Franco Albini (1905-1977) is often considered to be the most important of the Italian "Neo-Rationalist" designers. After graduating from the Milan Polytechnic in 1929, his work helped herald in a wave of furniture design that successfully combined the new forms of modernism with a more traditional artisanship. Much of his furniture was designed to make use of the inexpensive raw materials available in Italy, in the post war years when other materials were scarce. His work, both in architecture and design, displays a commitment to a rigorous craftsmanship and elegance built on a minimalist aesthetic, unencumbered by extraneous ornamentation.
Albini started out working in the studio of Gio Ponti. He started his own studio in 1930 where he collaborated frequently with Franca Helg. One of his pioneering pieces from this period was a 1939 radio made of glass, which was innovative in the way it was designed to reveal the internal components of the machine. He began showing his work in the Milan Triennials of the 1930s and was part of a 1946 exhibit of furniture in which the items addressed the problem of designing for small spaces and featured a number of stacking and folding chairs. His office also designed interiors, such as the Zanini Fur Shop in Milan, which was completed in 1945. He was an editor for Casabella in the 1940s and from 1946 to 1947 he worked closely with Cesare Cassina in a program to enhance his company by meeting regularly and collaborating with individual designers.
The pieces of furniture that became the icons of his career were produced primarily in the 1950s. The stylistic variety suggests nimble understanding of and approach to design rather than a strict adherence to a singular aesthetic. His 1950 "Margherita" and "Gala" chairs, made of woven cane, were intrinsic elements within the growing movement during that period to revitalize arts and craft traditions. His 1952 "Fiorenza" armchair for Arflex was formally expressive, almost animated, and the profile of his 1955 "Luisa" chair evoked the profile of an austere architectural project. Produced by Poggi, the 1956 "Rocking Chaise" was an elegant concept-- the rocker as a piece of furniture for reclining, like a taut hammock reigned into the confines of a bent wood frame. He also designed a living room console for Poggi during this period.
During the 1960s, his work was geared more towards industrial design and larger architecture projects. He designed the Rinascente building in Rome in 1961. In 1964 he, Helg and Bob Noorda collaborated on a project to design several stations within the Milan subway system. Their plan was centered on a desire to keep the individual identity of each stop, while unifying the design through repeated materials and a consistent font and style for the signs identifying the stations. For Brionvega he designed a television that was exhibited at the 1964 Milan Triennial. During this period he also produced several lamps for Arteluce. Throughout his career he was the recipient of three Compasso d'Oro awards.