The biography of Gae Aulenti by Bianca Killmann for TAGWERC

Biography of Gae Aulenti

Gaetana ‘Gae’ Aulenti is one of the most important architects and designers of the 20th century. Aulenti achieved international fame for example with the design of the Centre Georges Pompidou Museum of Modern Art in Paris, France, the offices and showrooms of Christian Dior, the Venetian Palazzo Grassi and the conversion of the Palacio Nacional de Montjuic in Barcelona, Spain, into the Museum Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Almost as a sideline, the multi-talented Aulenti designed lamps and furniture – today genuine design classics. Despite her diversity of design and her creative drive, Aulenti is rather unknown to the masses. TAGWERC brings the gifted but to most people unknown Gae Aulenti back to the design stage of the 21st century and gives the Italian and her designs like Pipistrello and Ruspa by Martinelli Luce or Minibox and Trepiù by Stilnovo the attention they deserve.

Gae Aulenti, beginnings and education

Gaetana, nickname Gae, Aulenti is born on 4 December 1927 in Palazzolo dello Stella, one of 134 municipalities in the province of Udine, in north-eastern Italy and close to the Adriatic Sea. She is 13 years old when Italy enters the Second World War on 10 June 1940 – initially on the side of Germany. After the Second World War, Aulenti begins studying architecture at the Milan Polytechnic, which she completes with a doctorate in 1954. Gae Aulenti takes what most women of her time were denied: an academic education. Knowing full well that she would need it to survive in a male profession like that of the architect in the 1950s and 1960s. In 2012, Aulenti tells the newspaper ‘Corriere della Sera’: “Architecture is a man’s profession, but I never paid attention to that.”

Gae Aulenti, the graphic designer

So the tomboyish-looking Aulenti plunges into the – especially in Catholic Italy – male-dominated world of work. From 1955 to 1965, Gae Aulenti is responsible for the layout and make-up of the magazine ‚Casabella‘. Today, her role at Casabella magazine would probably be described as art director. Casabella, an Italian trade magazine on the subject of architecture and ambitious product design, is published by the architect Ernesto Nathan Rogers during Aulenti’s time. In 1965, the publication is first discontinued and then continues from 1970 to the present day.

Gae Aulenti, the professor

Parallel to her work at Casabella, Aulenti teaches from 1960 to 1962 under Giuseppe Samonà (1898-1983), director of the Venice University Institute of Architecture from 1945 to 1972. Gae Aulenti is a member of the ‘Neo-Liberty’ movement, the Italian answer to the ‘Art Nouveau’ epoch. The Neo-Liberty style, mainly present in architectural designs and buildings, can also be found in several of Aulenti’s designs. In 1964, the architect with the short haircut returns to the Polytechnic – but this time not as a student. Now she teaches here as a lecturer and professor until 1969.

Gae Aulenti, the designer

At the same time, Aulenti workes as an independent architect and designer. In 1965, she creates the legendary Pipistrello luminaire, which is produced under licence by Martinelli Luce and is available at TAGWERC. The same applies to the Ruspa luminaire series from 1968, followed by the Trepiù (1972) and Minibox (1981) luminaire series. Both, Trepiù and Minibox, are created in collaboration with the architect and designer Piero Castiglioni, son of Livio Castiglioni and nephew of Archille Castiglioni. Both lamp series have been produced by Stilnovo since their creation and are available at TAGWERC. Aulenti’s designs are part of the collections of the most important design museums such as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

Gae Aulenti, the interior designer

Gae Aulentis is not only successful as a designer but also as an architect. In addition to residential buildings, Aulenti plans schools and even designs gardens. Aulenti receives international attention and recognition when she transforms the Gare d’Orsay railway station in Paris into the Musée d’Orsay from 1980 to 1986. At the same time, the interior of the Centre Pompidou, also in Paris, is redesigned and redesigned by her from 1982 to 1985. The conversion of the Catalan Museum in Barcelona follows in 1988. Aulenti makes a name for herself as a specialist in the modernisation of historical buildings. Aulenti is also known as a designer of showrooms and business premises. As such, she works for companies such as Christian Dior, Olivetti and Knoll. For the theatre director Luca Ronconi, Gae Aulenti designs stage sets and scenery, among others for La Scala in Milan.

Gae Aulenti, the pioneer

Throughout her life, Gae Aulenti asserts herself in the male-dominated world of architecture and design. In addition to her special feeling for historical buildings, which she modernises with great sensitivity and inventiveness, it is above all her design drafts that reduce Aulenti’s design language to small design objects and make it possible for design lovers and design connoisseurs to experience them in their own four walls. On 31 October 2012, Gae Aulenti closes her eyes forever in her favourite city of Milan, leaving us her unique legacy. Defensive and assertive, Aulenti was in all respects. Daughter Giovanna tells the newspaper ‘La Repubblica’ after Aulenti’s death: “My mother had been ill for a long time, but she fought it – as best she could.”

Author of the biography: Bianca KILLMANN
The biography is protected by copyright.


  • 1962
    Armchair ‚Sgarsul‘ for Poltrona Frau
  • 1965
    Lamp Pipistrello for Martinelli Luce
  • 1968
    lamp Ruspa für Martinelli Luce
  • 1975
    Seating group ‚Aulenti Collection‘ for Knoll
  • 1979
    Armchair ‚4794‘ for Kartell
  • 1983
    Table ‚Cardine’ for Zanotta
  • 1984
    Table ‚San Marco‘ for Zanotta
  • 1984
    Coffee table ‚San Marco‘ for Zanotta
  • 1991
    Rattan armchair ‚TLINKIT‘ for Tecno


  • 1963
    Aspects of contemporary art, L’Aquila, Italien
  • 1967
    Gae Aulenti, Store Gimbels, New York
  • 1968
    Italian design, Hallmark Gallery, New York
  • 1972
    The new domestic landscape, Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • 1979
    Gae Aulenti, Pavilion for Contemporary Art, Milan
  • 1985
    Elective Affinities, Triennale Milan
  • 1985
    10 suggestions for Milan, Milan Triennale


  • 1980
    Ubi Award for Stage Design, Milan
  • 1983
    Architecture Medal, Academy of Architecture, Paris
  • 1984
    Josef Hoffmann Prize, University of Applied Arts, Vienna
  • 1987
    Chevalier de la Legion d’ Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour), France
  • 1987
    Commandeur, Order des Artes et Letters, France
  • 1988
    Honorary Dean for Architecture, Merchandise Mart of Chicago
  • 1988
    National Academician, Academy of San Luca, Rome
  • 1995
    Knight of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic

Gae Aulenti Design, Manufactured by Martinelli Luce.