Exploring the Timeless Design Legacy of Gianfranco Frattini

Gianfranco Frattini's exhibition "ieri, oggi, domani." Photo by Max Pescio


May 24, 2023

The exhibition “Gianfranco Frattini: ieri, oggi, domani” (yesterday, today, tomorrow) showcases the career of architect and designer Gianfranco Frattini through the memories and insights of his daughter, Emanuela Frattini Magnusson.

Set in the frescoed spaces of Palazzo Borromeo in Cesano Maderno, the exhibition narrates the timeless design of Gianfranco with original period pieces from collectors’ archives, contemporary re-editions by today’s design manufacturers, and experimental interpretations.

Gianfranco was born in Italy and educated at the renowned rationalist school of the Milan Politecnico where he was deeply influenced by prominent architects Piero Portaluppi and Gio Ponti, who became a mentor and collaborator. Gianfranco held Gio Ponti in high regard, acknowledging his “profound humanity, intelligence, and generosity.” After his education Gianfranco began working as an architect. Emanuela recalls her father’s immersion in his work, with a pencil always in hand, and how he educated her and her brother on a sense of beauty that went beyond luxury.

As Gianfranco’s career progressed he developed a fundamentally functionalist approach to projects, prioritizing performance. Emanuela highlights his sense of “measure” and his detachment from prevailing trends, evident in what would become timeless designs like the Boalum lamp. Created in 1970 with Livio Castiglioni the flexible PVC lamp was praised as “a snake of endless light,” its clever design making it virtually indestructible as it emits a diffused glow. The lamp is now a celebrated part of prestigious design museum collections worldwide.

In his quest for function, Gianfranco collaborated extensively with skilled craftsmen and factory workers. His deep connections with these artisans forged lasting friendships and inspired his most exceptional creations. Pierluigi Ghianda, a master craftsman, became Gianfranco’s close companion and collaborator, leading to the design of the Kyoto wood table. The absence of decorative elements highlights the raw beauty of the Canaletto walnut inserts, showcasing technical expertise and a deep understanding of materials. His fascination with finding harmony between craftsmanship and industrial processes led him to become a founding member of the Italian Industrial Design Association (ADI).

The exhibition showcases a carefully curated selection of Gianfranco’s drawings, archival objects, vintage pieces, and contemporary re-editions from renowned manufacturers such as Acerbis, Cassina, CB2, Ceccotti, Poltrona Frau, and Tacchini. The show also incorporates lighting fixtures by Arteluce, Artemide, FontanaArte, Gubi, and Luci, illustrating Frattini’s multifaceted design expertise.

Archival materials and sketchbooks, made possible through collaborations with the Study Center and Communications Archive of the University of Parma and the Milan Politecnico University, provide insights into Frattini’s creative process, the evolution of his design language, and his indelible mark on the world of design.

Gianfranco Frattini. Photo courtesy Studi Archivio Gianfranco Frattini


A magazine cover