King Sun Lamp
Italy, 1967
Gae Aulenti

Enameled aluminum, acrylic
29½ × 22½ × 27¾”

Architect, educator, writer, and designer, Gaetana (or Gae, pronounced “guy", as she was known) Aulenti studied at the Milan School of Architecture of the Polytechnic University, and graduated in 1954 as one of two women in a class of twenty. She joined the staff of Casabella magazine, working there as an art director from 1955-65. She, along with several other young designers, rejected the international modernism of masters like Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, and were instead influenced by the philosophy of architect and writer, Ernesto Nathan Rogers, who espoused an appreciation of historical context in architecture. They would eventually form the “Neo Liberty” movement in the late 1950s.

The versatile Aulenti worked in industrial design, exhibition design, furniture, graphics, stage design, lighting and interior design. In 1981, she was chosen to turn the 1900 Beaux Arts Gare d'Orsay train station, a spectacular landmark originally designed by Victor Laloux, into the Musée d’Orsay, a museum of mainly French art produced from 1848 to 1915. Her work on the Musée d’Orsay led to commissions to create a space for the National Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris; the restoration of the Palazzo Grassi as an art museum in Venice; the conversion of an old Italian embassy in Berlin into an Academy of Science; and the restoration of a 1929 exhibition hall in Barcelona as Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. In San Francisco, she transformed the city’s Beaux Art Main Library into a museum of Asian art. In 2011, Aulenti oversaw the expansion of Perugia Airport. Upon her death at age 84, her portfolio included 200 built works in addition to her furniture, graphics, lighting and interiors. —Cooper Hewitt

(Photo: Wright)