Born on August 6, 1918, in Milan, Italy; Anna Castelli Ferrieri was an Italian architect and one of the first three women to graduate with a degree in architecture from Milan Polytechnic Institute in 1943. Professionally, she was an architect and discovered her love for industrial design later in her life. She stood out from all her peers because of her unique ideology, belief system, and perception of design. She achieved tremendous success despite the early struggles with breaking the norms of society in the early 1950s.
Anna Castelli Ferrieri was a great personality way ahead of her time who was set on a path to revolutionize design and its production forever. Through her body of work, she has inspired generations to come by promoting rational thinking, attention to functionality, simultaneously generating aesthetic solutions through material exploration and experimentation.
In pursuit of architecture
She was a rationalist who applied a similar approach towards design by focusing on rationality and functionality and dismissed ornamental aesthetics. While studying architecture, Ferrieri looked up to architect Franco Albini, a prominent Italian rationalist who later became her mentor. His modern rationalist ideas extended to his practices which focused on minimalism, function, and beauty. His mentorship laid a foundation for the ideology of Anna Castelli Ferrieri.
Later, she was introduced to the Bauhaus school of architecture and design, where she explored design practices and theories that promoted simple, functional yet modern solutions to design problems. She believed that architecture is supposed to be a multidisciplinary practice that intersects with all other creative and non-creative domains and is not just limited to buildings. And, design should focus on minimalism and function while simultaneously giving importance to beauty.
In the early 1950s, Anna Castelli Ferrieri established an architecture practice with architect Ignazio Gardella, another prominent architect. Their firm worked on many architectural projects but mainly factory and industrial buildings representing modern Italian industrial architecture. A few of their projects include the Alfa Romeo factory buildings in Arese and Kartell headquarters in Naviglio, now a museum because of the excellent architecture style it posits.
After collaborating with people of a similar school of thought, Anna Castelli Ferrieri, very early on in her professional life, conceded that architecture is supposed to be a multidisciplinary collaborative. Consequently, it was architecture that introduced Ferrieri to industrial design.
‘Kartell’: A revolutionary design cartel
In 1949, Anna Castelli Ferrieri joined the furniture company established by her husband Giulio Castelli, a chemical engineer, the Kartell that envisioned to change the future of production and industrial design forever. She started to design plastic furniture, which was very rare at that time and her innovative designs became the company’s image. The furniture designs derived from basic geometric shapes were sleek, had a colour theme, and were polished.
Along with being a great designer, she was intrigued by the technical aspects of the material technology of the products. Therefore, all her designs were indeed experiments to explore the creation of functional and simple, and rational designs using minimal and readily available material that was also economical.
Her elegant futuristic designs were considered the most practical among all the other available options by people that focused on minimalism and function while simultaneously giving importance to beauty. Even today, Kartell remains one of the leading furniture manufacturing companies that once developed a new typology of furniture design and changed the production techniques. Their furniture portrays the Italian post-war manufacture and captures the rationalist spirit of Anna Castelli Ferrieri.
She influenced multiple domains that include product design, industrial design, and architecture. And she changed people’s perception towards the usage of plastic as a mainstream design execution material.
In 1967, Anna Castelli Ferrieri designed the ‘Componibili’ storage units, which to date is one of the most popular and widely purchased units from Kartell. It carries with it her legacy of not just beautiful but highly functional designs that perfectly fit into people’s lives.
Anna Castelli Ferrieri: An extraordinaire
Apart from building and ruling the plastic production empire and being an architect and a designer, Anna Castelli Ferrieri worked as an editor of the architecture magazine, Costruzioni, Milan, for a brief period in 1946. She later published two books in 1984 and 1991 called ‘From Project to Product: Plastic and Design’ and ‘The Interface of Material.’ And, in the time of no internet, her works gained global recognition and were displayed in art exhibitions worldwide.
Anna Castelli Ferrieri faced multiple obstacles in her professional life because society expected women to hone familial roles. But, she broke the people’s stigma towards women and became a source of inspiration for many. Therefore, she was always part of organizations that advocated equal rights for women. She was also an active feminist who headed several international welfare organizations.
Anna Castelli Ferrieri was a woman not bound by any society’s stigma or a particular role. Being a rationalist at heart and mind, she adapted and evolved through the quotidian struggles and emerged victoriously.