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Posted in Interviews

Inter­view: Cini Boeri

Lunario Table
Lunaro Table, c.1970 by Cini Boeri

She may keep a low profile, but Cini Boeri is a living legend. The 94-year-old Italian archi­tect was pushing the bound­aries of indus­trial and product design back when most women were either doing house­work or being shown off as arm candy. 

Boeri grad­u­ated from the Politec­nico di Milano in 1951 and collab­o­rated with Marco Zanuso before setting up her own studio a decade later. Her body of work is exten­sive, yet she’s best known for creat­ing inno­v­a­tive and adjustable seating systems that can easily adapt to people’s lifestyles. Most delight­fully, Boeri’s chairs and sofas adapt seam­lessly to people’s bodies. Her 1972 Strips’ collec­tion for Arflex, which won the Compasso D’oro award, had remov­able quilted covers that were meant to be unzipped and used as blan­kets. Just a year earlier, she’d designed the distinc­tive Serpen­tone,’ a plump, snake-like couch of poten­tially infi­nite length. Her eye for gener­ous curves and ergonomic comfort was incred­i­bly prescient- it’s as if she could imagine the esthetic pref­er­ences and daily lives of gener­a­tions to come. 

We asked Boeri about the joys and chal­lenges of being an icon­o­clast, and her words of wisdom for young female colleagues.

What led you to study archi­tec­ture and design?

I do not remem­ber why I decided to go to archi­tec­ture school but I remem­ber having absolutely no doubts or second thoughts about it. I finished high school and imme­di­ately enrolled at the Politec­nico di Milano. 

01 ghost foto di Amati Bacciardi
Ghost Chair c.1987, by Cini Boeri. Cast from one sheet of solid glass, the iconic design is a testa­ment to what is possi­ble through exper­i­men­ta­tion with materials.

What are some of the most memo­rable moments of your career or some of your favorite designs? 

I am very attached to the Serpen­tone, a long sofa that was easy to construct and could be sold by the meter. It was made of injec­tion-molded polyurethane foam, without an inter­nal rigid struc­ture. Unfor­tu­nately, the right mate­r­ial to produce it consis­tently was never found, some­thing that would provide the adequate stabil­ity, resis­tance and dura­bil­ity, so it has not been made in years. But the exer­cise led me to create Strips, a series of modular sofas and sofabeds without rigid inter­nal struc­tures, which were very success­ful and are still produced by Arflex in large quantities. 

Serpentone camion
Serpen­tone Sofa by Cini Boeri for Arflex c.1971
Serpentone Cini Boeri 1
Serpen­tone sofa’s design was one of the first of its kind. Its polyurethane foam elements could be linked together to allow for a poten­tial endless length.
The Jaffa Chapel Image Credit Amit Geron 1
Botolo Chair by Cini Boeri as seen in the Jaffa Hotel.

Your Botolo chair, designed in 1973, has seen a resur­gence lately. John Pawson, for example, used it widely in the new Jaffa hotel in Tel Aviv. What are your thoughts about this?

A few years ago Arflex proposed to re-release the Botolo, and I accepted with joy. We have expanded the possi­bil­i­ties for the chair, adding a variety of finishes to the cata­logue. I’m very glad that this seating remains valid even after so many years.

In general, how or where do you find inspiration? 

I always try to provide satis­fac­tory answers and solu­tions to my clients. If I have to design their home, I want get to get to know the customer and create some­thing in harmony with their lifestyle. I propose and guide without impos­ing. Same thing in product design; I try to come up with things that are new and useful, hoping to improve people’s lives with my work.

Who have you admired in your line of work and why?

After grad­u­at­ing, I began looking for a job and soon found an intern­ship with Gio Ponti, in his studio in Via Dezza. There I learned a certain phys­i­cal and mental disci­pline in the creation of projects and in the making of deci­sions. Then I worked many years with Marco Zanuso. I was mainly involved in archi­tec­ture but I still came into contact with the studio’s design work and its various collab­o­ra­tors, such as Richard Sapper. 

1954 Cini Boeri Gio Ponti
Cini Boeri and Gio Ponti, c.1954

What were the chal­lenges of being a woman in a male-domi­nated indus­try during your early or even mid years?

As I mentioned, I had no doubts about enrolling in archi­tec­ture school. There were very few women at the univer­sity, and my colleagues and profes­sors openly advised that the it was a male field. But I didn’t lose heart and grad­u­ated. During my career I was called miss,” and missis” but very rarely archi­tect.” Today I am regarded without prej­u­dice. In my life I’ve also met many female archi­tects who were great profes­sion­als, capable, intel­li­gent, and more than valid equiv­a­lents to their male colleagues, like Anna Castelli Ferri­eri with Gardella and Franca Helg with Albini. I remem­ber it was Franca who urged me to open my studio, and to do it before I became an indis­sol­u­ble part of Zanuso.

Foto lucetta tavolo foto Stilnovo
Created from a single mold, a table lamp that can be oriented simply with a hand gesture, two posi­tions created to gener­ate two light effects.” — Cini Boeri on Lucetta Lamp, c.1974
Cini-Boeri-Context Gallery
Cini Boeri, 2016. Photo by Chris Moyse.

Any advice for the new gener­a­tion female designers?

You have to be curious- that’s the way to learn, even at my age. My studio lives on and contin­ues to propose ideas, because I think that propos­ing ideas with opti­mism is the duty of a designer. The argu­ments have to be valid, obvi­ously. I also believe that an archi­tect must be able to relate to the society in which he or she lives, or rather, the society in which he or she would like to live. Archi­tects should be aware of the poli­tics, the economy and the envi­ron­ment where they operate, and make sure their choices are in harmony with these spheres.

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