She preferred to draw in a more rational and organised way

I think it’s both an ambitious and challenging task to tell an architect’s works through his illustrations with the aim of grasping his stylistic identity and professional expertise. Hand drawing enables to observe reality in a deeper way and by drawing architecture you can find out the secrets that lie behind the planning project and the intuitions from which stylistic choices or technological solutions arise.

So, let’s try to take on this challenge and analyse some of the hand made drawings realised by the Italian Architect Gae Aulenti. She passed away in 2012 and she was a remarkable person for the modern Italian Architecture, admired by many and misunderstood by few.

Gae Aulenti studied architecture in Milan in the 50s, when Italian architecture was involved in a historic and cultural research to recover architectural values that will flow into the Neoliberty movement. She stood out as a professional and socially active person, involved in different sectors from architecture to design, set design to staging.

She was not into drawing conceptual sketches in which the idea is rapidly caught and represented on a sheet of paper before it’s developed, but she preferred drawing in a more rational and organised way. All her works, both architectural productions and mere studies, were characterised by technical precision and richness of detail.

Nuovo accesso alla stazione S.M. Novella Firenze (1990)
↑ Nuovo accesso alla stazione S.M. Novella Firenze (1990)

1. New access to Santa Maria Novella Train Station – Florence (1981). Technique: ink and colour pencil on tracing paper. The depiction of the façade is very precise and shows a great richness of architectonical and landscape details. The architect Aulenti leaves nothing to chance and analyses every facet of the project, adding the most details possible in order to have an immediate comparison with the reality of the work.

↑ Donnerstag aus Licht (1981)
Bozzetto e scena

2. Scenic Architecture Donnerstag aus Licht (1981) – sketch and scene. The scenic designs of the architect result from the abstraction of a complex act which relies upon the architecture where dimensions, proportions and forms produce an idea, a platonic model. She does not recreate the building by imitating it, but she represents the idea of the building, interpreting it through her own architectonical poetry.

3. Exhibition at MOMA “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” (1972), published on the architecture magazine Casabella with which the architect has been in partnership for several years. It is possible to notice the use of another depiction technique, the axonometry, that enables to observe the object in its whole nature by showing different facets simultaneously. The priority was to determine controlled and balanced spaces.

4. The latest drawings give us the chance to plunge into the world of design. Moving series for Kartell (1968). The cross section representation of this chair focuses the attention on the phase of construction of the object. It highlights the geometric study which determined the choice to use the ergonomic measures of the chair, arching rays and proportions. The soft and plastic shape of the chair hides a meticulous geometric study.

5. Pipistrello Lamp (1965), drawn as a site specific for the Olivetti showroom, realised from the same architect. In this work it’s possible to notice how the object is simultaneously represented by horizontal and vertical sections, with hand made notes that show the constructing materials. This mixture of different graphic techniques on the same drawing sheet communicates the will to study the objects in all of its facets to have a whole vision of the construction detail.

↑ Lampada Pipistrello (1965)

6. Sgarsul Chair for Poltronova (1962) – sketch and detail drawn by ink and coloured with pantone. Also in this work there is a special attention to detail, even though the drawing contains a more expressive freedom, and the sketch is endowed with information that clarifies the architectural aspect of that object. The colour is used to emphasise the structure/element of the chair that becomes the essence of the object, its recognisability.

Through the analysis of her varied works, one can notice the strong and ever present tie between the sketch and the reality of the work, and the very organised planning nature of the architect is deducible. A clear idea is better expressed on the paper with total control of the technique employed and without second thoughts or doubts.