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07 November 2018

The legend of the impossible bookcase

No one could replicate famed architect Franco Albini’s mythic one-of-a- kind ‘Veliero’ bookcase without it falling apart, until his estate forced Cassina to find a way

Franco Albini

No one could replicate famed architect Franco Albini s mythic one-of-a-kind Veliero bookcase without it falling apart, until his estate forced Cassina to find a way

The Italian architect and designer Franco Albini passed away in 1977, but since his death, his statue has only grown. In fact, the neo-rationalist has, at this point, become a short-hand for elegance—the kind that favours simplicity above all else. In fact, the Italian’s philosophy reminds one of influential Italian chefs such as Marcella Hazan, whose famed The Classic Italian Cook Book held a similar philosophy—stripping dishes down to their most essential ingredients, making their greatness shine by the quality of the cooking and the ingredients themselves, allowing their flavours to burst forth in ways they never had before. In Albini’s pieces, their greatness was in their craftsmanship and the way that they stood out unobtrusively in a room—an influence on design-craft that holds to this day.

Albini’s pieces are now in the care of famed Italian company Cassina, who reproduces his back catalogue with permission from its estate. According to Enrico Raggi - Commercial Director, Cassina, the company originally came into existence to fill a needed hole in the design world—cruise ships, back before they themselves were a luxury.  

“Cassina is a company established 90 years ago, and the real element of diversity that Cassina created was the industrialisation of this sector by collaborating with the most important architects to furnish the cruise ships that were connecting Europe to the United States before commercial airlines existed. The first class of these cruise ships were fantastic environments where the richest people would live for a month on the way to the US and back, and they had to live in beautiful, elegant places like their own houses. So the architects that created and designed these first class environments needed to have great quality. The brand has always been about creating new shapes, new aesthetics, new materials, and experimenting with new technologies in the industry,” Raggi tells WEALTH Arabia.

Albini’s catalogue contains one of his most legendary pieces—a bookcase that sat in his own home 80 years ago.

“The start of the project was in 1938. He created one piece for his own living room in Milan. The moment that this became real, it was shown in his living room, the most famous magazine for architecture in Italy at the time made an article about it, and became a myth in the industry. Then an American magazine came and made another article on it, and its myth grew around the world. The problem is that the piece, when his son in the 1960s was 16 years old, he turned on the music so loud that the piece fell apart,” says Raggi.

Albini’s son was, after destroying it, never able to recreate the famed bookcase. When Cassina took over the rights in 2011, a clause was put into the contract—if they are to recreate Albini’s pieces, they must find a way to recreate the impossible bookcase, and make it available to the world again.

“This was a huge challenge, because no one had ever been able to do it before. We took two years, and we involved a polytechnical university in Milan as well as some engineers to do it. We finally discovered that the reason why it was falling apart is because the wood base, because of the change of heat during Summer and Winter, was moving, creating tensions in the metal wires that connect the glass shelves, causing the glass to explode,” said Raggi.

“We put a metal based covered in wood that gives it full stability, disjointed the metal wires to give more flexibility, and put the glass shelves with three layers of glass like automotive glass, so that even if it breaks, it does not explode,” he explains.

The piece is now available, selling between 35 to 40 a year, even at a high price.

“It’s half a piece of technology and half a piece of poetry—a fantastic beautiful element that wherever you put it in the house, it makes your house a fantastic place. This is by far my favourite piece. It’s very expensive, of course, but it is an incredibly investment.”

Around three to five currently sit in the homes of some of Dubai’s elite, priced at AED 175,400.

“We’re the first ones to become editors of the most important architects of the past, says Raggi. “We keep all in one line called The Masters. We have become the defenders of authenticity of design, and that is an essential component of our identity and ethos. We both design and defend, as well as reproduce classics of the past, authorised by the families or foundations that represent the greats of the past. We are the protagonists of the modernist movement and design culture and innovation. It’s our mission to rediscover classics, and bring them back to life.”






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