1951 It was a time in society where every field was disgustingly monopolized by the patriarchy and where many imminent male figures were feminists by word but very few by practice (although, it would not be a stretch to say that this might still be the case even now, 70 years later). This, of course, was the case in most parts of the world and did not exclude Milan, Italy – a country no less influenced by the white male gaze than any other.
Despite this glaring misogyny, among many other issues, some were able to slightly snip away at this tightly knit net of gendered stereotypes, giving hope to all those who were held back by these unfair conventions.
One of these great people, who happened to emerge from the field of architecture and design was Cini Boeri, an Italian architect with a passion for functionalism and economy. At a time where female designers were usually encouraged to go into the field of interior design rather than architecture as women were thought to be too fragile to work outside, Boeri defied all expectations and became one of the first female Italian architects to rise to prominence after the Second World War.
Her contribution was recognized when she was awarded the Compasso d’Oro Lifetime Achievement award in 2011 and was named a Grand Officer of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic.
Boeri’s Early Life
Born in 1924 as Maria Cristina Mariani Dameno, Cini Boeri graduated from Politecnico di Milano University in 1951, being one of three female graduates that year. Following this, Boeri worked a brief internship with architect Gio Ponti and went on to collaborate with Marco Zanuso multiple times between 1951 and 1963. It was after this in 1963 when she set up her private endeavor, Cini Boeri Architetti. The studio’s main areas of expertise were civil and interior architecture as well as industrial design, which she had experienced while working with Marco Zanuso.
Iconic Works of Cini Boeri
Some of her initial projects in the 1960s were mainly in the housing sphere. She designed a series of vacation homes in Sardinia which showed her ability to integrate her buildings and create a dialogue with the surrounding landscape.
Some of her most iconic works of this time were the clifftop Casa Bunker and the snail-shaped Villa Rotonda, both of which are prime examples of Brutalist architecture. Another of Boeri’s notable projects is the Casa Nel Bosco (1969). Due to its location in a birch forest, the building was highly fragmented to avoid felling the trees in the area.
From the 1970s she also began designing furniture, mainly sofas, and chairs for Knoll, a company whose showroom she designed. She then rose to fame designing for the furniture company Arflex.
Boeri’s Ideologies and Philosophies
Her experience growing up during World War II is believed to be one of the reasons for her interest in industrial design. She is known to have been involved in every stage, from materials and technology to manufacture. Being the daughter of staunchly anti-fascist parents, Cini Boeri was couriering important documents across the country for the opposition at the age of 18 and even sewed herself a skirt out of parachute material.
Boeri’s areas of interest were known to be functionalism and economy. She believed that function was the most important part of architecture and that beauty came as a result of it. She took care to add useful, long-lasting architecture and design to the world and aimed to help people and make them happy with her work. This love for functionalism was shown through her very modular designs using a limited palette of materials.
The Serpentone sofa designed for Arflex in 1971 for example, was made only of polyurethane foam and it was sold by the meter so it could fit and mold to the proportions of any space. In 1972, also for Arflex, this thinking was evolved into a more traditional system of armchairs, beds, sofas, and poufs in the Strips system, which won a Compasso d’Oro.
Boeri believed in challenging herself, and this mindset is what birthed some of the finest works. One of these was the Ghost chair of 1987, made for FIAM, which was designed out of a single 12mm thick glass sheet and redefined the perception of comfort. One of her biggest challenges was trying to stand out and make a difference in the male-dominated society she lived in. When working for Zanuso, Boeri designed the interior of a refugee shelter for single mothers in the Lorenteggio neighborhood of Milan. Her design provided a bed, with storage and a simple partition wall. She believed that each inch of better-designed space could open up more space for another woman in need.
The iconic architect passed away at age 96 on 9th September 2020. She, with her strong beliefs and ethical undertaking of the line, will be remembered for years to come through her various contributions and has left behind an inimitable legacy as an architect and designer who pushed the bounds of these fields in her time.
Harriet Thorpe (2020). In memoriam: Cini Boeri (1924 – 2020) [online]. Available at: https://www.wallpaper.com/architecture/cini-boeri-obituary-1924-2020 [Accessed 15 April 2021].
Dezeen (2020). Formidable architect and designer” Cini Boeri dies aged 96 [online]. Available at: https://www.dezeen.com/2020/09/11/cini-boeri-design-architecture-obituary/#:~:text=Cini%20Boeri%20was%20one%20of,Merit%20of%20the%20Italian%20Republic. [Accessed 15 April 2021].