highly popular in the 1960s, Frattini’s design was recently revived by Italian furniture company Poltrona Frau, and has been cited in The New York Times’ Top 10 Moments at Milan Design Week. Other iconic Frattini designs include the Agnese armchair (1956), originally released in 1956 as Armchair 849, and the Sesann seating system (1970), which remains a standout for its integration of organic form and high-tech simplicity. Both designs have been revived by Tacchini. Meanwhile, Artemide has relaunched the “Boalum” lamp, which Frattini designed for the company together with Livio Castiglioni in 1971. Considered a masterpiece of modern lighting, the Boalum was inspired by the form of a boa constrictor, and is made of flexible plastic tubing that can be shaped in any way as
a table, floor, wall or ceiling lamp, as well as be modularly extended. In the 1970s Frattini also created modern fine-jewelry designs the influence of which is still evident today. Of note also is glassware he designed for Progetti, now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.
Frattini continued designing furnishings and lighting into the 1990s, often incorporating
glass, tubular steel, wood and other materials in innovative ways. His 1982 interior for
the Tokyo Hilton became internationally celebrated, and in 1988 Knoll introduced the
Frattini executive collection of high-style furnishings. His work was referenced at the
Compasso d’Oro awards numerous times, and he was also a winner of the Milan
Triennale Medaglie and Gran Premio awards. Domus magazine regularly published his
work, and in 1988 Pier Carlo Santini dedicated an important monograph to him.
Throughout his career, Franttini remained active in the Milan Triennale, as well as in
Milan Polytechnic. Frattini died in Milan on April 6, 2004. Regarded a master of modern
Italian design, many of his designs are today seen as veritable archetypes of that
movement and its confident vision of the future. His products are displayed in the
permanent collections of the most important design and decorative art museums in the
world, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Smithsonian, and the Cooper-Hewitt
National Design Museum.
Gianfranco Frattini: Architetto d'interni e designer, by Giuliana Gramigna & Federica
Monetti, Franco Angeli, Milan, 2007
Gianfranco Frattini, by Pier Carlo Santini, Ed., Edizioni Biblioteca dell'Immagine, 1988