A discreetly technical elegance

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A Discreetly Technical Elegance


Giampiero Bosoni

A Discreetly Technical Elegance

The first edition of this volume was published on the occasion of the exhibition curated by the architect Pier Luigi Cerri, L’eleganza discreta della tecnica [The Discreet Elegance of Technique], Milan, Palazzo della Triennale, 12 April – 8 May 2011.

Cover Osvaldo Borsani, P40, 1956 Variable tilt armchair p. 56 Design Marcello Francone Editorial Coordination Vincenza Russo Editing Anna Albano Layout Paola Ranzini Translations Robert Burns for Language Consulting Congressi srl, Milan Photographic References Anghinelli e Pozzi Aldo Ballo Gianni Berengo Gardin Mario Carrieri Pietro Carrieri Johan Donat Alain Dovifat Ruud Emmerich Foto Edoardo Mari Foto Studio 22 Eugenio Gerli Alastair Hunter Ken Kirkwood Andrea Martiradonna Mauro Masera Paolo Monti Ugo Mulas Tommaso Sartori Roberto Zabban

First published in Italy in 2011 by Skira Editore S.p.A. Palazzo Casati Stampa via Torino 61 20123 Milano Italy www.skira.net © 2011 Tecno spa © 2011 the authors for their texts © 2011 Skira editore, Milano All rights reserved under international copyright conventions. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Printed and bound in Italy. First edition ISBN: 978-88-572-0984-5 Distributed in USA, Canada, Central & South America by Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 300 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010, USA. Distributed elsewhere in the world by Thames and Hudson Ltd., 181A High Holborn, London WC1V 7QX, United Kingdom.

Heartfelt thanks to the following for their fundamental help in historical research: Archivio Osvaldo Borsani, Varedo Valeria Borsani Federico Borsani Marco Fantoni Eugenio Gerli Maurizio Romanò Valeria Salvi and also Margherita De Carli Chiara Lecce Gianni Ottolini Simonetta Venosta Nicola Zanardi

Tecno wishes to thank: Sergio Barison Mariateresa Barletta Flavio Bergna Luigi Bergna Matteo Bernocchi Alessandro Bezzi Nicola Bianco Sergio Bisleri Paolo Bonafè Roberto Bonetto Matteo Bonfanti Roberto Borgonovo Luigi Borsani Giuseppe Brazzo Paolo Busnelli Paolo Cappellini Silvia Carimati Ilaria Castellini Alberto Castiglioni Raffaella Ciucci Maria Grazia Colosio Marielaure Conrad Davide Dall’Ara Marco De Fazio Riccardo De Ponti Santino Di Lucca Giovanni Emanuele Gianpiero Faccioli Francesco Ferruzzi Graziella Figini Paola Figini Manuela Fossati Maurizio Fraboni

Sabrina Frittoli Alberto Galetti Barbara Galimberti Paolo Galimberti Raffaella Galimberti Giuseppina Galli Carmine Gallo Maria Garias Mauro Gerotto Simona Giroldini Eros Gorla Stefano Incagnoli Danilo Lazzarin Lorenzo Liverani Michele Malberti Rosa Mallamaci Marco Mariani Luca Martelli Marina Mastrototaro Marco Mauri Marina Meda Anne Caroline Melere Sabina Menci Moreno Modolo Luigi Monieri Tino Monti Corrado Morina Massimo Novati Eleonora Pagani Mario Parravicini Flavio Passignani Michele Platania Stefania Polverino Roberto Pozzoli Mariarosa Rivolta

Attilio Roncaglia Chiara Roscigno Egidio Rossini Marco Sacchi Francesco Salvati Enrico Scieghi Stefano Serra Fioravante Smiraglia Claudio Soldà Marino Sudati Aldo Tagliabue Silvano Tagliabue Gabriele Tegon Alessandro Turaccio Cesare Valaderio Valentina Verziera Roberto Vitale Rickelle Zucconi and along with them all the technicians, office workers, executives, agents and distributors, both current and past, who have contributed to tracing out the Tecno path.

The core of a company is its history. This is true not only for the profound values that inspire it, but also for the practices and strategies of which it has been constituted and is still formed. The English word “core”, which we Italians often use in the term “core business”, expressing the company’s strategic essence, originates in the Latin cor, cordis, which means heart. In this sense, today’s Tecno is a company gazing deeply into its inner essence to relaunch itself from its core business. With the quality of its products and its innovative capacity to communicate, especially in the showroom, it is a company that has succeeded in given great meaning to the pillars of Italian design. Always abreast of the latest technological developments, it has maintained a harmonious equilibrium between executive quality and aesthetic refinement, bringing together in the forms of its products the style and fashion peculiar to Italian creativity and now the legacy of many houseware design companies. This has been its path not only in individual products, but also in its successes with major interior architecture projects, where Tecno has augmented its historical qualities with advanced organizational capabilities and where its signature quality and distinctive class have made it a point of reference for complex undertakings. This process requires a desire to delve into Tecno’s history, to become reacquainted with its guiding lights, starting with the founders Osvaldo and Fulgenzio Borsani, to re-assimi-

late the values that have guided its success, and to take an entirely novel look at an innovative path of growth. The desire is there to put back into circulation all the energy that Tecno has generated throughout its prestigious history—in applying technology, in forming international teams to direct the major supply contracts—to witness the renewed but necessarily different growth of its potentialities. We believe that the history of a brand is always the story of its people; in this sense, it is an emblematic affirmation of continuity that the founders’ name is still a vital part of the enterprise through the active involvement of the youngest Borsani heir in this new adventure. We must know who we are in order to forge our future, and it is thus essential that we seek our continuing identity in our history.

Giuliano Mosconi President

Federico Borsani Vice-President



A Discreetly Technical Elegance The uniting theme of the Tecno project Giampiero Bosoni


Executive Quality through Art, Artisanry and Technique The origins: ABV Arredamenti Borsani Varedo circa 1923 Maurizio Romanò


1953: the Tecno Project for Four Hands Giampiero Bosoni


1954: Technics, Engine of Innovation The new Tecno collection at the 10th Triennale Giampiero Bosoni



Ethics and Aesthetics at the Origins of Italian Design Encounters: De Carli, Mango, Magistretti, Madini and Sala Giampiero Bosoni Osvaldo Borsani’s Design Concept The evolution of Tecno design through the sixties Giampiero Bosoni


Eugenio Gerli: the Likeminded Designer Giampiero Bosoni


Tecno Sells Tecno Giampiero Bosoni


Enrico Mattei and the ENI Offices The beginning of the “major projects” Giampiero Bosoni


The Sixties New Forms for Industrial Planning


Communicating the Tecno Project Giampiero Bosoni


The Seventies Centro Progetti Tecno: the Baton Is Passed


The Centro Progetti Tecno Giampiero Bosoni


Osvaldo Borsani, Eugenio Gerli Riyadh Dome


Angelo Cortesi/G.P.I., Marco Fantoni, Gianfranco Facchetti, Umberto Orsoni/G14 Coordinated Image for Alitalia Worldwide Agencies


Herbert Neuman Associates, Glen Gregg Lecture Hall at Yale University


The Eighties From High Tech to the Return of the Classic


Richard Rogers Partnership, Ove Arup & Partners Lloyd’s, The World’s Leading Insurance Market


The ABV Collection Returning to art with Alviani, Fabbri, Man Ray, Mo, Morellet, Munari, Pomodoro, Ponti, Steele, Veronesi Giampiero Bosoni


Preface. Art and project Giulio Carlo Argan


The Nineties In Search of a New Identity


Foster Associates Stansted Airport



Michel Bourquillon, Jean van Pottelsberghe de la Potterie, Guy Maes European Parliament Rafael Moneo Atocha Station


Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura El Prat International Airport


Jean-Michel Wilmotte Interior Design for the Grand Louvre


Jean-Marie Duthilleul, AREP, SNCF Agences des Gares SNCF High-Speed Rail Station


Norman Foster and Partners Carré d’Art


Jean-François Bodin Bibliothèque Publique d’Information Centre Georges Pompidou


Benthem Crouwel Schiphol Airport


The New Millennium Meeting the Challenges of the Global Market


Norman Foster and Partners Great Court at the British Museum


Jean Nouvel Library in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía


Jean Nouvel Agbar Tower

330 335

Register of Tecno Products Bibliography

Giampiero Bosoni

The Discreet Elegance of Technique The uniting theme of the Tecno project

Superimposed images of the D70 sofa showing the different possible positions. Sequence of images of the P35, P39 and P99 armchairs illustrating the formal and technological evolution sought by Osvaldo Borsani for this type of chair, 1953–57.

“The Standard production system now makes it possible for manufactured products to faithfully reproduce in minute detail the model originally conceived and created by the artists and engineers. It also allows broad distribution so that everybody can enjoy products that not only fulfil a certain function, but also possess the requisites of technical perfection and durability while being aesthetically determined. Adhering to these criteria, Tecno presents its to-

logical development of the furnishing element for the modern home.

tally new line of elegant, rational furnishings that 1 can be assembled and dismantled.” These clearly elucidated concepts, which we find published in a sort of ideal manifesto on the opening pages of the 1953 Tecno product catalogue, highlight the distinctive qualities that have characterized Tecno throughout its history. We have attempted to recapitulate them in the expression “the discreet elegance of technique”, where technique is almost a synonym for engineering. However, together with that apparently conflicting but quite fascinating pair— elegance and technique—other key principals of the Tecno paradigm are also revealed in that first declaration of intent: the solid and intense relationship with the artistic quest; the impulse towards democratization of the industrial product; design as response to needs that are not strictly functional; furnishings that can be assembled and disassembled, modularity, reversibility, mobility and thus multifunctionality as

For a new homescape “The novelty lies in the concept of furniture and the home embodied by Tecno. They are not seen as two abstract and separate parts,” we read in a Tecno catalogue from the early sixties, “but as two living things that are only perfect and complete when they come into direct contact with one another. By creating an elementary unit that can be multiplied ad infinitum, Tecno invented the modular furnishing component for a home that is alive and richly imbued with the personality of its inhabitants.”2 In effect, it all began with the idea of the home—or better, with the idea of dwelling spaces as a fundamental element in one’s quality of life. The rich and intense Tecno story reaches back to the early twenties and the Atelier di Varedo, later Arredamenti Borsani Varedo (ABV), founded by Gaetano Borsani3, father of the twins Fulgenzio and Osvaldo, who would found Tecno. It is the story of a workshop that bore witness every day to the fulfilment of that vital idea of the culture of dwelling spaces. For Osvaldo Borsani, a designer who entered his father’s workshop when he was still wet behind the ears and wearing knickers, this continuous exercise in designing interiors and their furnishings brought him to conceive of the

matrices allowing technique to be incorporated into the process of the aesthetic and typo-

space and things in the home as a pivot point— moving from the inside outwards and vice ver11

The P40, L77 and P32 models photographed “in movement” with strobe-effect stop-action photography. These dynamic representations of the piece of furniture are one of the more explicit expressions of the original qualities of Borsani’s designs for Tecno.

sa—of many aspects, both specific and broad, of a rational, modern project. In particular, his experience with the creation of the Casa minima,4 which he designed together with A. Cairoli and G. B. Varisco for the 5th Triennale in 1933, represents an initial and powerful statement of this orientation.5 His vision, which does not appear avant-garde in style (although not lacking in certain typical elements of modern furniture such as tubular metal frame members), is innovative in the way in which he subtly proposes non-coordinated furnishings, each with its own fully realized and distinct qualities, that can be mixed and combined rather freely: each piece of furniture becomes autonomous in its design, self-defining, while at the same time endowed with a strong capacity for interrelation. The individual furnishing element as a complete object We may be aided in introducing this topic by the keen observations of the noted architectural historian, Joseph Rykwert, in a brief almost unknown text, where he pays homage to the “philosophy” of Tecno led by the Borsani twins: “I am writing this introduction seated in a Tecno armchair that I bought when my back began giving me problems. We can’t call the chair an antique, but I have had it for a number of years. But my computer sits on a relic: a desk, perhaps one-of-a-kind, designed by Gordon Russel or one of his pupils. I presume Osval-


do Borsani would not be offended by the juxtaposition. After all, he has always declared himself the enemy of the completely designed salon as a paradigm for a furniture designer or craftsman. And even though he has assumed the responsibility of designing very large work spaces, we have to thank him first and foremost for his attention to the single furnishing element as an object that is complete in itself.”6 This note opens for us a realm that begs to be explored and reconstructed. It prompts us to undertake a rereading of the foundations of Italian furniture design: the close and special relationship that has existed in Italy between interior architecture and the design of furniture and furnishing complements and which has led to a total rethinking of the homescape. Among the progenitors of this Italian approach to furniture design and interior architecture, we find the names of Luigi Caccia Dominioni and Ignazio Gardella, but in terms of contributions to theory, the preeminent figure is Franco Albini. And like Caccia Dominioni and Gardella, he too was particularly admired by Osvaldo Borsani. In gaining some perspective on Borsani’s career in design, the definition ascribed by Ponti to the interiors of the Albini house in 1940 sounds more pertinent than ever: “precision fantasies.”7 And we may say the same for the words more generally applied by Tafuri to the work of these creative minds, characterized as “the cruel elegance of avant-garde Italian design prior to the War.”8

From “elementary units” to “complex wholes” The coherence of this principle is restated by the Borsani, not in the specialized trade journals, but in their catalogues straddling the fifties and sixties, where simple texts communicate the sense of the design of their collection and more. “In order to grasp the Tecno process, some background is needed”, we read in a catalogue from that period. “It is necessary to think of the house in a new way, not as a set of rooms, but as a certain available space within which to create new usage units through an interplay of relations, needs and functions. The novelty does not lie in the choice of furniture—the degree its gloss or absence thereof—but in ‘seeing’ the new relationships in which the new piece of furniture will take part. Tecno’s effort is to ‘typify’ well designed furniture. And by ‘well designed’, Tecno intends furniture that contains ‘an idea’, i.e., furnishings that are not alien to the setting they will occupy. On the basis of these premises, Tecno has arrived at the concept of ‘repeatable’ and modular furniture. Hence, starting from an ‘elementary unit’, one succeeds in composing ‘complex units’ appropriate to the available space, so that, as the total available surface of the spaces changes, the modular elements vary in a consequential manner.”9 This statement clearly expresses the attempt—idealistic, if not utopian—to crossbreed the characteristics of the custom project, made by a craftsman, tailored to a specific interior and hav-

ing its own criteria of harmonic (but not—let us be clear—stylistic) equilibrium, with the possibilities offered by industrial design to correlate individual modular pieces, bearers of aesthetic values that are every bit as autonomous as they are “relational.” The outcome is the creation of “complex wholes” that become the new “open” concept of the homescape explored by Borsani. Technique as a tool for typological innovation and the quest for form The project process conceived by Fulgenzio and Osvaldo Borsani and constituting the nucleus of the Tecno adventure moves in three different coordinate systems. While operating on different levels, these systems intersect in a fundamental manner in the definition of product qualities: technique is understood as a tool for typological and formal innovation (the “mechanism” and the “modularity” of the elements as predicates of a new syntax, both formal and otherwise, of the product); the interpretation of new ways of living and of the transformations of the rhythms and uses of space in increasingly dynamic contemporary lifestyles as a factor in the typological innovation of furnishing elements (“movement” and “reversibility of use” as the identifying characteristics of a new concept of flexibility of function); the form of the objects not as a pure causal result of technique and function, but as an aesthetic and symbolic value that is coherent with the construction 13

The S88 chair designed by Osvaldo Borsani and photographed with a “motion” effect illustrating its ability to fold over on itself. Justus Kolberg and Centro Progetti Tecno, the PO8 folding chair, 1991.

process and practical use of the manufactured object, which is thus able to express the form of its particular time (the contemporary artistic quest as an arena of interchange to tune in to the spirit of the times in advance). These programmatic aspects for the definition of a line to follow in design and production are joined by other fundamental choices embodied in the Tecno paradigm in terms of its image and how it is communicated: the adoption of a name with a strong identity detached from family tradition, the conception of a brand with a strong iconic impact, the “T” conceived as a harmonious array of circles by Roberto Mango, working with Osvaldo Borsani,10 and the courageous commercial strategy of selling its products exclusively through prestigious monobrand sales outlets in keeping with the formula “only Tecno sells Tecno”11 posited by Osvaldo Borsani as a defensive bastion against the criticism of his father Gaetano as the Tecno adventure got underway. The Tecno project is born As we mention in the detailed chapters that accompany the story in this volume, while Tecno was technically founded in 1953,12 it was with the presentation of the new collection at the 10th Triennale in Milan in 1954 that the company “officially” entered the field.13 The same year also marked the creation of the Compasso d’Oro prize, the birth of the magazine Stile Industria edited by Alberto Rosselli, and the


first International Industrial Design Convention as part of the Triennale. The climate at the time explains why this fundamental debut at the Triennale was accompanied by important attempts to encounter other viewpoints in design14 (Mango, Magistretti, De Carli, Madini and Sala). It was an attempt to create a team of designers with an “affinity” for the program conceived by Osvaldo Borsani, the de facto deus ex machina of Tecno’s design vision and industrial approach, alongside his brother Fulgenzio. If these attempts were short-lived or no more than ephemeral flashes (with the exception of De Carli’s Balestra armchair), it was because the Borsani, because of their strong experience in the ABV workshop, interpreted the relationship with a designer at the time as one with someone within the creative “bottega.” The exclusivity and confidentiality of design sought by the twins did not coincide with the collaborative flexibility that a good portion of the designers (architects mainly) were exploring in the very lively yet still uncertain climate of the nascent culture of Italian design in the early fifties. One exception to this was the close and continuing relationship forged with Eugenio Gerli starting in 1955–56. As we discuss in the chapter dedicated to him,15 Gerli turned out to be the right person to construct an “affinity” of design with Osvaldo Borsani, but at the same time he was also the right figure for resolving many operational needs alongside Fulgenzio Borsani.


Publicity image showing a modern living room furnished with a free arrangement of P32 armchairs. Late fifties.

The “aristocratic” role of Tecno in the culture of Italian design Tecno’s relationship with the cultural context of Italian design must be seen for the rather reserved and in some way “aristocratic” manner characteristic of the Borsani as far back as the ABV days in the mid-twenties. Although he was a regular presence at the Triennali and had good relations with his architect clients (through the renowned furniture company ABV), Osvaldo Borsani, as an architect, nevertheless kept a clear distance from the “public” debate in magazines, schools and associations. It is interesting to note instead how his relationship with the “lateral” world of the artists whom he met when he was a student at the Brera Arts Lyceum always remained more important than his relations with the rationalist architectural debate (by which he was nonetheless strongly influenced) when he was an architecture student at the Milan Polytechnic. Borsani’s choices as a designer were certainly strongly conditioned by the world of artisans into which he was born and where he long worked. So his attitude, strongly influenced by rationalist design, was softened in certain ways within the context of upper class, often “enlightened” Milanese tastes, which were very formal, bordering on severe—if not tending toward the “traditionalist”— in their elegant and discreet form of self-representation. We might say that Borsani was another face of that “third Italian way” seeking a line of continuity between the qualities of cer16

tain historical values and the urgent necessity for modernity which started with Portaluppi and passed through the BBPR to Gardella and to Albini (and we may count Borsani among them, albeit in a class of his own) and on into the different souls of Italian design, the substrate in which Tecno germinated. The twins Fulgenzio and Osvaldo Borsani Especially when speaking of the design process, Osvaldo Borsani, the “architect” is inevitably mentioned, but we must stress that the Tecno industrial process witnessed both Borsani twins, Fulgenzio and Osvaldo, working together in perfect step: many remember that their rare disagreements were quickly cleared up behind closed doors, and that when those doors opened the two came out absolutely of one mind. Fulgenzio Borsani, who got his education and university degree in economics, in his guise as an attentive company administrator (in the words of many people16 who were there at the time) on more than one occasion took the helm, his eyes meticulously scanning the horizons of business management. He knew how to steer a straight course and corrected the route at many delicate junctures.17 The office sphere takes precedence Among the powerful signals of transformation experienced by Italian society at the beginning of the economic boom years, the enormous development of the service sector, the office world,

A finely crafted packing crate, a typical feature of Tecno products prior to the sixties, and a number of products (T47, L50, S29) designed by Osvaldo Borsani. They are photographed broken down into their constituent components to emphasize their ability to be assembled and disassembled.

was a highly relevant phenomenon that the Borsani brothers had already focused in on with their first collection presented at the 10th Triennale in 1954. At that point in time, the question was still that of defining a series of furnishing elements that would be the modern replacements of the old model of the “prestige desk� for a work realm that was still largely traditional. But the exceptional encounter of a special client like Enrico Mattei, who commissioned Tecno with the interior design for the Eni office buildings, allowed the Borsani to focus in on the theme and bring clearly noteworthy innovations in this emerging 18 field of design. The particular occasion of defining the interiors of the Eni building in San Donato Milanese, designed by Marcello Nizzoli and Mario Oliveri with an innovative hexagonal floor plan, would give form to one of the most innovative pieces of this period, the T96 desk with its boomerang-shaped top. The occasion was also marked by the development of large meeting tables, office chairs, comfortable armchairs and sofas for the waiting areas, and also portable folding beds for the new guest quarters. This experience in large special projects for a specific client would also open up a very important market for Tecno: turnkey design for major architectural works, including interiors of airports, train stations, large office buildings, hospitals, conference centres, libraries and museums.19 At the end of the fifties and the beginning of the following decade, Tecno found itself go-

ing in two directions: the production of office furniture and the production of household furnishings. For some time the company tried to bring the two paths together or at least keep them closely interrelated. The presumption at the time, as was also written in the catalogues of those years, was that the dictates of modern living would have increasingly brought the domestic sphere into line with the dynamism of work in the service sector. It was thus necessary to design furnishing elements that were typologically, aesthetically and technologically capable of being shifted agilely and seamlessly from one space to the other. This was a phase of great development for Tecno, both industrially and in terms of sales. The industrial and commercial expansion of the sixties and seventies In 1962 a high-rise building was built in Varedo based on plans by Osvaldo Borsani. It was a seven-floor building in which the production cycles progressed in logical order from the lower floors upwards. The determination to break out onto international markets would be a prerogative that would place Tecno at the cutting edge in its field. After the spectacular store opening in Milan’s prestigious Via Montenapoleone in 1956, it was only a few years before other important sales outlets were inaugurated in the most prestigious streets of other European capitals. Moving in step with this expansion was the fundamental design contri17

Breakdown of the P24 armchair (Osvaldo Borsani, 1961) into its principal components.

bution of Osvaldo Borsani, but an important role was also played by Eugenio Gerli, who was solely responsible for many important pieces while sharing merit for others with Borsani. However, the social and cultural dynamics of the mid-sixties reignited Tecno’s interest in other possible areas of design and thus a new phase of exploration opened to make room for a new creative expansion that would infuse new life into the Tecno collection. Once again, excellent and innovative as they may have been, the contributions by Mario Bellini, Eduardo Vittoria, Robin Day, Albert Leclerc, Gio Ponti, Vittorio Borachia and Carlo Santi did not evolve into a new programmatic dimension or a revitalization of the Tecno project. On the other hand, some of these intersections were forged almost as a strategic necessity to promote other company development plans, such as, for example, the program for new sales outlets (Naples, Catania, Palermo, Turin) denominated Quadrante,20 co-managed in particular by Tecno and Cassina (at the time Mario Bellini was a young designer just arrived at the company in Meda) or the birth of the magazine Ottagono in 1966, conceived as a promotional-publicity vehicle by a group of eight companies including Tecno. A case in its own right was the connection with the name of the famous British designer Robin Day, who was not commissioned to design something for Tecno, but rather it was Tecno that chose to obtain a license to produce Day’s famous MKII stackable chair with a Moplen 18

(polypropylene) seat because it needed a new cheaper and more practical utility chair. This choice heralded a great change in which Tecno was careful not to remain tied exclusively to the management office model. They sought to provide an appropriate response to the expanding world, which some hoped would become increasingly democratized, of the advanced service sector of the seventies. After the interesting but uncertain attempt represented by the Compos coloured metal desk system (1966), the Copernican revolution arrived in 1968 with the Graphis system, which seemed to be a work from the world of programmatic art: two sheet-metal corner pieces supporting the work top like a trilithon, all in a colour that was absolutely new to the office world—white. Such an absolute project merited an appropriate chair and in 1972 the nylon seat was produced for the Modus chair series, designed by the brand new Centro Progetti Tecno. Centro Progetti Tecno We need to take a small step backward to the latter half of the sixties, when the architect daughter of Osvaldo Borsani, Valeria Borsani, and the architect Marco Fantoni joined the company. After a few well-acclaimed personal contributions, the young Fantoni and Borsani (who were also husband and wife) proposed a project to the twins Osvaldo and Fulgenzio at the height of the “participatory” climate of the late sixties. Their idea was to close out the cycle of the personally

Panels for the E101 Domino bookcase system designed by Eugenio Gerli, 1965. Assembly of the Graphis desk system designed by Osvaldo Borsani and Eugenio Gerli, 1968.


The comedian Gino Bramieri advertising the plastic “Moplen”, produced by Montedison, on Italian television in the early sixties. The advertised products include the MKII chair with a Moplen seat designed by Robin Day in 1962 and produced by Tecno in 1966 under license issued by Hille. A repertory of all the components which are assembled in different ways to create the various models of the Modus seating system, designed by the Centro Progetti Tecno in 1972.


autographed pieces within the company and activate what had already become a Tecno project centre, which was “officially” instituted in 1970.21 The season of the seventies and eighties was very lively and full of highly successful occasions: from the Modus chair (SMAU Prize 1973) to the Compasso d’Oro in 1984 for the coordinated system of interiors for Alitalia companies around the world, and from the WS system of chairs for public places to collaborations with many architects and designers of international fame. The industrial developments of this period also coincided with the inauguration of a new and larger production facility in Varedo, which would also become the site for the new registered company headquarters, which previously had always been in Milan. The birth of the Centro Progetti Tecno coincided with the choice that would inevitably be made by Osvaldo Borsani to almost completely delegate the design work to others, while maintaining, of course, a supervisory role. With the strength of this very cohesive in-house team, the company decided to reactivate significant and specific collaborations with external architects and designers, thanks partially to the very strong impetus provided by the “major projects”. This phase ushered in the fundamentally important experience, developed in collaboration with Norman Foster, of the new Nomos office system (winner of a number of international prizes, including the 1987 Compasso d’Oro), which would become a new icon for Tecno’s world image. For more than a decade, Nomos

stood as an international symbol for high-tech aesthetics. This period, lasting into the late nineties, also included varied and stimulating collaborative efforts with other notable designers and architects such as Giorgetto Giugiaro, Luca Scacchetti, Justus Kolberg, Gae Aulenti, Yaacov Kaufman, Ricardo Bofill, Jean-Michel Wilmotte, Richard Rogers, Renzo Piano, Rafael Moneo, Jean Nouvel, Ronald Cecil Sportes, Mario and Claudio Bellini, Jean-Marie Duthilleul, Giancarlo Piretti and Emilio Ambasz, who shared the 1991 Compasso d’Oro prize with Tecno for his Qualis chair series. At this juncture it behooves us to recall the interesting initiative proposed by Valeria Borsani and supported by her uncle Fulgenzio to render homage to her father, who died in 1985. It consisted in the creation of two important collections, one titled Collezione ABV,22 comprising ten pieces by renowned artists (a tribute to the great history of Tecno’s close collaboration with artists), and the other, Collezione Disegno, a collection of masterpieces representing the most famous pieces from Tecno’s history. The difficult redefinition of an identity Fulgenzio Borsani died in 1992. His son Paolo, who had already been with the company for a number of years, where he had moved up the ladder in the Board of Director’s organization chart, took his father’s place as president. He thus assumed the role of economic administrator and operations manager that had


Two exploded diagrams of the components of an “operating unit” and a table from the Nomos system designed by Norman Foster in 1986.

been the distinguished contribution of one of the twins. Valeria Borsani would hold the position of vice president and managing director until 1998, when she decided to leave the company and sell off her ownership share. As the nineties closed and the new millennium began, the challenges of the global market increased in complexity. As strong as it was in profitable commissions for “major projects” (which had then become known as “contract design”), Tecno found it difficult to pick up the uniting thread of its identity in the design of its products, now almost exclusively dedicated to office furnishings, which for decades had distinguished the Tecno “style”—or better, the Tecno “project.” In truth, the disorientation had begun to manifest itself some years prior, probably immediately after the phenomenal Nomos by Foster. Perhaps due partially to the powerful iconic stature with which it had been invested, this highly successful project for some time overshadowed the rest of Tecno’s production and in some way made it more difficult to resume progress with other products. And while Tecno made courageous attempts to establish a dialogue with the various trends in aesthetics and design that had been unleashed by the post-modern catharsis, they ended up restricted to a series of disjointed operations that were not able to bring new vitality to the historical substance of the company. Tecno has recently sought to respond to the diversification of actors within its catalogue, 22

initially with a total overhaul of its image, entrusting the delicate job of retouching both its corporate identity and its historic collection to the designer Piero Lissoni, whom Paolo Borsani enrolled as art director and who also designs the Asymmetrical line of management office furnishings. Lissoni’s proposal interprets the fundamental “discreet elegance of technique” within a very rigorous and rarefied program, seeking to recover the values of formal purity, attention to detail, structural rationality, potentiation of materials, and the representative and symbolic expression that had characterized Tecno’s production for many years. This line of ideal continuity of geometrical mark and the recovery of traditional materials has been combined with an attempt at forging a new vision of the contemporary office in the name of modularity and variability. This is seen in the suggestive plastic forms of the most recent Beta Workplace System designed in 2009 by Pierandrei Associati and recently winning an international Red Dot Design Award. Towards the new challenges of the global market The premature death of Paolo Borsani in 2008, replaced by his young son Federico, last heir of the Borsani family at the company helm, opened the door to the acquisition of a majority share in the company by Giuliano Mosconi, former managing director of Poltrona Frau. Mosconi guided the process of reorganization

Plan view showing the cellular development of the Beta system designed by Pierandrei Associati in 2009.

and development of the group through the aggregation of noted furniture design companies such as Cassina, Cappellini and Alias. This new entrepreneurial group (still a question of pairwork with the clear imprimatur of the Borsani name) has undertaken the demanding but compelling task of bringing Tecno out of the shoals of the current historical situation and guiding it back onto the high seas, its characteristic banner of the “discreet elegance of technique” aloft as it charts the most secure courses towards new and more prosperous ports in the global market. While the times have changed inexorably in many respects, and with them many of the historical prerogatives of the Tecno project, this does not deny the enduring fact that the future may be reflected in history (if one knows how to read it). In that sense this book is also intended as a planning tool for the journey along this regenerative path. 1

First Tecno product catalogue, 1953. Tecno product catalogue, no date (datable to 1962). 3 See in this volume, Maurizio Romanò, “Executive Quality through Art, Artisanry and Technique”, p. 24. 4 See Fulvio Irace, “La ‘Casa Minima’ nel Parco”, in Giuliana Gramigna, Fulvio Irace, Osvaldo Borsani, Rome: Leonardo De Luca Editori, 1992. 5 The furnishings for the Casa Minima would win Osvaldo 2

the “Silver Medal Diploma” and his company the “Grand Prize”. 6 Joseph Rykwert, Introduction to Tecno n. 6, 40 anni Tecno, Varedo: Edizioni Tecno, 1993. 7 Gio Ponti, “La casa dell’architetto Franco Albini” in Domus, no. 143, November 1939, pp. 28-31. 8 Manfredo Tafuri, “Design and Technological Utopia” in E. Ambasz (editor), Italy: The New Domestic Landscape. Achievements and Problems of Italian Design, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1972, pp. 338–404. 9 Catalogue of Tecno products for the office, no date (datable to 1962). 10 See the chapter “Communicating with the Tecno Project”, p. 198. 11 See the chapter “Tecno sells Tecno”, p. 156. 12 See the chapter “1953: the Tecno Project for Four Hands”, p. 32. 13 See the chapter “1954: Technics as the Motor of Innovation. The New Collection at the 10th Triennale”, p. 36. 14 See the chapter “Ethics and Aesthetics at the Origin of Italian Design. Encounters: De Carli, Mango, Magistretti, Madini and Sala”, p. 72. 15 See the chapter “Eugenio Gerli: the likeminded designer”, p. 132. 16 Observations and recollections gathered during interviews with Eugenio Gerli, Valeria Borsani and Marco Fantoni in December 2010 – February 2011 and also in transcripts of interviews with Agenore Fabbri, Roberto Mango and other Borsani acquaintances in 1991 on the occasion of the presentation of the Collezione ABV. 17 See G. Gramigna, F. Irace, op. cit. 18 See the chapter “Enrico Mattei and the Eni Offices. The Beginning of the ‘Major Projects’”, p. 160. 19 See the many factsheets on “major projects” in this book. 20 Over the course of just a few years, most of these stores would be bought by Tecno and converted into monobrand outlets. 21 See the chapter “The Centro Progetti Tecno”, p. 214. 22 See the chapter “The ABV Collection”, p. 260.


Maurizio Romanò

Executive Quality through Art, Artisanry and Technique The origins: ABV Arredamenti Borsani Varedo c. 1923


Development of the ABV trademark. Left: the first trademark for the workshop opened by Gaetano Borsani. Right: the trademark created when Gino Maggioni became artistic director in the early twenties.

The woodworking shop that Gaetano Borsani (1886–1955) decided to open in Varedo shortly after the end of the First World War took its place in an industrial district that was already a strongly consolidated economic presence in Brianza.1 At the close of the eighteenth century, the

Sculptural element in wood and stucco designed by Lucio Fontana and mounted on a shelf designed by Osvaldo Borsani and produced by ABV. Detail of the G. house, 1947.

need for specialized labour in the woodworking field rose in response to the growing demand for articles to furnish the luxurious homes of the Milanese nobility, who had chosen this area north of Milan as the perfect place for vacationing and recreation. Although its traditional economy was prevalently based on agriculture, the people of Brianza knew how to take advantage of the opportunities offered at this historical juncture. Indeed, within the space of two generations, the number of artisan’s workshops crafting custom built furnishings had multiplied, drawing in skilled carvers, cabinet makers, polishers, lacquer workers and turners, as well as those qualified in the arts of upholstery and metalworking to craft furniture frame elements. The specialization in furniture was also favoured by the spread of the Neoclassical furniture style in its Chippendale variant, in which single pieces designed and crafted separately were subsequently assembled into the final saleable item. The shops of wood crafters were soon joined by mechanical workshops that could build the tools and machinery necessary for woodworking. In the first half of the nineteenth century, exemplars of furnishings crafted in Brianza were found on the Parisian mar-

ket. In confirmation of the importance of this industry in the local economy, in 1882 a School of Art for Furnishings was opened in Cantù, which was soon followed by analogous vocational training institutes.2 The participation of artisanal workshops from Brianza in various national and international exhibitions and the recognition of the quality and innovativeness of the products presented provided further confirmation of the stature of the furniture industry as the economic leader for the area. The first products coming out of Gaetano Borsani’s workshop, while characterized by skilled construction and thorough knowledge of materials, remained for a certain period anchored to the concept of “period furniture”. The first trademark chosen to convey the company image contained the following words, printed below the stylized image of a worker planing a plank: “Workshop for period and common furniture.” The Neo-renaissance “period” referred to in the trademark corresponded to one of the styles in greatest demand. The first exemplars documented in the archives are diligent reproductions of tables, chests-of-drawers, sideboards and in some cases entire settings taken from repertories that were well known and frequently consulted by all the workshops of the time. What was missing was the personal mark, the act of interpretation. This early condition was a necessary phase, but it would soon be eclipsed by the desire to experiment with new options and broaden the cultural horizons of the business. 25

Right: the Atelier di Varedo trademark at the beginning of the thirties. Far right: the final ABV trademark. Vanity and stool in lacquered wood produced by the Atelier di Varedo based on designs by Gino Maggioni, exhibited at the 1925 Monza Biennale.

The turning point came in the early twenties when Gaetano decided to entrust the artistic direction of his business, which had recently changed its name to “Atelier di Varedo”, to the young architect Gino Maggioni, who would flank Gaetano Borsani for almost a decade. Later on, after he was granted an industrial patent in 1937 for a “system and device for cold bending of plywood”, Maggioni would open his own successful workshop “Curvati brevetti Maggioni”, which became an important supplier for the new Ospedale Maggiore in Milan and of the furnishings in curved laminates designed with Giuseppe Pagano, the architect for the new Bocconi University. The first important appointment for Maggioni was the second Monza Biennale in 1925. This was a high profile cultural event that in some ways bore the first signals of openness to the new international style conventionally known as Art Deco.3 The Monza exhibition, initially staged to present the creations of students in the Istituto Superiore di Industrie Artistiche of Monza, quite soon opened up to international artistic and industrial contributions. In this period, the dominant Deco philosophy brought together many historical references: from futurist dynamism to cubist geometry, and from references to the recent Art Nouveau style to the recovery of decoration as a necessary element and poetic resource.4 Hence, within the context of this important appointment, the Atelier di Varedo presented three complete settings—dining room, kitchen 26

and bedroom—and a series of individual furniture pieces designed by Maggioni. A sober graphite grey lacquer gave an elegant touch to items whose simple geometries were embellished by carved arabesques and volutes. Small sculptures, lamps, carpets and works of graphic art hanging on the walls in the pavilion contributed to creating a coherent setting which would represent, in the immediate future as well, one of the characteristic notes of the Atelier’s output, especially in the field of contract design. The adhesion to Deco poetics was confirmed and to a certain extent consolidated at the subsequent Monza Biennale in 1927, when the style of the furniture presented more clearly took on the characteristic geometry and decoration— which was also seen, for example, in the choice of upholstery fabrics. With the availability of walnut briar on the market, the juxtaposition of dark and light areas, of wood grain and random mottles, would be artfully exploited to create surfaces that were naturally “decorated”, and often enlivened by fluting and mouldings. These would be the furnishings that constituted a sort of first catalogue, which could be drawn upon to create numerous variations on the theme. The first documents in the Borsani archives in Varedo date precisely to this year.5 The archives now contain drawings, sketches, project notes, photographs and other materials of artistic and documentary interest. The projects, in particular, are catalogued in a numerical sequence that identifies the product and al-

Arredamenti Borsani stand at the Fiera di Milano, late thirties. Atelier di Varedo stand at the Fiera di Milano, 1929.

so the client for whom it was crafted. While most of the projects developed the specific requests of the individual client, a certain number of them, identified by the word “storeroom”, were not part of a particular order but represent an essential typological corpus or repertory that served as a nucleus for developing numerous and varied versions that would respond to the needs of an increasingly distinguished and varied clientele. Alongside the repertory of classified projects, an important collection of watercolour renderings executed with consummate skill to illustrate proposals to the customers and a great number of photographs provide testimony to the Borsani’s relationship with the clientele and their openness not only to the perspectives of a restricted and refined, culturally sophisticated audience, but also and perhaps mainly to a middle class wishing gradually to sidle up to modern suggestions. The vast number of models and templates used by expert wood carvers and decorators testify to the attentive consultation and interpretation of the repertories available at the time. During the years immediately following the 1927 Biennale in Monza, the Atelier’s production began to diversify in terms of style. They experimented not only with the various interpretations of the French Deco style but also moved closer to certain Novecento-influenced, moderately “monumental” styles and to late-Futurist experiments. This phase was marked by the passage of Cesare Androni and Giandante X through the Atelier. Androni designed deco-

rative panels in various types of wood, while Giandante, a singular artistic figure, was a painter and sculptor who created, among other things, a series of small stylized steel sculptures and very striking zoomorphic table supports6. Osvado Borsani, still a student at the arts lyceum of Milan, where he had enrolled in 1925, made his debut in the early thirties alongside his father at the helm of the Atelier. It was certainly not by chance that the furnishings presented in two rooms at the 4th Monza Triennale in 1930 had begun to distinguish themselves from earlier production. The newly chosen grammar of design had absorbed the first strains of a nascent rationalism that was already well characterized in its clear definition of simple, linear, functionally essential volumes progressively purified of superficial decoration. Far from being the simple exercises of a student (Osvaldo earned his degree in architecture from the Milan Polytechnic in 1937), the drawings, project notes and especially the interior design of certain prestigious stores in the early thirties demonstrate that the signature elements of the rationalist alphabet had already been assimilated into the cultural heritage of the budding architect. Osvaldo Borsani favoured a rigorous grammar where, as Edoardo Persico noted in the pages of Casa Bella, the “chastity of style” succeeded in “evoking images of suave classicism in a modern style.”7 The 5th Triennale (1933), held for the first time in the Palazzo dell’Arte in Milan, represent27

Furnishings presented as part of the Casa minima designed by Osvaldo Borsani with Cairoli and Varisco for the 5th Milan Triennale, 1933. Right: sideboard with cupboard doors and drawer fronts finished in parchment. Below: kitchen cabinets, and the illustrative catalogue printed for the occasion.

ed an occasion for Osvaldo to reveal just how well defined his stylistic autonomy had become. And indeed, it was destined to orient the productive vocation of his father’s business increasingly towards the precepts of rationalism.8 His was an orientation that responded not only to an ideal theoretical adhesion to the actions and products of the international movement, but also embodied an intuitive grasp of the benefits that it would have brought in terms of production, and thus profitability, by reorganizing the manufacturing processes, exploring new materials and designing new production machinery. For example, this was the period of the initial research into curved plywood as an alternative to other woods that were more difficult to obtain. At the “Mostra dell’abitazione” [Habitation Exhibition], which compared and contrasted the various typological interpretations of the rationalist theme by some of the most important and most original designers of the time, Borsani, to-


gether with Cairoli and Varisco, presented the designs and a built exemplar of the Casa minima,9 which showed a clear rationalist imprint in its spatial distribution and in the variety and arrangement of its volumes. Conceived as the nucleus of a dwelling space stripped to its bare essentials, simple in concept, the house aimed to spark a careful rethinking of costs and focused on a middle-class cautiously willing to consider the advantages of “comfortable and modern” living. However, it was the furnishings in the house that attracted the greatest attention, and indeed they would win a “Diploma Medaglia d’Argento” [Silver Medal Diploma] for Osvaldo Borsani and the “Grand Prize” for the Borsani company. It was an integral project in which the individual furnishings designed for the entry, kitchen, living room-dining room and sleeping quarters represented a sort of repertory of functions starting with the essential and concentrated kitchen.

Interior of the Casa minima at the 5th Milan Triennale, 1933. Table with wooden top edged in palm wood. The table and chair frames are made of tubular steel. Professional’s studio designed by Osvaldo Borsani in the mid-thirties.

The bright orange lacquers defining the inner volumes of cupboards and storage units, the use of refined woods such as palm and Brazilian walnut, the parchment on the doors (a material demanding a particularly complex crafting process), curved tubular metal frame members, and engraved glass constitute elements of a visual vocabulary and testify to the extraordinary mastery achieved by the Atelier craftsmen in working their materials. In the immediately following years, the horizons of the Varedo production facility broadened thanks to its increasingly prestigious commissions. The year 1932 marked the erection of a new factory and the inauguration in Milan of the Via Montenapoleone store, which included a design studio. The store would soon become a favourite meeting point for artists, designers, architects and a refined and educated middle class. A careful review of the commissions listed in the archival registries reveals quite clearly the extent to which Osvaldo Borsani’s creative versatility took him well beyond the realm of well-worn types. Indeed, we find projects for scholastic furnishings, gates, carpets, stained glass windows, prie-dieux, cradles, funerary monuments, bee hives, telephone holders and pipe stands, as well as a large number of lamps designed for different purposes. We clearly see the designer’s intent, in creating furnishings for a given commission, to shape even the tiniest detail to the dictates of a precise and coher-

ent vocabulary while also addressing a host of specific needs not satisfied by the market at the time. Thus the architect would dedicate his efforts throughout the thirties and forties principally if not exclusively to providing furnishings for the ample dwelling spaces and professional studios of the Lombard middle class, whose ceremonial social rituals were entirely familiar to him. Let us take the example of a space such as the entrance to a house, something which, if it has not completely vanished, has now been reduced to a simple area of transit. Elegant console tables surmounted by mirrors, complexly expressive coat and hat racks, small waiting areas prior to the main hall resolve the entryway and constitute a sort of calling card for the house. It preannounces the spatial arrangement of the inner family space, with corners set aside for play, conversation and private domestic rituals, of which perhaps the lady’s boudoir, with all its elegant appurtenances for her toilette, represents the centre of mass of a composed modernity. And it was precisely Borsani’s ability to comprehend, interpret and guide the tastes of a solid social class moderately open to novelty that would determine the company’s extraordinary success on the market. The extremely broad array of articles that the Atelier was able to offer orbited around a nucleus of basic furnishing and room types whence were derived dynamic combinations and variations adapted on a case-by-case basis to settings 29

Perspective watercolour studies for a desk and armchair based on designs by Osvaldo Borsani, late thirties.

and décor and wholly designed and created in keeping with the criteria of a consolidated tradition of craftsmanship in the working of wood and other materials. The collaboration with top artists had already represented a strategic choice for Gaetano, but Osvaldo intensified its scope and significance. His professional relationships and friendships with Agenore Fabbri, Lucio Fontana, Aligi Sassu, Roberto Crippa, Fausto Melotti and Arnaldo Pomodoro was not limited to the use of paintings and sculptures (an example to be remembered is a series of ceilings designed by Lucio Fontana for certain important abodes and public buildings) on the occasions of major exhibitions: the architect asked the artists to make a contribution directly to the design of the furnishings themselves. Let us take the example of the long collaboration with Lucio Fontana. The artist created a series of ceramic decorations for the doors of Borsani’s elegant china hutch, painted the glass tops of service tables, and designed bronze door handles and decorations for vertical surfaces. The furnishings to which Fontana made his contributions were marketed in two versions: one was a sort of “catalogue” version with standard handles and tops, while the others featured the artist’s decorations or ceramic pieces as a sort of added value and precious testimony to the collaboration between the world of design and the world of art. The company’s business was not interrupted even during the tragic war years: the 30

company offered the service of taking in its customers’ furniture for safekeeping out of range of the bombardments devastating Milan. In 1940, Osvaldo Borsani designed a villa in Varedo for his father, Gaetano, which would subsequently become the residence of his brother Fulgenzio.10 Graduating in economics, Fulgenzio flanked his brother in running the family business and would remain at his side in the grand Tecno adventure. Like other architectural plans by Osvaldo, the villa was designed along rationalist lines. The volumes are arranged in a rigorous and elegant sequence, as also characterized its garden. The stairs in the foyer, crafted in Candoglia marble and glass, represents the ideal pivot around which the project develops. It would be in the decade following Second World War—when architects and designers, confronted with the need to contribute to their country’s physical and moral reconstruction in concert with the most advanced productive entities, laid the bases for the birth of Italian design in all its many guises—that Osvaldo Borsani would conceive the great transition from the grand artisanal tradition to an industrial system, which took concrete form in the creation of a new productive enterprise, programmatically denominated Tecno. Oriented towards the design and industrial production of furnishings with an increasing inclination towards the work world and social relations, Borsani imagined a global project strategy in which “the figure of the designer, building, art

Detail of the interior of Villa Borsani in Varedo designed by Osvaldo Borsani, 1943. Vanity with prismatic surface and supports in smoked glass, complemented by a wide upholstered stool with wooden legs, design by Osvaldo Borsani, early forties.

director and distributor merge and harmonize.” His conviction was that “the collaboration of the designer cannot be extemporary. It must instead be close, assiduous and enduring. It is by living in the factory that technical problems can be resolved together with their aesthetic counterparts. The designer must thus become intimately involved with the life of the factory. He first of all has to ‘direct’ the production aspects in all its manifestations, he has to be better acquainted with the production process than the factory manager himself.” He also stated: “Taking advantage of the collaborations, studies and latest discoveries, Tecno intends to follow a well defined line that unites functional research with the aesthetic quest, which uses the most suitable materials, whether old or new, achieving top performance and offering attractive objects to the market without apparent effort, objects that are unreservedly useful, healthful and durable…” This was the well defined vision of the role of the designer and manufacturer that would inform and orient, within his human and professional growth, Osvaldo Borsani’s life project.


Cf. L’industria del mobile in Brianza dalle origini al 1940, degree thesis by a. Pellegrini, thesis supervisor Franco Della Peruta, Università degli Studi di Milano, Department of Letters and Philosophy, academic year 1984–85; Mario Marelli, L’industria del mobile nella Brianza comasca, Como, 1965; Lorenzo Carugati, “Per una lettura storica dell’artigianato del mobile a Cantù”, in Giuseppe Furlanis, Aurelio Porro and Alfio Terraneo (eds.), Esperienze di design a Cantù, Grandate: Centro stampa Banco Lariano, 1986; Fulvio Irace, “Officina Varedo, Gaetano Borsani: all’origine dell’industria”, in Giuliana Gramigna, Fulvio Irace (eds.), Osvaldo Borsani, Rome: Leonardo De Luca Editori, 1992. 2 Flavio Guenzi, Mario Marelli, L’industria del mobile nella Brianza comasca, Como: Camera di Commercio, Industria a Agricoltura, 1965. 3 Anty Pansera (ed.), 1923-1930 Monza. Verso l’unità delle arti, Cinisello Balsamo: Silvana Editoriale, 2004. 4 Irene De Guttry, Paola Maino, Il mobile deco italiano 19201940, Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1988. 5 Fulvio Irace (ed.), op. cit. 6 Cf. Maurizio Scudiero, “Il Futurismo e le arti applicate”, in Rossana Bossaglia, Alberto Fiz (eds.), Art Déco in Italia, Cinisello Balsamo: Silvana Editoriale, 2003. 7 Edoardo Persico, “La città che si rinnova”, in La Casa Bella, December 1931. Review of the store “La Torinese”, designed by Gaetano and Osvaldo Borsani. 8 Cf. Maria Cristina Tonelli Michail, Il design in Italia 1925/43, Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1987; Irene De Guttry, Maria Paola Maino, Il mobile italiano degli anni Quaranta e Cinquanta, Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1992. 9 See Casa Minima alla V Triennale, a pamphlet by the Atelier Gaetano Borsani on the occasion of the exhibition, 1933. 10 Giuliana Gramigna, Fulvio Irace (eds.), op. cit.


Giampiero Bosoni


1953: The Tecno project for Four Hands

The cover and page one of the first Tecno catalogue, 1953.

The twins Fulgenzio and Osvaldo Borsani engaged in discussion while strolling through the garden of Villa Borsani in Varedo, sixties.

Everyone who has lived his life alongside the Borsani twins tells the story of the birth of Tecno—having heard it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak—not as an idyllic meeting point and smooth transition from the artisanry of the ABV workshop to industrial, serial production, but rather as a troubled clash between Osvaldo Borsani, proponent of the modern path of the industrial project, and his father, stalwart defender of the culture of the artisan, with Osvaldo’s brother, Fulgenzio, torn in the middle but tending to heed his father’s call. It took Osvaldo’s determined character—a character not unlike that of his father, Gaetano—to face up to the paternal disapproval from the founder of ABV and the pained indecision of his twin, Fulgenzio. The task of interpreting the mutations in the culture and design of dwelling places fell to Osvaldo, who had received his high school diploma from the Brera Arts Lyceum (where he met many of the artists who were always welcomed by him to participate in both ABV and Tecno) and graduated from the Milan Polytechnic with a degree in architecture. For Fulgenzio, on the other hand, educated in the economic disciplines, destiny (although one might almost say that his father had skillfully arranged his own succession) had reserved the role of second-in-command. He was an able charter of routes and a meticulous manager of the galley with his hand firmly and constantly on the tiller. We also learn, once again from the accounts of their closest collaborators, that the twins never contradicted each other in

public, whereas heated arguments did occur at times in private. However, once the doors were opened again, they invariably came out of the room in perfect agreement. But getting back to the germinal clash between father and son(s), it seems that the father’s principal criticism was that by embarking on a program of industrial production, his sons would have ended up having to bow to the terms of the merchants. But as we will discuss in detail in the article on Tecno’s innovative approach to sales management, Osvaldo limited himself to stating—and then fulfilling—the dictate that “only Tecno sells Tecno.” Osvaldo’s passion and unquestionable creative and managerial capacities in the field of furniture design evidently were enough to convince his brother to accept the challenge and his father to grant him some room to maneuver. His first move was immediately to compose a collection of pieces he had designed in the early post-war years and which he felt best represented the industrial approach he intended to undertake. Particularly noteworthy among them was the L60 bookcase (later the E60) supported on vertical wall-mounted guides (the first of its kind), which would give rise to the milestone E22 system. Regarding the collection, this project was still a work in progress, but it was better evoked in graphics and even more so in the intentions expressed, almost in the form of a manifesto, in the presentational text at the end of the catalogue. The text is worth reproducing in its entirety, even in33

T40 Table, P35 chair and L60 bookcase from the first Tecno catalogue, 1953.

cluding its apparently more commercial parts, to give us a sense of the innovative spirit expressed with great lucidity by the Borsani brothers in this sort of “message in a bottle.� “The Standard production system now makes it possible for manufactured products to faithfully reproduce in minute detail the model originally conceived and created by the artists and engineers. It also allows broad distribution so that everybody can enjoy products that not only fulfil a certain function, but also possess the requisites of technical perfection and durability while being aesthetically determined. Adhering to these criteria, Tecno presents its


totally new line of elegant, rational furnishings that can be assembled and dismantled. The source of one of their very important features is the fact that every supplier of Tecno furniture has at his disposal a variety of interchangeable pieces crafted in different types of wood or with different types of upholstery. This allows the buyer, responding to her own tastes, imagination or need, to harmonize the furniture with a given setting, creating contrasts and harmonies through her own personal touch, thus eliminating any stultifying uniformity. Tecno furnishings are provided disassembled in sealed packages, guaranteeing the direct pas-

P30 armchair, T45 writing desk, P35 chair, L50 corner bed, and A55 wardrobe from the first Tecno catalogue, 1953.

sage from the factory to the buyer and thus avoiding any damage that may occur during transport or that might be caused by dust, light or any other external agent during the time they are kept in the warehouse. At the dealer’s facilities, Tecno furnishings run no risk of deterioration. This is partially because they occupy a minimal amount of space and thus significant quantities can be kept, stacked upon one another in their original packaging. Their aesthetic value is ensured by the fact that some of the most accomplished architects and painters have created models of simple and exquisite elegance for Tecno, seeking to achieve a moder-

nity that will withstand the changes in fashion. “GUARANTEE: Thanks to its perfect construction and solidity of its materials, Tecno furniture guarantees quality, ensured by the fact that all Tecno furniture is built in the production plant under the supervision of the technical office of Arredamenti Borsani di Varedo, which has been known for over fifty years as one of the top furniture makers.� If the bases for industrial design had yet to be laid in those first fifty years, Tecno began the process by setting the example of clear programmatic concepts and objects of exemplary design.


Giampiero Bosoni

1954: Technics, engine of innovation The new Tecno collection at the 10th Triennale


Interior view of the study area and external view of the “Mass-Produced Furniture Pavilion” designed by Architect Osvaldo Borsani at the Milan Triennale, 1954.

In the first issue of the magazine Ottagono, published in 1966 as a promotional vehicle for a group of eight companies that included Tecno, the opening article chosen by the Borsani twins to present Tecno was titled “An Industry through the Triennali.”1 In the text, the Borsani, and particularly Osvaldo, sought to affirm the coherence of a cultural development, not just an approach to design and production, addressing an ethical idea of the market. As an introduction to the germinal presence of Tecno at the 10th Triennale in Milan in 1954, it is well worth reading a few salient passages from this text: “For films there are festivals, for books there are literary awards, while for theatrical works it is the stage where their cultural or worldly success is determined. However, it is not always the conquest of space in a store window or the brisk sales of an article to officially sanction the validity of its form and its success as an industrial product. Indeed, in contexts where commercial interests do not overwhelm the expressive value of a product, it is the clear and proper ambition of every qualified company and of every true designer to bring the most significant pieces in their collections to the Triennale. ‘Present at the Triennale’ means being players and not spectators in the processes that mould and drive the evolution of life in today’s society, at least in those realms where that life is affected by decorative and industrial arts. Serial production in general, and specifically that regarding household objects, furniture and equipment is now a fundamental aspect of interior de-

sign and hence also of architecture and everything that conditions or determines it. We think that it is right to point out that it is always a small minority who pioneer new routes and that seeking to engage with reality in a clear-sighted manner, looking more to the future than to the present, is often inconvenient and laborious. But Tecno chose precisely to commit itself to the challenging path of the Triennali as its official public debut, and to undertake its first test in the hands of the severe judges sitting on the jury of the Milanese event. One of the fundamental themes of the tenth Triennale was the reciprocal collaboration between the emerging industrial production in the furnishings sector and the world of artists and craftsmen, who up to that time had exercised practically unchallenged dominion in Italy. Tecno products were received with particular interest because the company had set out upon its venture hewing to the lines of an industrialized organization, but one that had grown out of the soil of a fertile artisanal trade. Theirs was a precise intention to show that as the times changed and evolved, a parallel development in the organization and structure of the means of production was both possible and necessary. And Tecno’s program was indeed that of organizing the serial production of pieces whose design contained the new premises for industrial techniques. Tecno participated in the Triennale, displaying these pieces in the international ‘Exhibition of Individual Furnishings’, and was also present with its own pavilion, where its exhibits 37

Dining area (left) and study area (right) in the “Mass-Produced Furniture Pavilion” designed by Osvaldo Borsani at the Milan Triennale, 1954.

Free-standing installation of the L60 bookshelves in the “Setting furnished with mass-produced furniture” proposed by Osvaldo Borsani at the 10th Triennale, 1954.


were based on the use of serially produced furniture.” This long citation brings us to the crucial moment when the newly founded Tecno staked everything on its presence at the Triennale, not just to display its products, but also and especially to show a new way of building, using and promoting furnishing elements and to illustrate a new style of life associated with it. The strategy worked out around the table was to maintain a presence wherever and whenever possible. And as we reread the catalogue for the 10th Triennale, we find the names ‘Tecno’ and

select expressions of its production. Indeed, the enterprise enjoyed the fortunate coincidence of being introduced publicly during the very months of the 10th Triennale and doing so with solutions addressing one of the fundamental themes of the event: the reciprocal collaboration between the world of art and the world of industry. Tecno was perhaps the first Italian organization seeking to make a very concrete contribution to the contemporary issues of interior design by offering compositional schemes based on se2 rially produced furnishings.”

‘Borsani’ popping up in various different parts of the exhibition. “Visitors to the 10th Milan Triennale,” wrote Carlo De Carli in 1995 in Domus, “will certainly have noted that among the elements displayed in the ‘individual furnishings’ section, which brought together the most significant creations from international manufacturers, many were produced by Tecno of Milan, and that there were Tecno sofas in the Palazzo dell’Arte and an entire Tecno pavilion in the adjoining park. The technical-executive committee of the 10th Triennale was quite glad to underscore the efforts of a new Italian firm in the serial production of furniture and accommodate the highest and most

Competitions, conferences and conventions of the 10th Triennale “National competition for chair and extendable table designs. Competition organized in collaboration with Tecno SA, Milan. (2 April 1954. Deadline: 15 June 1954)”3. “In the fourth competition (designs for chairs and extendable tables), the jury (Ivan Matteo Lombardo; Fulgenzio Borsani; Architect Osvaldo Borsani; Architect Antonio Carminati; Architect Carlo De Carli), in accordance with the criteria specified in the competition announcement, has chosen for quality of execution the designs for an extendable table by the archi-

tects Francesco Gnecchi of Rome and Giovanna Pericoli of Milan, and a design for an extendable table and two designs for chairs by the architect Roberto Mango of Naples.”4 Roberto Mango’s statement about this competition is quite interesting: “Our story begins with the ‘National competition for chair and extendable table designs, announced by the Triennale and Tecno SA, deadline 15 June 1954’. It immediately struck me as an opportunity not to be missed: interesting themes, a nascent production. My extendable table was chosen for production. It was a bit complicated in its mechanism, but I was game to propose it as a sort of provocation and as a personal test in my attempt to mediate between the essence of the American experience and the new Italian production. I met Osvaldo, a lively and alert man, with quick and convincing ideas: in this sense I would say he was rather American. We understood each other immediately as we had a look at the table and simplied its mechanism.”5 Exhibition of individual furniture pieces Organization: Architect Franco Albini, Architect Franco Berlanda, Architect Luigi Fratino, Architect Enrico Freyrie, Architect

Gino Valle, Architect Nani Valle Exhibition Design: Architect Luigi Fratino, Architect Enrico Freyrie Consultants: Painter Bruno Cassinari, Painter Emanuele Rambaldi Among the numerous products on exhibit, there were a number of famous pieces designed by Charles Eames for the Herman Miller Company, the Martingala armchair by Zanuso for Arflex, a chair by Robin Day for Hille Forniture (the same designers and company with whom Tecno would establish an agreement for the production of the MKII chair), and the 683 chair by De Carli for Cassina. Amid these pieces on Platform 21 was the D70 sofa with the description “patented sofa-bed, with foam rubber upholstered in green fabric – design: Architect Osvaldo Borsani – production: Tecno (Milan)” To get a sense of the spirit and value of this section of the exhibition, which concluded with the Triennale diploma of honour being awarded to the D70 sofa, it may be helpful to read a few lines from the introduction written by the exhibition curators: “It is right and fitting that the possibility of producing furniture in series also be demonstrated in Italy: that objects taken individually or in combinations give intimacy to the 39

spaces of the home, satisfy functional needs and aesthetic aspirations, permit the expression of the greatest variety of personalities. Naturally, many of the furnishings chosen for this section are made in foreign countries, where, by dint of a more advanced state of industrialization, long-term on-going production and a perfected ‘standard’ have already been achieved. … The Italian share of the exhibited articles, on the other hand, almost completely comprises proFuller’s geodesic dome house in the park at the 10th Triennale. Interior design by Roberto Mango using pieces from the new Tecno collection, 1954.

totypes. This is both because the necessary dialogue between designer and manufacturer has not yet been fully developed and because particular circumstances have delayed the achievement of a stage of mass production. … Within this context, furniture is considered, and subjected to the examination of the visitor, as an organism in its own right, complete unto itself, and the combinations among different pieces have the purpose of favouring a positive judgement, not of creating a composition.”6 Space decorated with serial furniture Architect Osvaldo Borsani In the “Settings” section of the exhibition, next to Gio Ponti’s famous “Abitazione uniambientale” [single-space dwelling] designed with Antonio


Fornaroli, Gian Franco Frattini and Alberto Rosselli, Borsani presented a setting of his own. The catalogue contained the following description of it: “The furniture presented in this setting were made by Tecno S.p.A., which is dedicated to the industrial production of high quality furniture. Other products from the same company are exhibited in the ‘Mass-Produced Furniture Pavilion’ in the park. In the elements presented here, designed for a living room, the designers have sought to reaffirm the validity of the concept of a production in ‘series’ not as reflecting a limitation of imagination, but as providing a liberty of composition.”7 Mass-Produced Furniture Pavilion Designer: Architect Osvaldo Borsani The central focus of Tecno’s presence at the 10th Triennale was its pavilion in the park, which is described in the catalogue as follows: “The pavilion contains exemplars of Italian mass-produced furniture and objects manufactured the company Tecno, which intends to offer quality prototypes that integrate form and technology to Italian and foreign markets. The large-windowed, reinforced concrete pavilion built on a raised foundation encloses a large space di-

vided into three sectors around a central utility room containing the air conditioning plant (Conver-Worthingon). Simple suspended panels delimit the different settings: the entryway, the living room, the study, and the bedroom. “Given that the designers wanted to conserve the feel of an exhibition hall, these were not true rooms, but spaces in which the furnishings were gathered on the basis of an affinity of use and function. All the furniture pieces here were manufactured by the Tecno company based on designs by Architect O. Borsani, unless otherwise indicated.”8 US Participation Organization: Olga Guelft, Architect Roberto Mango. Fuller’s Geodesic Dome House (USA) Exhibition design: Architect Roberto Mango Another extempore, but very significant, participatory act by Tecno was the provision of furnishings for Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome dwelling, which was erected at the Triennale thanks to the efforts of Roberto Man-

go. “The Tenth Triennale of Zanuso and De Carli”, Mango recalls with fondness, “found me ready and raring to promote industrial design within the Italian productive and cultural milieu. With Olga Guelft of Interiors, I even ‘invented’ the official participation of the United States by succeeding in obtaining from Fuller, as an experimental premiere, two cardboard geodesic domes that were erected in the park. I really need to write a book about it!”9


“Un’industria attraverso le Triennali” in Ottagono, no. 1, April 1966, pp. 68–75. A full page image facing the text shows the porch of Muzio’s Palazzo dell’Arte with the transformable T87 table and the L75 modular beds. 2 Carlo De Carli, “I mobili Tecno”, in Domus, no. 303, February 1955, pp. 41–45. 3 Agnoldomenico Pica (ed.), CataloGo X Triennale – Arti e tecniche oggi nel mondo, Milan 1954, pp. 27–28. 4 Ibid. 5 Text excerpted from a letter written on 8 October 1990 by Robert Mango to Giuliana Gramigna, Archivio Borsani, Varedo. 6 Agnoldomenico Pica, op. cit., pp. 91–92. 7 Agnoldomenico Pica, op. cit., p. 114. 8 Agnoldomenico Pica, op. cit., p. 419. 9 Roberto Mango, letter cited in Note 5.


Osvaldo Borsani L60 (renamed E60 c. 1957) Hung bookshelves Design and 1st series 1946 Production 1953

These bookshelves were part of the first collection chosen by Osvaldo Borsani for the “Mass-Produced Furniture Pavilion”. Borsani designed the pavilion and had it built in the park outside th the 10 Triennale as a specific exhibition space for the newly founded Tecno. The L60, considered by many to be the first bookshelf system hung on wall-mounted guides, was conceived and built in 1946 for ABV (they were featured a number of times in ABV promotional material published in Domus in the early fifties). The L60 would provide the basis for a more complex system of bookshelves/display unit developed by Borsani a few years later, the E22 (1950), which would effectively drive the L60 into “retirement”. Since the “L” in their name risked causing them to be confused with beds [Letti in Italian], the L60 bookshelves would later be renamed the E60. They appeared in the first Tecno catalogue, in 1953, with the following comment: “These bookshelves have been designed for a great variety of uses. They feature an elegant line, with a extremely simple, lightweight

structure that is easily applied to any wall in single or multiple units. This makes it possible to accommodate even large libraries both simply and economically. The system is composed of two loadbearing guides made of hardened, anodized aluminium that are anchored to the wall at four points. In the standard version they are equipped with three shelves 25 cm deep and one 30 cm shelf that can be shifted up or down continuously along the supports. Additional shelves may be added up to a total of eight. The bookshelves are built using the materials indicated in our catalogue and delivered completely disassembled in their original sealed packaging.” In the catalogue following the th 10 Triennale, we also read that “the two metal guides are made of gold anodized aluminium” and that “the shelves are available: a) completely in natural wood, including the side supports; b) in natural wood with the side supports in plastic-finished plywood; c) in natural wood with side supports in die cast ivory-coloured plastic. Other parts may also be mounted on the guides such as drawer units, bar cabinets, etc.” Side view of shelves mounted on the vertical guides. Section drawing of shelves mounted on the vertical guides.


E60 bookshelf version with fall-front cabinet.


Osvaldo Borsani

The S80 chair is highly space efficient when folded flat and very functional when open.

S80 Folding chair Design 1949 Production 1953

The first exemplars of this chair were designed and built during the ABV period. Osvaldo Borsani’s choice of a folding model marked by essential formal clarity makes this one of the strongest statements of intent regarding the birth of a new collection that unites elegance and technique. It also connects very clearly to the design debate developing in the aftermath of the Rima exhibition of 1946, with post-war reconstruction in full swing, where virtually all the designers and architects involved (I. Gardella, V. Magistretti,


A. and P. G. Castiglioni, V. Latis, E. Gentili, C. De Carli and others) took an interest in the idea of folding or collapsible furniture that can be assembled and disassembled in keeping with Richard Roger’s dictum of “practicality, economy and good taste”. This chair was presented in three photographs published in Domus (no. 303, February 1955) as part of the article “I mobili Tecno” [Tecno Furniture], written by Carlo De Carli to present the various furnishings in the “Mass-Produced Furniture

Pavilion” designed specially for the occasion by Borsani and erected as a venue for the newly founded Tecno in the park th outside of the 10 Triennale. The caption reads “folding chair in elm with a foam rubber, plastic-upholstered seat: accompanied by a plastic case to hold the folded chair.”

Osvaldo Borsani T90 Writing table Designed and produced 1954

Drawings for the T90 writing table in the version with trussed supports in pear wood. Documentation for Patent no. 58561 of 23 May 1956 for the T90 work table.

This idea of a writing desk with a contoured top made of curved plywood and three drawers was presented in two versions th at the 10 Triennale in the “MassProduced Furniture Pavilion”. One was supported on a wood truss structure and the other on metal legs. The former is described in the exhibition catalogue as a “writing desk in pear wood”, and in the preparatory drawings for the interior design of the pavilion we read “writing table, 6 legs, pear wood”. This version is interesting for its legs, designed as a sort of lightweight self-supporting truss

structure with a triangular plan and three cylindrical uprights in pear at the vertices. The other version, which was not indicated in Borsani’s preparatory drawing, has a minimal, disassemblable support structure in enamelled iron with only two uprights. The uprights are set well back with respect to the front edge of the table and joined at their base by a crosspiece. Two ray-like feet of different lengths and slopes extend from each upright to ensure stability. The first Tecno catalogue, published after th the 10 Triennale, contained only the version with the metal

supports, the other having gone out of production. This model would become the basis (assimilating a number of characteristics of the T43 table) for the subsequent series of executive desks (T93, T95, T96). For its coherence and essential form, this model, together with the D70 sofa, was awarded the Diploma of Honour at the th 10 Triennale. In 1955, it was registered by Tecno Mobili e Forniture per Arredamento S.p.A. as an ornamental model at the Patent Office (patent no. 58561 of 23/05/1956).


Osvaldo Borsani T1, T2 Occasional Tables Design 1949-1950 Production 1991

The T1 and T2 occasional tables were proposed as serial products in the ABV collection organized by Valeria Borsani in 1991. Osvaldo Borsani designed the tables in 1949–50 and often used them in his interior designs at the time, however they were never officially included in the Tecno catalogues. Instead, they were brought back into production in 1991 as a homage to their late creator (1911–1985) shortly after his death. T1, 45 cm tall, has a chrome-plated structure with the characteristic ball part way up the shaft and is topped by a silver-coloured top. The T2, 62 cm high, has a glossy black lacquered top on a steel support finished in black paint and with a white metal base.

New editions of the T1 and T2 tables for the ABV Collection, 1991.


Repertory photo of occasional tables designed by Osvaldo Borsani and produced by Arredamenti Borsani Varedo in the late forties. Tables T1 and T2 are seen at upper left behind a table with a glass top and sculptural base designed by Lucio Fontana.

Osvaldo Borsani L51 Bed with moveable tray support Design and production 1951-1954

The emergence of Tecno was also characterized by Borsani’s attention to the concepts of mobility, ready-to-assemble design and transformability applied to beds. The L51 model, which remained practically in the prototype stage, has a mixed structure: solid mahogany for the frame and bedspring support; steel tubes for the legs and the articulated arm; moulded plywood for the headboard. The tray is particularly interesting. It is made of moulded plywood fixed via a hinge mechanism to the mobile arm, which is anchored to a projection extending from the mahogany bedspring support. This bed was th exhibited at the 10 Triennale in the “Mass-Produced Furniture Pavilion”, which was financed by the newly founded Tecno, and published in the magazine Domus, no. 303 of February 1955 in an article by Carlo De Carli titled “I mobili Tecno” [Tecno Furniture].

L51 bed: tubular iron frame, bedspring support in solid wood and sides in moulded plywood. Close-up view of the moveable tray arm.


Osvaldo Borsani P71, D71 Disassemblable sofa and armchair Design and production1954

The armchair made its debut th at the 10 Triennale in the “MassProduced Furniture Pavilion”, funded by the newly founded Tecno and designed specially by Osvaldo Borsani to serve as a venue for the presentation of the first collection. A brief text in the catalogue describes it as “a small wooden armchair with yellow upholstery”. The first Tecno catalogue (1955–56) also presented a sofa version, and both are described on the info sheet as follows: “completely upholstered with foam rubber, with a wooden frame, shaped and polished wooden feet and armrests. The fabric covering is normally made of moth-resistant wool in various colours. The fact that the pieces can be completely

disassembled allows them to be shipped in relatively small packages and the various pieces are easily reassembled by the buyer. This feature allows the seller to deliver the piece in perfect condition in its original packaging”. One of the characteristics of the P71 is the fully upholstered minimal section of the seat-back structure, which is supported off the floor by two elements (foot and armrest-foot) that are contoured so as to minimize the visual presence of the supporting structure. With its material spareness and fluid form, the P71 may be considered the stylized development of the P30, which was presented in the first catalogue and which in turn was

derived from certain models created by Borsani back in the late thirties as custom-designed furnishings. The description of the P30 in the 1953–54 catalogue may also help us appreciate the similarity: “The form of the seat and back of this armchair are designed to allow complete relaxation of the body thanks to opportunely distributed support points. […] The armrest and the legs in glossy wood reduce wear on the upholstery fabric to a minimum”. The P30 was also padded in foam rubber and could be disassembled for delivery in a sealed package.

Side and back of the P71 chair.


Three-quarter view of the D71 sofa. Bottom left: Page with notes on the D71 sofa from the upholstery department ledger, late fifties. Bottom right: Side, front and top views of the P71 chair, Osvaldo Borsani.


Osvaldo Borsani P/D 72A, P/D 72B, P72C Ready-to-assemble armchairs and sofas Design 1954 Production 1955

Three-quarter and side view of the D72A sofa. Packed and exploded views of the disassembled P72A chair.


The principal theme of these models is the armrest/side crafted in a single piece of moulded plywood. We find here another clear reference to the experimentation by the Eames’s using the same material. It is worth recalling in any case that a ready-to-assemble armchair model with aircraft plywood sides (bent, but not moulded) had already been designed by Osvaldo Borsani’s friend Carlo De Carli in 1949 for Anelli and Saita. And on closer examination, the model 72 is also a technologically evolved P71 as we see in the similarly contoured upholstered section, whereas the shaped wooden legs are replaced by a tubular steel structure and the armrests are resolved as a bend in the moulded plywood sides. The 72 series of upholstered seats is

differentiated according to the different solutions adopted for the armrest-sides: in the 72A armchair or sofa, “the armrests are crafted of moulded ribbed plywood padded with foam rubber and upholstered with plastic fabric in various colours”; exclusively in the case of the P72 B, “the armrests are made of moulded, ribbed plywood, padded with foam rubber and upholstered in wool fabric similar to that covering the seat and back”; the P/D72 C still features moulded, ribbed plywood armrests, but instead of being upholstered they are finished in a variety of different wood veneers. Here as well, the article can be completely disassembled and thus shipped in a sealed package of relatively small dimensions, implying a great ease of assembly by the final consumer.


Osvaldo Borsani D70 Sofa with mobile leaves Designed and produced 1954

The D70 sofa is emblematic of the new direction taken by the newly founded Tecno. The choice of clearly featuring the mechanical joint is a sort of manifesto of Borsani’s concept of design, of his intention to design and produce furnishings that are original and autonomous in their forms and technological and industrial in their method of production. The story goes that the idea of a sofa with mobile seat and back emerged in response to a specific customer request (as one of the custom projects done by ABV) to furnish a lakeside villa. The customer had requested a sofa that would allow him to have a comfortable view of the lake or to face the opposite way into the room. Unfortunately, we do not know the name of this customer or the exact date that the sofa was created, and hence efforts to find the folder in the very extensive archives of ABV projects containing the designs for this prototype have so far proved fruitless. The D70 was presented as a “patented sofa-bed with foam rubber padding upholstered in green fabric” in the “Individual Furnishings Exhibition” (organized by F. Albini, F. Berlanda, L. Fratino, E. Freyrie, and G. and N. Valle) th at the 10 Triennale in 1954, where it won a gold medal. The thorough and effusive description presented in the first sales catalogues is quite interesting: “Model patented in all th countries. Presented at the 10 Triennale in Milan to great critical and public acclaim. Its foam rubber seat/back fitted onto

Patent drawing, US Patent Office, Pat. no. 2.771.124 of 20 November 1956.


a steel frame with elastic webbing comprises a structure that is not only beautiful for its formal harmony and static equilibrium, but extremely comfortable thanks to the adaptability of its yielding parts to the human body. The position of the two leaves (seat/back) is easily adjusted by means of a knob which causes a stop-pin to engage one of the various positioning holes in the side plate. Any inclination of the back with respect to the seat is thus possible. The seat may be brought to an upright position and the back dropped to become the seat, thus reversing the direction of the sofa. Or they can both be laid completely flat as a bed. The zipper-closure sofa cover can be changed, thus making it possible to vary the colour scheme in the room. Beautiful, comfortable, absolutely new, dreaming on this sofa is an enchantment; sleeping on this bed is a dream. Standard covers are made of moth-resistant wool and are available in nine different colours. In addition, it may also be manufactured with other fabrics chosen by the buyer. The cover can be removed and changed with extreme ease to allow washing and/or a change of colour or fabric type. The frame is steel with brass fittings.” A request for an industrial patent was submitted on 14 September 1954. On 10 January 1955 a request for an industrial patent was submitted to the US Patent Office for a “Divan with independently adjustable back and seat”. Patent no. 2.771.124 was granted on 20 November 1956.

Fabric department in Varedo, where the seats of the D70 sofa are upholstered. Sequence of images showing the different possible positions of the D70. Drawing with dimensions of the D70 sofa, 1954.


The first version of the D70. Children playing happily on the adaptable D70 sofa.


Drawing showing the components of the D70 sofa reproduced in the 1990s. The graduated side plate that regulates the back and seat positions. Latest version still in production.


Osvaldo Borsani P40

The fabric upholstery department in Varedo. Installation of covers on the seat and back of the P40 chair.

Variable tilt armchair

Drawing of utility model for Patent no. 58486, 16 May 1956.

Design 1955

The P40 chair broken down into its various components.

Production 1956

Following the success of the D70 th sofa at the 10 Triennale in 1954, Borsani worked on the idea of the mechanical joint with the goal of creating an armchair that could be adjusted to different positions, mainly to facilitate relaxation, as a sort of technological development of some well known chaises longues designed by the most highly celebrated architects of the Modern Movement. The P40 was presented in a two-page piece in Domus (no. 331, 1957) titled “Una nuova poltrona” [A New Armchair], which pointed out that while the “easy chair takes up a lot of space and serves a sole purpose, this armchair—designed by O. Borsani and produced in series—occupies a normal amount of space while offering all the reclining positions of an easy chair through a very easily operated mechanism.” The chair was officially exhibited th for the first time at the 11 Triennale in 1957 in the section dedicated to “Individual Furnishings” within the “International Exhibition of the Home”. It is described in the exhibition catalogue


Early technical and construction drawings of the P40 chair, 1956.

as a “reclining armchair composed of a metal base supporting the seat and back, which are hinged in such a way as to allow any desired amount of inclination. The metal seat frame features a flip-out footrest. The armrests are made of steel and rubber with brass and black iron fittings. The Pirelli ‘Sapsa’ foam rubber padding is covered in blue woollen fabric and supported by elastic webbing and spiral springs. Designed by Architect Osvaldo Borsani, produced by Tecno of Milan.” In the first sales catalogue that included the product we find an interesting presentation by the noted journalist and writer Orio Vergani, who describes it as follows: “The P40 is a quick, essential armchair as elementary as basic arithmetic: one plus one is two. Daughter of the ‘recliner’, the old mother of canvas and wood, wicker or reed, it corrected all of its mother’s defects. It eliminated the vices of solemnity and presumptuousness of its forebear. It folds up like a fan. It receives

its mistress with loving caresses, and provides comfort even to its bulkiest master. It can immediately disappear, erasing all traces of momentary laziness from the home. It offers its curves to be navigated in dreams, to the delights and refreshment of relaxation. It is the writer’s cradle of good ideas.” We find a more specific technical description in the first catalogue, where we learn that “the internal structure is made of die cast sheet metal with special ribbing which makes the whole chair structure absolutely solid, non-deformable and relatively lightweight. Comfort, as well as form, is afforded by the foam rubber padding supported on elastic webbing and spiral springs. The armchair wears its cover like an easily changeable, zipperclosure garment making it possible to vary colours and fabrics at will.” Additionally, by removing one of the armrests and using a special coupling, armchairs may be united to create a sofa. The P40 was patented in many

countries both for its technological and industrial attributes and as a practical, decorative model. The Italian patent regarding its utility (no. 58486 of 16/05/1956) describes it as an “Armchair-sofa with two elements (seat and back) whose inclination can be adjusted independently of one another, with elastically deformable and non-deformable armrests”. The ornamental model is described in its patent (no. 58545 of 16/05/1956) as an “armchair with upside-down V-shaped legs. Curved back, arcuate armrests and an extendable footrest/seat extension supported on nearly triangular legs.” The P40, perhaps even more than the D70, has become the ideological manifesto of Borsani’s Tecno program, and still remains today the best known and most acclaimed piece in the Tecno catalogue.


Vintage photos showing how to operate and change the cover on the P40 chair.


In the early catalogues, a model illustrates the possibility of buying different covers to change the “clothing” of the P40 armchair.

Two P40 chairs, one “garbed” and the other without upholstery or padding, showing the elastic webbing that takes the place of springs.


Three P40 chairs joined via the special couplings to form a couch with independently moveable seats and backs. The P40 chair in its original version before the headrest was redesigned to be separate from the seat and extendable.

A model posing casually on an “overturned� P40 chair, where the seat and footrest are used, respectively, as the back and as a table. The P40 armchair in a version that is almost identical to the one currently in production.



Osvaldo Borsani A57 Modular, ready-to-assemble wardrobe Design 1956 Production 1957

The model A57 followed the first wardrobe, the A55, presented in the 1953 Tecno catalogue. However, the A55, albeit simple and disassemblable, still essentially hewed to the lines of a traditional wardrobe while the A57 was the first modular system of storage units that could be extended and adapted to the various different height requirements of the home. As we read in a sales catalogue in the late fifties: “Modular wardrobe that can be completely disassembled. Two doors, three drawers and four shelves in each element, mahogany interior, exterior with opaque white, ivory or grey lacquer finish or in elm, mahogany or teak. Patented invisible hinge, knob with specially incorporated lock mechanism, plastic drawer or shelf supports on metal pins that can be adjusted at 5 cm intervals, variable height depending on ceiling height.� The wardrobe would subsequently be outfitted with a fold-down, hide-away single or double bed. Trademarked and patented model.


Standard version of the A57 wardrobe, and detail of the patented hidden hinge. Full-height wardrobe composition with different door sizes and veneers. Disassembled A57 wardrobe packed for shipping.

Fold down bed incorporated into the A57 modular wardrobe system. Full-height A57 wardrobe with variety of door veneers.


Osvaldo Borsani P35, P38, P39 House and office chairs Design and production 1953, 1954, 1955-1956

In the space of just a few years, Borsani brought technological innovation to the type of chair that is compact and with armrests, originally a household furnishing that was increasingly finding application in office settings. The design principles regarding form and posture remained virtually unchanged, while those of lightness, practicality and mobility became a central focus. The plastic-upholstered armrests of the P35 transformed into add-on moulded plastic parts in the P38 and P39. Similarly, the screw-on wooden legs of the P35

and P38 were replaced by an iron, four-legged swivel base in the P39. And the two-tone scheme (external shell in plastic and soft inner fabric upholstery) of the P38 and P39 was carried over in the development towards the decidedly more technologically and formally advanced P99, which nevertheless remained essentially the same type of chair. In 1955 the models were registered by Tecno Mobili e Forniture per Arredamento S.p.A. at the Patent Office (Patent no. 54415 issued on 23/05/1955).

From left to right and bottom left: four steps in the evolutionary chain of the P35 armchair. Bottom centre: the P38; bottom right: the P39.


Osvaldo Borsani P99 a/b Swivel chair Designed and produced 1957

This chair is the final evolutionary stage of the P35, modelled along traditional lines by ABV. It underwent continual technical and formal refinement starting from its forebear and on through the P38 and P39 to achieve the essential industrial product of the P99. The metal frame is finished in nickel plate or black enamel. The padding is foam rubber and the interchangeable upholstery may be fabric, “elastic plastic� (as leatherette was called at the time), or leather. Two versions were manufactured: with armrests (Model A) or without armrests (Model B).

Left: side view of the P99 Mod. A chair. Right: the P99 Mod. B without armrests.


Osvaldo Borsani T44 Occasional table with iron stand and moulded plywood top Designed and produced 1957-1958

This is one of Osvaldo Borsani’s pieces that most clearly reflects the inspiration of Charles Eames, who was certainly one of the principal points of reference in the Tecno birthing process. th Following the 10 Triennale, the 1955–56 catalogue described it as a “round occasional table with a thick, curved plywood top, base in vitrified iron, ready-toassemble/disassemble. Produced in two diameters, Æ 48 cm and Æ 58 cm, and various heights from 40 cm to 60 cm. The top is available in different wood veneers as listed in the catalogue.”

Photo and study drawing of the T44 table.


Osvaldo Borsani T47 Occasional tables Designed and produced 1954-1955

These occasional tables—offered in two versions, square or rectangular—offered a new expression of the theme of the day, i.e., Charles Eames’s press-formed, moulded plywood, combined with gluelessly mounted legs, which were made of wood and screwed on. All four sides of the top of the smaller square table (70 x 70 cm) are slightly upcurved, while only the two short sides of the rectangular table (100 x 65 cm) curve upwards. The glossy black legs have a characteristic form, tapering asymmetrically downwards towards the food and upwards towards the top. The joint with the top is quite interesting, a capital shaped like a sort of suction cup. The top was available with different wood veneers, the most common being zebra rosewood.

Study drawing of the T47 table. The T47 table in the square version (top), in the rectangular version with only two upcurved edges (middle) and the bottom of the table highlighting the attachments where the tapered legs screw on.


Osvaldo Borsani T49 Writing table Designed and produced 1954

This is Tecno’s first executive office table. It is interesting to observe the way Borsani revisited a number of studies that had led to the design of a custom built desk built in the early forties by ABV. In this model we find a stylized version with a spare and more “modern” tubular iron frame. It was presented with the name “writing desk in light mahogany and th metal” at the 10 Triennale in the “Mass-Produced Furniture Pavilion”, which was financed by the newly founded Tecno. As with all Tecno products in the first collection presented th after the 10 Triennale, emphasis is placed on the ease of disassembly for shipping in special relatively smalldimension packages. In 1955 it was registered at the Patent Office by Tecno Mobili e Forniture per Arredamento S.p.A. as an ornamental model (Patent 58556 issued on 23/05/1956) with the following description: “Writing table with rectangular top and split-section, outward splayed cylindrical legs.”

The T49 desk, highlighting the dynamic effect of the split and splayed metal legs.


Osvaldo Borsani T43 Living room table Designed and produced 1955-1956

This table appeared in the first catalogue bearing the Tecno trademark (1955-56) with the following description: “Rectangular table for the living room or dining room, satin-finish wood top and black vitrified iron base, can be completely disassembled, available in the different types of wood listed in the catalogue.” The variable sectional thickness of the top seems to mimic some of the characteristics of De Carli’s T42 table, but its metal base brings it into much closer affinity with the T90 writing table. However, in the case of the T43, the two uprights are located along the central

longitudinal axis. This model would constitute the base (incorporating certain characteristics of the T90 writing table) for the subsequent series of executive desks (T93, T95, T96, T160) and especially the various meeting-room tables (T58). It was registered by Tecno Mobili e Forniture per Arredamento S.p.A. in 1955 at the Patent Office as an ornamental model (Patent 58554 issued on 23/05/1956) with the following description: “Table with two cylindrical supporting pillars connected at their bottoms by a longitudinal crosspiece and having two V-shaped leg branches with feet at their tips.”

Documentation for Patent no. 58554 of 23 May 1956 for the T43 work or decorative table.


Osvaldo Borsani T93, T94, T95 Work desk, typist desk executive desk Designed and produced 1954 (T93, T94), 1956 (T95)

The T95 executive desk with rectangular top, crafted in walnut or rosewood, is an offshoot of a new type of executive desk constituting the development of the T90 work desk. It may be considered the mature phase of this development and clearly sanctions Tecno’s debut in the office furnishings market. Its particular feature is the interchangeable swivel drawer unit attached by a hinge mechanism to the chrome-plated or black enamelled metal support pillar. In effect, if the previous T93 work desk is nothing more than the T90 with a drawer unit attached under the top to one of the metal uprights, the significant development in the T95 is the freedom of movement of the unit, which can now rotate like the hands of a clock around the supporting pillar. On the occasion of the major project for the ENI building in San Donato Milanese, Borsani would take this model yet further to refine the innovative (in typological and formal terms)

T96 desk with a boomerangshaped top. A significant detail of the first version of the T95 is the foot supporting the outward end of the longer drawer unit which extended out from under the desk. The foot was made using metal lath folded into a rather delicate V-shape. In subsequent versions of this model, this support would continue to be made using the same folded lath, but its sides would become parallel, looking something like the outline of a hollow column. In the following model, the T96, this foot would be replaced with a cylindrical metal column. These models of executive desks were custom built in various materials and dimensions. This chapter in the story also includes the small T94 desk, which was conceived s a complement to the then fundamental function of the typist, providing all the essential features necessary to secretarial work associated with the typewriter.

Construction drawings for the T95 desk. Series of T93 work desks.


First and second version of the T95 desk.


Giampiero Bosoni

Ethics and Aesthetics at the Origin of Italian Design Encounters: De Carli, Mango, Magistretti, Madini and Sala


Roberto Mango, conical chair, 1954

Since its founding and for a long time afterwards, Tecno’s relationship with external designers was confined to very narrowly defined spaces. It was only Eugenio Gerli, as we will see, who succeeded in finding a coherent niche for himself within the Tecno work methodology as established by Osvaldo Borsani. In effect, determining this limited openness to external collaboration we find first and foremost the figure of Osvaldo Borsani, the deus ex machina, the company’s architect par excellence, the primus inter pares of the designers working on the grand Tecno project. And we must not forget that he had earned this role as far back as the early thirties working alongside his father in Arredamenti Borsani Varedo. This operating method, which amounted to that of a classic bottega structure of artists and artisans, was transferred to Tecno in the form of an entire work group, a sort of Style Office, as was common in industries in northern Europe and the United States. It was the sort of modern concept that inspired the Borsani and their company. Borsani’s choice here was not purely a matter of asserting a central, director’s role. The underlying question was substantially that of seeing the project as the outcome of continual interchange with the deeply ingrained “culture of making” characterizing the company workshops. This was a sort of treasure trove of experience and “secrets” relating to quality craftsmanship that had to be carefully conserved and protected. Hence there was a need for guardedness and reserve, some-

thing which was not consistent with a continual coming and going of external designers. Nevertheless, right from the early days of Tecno, the Borsani brothers discerned a group of very interesting artists and architects that was orienting itself around the nascent culture of modern design (i.e., the culture expressed through the Triennale exhibitions), which was exactly what Osvaldo and Fulgenzio were aspiring to. As a matter of fact, the Borsani were already closely associated with some of these architects in their role as qualified suppliers of custom furnishings. It was thus inevitable that a vital attempt would be made to weave something together, to discover whether it was possible to assemble a group of designers who were in tune with the Tecno concept and design process. We have no conclusive documentation to aid us in reconstructing the history of these encounters, but we may imagine a number of possible interweaves within this circle of mainly Milanese architects—rather circumscribed at the time— who were keen on experimenting with the new inventive opportunities for designing furniture offered by mass production. The Triennali were certainly the principal points of encounter for this group. But there were also numerous other points of intersection established by the Borsani in their long experience as suppliers of high quality furnishings, as well as others through Osvaldo’s frequentations with creative minds when he was a student at the Brera School of Art and later when he was at the Architecture Depart73

ment of the Milan Polytechnic. These are all important threads that we may use in re-weaving the fabric of these relations. Encounter with Vico Magistretti Vico Magistretti began to attract attention at the RIMA exhibition in 1946 with his disassemblable, folding, modular furniture. Amounting to exercises in redesign ante litteram, his creations were always characterized by well-equilibrated lines and carefully crafted details, and were often published in the magazine Domus. Vico was the son of a noted Milanese architect, Piergiulio Magistretti. Just after the war he got caught up in the Azucena adventure launched by Caccia Dominioni, Corradi Dell’Acqua and Gardella. And we will recall that Caccia Dominioni was also a great friend of the Borsani. Taken together, these factors may help explain Borsani’s interest in working together on projects with Magistretti. The contact occurred in relation to an original idea for an extendable round table. A prototype was eventually produced, but due to height problems it was never put it into production1. The encounter with Carlo De Carli One of Osvaldo Borsani’s university classmates, De Carli graduated in 1934 with an architecture degree. He began to make a name for himself in 1940 with an interesting rational and dynamic “two-person desk for the director of a textile works” designed with his partner Renato Angeli and presented at the 7th Triennale. Borsani can’t have missed it, also given the fact that Giovanni Muzio, having seen the desk, had asked De Carli and Angeli to do the interior design of the executive offices of his Palazzo dei Giornali (1942) in Milan. Further confirmation 74

of the numerous points of contact between Borsani and De Carli may be obtained from the Borsani-Tecno Archives in Varedo. Here we find photos and drawings of a number of articles produced by ABV based on designs by De Carli. These include the Mascheroni bookshelves, crafted in solid wood and moulded plywood, which were simplified to suit them to mass production, and a table-desk, both of which were presented at the 9th Triennale in 1951. These experiences, as well as a certain shared way of seeing the relationship between contemporary design and quality craftsmanship, would militate in favour of more encounters between De Carli and the newborn Tecno2. The encounter with Roberto Mango Regarding the encounter between Architect Roberto Mango3—the only non-Milanese in the group (he was from Naples) and someone with significant international experience—and the Borsani and Tecno, it is worthwhile reading his direct testimony. “I met Osvaldo Borsani in ‘54, a year that was both very intense for me and in many ways highly stimulating, after the three years I spent in the United States. I was in Princeton and Boston: M.I.T., Gropius, Fuller. Then New York: Nivola, Le Corbusier (I lived in his studio apartment in the Village), Giurgola and others. Then later, editing the magazine Interiors: Eames, Nelson, Girard, Knoll and many others. I worked with Raymond Loewy and lived in the MoMA and the museums of Manhattan. Many experiences regarding the general structure of design and its modes within the industrial context, leading to technological research for the formulation of well founded experimental proposals. … This brief review to make it

clear how, out of this background, the Triennale—the 10th with Zanuso and De Carli—found me ready and raring to promote industrial design within the Italian cultural and productive context. … Getting back to Osvaldo, our story begins with the ‘National competition for chair and extendable table designs, announced by the Triennale and Tecno SA, deadline 15 June 1954’. It immediately struck me as an opportunity not to be missed: interesting themes, a nascent production. My extendable table was chosen for production4. It was a bit complicated in its mechanism, but I was game to propose it as a sort of provocation and as a personal test in my attempt to mediate between the essence of the American experience and the new Italian production. I met Osvaldo, a lively and alert man, with quick and convincing ideas: in this sense I would say he was rather American. We immediately understood each other as we examined the table and simplified its mechanism. We met Carlo De Carli amidst the fervour of the Triennale, everything happening in a bit of a rush but with a lot of plucky determination and enthusiasm. We talked a lot about the new Tecno. Carlo brought an invaluable sense of his measure to the discussions; he seemed to me only halfway convinced, and I understood this admiring his elegant designs. Osvaldo wanted a ‘new’ production that would move away from the earlier ‘Borsani’ work to embrace a series of individual pieces, original prototypes that were ‘technically’ appropriate also for specific functions, ‘plus’ functions made possible through the competent application of mechanical know-how. […] After the launch of Tecno at the 10th Triennale (my cone chair in wood was also exhibited), it seemed to be the logical

choice to continue my collaboration with the Varedo enterprise, trying out new systems, starting not from a form but from a mechanical structure that could then determine form. We worked on a lightweight chair (which would later become the S88) and then I wanted to test some metal joints that could be used with pressmoulded laminates as a key to high precision.”5 We must also recall that Mango was the source of the idea and also, with Osvaldo Borsani, the draftsman for the “T” trademark for Tecno6. The encounter with Giorgio Madini Moretti and Emilia Sala Madini Moretti and Sala had the chance, fresh out of the university, to get involved in a pro7

ject to create a disassemblable chair for the newly founded Tecno. This opportunity probably grew out of their proven ability for innovative exploration of types, forms and technologies, as was the case with the Cucaracha cabinet record player, designed by Moretti when he was still as student in 1954–55 for Musical of Milan. 1

See the mini section on Vico Magistretti and his Sending 1 extendable table, 1951–54, p. 76. 2 See the mini sections on Carlo De Carli as designer of the S33, disassemblable chair, 1956–57, p. 84, and the P36 “Crossbow” chair with spring-action metal frame, 1957, p. 86. 3 Cf. Ermanno Guida, Roberto Mango, progetti, realizzazioni, ricerche, Naples: Electa, 2006. 4 See the mini sections on Roberto Mango and his conical chair and chair made of two pieces of plywood, 1954, p. 80, and his T48 extendable table, 1954, p. 79. 5 Text excerpted from a letter written by Roberto Mango on 8 October 1990 to Giuliana Gramigna, Borsani Archives, Varedo. 6 See the chapter titled “Communicating with the Tecno project”, p. 198. 7 See the mini section on Giorgio Madini Moretti and Emilia Sala’s S29 disassemblable chair, 1957, p. 78.


Vico Magistretti Sending 1 Extendable table Design 1951 Prototype 1953-1954

In the Magistretti archive, 1951 is listed as the year when the architect began designing this chair. It was presented as a Tecno product at the first Compasso d’Oro prize in 1954 and won honourable mention. In June 1955, it was published in Domus no. 307 under the title “Extendable table designed by Vico Magistretti”, without any reference to Tecno being made. The brief accompanying text reads: “This 4-person table is designed to be extendable to accommodate six or eight people without need for separate, cumbersome and impractical add-on extensions. The extendability was achieved through two folding elements adhering to the style of a classic eighteenth- or nineteenth-century British folding table. However, with this design, even when the table is in its smallest configuration, the folded leaves do not interfere


with people sitting at the table.” In 1955 it was registered at the Patent Office by Tecno Mobili e Forniture per Arredamento S.p.A. as an ornamental model (Patent no. 58934 issued on 20 June 1956) with the following description: “Table with cross-shaped base, square section central pillar with channelled sides, round top and two nearly quarter-moonshaped elements attached with hinges to the top and expanding it into an oblong shape.” With the exception of a few prototypes, the table was never introduced into mass production as a result of its height, which was greater than the standard due to the need to accommodate the leaves hanging vertically underneath it when the table was not extended. The table was never included in Tecno sales catalogues.

Photographs and plan drawings of the Sending 1 table, illustrating the different options for the top.


Giorgio Madini Moretti, Emilia Sala

Side view of the S29 chair (right). The S29 disassembled for transport (below).

S29 Disassemblable chair Designed and produced 1957

Probably after Cucaracha, the acclaimed “living room record-player cabinet” with a top in beech plywood, designed by the very young (still a university student) Madini Moretti in 1954–55 for Musical of Milan, the Borsani got in touch with him and his equally young partner, Emilia Sala, to initiate a collaborative project for a practical, disassemblable and economical chair. The chair is composed of two moulded


pieces of plywood supporting two flat foam-rubber cushions with fabric upholstery. The legs and frame are made of four pieces of iron tube bent into a C-shape, to which the plywood pieces are screwed or bolted. This model would be used for the first time in the “International Modern Architecture Exhibition” organized by E. Carboni, M. Grisotti and th A. Pica at the 11 Triennale in 1957. The chair did not appear in the sales catalogues at the time.

Roberto Mango T48 Extendable table Designed and produced 1954

It is believed that this table corresponds to the “designs by Architect Mango of Naples for an extendable table” chosen for construction for the “National Competition for a chair and an extendable table” (2 April 1954, submission deadline 15 June th 1954) organized by the 10 Triennale in collaboration with “Tecno S.A.”. The top is made of plywood finished in paduak

veneer. The connecting frame members are made of black painted iron plate and the legs are made of black painted wood. In 1955 it was registered at the Patent Office by Tecno Mobili e Forniture per Arredamento S.p.A. as an ornamental model (Patent no. 58562 issued on 23 May 1956) with the following description: “Table with sliding/folding

extendable top supported on downward tapering, wide-splayed legs.” This table was used in Roberto Mango’s interior design for Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome house, which represented th the USA at the 10 Triennale in 1954.

The T48 table in its normal and extended positions.


Roberto Mango Conical chair and chair made of two pieces of plywood Design and prototype 1954

The conical chair with seat composed of three pieces of moulded plywood on a tubular metal frame.


These creations are believed to be the “two chair designs by Architect Mango of Naples” chosen for submission to the “National Competition for a chair and an extendable table” (2 April 1954, submission deadline 15 June 1954) organized by the th 10 Triennale in collaboration with “Tecno S.A.”. One of the chairs takes the form of the interior of a cone constructed of three triangular pieces of moulded plywood joined together by three metal “buttons” and supported on a black painted frame made of iron tubing with three legs.

The model was also made in a version with a wooden frame, where the cylindrical legs are connected via crosspieces. The other chair uses a similar black painted iron frame, but the seat is crafted of two semi-circular pieces of moulded plywood fixed to the frame by means of metal braces that keep the two pieces of wood physically separated. These chairs were used in Roberto Mango’s interior design for Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome house, which represented th the USA at the 10 Triennale in 1954.

Right: Conical chair viewed from above. Lower left: Chair prototype with seat composed of two pieces of moulded plywood. Lower right: The conical chair in versions with a tubular metal frame and an experimental wooden frame.


Carlo De Carli T42 Polygonal table Design 1950 Production 1954

The table shows a very interesting structural design resulting in an equally interesting form of the plywood top. In the first Tecno catalogue (1955–56) issued after the th 10 Triennale, it is described as a “dining room table with a polygonal top made of moulded and contoured plywood and glossy black wooden legs


screwed to the top. The table top is available in different wood finishes as described in the catalogue.” In an article titled “I Mobili Tecno” [Tecno Furniture] published by De Carli in Domus (no. 303, February 1955), it is presented with a top finished in paduak wood and black mahogany legs.

The T42 table seen from below, showing the pattern achieved via the faceted effect of the plywood, with four low pyramids providing anchor points for the legs. Carlo De Carli, preparatory designs for the T42 table, 1950.

Side and top view of the T42 table, showing the characteristic polygonal outline both of the top and of the underside.


Carlo De Carli S33 Disassemblable chair Original design 1946-1947 Tecno design and production 1956-1957

Left: Carlo De Carli, technical 1:1 scale design drawing of the S33 chair. In the margins, he annotates the story of this project up to its production with Borsani for Tecno. Right: The completely disassembled S33 chair.


A disassemblable chair with a die-cast aluminium frame, moulded plywood seat and back, and tubular iron crosspiece made as a prototype by the artisan Gino Anelli for the exhibition “Forms and Colours for Today’s Home” (Como, Villa Olmo, 1956). In 1957 it was presented as “chair with a metal frame, seat and back in moulded paduak plywood, designed by the architect Carlo De Carli and produced by Tecno of Milan” in the section titled “Catalogue-collection of single furnishing elements” of the “International exhibition of the th home” at the 11 Triennale of Milan. In 1946–47, Carlo De Carli had designed a very similar chair, which was built as a prototype by the craftsmen Anelli, Saita and Scarpini. Carlo De Carli explained the design process in a quick and witty note on the margin of a 1:1 scale study drawing of the side

of the chair (probably written later as a historical annotation): “1. The notes, as they were, are the children of my reflections on the first prototype, whose plans I sent to Chicago in America (written by an Italian, me, who did not want to fly [here he drew some musical notes on a staff as if to imply that these were the lyrics to a song – Editor’s note], and who did not want to emigrate) as requested by Girard, the American organizer. The prototype had been built by the talented Gino Anelli, deceased, as will happen, who did the FRANZI store for me. “2. Early studies of the chair ‘imagined’ by C. De Carli and redesigned by C. De Carli and Osvaldo Borsani: signed by Carlo De Carli”. At the lower right side of the drawing we read the date “‘57”, although it is not clear whether this is the date of the note or of the drawing itself.

Two views of the disassemblable S33 chair designed by Carlo De Carli.


Carlo De Carli P36 (name: Balestra [crossbow]) Armchair with spring-action metal frame Design and production 1957

When it first appeared in the Tecno catalogue in the late fifties–early sixties, we read that “this armchair exploits the elasticity of the metal frame components to give a spring action to the seat and back. The padding is made of foam rubber which may be upholstered in leatherette or leather”. Its curvilinear form introduces a novelty into the Tecno collection, but its place there is justified by its ready-to-assemble structure, composed of metal bands that behave like a drawn crossbow. Regarding its form, it reflects a design quest that was more congenial to Carlo De Carli, who also designed a chair in solid curved ash that same year, built along lines similar to those

of the P36 for the second “Selective exhibition of Cantù furniture”. The exploration of these fluid structures coincides historically with the brief trend known in Italy as “neoliberty” [neo Art Nouveau], expressed at the time by a group of young copy editors working for the magazine Casabella and strongly involved in the debate initiated by their editor-in-chief Ernesto N. Rogers on the theme of “design and memory/pre-existence”. But De Carli, while recognizing his interest in Art Nouveau, affirmed his opposition to that cultural and critical trend, stating “No ‘neo’; Art Nouveau is Art Nouveau, we are ourselves.” In 1960 the P36 won the Grand th Prize at the 12 Milan Triennale.

Side views of the P36 “Crossbow” chair.


Three-quarters view of the P36 chair recreated in 1991 for the Disegno Collection.


Giampiero Bosoni

Osvaldo Borsani’s Design Concept The evolution of Tecno design through the sixties

Osvaldo Borsani, P32 chair, 1956. Osvaldo Borsani, movement of the T41 table, 1958

“Examining the modern furniture industry’s collaborative system for the creation of new furnishing models, one often notes an increasing frequency of teams of architects who come together to work alongside the technical functions. This is not the case with Tecno, where Osvaldo Borsani on his own encompasses both the design and the construction phases, the search for the new and the organization of the business. This is an exception that confirms that the routes to strength and unity in manufacturing are many and complex.” These were the concluding lines in the introductory article1 to a six-page report dedicated to Tecno as part of a series titled “Il mobile in serie” [Serial furniture], published in 1958 in the magazine that stood as a reference point for the Italian design culture of those years, the precise and refined Stile Industria, edited by Alberto Rosselli. The same article also quoted Borsani’s thinking on furniture design, expressed with the clear-eyed gaze of an entrepreneur: “Profiting from collaborations, studies and the latest discoveries, Tecno tends to follow a well defined line that unites functional research with an aesthetic quest, that uses the most suitable materials both old and new, bringing them to their highest levels of performance and offering the market, without apparent effort, beautiful objects that are unreservedly useful, sound and durable. All this requires careful and patient study of the prototype in order to achieve a constant, balanced and interchangeable product

line. Models that fail to demonstrate during the testing phase that they possess—form aside— a well defined functionality and that they can thus provide a guarantee of success in serial production must be eliminated. In short, a product has to contain an original idea and constitute a response to a need.” And without making direct reference to Tecno, the editorial in that issue of Stile Industria, written by Rosselli and titled “I limiti del disegno industriale”, also echoed the importance of the route laid out by Borsani and his company: “This issue features serially produced furniture as a new topic for Stile Industria. Because of its artisanal origins, the furniture industry is often excluded from industrial design, from the most recent applications of design to industrially manufactured products. However, over the past ten years, the furniture-making category has undergone evolution that we believe is fully worthy of being documented, beginning an analysis that will connect it back to the more orthodox manifestations of industrial design. On the other hand, it is incorrect to think of industrial design only in reference to a few selected categories, to believe that this creative activity is merely added on to traditional endeavour and is not profoundly connected to it.” The path from the tradition of fine handcraft to industrial production, accompanied by the clear-sighted development of the design process within a contemporary perspective, is the common thread guiding Osvaldo Borsani’s experience as a designer and a businessman. 89


Sequence of proofs showing Osvaldo Borsani seated on the D70 sofa while he unfolds the S88 chair, late fifties.

The dyad we mentioned of “original idea” and “response to need” represents two parts of a single theme that Borsani the businessman addressed with great respect and awareness. But it also touches on the sensibilities of Borsani the creative mind. Without abandoning the need for concreteness, he felt the need as an architect and designer to seek out an innovative idea for both the useful and the narrative forms of any household or workplace object, an idea that suggests new dimensions of living beyond those that are generally populated. Borsani was among the Italian architect-designers who laid the groundwork, starting in the early fifties, for the Italian way of design that has educated the entire world. His quest was the manifestation of a character that had long perceived what Giulio Carlo Argan expressed in his introduction to the projects created by the artists involved in Tecno: “The typology and iconography of furnishings no longer exist; furnishings take shape on the basis of the animated psychic and physical, intellectual and social reality lived by those who are present.”2 Another rare direct statement by Osvaldo Borsani the designer again expresses his particular point of view. Reflecting on the meaning of the word “design”, he wrote in 1973 that “When we used the term ‘design’, we did so with deep respect, because we were naming a

new way of thinking and building: it was a word that only we practitioners used as we attempted, moving in a difficult and indifferent milieu, to explain, introduce, reveal the methods of design applied to industry. Today we no longer use this term—so vulgarized has it become, so often used deliberately and inappropriately—that it has become invariably suspect to us. We are not made for working within the realm of the understood and assimilated; we seek new ways, and in naming new things we need new words.”3 Within this framework, representing the cultural and ideological profile of Osvaldo Borsani’s design concept, we are better able to understand the various ventures combining sharp angles with soft curves and refined smoothings, precious materials from the artisanal tradition with concrete mechanical parts whose pure technical form is quite nearly exalted, the common sense of proper proportions with the indefinable assessment of fluidity of movement and the “animated psychic and physical, intellectual and social reality” of those who use the object and make it their own. 1 “Il mobile di serie: Tecno - Italia”, in Stile Industria, no. 16, Editoriale Domus, April 1955. 2 Giulio Carlo Argan, Preface to Collezione ABV, Varedo: edizioni Tecno, 1991. 3 Taken from “L’impegno di una tecnologia responsabile”, part of the report “Tecno - espressione di cultura tecnologica”, in Ottagono, no. 30, September 1973.


Osvaldo Borsani E22 Coordinated system of modular elements for bookshelves and wardrobes Design and production 1957 expanded and developed into the seventies

The E22 system was developed by combining the possibilities offered by the L60 (later E60) modular bookshelf system mounted on metal rails with the A57 modular wardrobe system. The E22 would continue to be developed into the seventies. The system was aptly expressed in one of the early catalogues, where the A57 and the E22 were presented together with the text: “The home: an ordered, comfortable realm, ever prone to rearrangement and designed so that this may be done with ease. Intimacy in the home as the product of each person’s tastes. A living piece

of furniture created with its own function. These are the premises for the ‘Tecno system’ for the home.” Proposed as a coordinated system for furnishing either the home or the office, the E22 is composed of elements (shelves, cabinets and tables) finished in walnut or rosewood that can be combined in a variety of different ways. The elements are mounted on brackets that slide to any position along aluminium profiles with a natural finish or anodized black or bronze. The profiles can be fixed to the wall or installed as freestanding uprights between the ceiling and floor and held

in place by pressure feet, offering an alternative solution for temporary partitions. Partitions may also be created by inserting walnut, rosewood, lacquered or fabric-covered panels between the guides. Other elements were added to the E22 system over the years. One of these was a system of modular showcase elements which eventually grew into an independent series known as VE/Profilo (early seventies), composed of wooden cabinet units with glass doors that could be combined or stacked in different ways on aluminium profile mounts.

Technical drawing of the upright for the E22 system. Side view of the E22 shelving system installed in a freestanding configuration.


Wall mounted version of the E22 system with shelves, cabinets with wooden or glass doors and a drawer unit. A few of the infinite number of possible configurations of the E22 system.


Osvaldo Borsani T46 Extendable square table Design and production 1956

Square dining table that doubles into a rectangular table by turning the top on a pivot and unfolding it. The metal frame is finished in black paint.


Illustration of the T46 table opening to double its surface area.

The T46 table viewed from below and at three points in the extension process.


Osvaldo Borsani P32, D32 Spring-action swivel chair and sofa Design and production1956

The movements offered by the seat of the P32 chair made it a novelty with respect to the innovative sofa-armchair models with central metal pillars, elastic webbing suspension and foam rubber padding introduced in the same period. It was presented in the catalogues as a “swivel armchair with automatic repositioning mechanism, metal frame, adjustable back and spring, foam rubber padding and interchangeable covers available in a broad range of colours.” The advertisements emphasized that “its freedom of rotational movement makes it ideal for conversation, rest or watching television”. Furthermore, it is “suitable for the home or the office. The mechanism that

automatically brings the chair back to the pre-set position maintains order in the room after the people get up.” In a presentation in Domus (“Nuova poltrona per la serie”, no. 342, May 1958) we learn that the P32 has an “iron frame with a flat finish in black paint” and that it “swivels on a central pivot and has an adjustable back spring. ... The covers have a zipper closure and are interchangeable.” The elegant and well proportioned form, supported on delicate metal rod legs, would also give rise to the more static D32 sofa. In 1958, Tecno S.p.A. applied for a patent for a utility and ornamental model of a “swivel armchair with an adjustable spring-loaded, front-hinged back”. Patent no. 70941 was issued on 5 January 1959.

Front view of the D32 sofa. Patent document for the utility model of the P32 chair, Patent no. 70941 issued on 5 January 1959.


Sequence of advertising photos: a model sitting on a P32 chair, late fifties. Bottom left: Disassembled P32 chair showing the elastic webbing. Bottom right: Illustration of the swivel and automatic return movement of the P32 chair.


Osvaldo Borsani

Disassembled components of the T61 table with a square white marble top.

T61 a/b/c/d/e; T62

The a, b, c and e models of the T61 table.

Series of occasional tables and nightstands Design and production 1957

The simplicity of form deriving from the clarity of the structural system makes this series of occasional tables one of the highest achievements of Borsani’s quest for elegance in an industrially produced piece of modern furniture. The legs made of thin strips of bent and tapered sheet metal (with the tip bent as a point of support) are fixed mechanically to a metal frame, which supports tops made of a variety of different materials in various shapes. One significant detail of these


pieces is the notches cut into the tops to accommodate the sheet metal legs. The models reflect the different types: a) square top made of wood, black plastic laminate or marble; b) rectangular top made of wood or marble; c) round top made of wood or marble; d) round top made of wood or marble and having three drawers; e) three nesting tables with round wooden top. This idea also led to the development of the T62 nightstand.

The T61d table with a round marble top and three drawers.


Osvaldo Borsani T41 Adjustable height table Design 1957 Production 1958

The T42 is a table supported on a central pillar with metal base composed of four radial feet. The frame is finished in black paint. A version with five radial feet was also produced. The round wooden top was offered in three diameters: 105, 110 and 120 centimetres. A hidden mechanism made it possible to adjust the height of the top from 52 to 76 centimetres. Table height was adjusted by means


of a lever under the top. There was also a fixed-height version known as the T41. The simple assembly made it possible to sell the table disassembled in a flat package. The top was veneered in an interesting windmill pattern centred around a black inset wooden disk. In 1957 it was registered as a utility and ornamental model at the Patent Office (Patent no. 71435 issued on 20 March 1958).

Technical drawings of the height regulation mechanism of the T41 table, 1957. Patent document for the T41 utility and ornamental model, Patent no. 71435 issued on 20 March 1958. Top views of the T41 table illustrating the veneer pattern with a black disk at the centre surrounded by four tangentially arranged sectors.


Osvaldo Borsani T91 Coffee table with record player Design and production 1957

Top view and orthographic projections of the T91 table with record player. Patent document for the utility model of the T91 table with record player, Patent no. 66031 of 13 January 1958.


This table was registered by Tecno S.p.A. at the Patent Office in 1957 as an “Occasional table with incorporated record player covered with a transparent moveable glass cover” (Patent no. 66031 issued on 13 January 1958). The idea of the simple and elegant insertion of the most advanced technology of the time into the domestic setting finds emblematic application in this project. In spite of this, however, the project would never be developed beyond the prototype stage. A model with an oval top in mahogany and a circular recess with a sliding glass cover containing the turntable and two speakers was exhibited in the “Italian dwelling” designed by M. Comolli, E. Gellner, A. Magnani, G. C. Malchiodi, R. Mango and M. Terzaghi th at the 11 Triennale in 1957.

Osvaldo Borsani LT8 Diffused lighting device Design and production 1954

The LT8 was included in the furnishings chosen by Osvaldo Borsani for the “Mass-Produced Furniture Pavilion”, which he designed and had built at the th 10 Triennale as a dedicated exhibition space for the newly founded Tecno. Very innovative for its time in Italy, the model was probably inspired by the full-height diffused lighting system designed by Gilbert Rohde in the early 1940s and published in Italy in the book L’illuminazione della casa, edited by Luigi Claudio Clerici for Editoriale Domus in 1946. The lighting device designed by Borsani uses a fluorescent lamp and thus features a bulky transformer at the bottom. In 1957 the designs were registered by Tecno S.p.A. at the Patent Office as a utility and ornamental model (Patent no. 64737 issued on 11 September 1957) with the following description: “Lighting device using fluorescent tubes mounted on a stand with diffuser that can be oriented around a longitudinal axis. Osvaldo Borsani.”

Various views of the LT8 lighting device and sketch by Osvaldo Borsani showing the mounting method. Detail of the LT8 lighting device from the patent documents showing the base.


Osvaldo Borsani S88 Folding chair Design 1956 Production 1957

A fully folding chair with a metal frame having a flat black finish. All the parts rotate around a single hinge joint. The seat and back are made of moulded plywood with walnut, rosewood or teak veneer, and were also available with a fabric covering. Always alert to the changing needs of modern living, where the theme of folding furniture was one of the most frequently explored by the new generations of designers at the RIMA exhibition (1946) and the post-war Triennali, Osvaldo

Below: Side views of the open and fully folded S88 chair. Opposite page: Full page Tecno advertisement for the S88 chair, late fifties.


Borsani offered a concise proposal with this chair, which folds up to occupy a minimum of space. It was presented together with the P40 armchair and the L77 bed (amounting almost to a manifesto for his idea of mechanical elegance) in the “Catalogue-exhibition of single furnishing elements” section of the “International exhibition of the home” th at the 11 Milan Triennale in 1957.


Osvaldo Borsani C7 Serving cart Design and production 1960

This is the only furnishing element designed by Borsani that does not use the traditional quality materials of the artisanal trade, such as wood or fabric. The serving cart is interpreted in this case with a simplicity that is almost brutalist yet also light and endearing. The metal bar structure on casters finished in flat black paint and paired with trays in moulded sheet metal painted in various colours make clear reference to the practical, industrial models produced by a number of Swiss or Dutch manufacturers in those years, as well as to the fundamental icons made by the Eames in the United States.

Views of the C7 serving cart.


Osvaldo Borsani AT15 Swinging panel coatrack Design and production 1961

This coatrack is a hinged panel covered on both sides with cloth and mounted on the wall by means of a metal support finished in black paint. The idea of a mobile wall element that pivots to hide the hanging articles in a sort of impromptu closet against the wall, leaving the user with a view of an abstract panel suspended in the air, gives us a taste of a Borsani seeking an innovative approach to domestic spaces that will allow them to be increasingly open, dynamic and convertible.

The AT15 coatrack in a proposed setting and sequences of photos showing the two sides of the swinging panel and the large hinge structure that holds it away from the wall.


Osvaldo Borsani AT16 Coatrack with central pole Design and production 1961

Views of the AT16 coatrack in situ showing the different types of wood used for the knobs and the different colours for the central section of the pole.

The AT16 is a radially arranged, pivoting coat rack. The central pole is made of painted aluminium with a central section decorated in plastic or leather. The spherical coat knobs are made of different kinds of wood. The height can be adjusted from 290 to 320 centimetres, which makes it adaptable to different types of apartments. Special versions of this coatrack were created for collective spaces such as offices or restaurants. There are drawings of a preliminary study for a version with fold-out coat knobs.



Osvaldo Borsani P24 and T67 Armchair and modular system Design and production 1961

Armchair with a metal frame and mobile cushions on the back and seat. Borsani’s conception aimed at a range of possible compositions with different numbers of seats, achieved by attaching two or more elements together into straight or angled sofas. A special table, the T67, can be inserted between the various elements to create an intermediate or corner table.

The contoured part of the armrests, which can be screwed to the individual elements or to the end elements of compositions, is finished in teak or rosewood. The metal elements are finished in dark grey or bronze stoving enamel and the easily swapped pillow covers are available in a broad range of fabrics and colours.

Composition of the P24 chair with different upholstery colours in an angle arrangement around the T67 table. Profile of the P24 chair and its contoured wooden armrests illustrated on the cover of its original brochure.


The different combinations with the T67 table proposed in the original catalogue for the P24 chair. Side view of the P24 chair and the T67 table.


Osvaldo Borsani SE 1-2-3 Modular cabinets Design and production 1962

A series of modular cabinets designed for use in the home or the office. The drawer (SE1), leaf door (SE2) or sliding door (SE3) elements can be combined in various ways to allow a great range of original compositions and uses. The units are made of different types of wood and their tops may be finished with sheets of aluminium anodized

Two SE1 modules joined in a proposed setting.


in various colours. The die-cast aluminium supports are connected together using steel bars and finished in black stoving enamel, bronze anodized or left with a natural finish. The SE1 and SE2 units, which have only one central leg, cannot be used alone. They must be used together or in combinations with the SE3.

The various elements of the SE cabinet system: SE2 with door; SE1 with drawers; combination of the double SE3 unit with sliding doors and the SE1 and SE2 elements.


Osvaldo Borsani M6, M7, M59, M124, M150 Shelves Design and production 1961-1966

The theme of the shelf, a delicate element in isolation against the wall, would be a constant theme in Borsani’s overall vision of the home space. Starting from the early models in 1961 (M6 a/b, rectangular in various woods with contoured ends; M7 a/b,

The M7 shelf in a proposed setting, 1961


oval in various woods; M59 a/b/c/d/e/f/g, rectangular in wood),, which were available in different lengths, and the M124 of 1962, we arrive at the M150 in 1966. For all these units, two metal brackets finished in black paint ensured ease of installation.

The M59 shelf in a proposed setting, 1961 The M6 shelf in a proposed setting, 1961


Osvaldo Borsani P31 Chair Design and production 1963

The P31 was probably Borsani’s most explicit homage to the Eames chair, something he much admired, like all the work done by the American designer couple. In its two versions, with four or three legs (the latter was certainly the most original and would remain longer in the catalogue), the L31 strongly evidences the Borsani-Tecno character, which is manifested here in the static and

Views of the P31 chair in the three-legged version with upholstered seat and also with the back removed.


formal choice of the paired legs, created by joining portal frame members made of slender metal tubes. The chair offered the option of a seat upholstered in a broad variety of fabrics and colours. The frame was available in painted iron or flat-finish nickel plate. The seats and backs could be finished in a variety of different veneers. The P31 was reintroduced for the Disegno Collection in 1991.

The P31 chair reintroduced for the Disegno Collection, 1991.


Osvaldo Borsani L77 Articulated bed Design 1956 Production 1957

This articulated bed was developed as part of a series of furnishings specially designed for the guest quarters of the ENI building in San Donato Milanese. It was presented as a Tecno product together with the P40 armchair and the S88 chair (constituting a sort of manifesto of mechanical aesthetics th according to Borsani) at the 10 Milan Triennale in 1957 in the “Catalogue-exhibition of individual furnishing elements” section of the “International exhibition of the home”. It is described in the Triennale catalogue as a “single bed with metal frame that


can quickly be adjusted to various positions by means of simple controls on either side. Parts of the frame are covered in grey woollen cloth. It features a Pirelli ‘Sapsa’ foam rubber mattress supported on a criss-crossed weave of elastic webbing.” It was also published that year in Domus (no. 337, December 1957), where we read that “to the new and perfectly balanced line, this bed brings the technical qualities of practicality and full usability. It is articulated: by means of controls on either side of the bed (the bed may be joined side-by-side with others) it may

be quickly and easily adjusted to the most comfortable positions for resting or reading. The adjustability also makes it easy to raise the bed when cleaning the floor underneath. It is also possible to raise the bed frame to any necessary or desired height, from a minimum of 40 cm to a maximum of 70 cm above floor level. We may consider it not only to be a new form in the field of industrial design, but also an important innovation in expanding the range of use of the bed and achieving perfect integration into any type of interior decoration. It is completed

with a specially designed foam rubber mattress.” In 1957, Osvaldo Borsani registered this bed at the Patent Office as an ornamental and utility model (Patent no. 68126 issued on 20 May 1958) with the following description: “Segmented bed with adjustable sections cantilevered from a height-adjustable sawhorsestyle stand. Each section has a lateral trapezoidal profile with softly coupled vertices, pentagonal positioning plate, and tubular steel legs.”

Strobe-effect movement of the L77 bed and documentation for the utility and ornamental patent no. 68126 issued on 20 May 1958. Sequence of images illustrating the different possible uses of the L77 bed.


Osvaldo Borsani P/D/PA110, Canada, T110 Easy chair with footrest, sofa and low table Design 1964-1965 Production 1965-1966

Presented as an “ample armchair with a slender line�, the P110, better known as the Canada, was developed from some rough initial sketches by Valeria Borsani and Marco Fantoni while they were still young university students. When Osvaldo Borsani saw these designs, he invited the budding designers to develop

their idea. However, after they made a few uncertain attempts, he took the project in hand and completely reworked it, instilling his own particular character into it. The Canada is an easy chair composed of two sides made of moulded plywood connected by two contoured solid wood

crosspieces. The soft parts of the chair, comprising the cover, the polyurethane foam padding and the supporting material bonded into a single essential and interchangeable element, are fixed to the frame by means of wooden pressure-fit pegs. The chair is available in walnut, rosewood or white, red or black

lacquer. The chair is shipped completely disassembled in a package of minimal dimensions. This system of upholstered chairs is complemented by a low table, the T110, which has a plywood frame finished in walnut, rosewood or black lacquer, and a white marble top.

Side view of the P110 chair with the coordinated PA110 footrest. Left: Disassembled P110 chair. Right: Frame of the P110 in a white version. Bottom left: The T110a table. Facing page: The P110 in a proposed setting with the E101 modular bookshelf system designed by Eugenio Gerli, and a prototype floor lamp designed by Kugo Toru in the left foreground.


Osvaldo Borsani P103 Swivel, rocking, easy chair Design 1964 Production 1965

The P103 in a side view with its coordinated footrest, and in a front view. Technical drawing of the anodized aluminium base.


This armchair reintroduces the functions of the P32 and its characteristic swivel and rocking action on a central pillar in a technologically and formally updated version. The frame is made of wood, the padding is foam rubber

and the cover is fabric or leather. It has a height-adjustable headrest. The base is a tray-like disk in anodized, natural or enamelled aluminium whose form makes it easy to move the chair from one position to another.

Osvaldo Borsani, Eugenio Gerli L79 King-sized bed Designed and produced 1963

Bed with metal frame. The bed posts are made of paired flat steel bars with a ring made of the same material welded to the top to form a sort of knob. At the bottom, the two bars open into a semicircle to accommodate a metal ball that acts as a caster.

The mechanical aspect of this bed is also emphasized by the conspicuous frame anchors on the uprights. This piece may be considered a homage to Luigi Caccia Dominioni, of whom Borsani was a good friend and a great admirer.

The L79 bed with its visible metal frame in a proposed setting.


Osvaldo Borsani L75 Trundle beds Design and production 1962

The design of these trundle beds comprises a fixed-height upper bed at 40 centimetres, which also may be used as a divan, while the lower bed, rolling on wooden spheres, may be pulled out and raised to the height of its companion by means of a fold-out headboard and footboard. Borsani, who was very keen on the culture of northern European countries, and especially Holland, probably drew his inspiration for these beds from the trundle beds designed by Thea Leonhard and published in Domus no. 281 of April 1953. The L75 won first prize th at the 13 Triennale in 1964.

Technical drawings of the L75 trundle beds. Sequence of images illustrating the different possible configurations of the L75 trundle beds.



Osvaldo Borsani, Eugenio Gerli T68 Variable element coffee table Design and production 1963

Various possible combinations of T68 table-top elements.


The T68 is a rectangular coffee table that can be composed in various ways with sections of the top in marble, wood, glass or decorative elements. On the one hand, the use of modular components represents a very elegant interpretation of the much debated issue in Arte Programmata of art vs. design.

On the other, it may be seen as heralding subsequent explorations of the possibilities of producing objects that can be modified at will to suit the tastes of the users, who at the time were beginning to want to take part in the process of composing the formal characteristics of their household objects.

Osvaldo Borsani L150, T150, M150, PA150 King-sized bed, nightstand, shelf and bench Design and production 1966

The L150 is a single or king-sized bedframe finished in fabric or leather and encircled horizontally by a belt fastened with chrome-plated studs. The belt protrudes slightly in certain points to form a convenient handle for moving the various pieces of furniture. Matching the bed in terms of materials and design

are the PA150 bench, the M150 shelf and the circular T150 nightstand-table. Regarding the belt, we may observe an interesting analogy with the Le Mura series of upholstered furnishings designed by Mario Bellini for Cassina (1967), which also included a bed.

A proposed setting with the L150 king-sized bed, the T150 nightstand, the PA150 bench (in the foreground), and the M150 shelf unit.


Osvaldo Borsani, Eugenio Gerli T69A, T69 B, T102A, T102B Dining tables Design and production 1963, 1964 (T102)

The defining characteristic of this type of table is the supports, composed of two identical elements made of nickel-plated steel cast in the form of two tangentially abutting semicircles that interlock in a crosswise fashion (later they would be made of die-cast aluminium, stainless steel or bronzed brass) with their inner sides finished in flat black enamel. Externally, the legs resemble a flat bar bent into a C-shape. The structure is made rigid by a web arising at each tip and reaching its maximum width at the centre point, where the two semicircles join and interlock with the second element. The effect is like four tangentially abutting curved I-beams, with the web diminishing to zero at either end, that open like a flower. On the one hand, we may see a clear homage to Mies van der Rohe’s discerning and artistic use of I-beams in his skyscrapers as well as to the supple elegance of the intersecting flat bars in his Barcelona chair (1929). On the

other, it is interesting to note how an industrially cast metal element succeeds in achieving a stylized re-evocation of the “volutes� used in wooden tables with central pillars designed by Osvaldo Borsani for ABV in the early forties. The T69B (h. 64 cm) is slightly lower than the T69A (h. 73 cm) while both are available in three diameters (120, 130 and 140 cm). The T102 has an oval top measuring 120 x 200 cm supported on two sets of leg elements lacking the lower arcs of the four semicircles aligned along the longitudinal axis. This table also comes in two heights, the T102A and the lower T102B. The table tops are usually made of marble, but may also be crafted in glass, varnished wood or natural rosewood, Indian striated rosewood, Brazilian rosewood, teak or other woods. All variants of this table are patented. In 1970 extensions were designed for the T69A.

The single cast leg element and two interlocked elements forming the support for the T69 table.


Technical drawings for the die-cast leg element for the T69 table. Views of the T69A table and the longer T102A table, whose legs are made of single cast pieces positioned in parallel instead of in a criss-cross configuration.


Osvaldo Borsani, Eugenio Gerli T87 Variable height table Design and production 1964


This table may be set up at two different heights: 40 cm as a coffee table, or 70 cm as a card table. The height is increased by means of a solid wooden leg that folds down and over the shorter metal coffee

table leg as if it were the handle of a jack knife and the shorter leg were the blade. The centre of the table top is a reversible disc with felt on one side and coloured plastic on the other.

The T87 table in the low version and a bottom view revealing the mechanism of the legs which are hidden under the top and fold out to raise the height of the table top.

Eugenio Gerli illustrates the option of reversing the central part of the top for a different surface. We also note the shorter metal legs inserted like jack knife blades into the longer wooden legs.


Giampiero Bosoni


Eugenio Gerli: the likeminded designer

Rear view of the P121 armchair designed by Eugenio Gerli and his son Enrico, 1965.

In the early years of Tecno, the Borsani brothers’ search for external collaborators was not oriented towards personalities whose qualities tended towards a pronounced autonomy in design. Rather, they sought to identify figures with qualities that harmonized with the Tecno model. This meant significantly narrowing the search to a young designer who had already gained some degree of expertise, who had demonstrated a capacity for research and innovation in furniture design, and was ready and willing to join a program that was already well defined, and to do so bound by a relationship of exclusivity. In return, the designer would find great opportunities to exercise his or her talents in interior and industrial design. For more than thirty years, this role of designer of “elective affinities” in close collaboration with Tecno fell to the architect Eugenio Gerli. The affinity is evidenced in the few lines written by Gerli several years ago when he was asked to contribute to a commemoration of Osvaldo Borsani. He wrote a short letter to the family which contained what Valeria Borsani considers one of the most faithful portraits of her father as an architect: “Osvaldo’s concepts, his ideas… I remember them through his drawings. His thoughts achieved immediate concreteness in his effortless and confident lines, which were delightful for their clarity and synthesis. Even if only a simple sketch, his drawings contained precise indications and the premises for significant 1 development and execution.”

Eugenio Gerli received his degree in architecture in 1949 after completing a two-year program in engineering. His early works included an important interior design project in the centre of Milan: the Ambasciatori cinema (1954). Interest in furniture design, something strongly felt by young architects in the early post-war years, also infected Gerli, who proved to be strongly attracted to experimentation with new materials. Indeed, at the 10th Milan Triennale in 1954, the one marking Tecno’s debut, in the “Individual furnishings exhibition” section, where Osvaldo Borsani’s D70 sofa was on display (together with many pieces that would become famous by Wegner, Albini, Bill, Ponti, Eames, Zanuso, Rosselli, Mango, Prouvé, Asti, Monti, Viganò, Parisi, Nelson, Coray and others) there were no fewer than four chairs designed by Gerli and produced by Forma: wooden chair with seat made of strips of leather, two chairs with four metal legs covered with orange and purple felt, and a fully wooden chair (designed with Mario Cristiani)2. Out of twelve photos in the Triennale catalogue dedicated to that exhibition, which included one hundred and eighty-one different pieces of furniture, Gerli’s works appeared in the foreground of two of them. This should suffice to make it clear that his works possessed some very interesting qualities, which the keen eye of Osvaldo Borsani cannot have missed. Furthermore, Fulgenzio and Osvaldo’s sister, Bianca, were close friends with Gerli’s wife, and this too was an effective 133

factor favouring the encounter. At any rate, it took only an initial informal exchange of views at the Triennale and then a meeting at the factory in Varedo to give them an immediate understanding of the potential fruits of a collaborative relationship. The first assignment: manage work on the Tecno store on Via Montenapoleone in Milan. From then on, the trusting relationship became closer and closer, to the point where the Borsani, when they decided to undertake a delicate project that required coordination and trips away from the headquarters, often ended their discussions by saying: “Well, let’s call Gerli.” Gerli’s work at Tecno was divided among many architecture projects (the interior design of many Tecno stores inaugurated in different parts of the world and a few special jobs for large-scale interiors) and the designs for products hatched around the table with Osvaldo Borsani. It was a fast and direct, but also a punctilious, precise almost maniacal work method. “The ‘thing’ had to be done in the best way possible,” recalls Gerli, “things were always taken to the limit… Borsani was a perfectionist in these things, you always had to do them even better. ‘Let’s take another look…’ he often said… and he communicated this spirit to his customers as well.”3 Gerli’s and Borsani’s signatures appeared together on many successful products, including the famous Graphis office system. Gerli also spoke of the way authorship of a project was determined. “All the pieces of furniture [created in the late fifties and the sixties, editor’s note] were designed together. I gave him a hand and he gave me a hand. But we had agreed that we would indicate the paternity of every project.


In some cases it was difficult to determine. Many we signed together, because it was obvious, but certain simpler things were signed by one or the other of us… I contributed this, you contributed that, but what counted was the original idea. That was what we recognized as determining parentage.”4 This solid relationship of trust—exclusive in terms of product design, but free with respect to the exercise of the profession of architect— was the only case of continuing collaboration in the entire history of Tecno up to the creation in 1970 of the Centro Progetti Tecno. “For more than 35 years,” wrote Gerli regarding his relationship with Tecno, “almost without fail every Tuesday and Friday, I left my studio in Milan to become part of the fabric, the weave of Tecno: especially as a designer, but also as a consultant and friend, getting involved in studies of materials or in dealings with the most demanding customers, even if they were on the other side of the world. What is Tecno? It is something that is constantly becoming, built upon an ambitious and stimulating idea, growing in a climate of impassioning rigour and faith in one’s ideas and one’s capabilities.”5


Letter by Gerli to Valeria Borsani, undated (c. 1991-1992). Archivio storico Borsani-Tecno, Varedo. 2 Agnoldomenico Pica (ed.), Catalogo X Triennale – Arti e tecniche oggi nel mondo, Milan 1954, pp. 95, 100, LIV, LV. 3 See the interview with Eugenio Gerli, early 1990s, on the occasion of the Disegno Collection, Archivio storico Borsani-Tecno, Varedo; Conversation between Giampiero Bosoni and Eugenio Gerli in December 2010. 4 Ibid. 5 Eugenio Gerli, “Martedì e Venerdì”, in Centro Progetti Tecno (ed.), 40 anni Tecno, liber amicorum, Edizioni Tecno, Varedo, undated (1993-1004).

Eugenio Gerli S3 Disassemblable chair Design1953-1954 Production 1957

The S3 was the first piece designed by Gerli that Tecno produced. The model derives from a series of studies carried out in 1951 with Mario Cristiani which did not make it past the prototype stage in the version made of contoured felt and plywood. Other pieces in felt designed by Gerli in this period would be manufactured in 1953 by the company Forma and presented th at the 10 Triennale in 1954, not far from the D70 sofa. The S3 was described in Domus (no. 351, February 1959) in an article titled “Una nuova sedia” [A new chair] as a “dining room chair composed of four pieces of moulded plywood that interlock and are held by four screws. It has three legs but is very stable, and its form makes it very suitable for a round table. It is produced in various woods and colours. It can be completely disassembled and is thus very easy to package.”

The disassemblable S3 chair seen from various angles and completely disassembled (top right).


Eugenio Gerli P28 Chair Design and production 1958

A chair with a frame made of wengé wood or with a glossy black finish and a cushioned seat. The back-armrests and the seat are upholstered in foam rubber and may be covered in fabric, leatherette or leather. In 1991 it was reintroduced for the Disegno Collection in a version finished in black paint with black leather upholstery. The accompanying information sheet contained a comment probably suggested by Gerli himself: “The circle is the expressive sign of the P28: partially as a choice of geometry and thus of formal rigour; partially as a commemoration of chairs for solemn or domestic settings, contained in our collective memory of furniture.”


Drawing with orthographic projects and views of the P28 chair.


Eugenio Gerli, Mario Cristiani T92 Extendable “butterfly” table Design 1956 Production 1960

The T92 is a table with a walnut, rosewood or white lacquered wooden top (later finished in polyester resin) composed of four triangles. The metal frame is either finished in black paint or nickel plated. The four triangles composing the square top are hinged at their bases and fold out like flower petals [which in Italian are likened to butterfly wings, translator’s note] to double the surface area of the top. The table is opened by first rotating the top on a pivot placed at the centre of the frame and then opening the four triangular petals.

The transformability and the mechanism by which it is accomplished make this a classic Tecno product. The project began in 1956 when Gerli and Cristiani took part in the national design contest announced by Formica together with Domus for “Colourful furniture made of plastic laminates” (published in Domus, no. 336, November 1957). The prize winners included Gerli and Cristiani with a prototype of a “butterfly table” very similar to the T92 created by Bruno Vivarelli (Milan).

Studio drawing of the proportions of the T92 table. Right: the sequence for opening and expanding the table top.



Eugenio Gerli T97 Sliding leaf table Design and production 1963

The T97 is a square table that can be extended by means of a sliding leaf. The frame is made of metal. The wooden legs coordinate with the S81, S82 and S83 chairs.


The T97 table with extended top and photographed next to the T46 table.


Eugenio Gerli S81, S82, S83 Disassemblable chairs Design and production 1962

This series of disassemblable chairs has a die-cast aluminium frame supporting the opaque black seat and providing anchorage for the front legs and rear uprights made of walnut or rosewood. The S81 and S82 have a seat and back upholstered in foam rubber covered with fabric or leather. The S82 has a high back. A version was also designed with three legs and a round seat

and back, but it was never put into production. The S83 has a similar structure with the seat and back made of moulded teak plywood, walnut or rosewood veneered plywood, or lacquered plywood. It also has the added feature of being stackable. The wooden legs have a polished black finish. The S83 was reissued for the Disegno Collection in 1991.

Prototype of a chair in the S81 series with three legs and a round seat and back. Composition of S81 and S82 chairs.


Three-quarters view of the S83 chair.


Eugenio Gerli P/D73 Sir Armchair and sofa Design and production 1966

Maximum comfort sofa and armchair upholstered in leather or fine fabrics. The supporting structure is made of contoured wood and the padding is foam rubber. The sofa is available in double or triple elements that make it possible to create large dimension seating arrangements by joining the modules together. The removable armrests can be positioned at the ends of any configuration. The design of the Sir, clearly inspired by traditional upholstered models, made it well suited as subject matter for the debate revolving around the “neoliberty” [neo Arte Nouveau] trend


championed by the young editors of Casabella magazine. An interesting presentation was made in this regard in the magazine Ottagono (no. 6, 1967) in an article titled “Soggiorno con la ‘Sir’” [Living room with the ‘Sir’]: “We would like to point out this new armchair because although it is equipped with all the technological requisites of a modern furnishing (durability, comfort, practicality), it nevertheless has a rather traditional character. By ‘tradition’ I mean all that which fits well with our cherished habits and is necessary for our daily lives”.

Various views of the P73 armchair and D73 sofa.

Eugenio Gerli “Dumbwaiter” with pivoting trays Design and prototype 1963

Illustrations of the great versatility of the “dumbwaiter” with pivoting trays.

This interesting “dumbwaiter” with trays that pivot around a central axis was only produced in a number of different prototypes. The company decided not to put it into production because competing companies had brought out a similar product shortly before this one was scheduled to be marketed. Nevertheless, in 1964 an entire page was dedicated to it in the book L’arredamento moderno [Modern furnishings] by Roberto Aloi (published by Hoepli). The caption read: “Work table: metal structure with a black lacquer finish, the pivoting trays are made of metal and lined with red and grey felt. Eugenio Gerli, architect – produced by Tecno”.


Eugenio Gerli E101Domino Modular bookshelves Design and production 1965

Original Cartesian composition of the modular E101 system. Detail of the interlock for the modular shelf units in the E101 Domino system.


The E101 is a system composed of shelves/uprights of equal width but different lengths with deep notches that allow them to be composed into an interlocking bookshelf system. The system makes it possible to create innumerable different types of structures (bookshelves, storage units, low cabinets, partitions, central room elements) and also an unusual variety of compositions. The system is simple but designed and produced with great attention to detail: special filler elements are used to close unused notches and add to the architectural characteristics of the constructed furnishing element; grooves cut into the visible edge of the shelves (at the head on one side and two grooves next to the edge on the other) add a delicate and almost invisible finishing touch. The various components are made of walnut or rosewood or else finished in white, red or black lacquer. Used in an alternating pattern, they make it possible to create rich and varied

compositions. In the article “Composizione per libreria” [Bookshelf composition] (Ottagono, no. 5, 1967), we read: “Although it is the fruit of a simple concept of shelving, the Domino bookshelf system has something that reminds us of certain intelligent oriental games of interlocking pieces. Indeed, it is composed of a series of modular elements that are assembled by intersection without need for screws. It may be varied in dimension and appearance depending on the elements that one chooses to use at any given time in this game of free montage. Freedom is granted to all who acquire a mass-produced piece of furniture without sacrificing the ability to exercise their own differentiated choice. This freedom is possible not only in the extemporaneous composition of the pieces and the choice of materials, but also in the combination of colours, which may be selected to match or contrast to create a wide variety using the lacquered elements.”

Interesting complex and asymmetrical composition of the E101 bookshelf system. Studio models exploring different compositional possibilities.


Eugenio Gerli B106 Jamaica Bar cabinet on casters Design and production 1966

A “nutshell� that contains glasses and bottles for a convenient bar that can be moved, thanks to its casters, to any corner of the house. When opened it is a practical bi-level table. It is available in fine woods or painted in lively colours. The tops are finished in grey or brown plastic laminates.

Various finishes of the Jamaica bar cabinet shown both opened and closed.


Eugenio Gerli Margherita Polyester chair Design and production 1969

This chair was conceived by Gerli during an interior design project for a clothing store named “Margherita� in the centre of Milan, and produced by Tecno. This is one of the company’s first forays into the use of plastics as major structural components. The chair is made of reinforced polyester with a one-piece body constituting the supporting structure and enwrapping back. A round cushion is attached to the seat by means of a metal ring.

Front and side views of the Margherita chair with reinforced polyester structure.


Eugenio Gerli PS142, P142, D142 A/B Clamis P104, D104 Jacqueline Chairs, armchairs and sofas on casters Design and production 1966-1969

P142 armchair with the seat cushion removed to expose the frame, and the D142 sofa.


We may speak of a family of upholstered seats that develops from the PS142 chair on casters (1966) built on a steel and aluminium frame (later nylon) with moulded polyurethane foam padding. This model gave direct rise to the armchair version, P142, and to the two- or three-seat sofa, D142 A/B Clamis (1969), which were also produced in a version with steel feet. This series of upholstered seats originated as a response to the latent demand for the transformation of domestic spaces witnessed in Italy starting

in the mid-sixties, where the living room space, the dining area and the leisure spaces began to merge into a single multifunctional space. Design responded in the following ways: tables were introduced that were much lower than their traditional counterparts, as in the case of the 64-centimetre-high T69B, and chairs began to have armrests. The homogeneity and continuity of design was enriched with sofas and chairs of different sizes: 80 x 68 cm for the armchair, 140 x 68 cm for the two-seater sofa and 200 x 68 cm for the

three-seater. The chair is narrower: 70 cm x 68 cm high and 63 cm deep. On 20 July 1970, these models were registered at the US Patent Office, which issued technical and industrial patent no. 224.285 on 18 July 1972 having a validity of fourteen years. The PS142 also gave rise to a series of somewhat autonomous offshoots, P104 and D104 (1968), on casters, going by the name of Jacqueline, with a more compact and traditional form and characterized by the quilted effect of the back cushions, dimpled by two buttons.

Chairs/armchairs from the 142 series highlighting the original three-component design.


Eugenio Gerli L108 Holland T128 Revolver Bed and low, circular cabinet Design and production 1967 (bed),1969-1970 (cabinet)


A single or double bed with a solid wooden frame in walnut or rosewood, or painted white. Bedspring in enamelled steel. A low, circular fibreglass cabinet on casters pairs with the bed as a nightstand and contains a rotating carousel shelf.

The T128 Revolver circular fibreglass cabinet on casters, clearly an excellent complement to the Volans 3 television designed by Mario Bellini and produced by Brionvega in 1969.

The L108 Holland bed and the T128 Revolver cabinet acting as a nightstand.


Eugenio Gerli L1, L2, L3 Vases and umbrella stand Design and production fine late sixties – early seventies

Typical sixties youth-culture settings for the L1, L2 and L3 vases.


At the height of the “Pop” season at the turn of the sixties– seventies, Eugenio Gerli was taken, like many designers, by what would be called the “plastic utopia”. This led to his designs for a series of cast plastic vases conceived as furnishing complements that were completely extraneous to the

Tecno product lines of the time. The three models were quite large, the L3 was actually big enough to be used upside-down as a low table. Regarding their form, there are clear and interesting analogies with the products of other contemporary designers such as Ettore Sottsass, Sergio Asti and Gae Aulenti.

Eugenio Gerli, Enrico Gerli P121 Armchair with reclining back Design and production 1965

The type of armchair designed by the Gerli, father and son, evokes an idea of lightness and simplicity that takes us beyond the classic model of the bulky easy chair. Three lightly upholstered and curved leaves come together to create an apparently temporary structure. The reclining back and the free armrest “wings� give the chair its particular dynamism. The frame is metal with polyurethane foam padding and cover in fabric or leather.

Top: Side view of the P121 showing movement of the back. Right: The P121 seen from behind.


Giampiero Bosoni


Tecno sells Tecno

Night view of the multilevel exhibition areas in the Tecno store on Via Montenapoleone in Milan, 1956. Interior of the first Via Montenapoleone store in Milan, with visible portions of the glass floor panels that allowed products to be viewed from below as well as above.

One of the pillars of the Tecno project has unquestionably been its sales system based on prestigious monobrand stores. This bold venture, undertaken in the fifties and sixties, grew out of a well focused and coherent view of the need for a direct relationship between the company and its customers. In addition to his precision and elegance in design and his painstaking care in supervising the creation of each of his company’s products, many of Osvaldo Borsani’s collaborators1 also remember his relaxed and engaging manner when working directly with customers to determine the necessary features of an interior design project. Among the things that the Borsani brothers, and particularly Osvaldo, took from their father, Gaetano, were the indispensable qualities of a capable salesman and of insightful managers of market relations, as well as their talents as craftsmen. The punctilious and significant presence of ABV at all the Triennali, starting from 1925, is a further index of the attention dedicated by the Borsani to their relations with the market and thus with the public. A further indicator of this strongly customer-oriented approach was Gaetano Borsani’s decision in 1932 to open a monobrand store in Milan with an annexed design office. The original site was a gallery along Via Mazzini, near the Duomo, but shortly thereafter, sometime around 1936, the store was relocated to the more visible Via Montenapoleone. The street had not yet assumed its current role as centre of the fashion district, but

more importantly, it ran among the palazzi of the Milanese aristocracy and upper middle class. Osvaldo Borsani’s concern for customer relations inevitably placed him in a delicate situation when he began to introduce his idea of shifting the manual work of ABV towards a mechanized and serial production system. It meant addressing a much broader and more generalized—if not anonymous—audience. It seems that Gaetano Borsani, rather than worrying about maintaining the quality of his products, assailed this idea principally out of concern for what he believed to be the most serious threat looming over Osvaldo and the somewhat vacillating Fulgenzio: “This system will make you slaves to the vendors, you will be at the shopkeepers’ bidding!” But Osvaldo responded with a statement that would long provide the basis for much of Tecno’s success: “No, that’s not the way it’s going to be; only Tecno will sell Tecno!” This liberating answer served as a credo and slogan, a banner under which Tecno staked out its showrooms in the major European cities. The first official opening in 1956 had to be in Milan, on Via Montenapoleone. They occupied an entire building, which was renovated internally and externally, with a new façade designed by Osvaldo Borsani assisted by Eugenio Gerli. “The trend informing the plans,” we read in a sort of project report published by Roberto Aloi, “was that of connecting the volumes of the three floors of the store, arranging them to create a 157

Details of the Tecno stores in Brussels and Cologne, examples of the many monobrand stores inaugurated around the world into the eighties.

broader and more flowing space: from the street level it was possible to see the sales and display areas in every part of every floor through transparent floors made of moulded sheet-metal beams finished in dark grey stoving enamel supporting tempered glass floor panels, on which the furnishings and objects were placed.”2A detail that is anything but insignificant: the parapet around the entire second floor, composed of variable vertical slats, was based on designs by Lucio Fontana. The store’s charm and powerful image were well described by Giulio Castelli, founder and for almost fifty years managing director of Kartell. He used these words a few years ago is assessing Tecno’s role in the history of Italian design: “In the fifties, everyone looked at the Arredamenti Borsani store on Via Montenapoleone in Milan as something unattainable. For those in the furniture business, the idea of having a store in that location was somewhat awe inspiring; the Borsani brothers, Osvaldo and Fulgenzio, were the aristocrats of interior design. Their cutting-edge choices were coherent with their market and their own way of being: decidedly upper crust. And this coherence continued when they opened the Tecno store, again on Via Monte158

napoleone to establish two poles of attraction— one for the office and one for the home—on the street of fashion, one of the most beautiful 3 in Milan.” Stores would also be opened in Rome and Paris prior to 1970. They were followed by others in Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Bologna, Brussels, Buenos Aires, Catania, Düsseldorf, Florence, Geneva, Genoa, London, Madrid, Melbourne, Munich, Naples, San Sebastian, Turin, Valencia and Vienna. In 1973, a section titled “Il negozio: un discorso con il pubblico” [The store: a conversation with the public], part of a major piece in the magazine Ottagono dedicated to Tecno, summarized the philosophy of the Tecno sales outlet as follows: “In the showrooms in Milan, Genoa, Rome, Turin and Naples, in those in Paris and Amsterdam, and in all the other sales outlets in Italy and the world, Tecno expresses in the fullest way the criteria underpinning its approach to design, sales and the provision of precise customer care. For Tecno, the moment when the product is sold is an occasion for establishing a certain type of relationship with the customer based on total collaboration, the exchange of ideas and the

Interior of one of the Neoclassical former customs houses at Porta Garibaldi (formerly Porta Comasina), remodelled in 2006 to accommodate the new Tecno sales headquarters in Milan.

quest for mutual understanding. This relationship can often be found between places that are geographically distant, but where the different audience, the different cultures and needs, are interpreted by Tecno on the basis of a dynamic and open relationship.”4 With the great changes in the globalized market and the various vicissitudes of the company after the death of its founders, this great chain of monobrand stores has now been significantly reduced (there are currently stores in Milan, Rome, Florence, Bologna, Paris, London and Buenos Aires). The Milanese presence is no longer on Via Montenapoleone but in two prestigious Neoclassical buildings, the old cus-

toms houses at Porta Garibaldi (1826), near a part of the city undergoing a grand transformation, and not inaptly known—both for its current and future vocation—as the “City of Fashion”. 1

Observations and recollections recorded during interviews with Eugenio Gerli, Valeria Borsani and Marco Fantoni between December 2010 and February 2011, and also found in transcripts of interviews with Agenore Fabbri, Roberto Mango and other Borsani acquaintances in 1991 on the occasion of the ABV Collection. 2 “Negozio Tecno a Milano”, in Roberto Aloi, Mercati e negozi, Ulrico Hoepli Editore, Milan 1959, pp. 297-300. 3 Giulio Castelli, “Tecno”, in Giulio Castelli, Paola Antonelli, Francesca Picchi (eds.), La fabbrica del design. Conversazioni con i protagonisti del design italiano, Skira, Milan 2007, p. 85. 4 Pier Carlo Santini (ed.), “Tecno, espressione di cultura tecnologica”, in Ottagono, no. 30, September 1973.


Giampiero Bosoni

Enrico Mattei and the ENI offices

The beginning of the “major projects”

ENI building in San Donato Milanese, designed by Marcello Nizzoli and Mario Oliveri, 1956–1958.


Together with the design of serially produced products, one of Tecno’s fundamental identifying traits, another essential characteristic of the Tecno project, with its roots certainly sunk deep into the life-giving substance that nourished the ABV workshop, is the creation of certain “special”, or we might say “custom”, projects, which Tecno termed “major projects”. Unlike the custom projects undertaken by ABV, which regarded small or medium interiors, mainly homes (and also executive offices), the focus gradually shifted with Tecno to large-scale buildings with complex technological issues, such as airports, train stations, hospitals and office buildings. The first such project in this significant story came about almost as a coincidence thanks to the broad views and determination of a central and emblematic figure in post-war Italy, Enrico Mattei. In the initial period after Second World War and into the fifties, the Mattei name was synonymous with Italy’s economic resurgence in conjunction with the Ente Nazionale Idrocarburi (ENI), of which he was founder and president. After a brilliant program of natural gas exploration in northern Italy, Mattei succeeded in obtaining important concessions for petroleum mining in northern Africa, actually succeeding in pulling them out from under the noses of the powerful “Seven Sisters”. Regarding his encounter with the Borsani, the story goes that one day,

when Mattei was in the Milan office of the lawyer Balestrini, a historical ABV customer, he noted the quality of design and manufacture of the sober and elegant furnishings in the lawyer’s studio and was curious to know who had made them. A chord was immediately struck between the strong personalities of Mattei and Borsani, who shared a need for concreteness and were filled with a spirit of initiative. Both also had a keen sense of primacy in their respective fields. The first assignment was to redo the interiors of the Via Tevere offices in Rome, but the first true “major project” was the interior design for the new ENI building in San Donato Milanese, representing a sort of crowning seal upon the development spearheaded by Mattei, which went by the name of Metanopoli. The architects for the building were Marcello Nizzoli and Mario Oliveri. Nizzoli was formerly a fundamental contributor to product and architectural design for Olivetti, a company much celebrated for its innovative service in the field of office equipment and an international reference point in the culture of industrial design. The theme of the modern office was new ground to be explored in Italy at the time, and starting with the 1954–1955 catalogue, the Tecno project had already begun to direct its focus on the requisites for technical design and effectiveness of this newly and energetically evolving sector.

Interior of an executive office with the T96 desk, which was designed specially for the ENI building in San Donato Milanese, and the P99 chair. Entirely designed by Osvaldo Borsani, these furnishings are complemented by an elegant lamp designed by Gino Sarfatti and produced by Arteluce.


The building designed by Nizzoli and Oliveri has a floor plan based on combinations of hexagons developing organically and generating interior spaces that are as interesting as they are unusual. In his designs, Borsani chose not to force preconceived elements onto the system, elements that would be difficult to integrate into these innovative spaces. Instead, he sought an interpretation of those oblique forms with various mobile, dynamic elements, some of them designed on the basis of the same generative principle used by Nizzoli and Oliveri and thus more organically in tune with the spatial and planar system created by the two architects. “Indeed, Borsani responded with a host of formal and technological solutions,” observed Giuliana Gramigna, “to a project characterized by advanced and unusual solutions, from the creation of the T96 desk with its boomerang top, which seemed to be the optimal form for rooms with a hexagonal floor plan, ensuring the desk a place in subsequent Tecno catalogues, to the creation of cabinet-walls in offices and corridors, where the wood decorations mimicked the motifs characterizing the building’s exterior.”i The experience of sharing these design and production processes with Enrico Mattei and ENI represented a fundamentally important launch pad for Tecno. The company was then able to take on other special, major projects in which the particular combination of technological, typological and formal design and the deeply rooted sense of quality that represented constants in the Tecno project could once again be wielded to bring outstanding benefits to the customer. The story of the “major projects” continued immediately after the ENI job with other jobs generated by the dynamism of Enrico Mattei and the Borsani. Tecno would soon find itself working in the Middle East to decorate the houses of Mattei’s new partners—but this is a story for another occasion. Interior in the guest quarters of the ENI building, for which the L77 articulated bed was specially designed. Drawing by Osvaldo Borsani.



Giuliana Gramigna, “Borsani, Enrico Mattei e gli uffici ENI”, in Giuliana Gramigna, Fulvio Irace (eds.), Osvaldo Borsani, Leonardo De Luca Editori, Rome 1992.

Meeting room in the ENI building with the T58 table in the centre surrounded by P99 chairs. Drawing by Osvaldo Borsani of an executive office with a meeting area featuring the D70 sofa, P32 armchairs, P20 chairs, the T98 desk and the T58 conference table.


Executive office in the ENI building. The P32 armchairs and a low version of the T44 table are in the foreground, the T58 table at the far side of the room. Drawing by Osvaldo Borsani showing an office parlour with P32 armchairs and a T44 table.


Lounge area with bar in the ENI building featuring the P32 armchairs.


Osvaldo Borsani P27 Conference room chair Design and production 1958

Tecno has always been alert to national and international developments in the realm of the office. This chair marks the beginning of its interpretation of seating systems for offices that respond to the many different specific functions that were emerging at the time. This particular chair was designed with public meeting and conference areas in mind. The P27 is stackable and may be supplied with a writing surface in plastic laminate that can be attached to either armrest. The frame is made of nickelplated steel with a flat finish. The foam rubber padding can be covered with fabric, leatherette (or “elastic plastic� as it was called in catalogues at the time) or leather. In all cases the upholstery is generally black.

Three-quarters view of the P27 chair with writing surface.


Osvaldo Borsani P37 Office chair Design and production 1958

With its moulded plywood sides and back, this fully upholstered chair is related to the P20 series but more suited to the work environment. Like the P20, it was introduced as an alternative to, and later replaced, the P35/P38/P39/P99 series. The upholstery comprises foam rubber covered with fabric, leatherette (or “elastic plastic� as it was called in catalogues at the time) or leather. The chair is generally furnished with black upholstery. The legs are made of black enamelled or nickel-plated steel.


Osvaldo Borsani

Various models in the P20 office chair series.

P20 a/b/c/d

Version of the P20 office chair with central column and four radial feet on casters.

Office chairs Design 1958 Production 1959-1962

The P20 chair series was created, after the development of the T95 and T96 executive work tables and the T58 conference tables, as a specific seating system designed for offices and it slowly replaced the P35/P38/P39/P99 series. The first version, clearly dedicated to executives, was presented as a “swivelling desk chair with casters and a spring back, or simple swivel action.” The various metal frame members have a flat black enamel or nickel finish. The upholstery consists


of foam rubber covered with fabric, leatherette (or “elastic plastic” as it was called in catalogues at the time) or leather. The most common upholstery colour is black. The complete series comprises three models: a) with swivel column base without casters or cushion; b) with swivel column base, casters and cushion; c) executive chair with high back, swivel column base, casters and cushion; d) with four tubular metal legs without cushion.


Osvaldo Borsani

Side view of the P125 executive chair with four radial feet, padded button upholstery and high back.

Series125 A/B/C/D, T125, Series126 A/BC/D

Osvaldo Borsani, sketch of the high-backed P125.

Executive office chairs and armchairs

Technical drawing of the P125 chair.

Design and production 1966-1976

Series of coordinated chairs and armchairs for executive and other offices. The die-cast aluminium bases (with four radial legs in the first series in 1966) and armrests have a natural, anodized or chrome-plated finish applied using a recently developed process. The polyester and fibreglass chair bodies are upholstered in fabric or natural leather and embellished with a vertical pattern created by six stitched seams. An easy-chair version was also offered with the upholstered back decorated only with two padded buttons. Accessories/options include joints, height adjustors, castes and others as necessary to increase comfort and enhance office functionality.


A series of small tables, T125 (1966), was also made using the same type of column support with four radial feet. The tops were square or round in walnut, rosewood or plastic laminate. The series was updated and completed in 1976, taking the name 126 and being divided into two complete series (originally with four radial feet, the new base had five) differentiated only by the design of the upholstery: one with the upholstery on the back fixed with a line of three padded buttons, and the other with the well established six vertical seams. The vertical seams derived from the automobile seats found in the Citroen DS, Osvaldo Borsani being one of the first Italians to own one.

Left: P125 models without casters, including the low chair with padded buttons and versions with six vertical seams.

Bottom: P125 models with four radial feet and vertical seams.

Right: P125 models with padded button upholstery.


Osvaldo Borsani T96 Executive desk Design 1956 Production 1958

Osvaldo Borsani, watercolour drawing of the T96 executive desk Technical drawings of the T96 desk.


The T96 desk, representing a development of the theme introduced with the T58 and T90, was created by Osvaldo Borsani as part of the coordinated furnishings for the ENI building in San Donato Milanese. The original angled shape of the top was inspired by the hexagonal floor plan of the building designed by Marcello Nizzoli and Mario Oliveri and represented the optimum solution for the given spatial configurations. This less rigid, more dynamic form was more engaging in a certain sense.

With its swivelling drawer units, it would prove to be an innovative model meeting the emerging demands of the evolving office, an executive desk abandoning the need for prestige in favour of practicality, utility and interrelation. The supports with three radial feet are made of die-cast aluminium or polished stainless steel. The top is in walnut or rosewood with the option of a leather writing pad. The drawer units rotate around the desk supports and can be interchanged.

Side view of the T96 desk with the characteristic boomerang top. The T96 desk with the P99 chair, and the T96 broken down into its basic components.


Osvaldo Borsani T58 a/b/c/d/e/f Conference table in different lengths Design1961 Production 1962

Deriving partially from the T43 table (1955), this larger version, available in different dimensions with lengths ranging from 250 to 600 centimetres, is supported on chrome-plated steel columns in two different heights. The elongated hexagon top, with the short ends lightly rounded, has bevelled edges both above and below around the entire circumference of the table.


The T58 conference tables paired with P20 chairs.

Technical drawing of the frame of the T58 table with radial feet.

Front view of the T58 conference table.

Technical drawing summarizing the various available T58 table top dimensions and thicknesses.


Osvaldo Borsani (attribuited)

With the slogan “colour in the office”, Tecno presented a new office system for the service sector comprising fully metal cabinetry offered in a range of colours that was innovative for its time. This series, seeking an updated response to the new demands for offices, came out two years before the Graphis system.

Compos Office system Design and production 1966

Various combinations for the Compos office system.


The structure is made of chromeplated steel with tops in grey plastic laminate and drawer units finished in five harmonious enamel colours (white, neutral brown, green, black and yellow). In the catalogue it was emphasized that the “precise dimensions make the various pieces interchangeable”.

Osvaldo Borsani T118 Table Design and production 1967

Table with tubular stainless steel legs, walnut, rosewood or white or black polyester painted top with a glossy or flat finish. Available in standard height with a rectangular top and as a low table with a square top.

The high and low versions of the T118 table.


Osvaldo Borsani T160, MG160 Executive desk and service table with cabinets Design and production 1967

Deriving partially from the T43 table (1955), this executive desk has two oxidation-resistant polished aluminium column supports mounted along the longitudinal axis of the top and each having three radial feet. The walnut or rosewood top has rounded edges and a leather writing pad.

The desk is complemented by the MG14 service table/cabinet system composed of a top and three cabinet elements also made of either walnut or rosewood. The top is mounted on steel supports and the lateral units, hinged to the uprights and standing on casters, are able to swivel.

Front view (top left) and technical drawing (bottom left) of the T160 table. MG160 service cabinet (top right) and possible combination of the T160 desk and the MG160 service unit (bottom right).



The sixties New forms for industrial planning

Edoardo Vittoria E105 Prisma Modular prism bookshelf system Design and production 1964

One possible configuration of the E105 Prisma bookshelf system.


This backless bookcase system was designed for use in various places in the house to resolve a variety of different needs while presenting to our view, as we read in the catalogue, “things that we like to see, touch and observe�. This proposal gives us the sense of a desire to embrace the new dynamics of the modern home and the great interior transformations of living spaces driven by the social and cultural revolutions of those years.

The bookcase is composed of two types of modular element (open front and back), one square and the other rectangular, made of wood painted white, red or black. The elements can be used singularly or else joined together using black anodized aluminium couplings. The great compositional freedom afforded by this type of element results in a wide range of possible combinations, both structural and chromatic.

Two wall-mounted compositions of the E105 Prisma modular bookshelf system.


Robin Day Mk2 Stackable chair with Moplen® seat. Design 1962-1963 Production (Tecno) 1966

Various support options for the MK2 chair designed by Robin Day.


The MK2 chair, designed by Robin Day, was produced by Tecno under licence from the British firm S. Hille & Co. Ltd., which had produced the same chair with the name Mark II or Polyprop since 1963. Tecno worked to market the chair in Italy, Germany and Spain. Robin Day’s chair was the first to be manufactured with a one-piece

seat, made of injection moulded polypropylene, a material produced by the Italian chemical company Montecatini under the ® trade name of Moplen . The chair is exceptionally strong and solid, especially considering its weight of only 3 kg. One hundred of these chairs can be stacked in one square metre in a pile 2.6


metres high. The Moplen shell, coupled with a number of different metal supports, meets a great range of needs in the home, in the office, in public venues and outdoors. The seats were produced in the colours anthracite, grey and orange with a flat finish. Upholstered in fabric, they could be made in a vast

range of colours. In approximately two years, Tecno sold some seventy thousand pieces, while worldwide over a million chairs were sold. The MK2 paved the way for the design of the Modus, an original chair with one-piece injection-moulded shell introduced in 1972.


Mario Bellini 1000 Nastro series Cabinet system Design and production 1967

This project coincided with the birth of the magazine Ottagono in 1966, which also marked Tecno’s venture into a new synergetic relationship with the renowned furniture company Cassina in the management of a new chain of stores known as Quadrante. Mario Bellini, who had begun working with Cassina, was selected as the right designer to create a system of cabinets (Tecno) that would be marketed in coordination with a line of upholstered furniture (Cassina). The 1000 Nastro series represented a mobile outfitted wall system. Its design allowed it to play the role of screen, partition, bookcase, a traditional cabinet or a new customizable storage unit system configured to suit any particular setting. Its nearly limitless flexibility stimulated the user to invent or reinvent the physical and functional arrangements in the home. “… the compositional freedom of the individual elements,” stated Mario Bellini in Ottagono no. 5, 1967, “allows different solutions. It can be adapted to a range of possibilities that may change over time. In short, it teaches—or seeks to teach—us how to use things, how to live with them, how to inhabit a home. The individual units do not impose a personality of their own, but take on the appearance and function that is assigned to them by their use. This is neither a fashion nor a caprice, but a real way of living and of inhabiting space, in which these ‘free objects’ will affirm the value of their modernity.” The elements are easily joined together or separated via simple nylon straps that allow each piece to rotate a full 360° with respect to its neighbour.

High, freestanding cabinet element built using the 1000 Nastro series panels. A low element that can be opened out created with Series 1000 panels.


In the foreground and against the wall, possible compositions created with the Series 1000 panels accompanied by a Le Mura armchair, also designed by Bellini and produced in the same period by Cassina.


Valeria Borsani, Alfredo Bonetti P/PA120, D120 A/B/C Armchair, ottoman and sofa Design and production 1966

A series of upholstered furnishings with a squarish, compact design, characterized by the theme of folded armrests and cushions, which appeared almost simultaneously in other famous


models in those years. Upholstered in fabric or leather, the elements are raised off the floor on chrome-plated feet comprising a column welded eccentrically to a disk.

Sketch of the folding design of the armrests and the inset feet. Front view of the D120C sofa in leather. Note the columns of the feet which appear retracted inwards with respect to the centre of the disk.

Kugo Toru Modular floor lamp Design and prototype 1964

Kugo Toru was one of the most notable in-house Tecno designers, initially working in close collaboration with Osvaldo Borsani, and later alongside Carlo Fantoni in running the Centro Progetti Tecno. This prototype for a floor lamp

is one of his personal creations. Built on the basis of a modular system composed of flat plastic pieces mounted on a metal frame, it bears a certain analogy to Buckminster Fuller’s “tensegrity� structures.

The illuminated modular floor lamp designed by Kugo Toru.


Gio Ponti Three-seat writing desk and collection of furniture on casters Design and prototype 1967-1969


Gio Ponti’s work with Tecno began in late 1967. The design theme advanced by Ponti was that of a system of furnishings on casters, which he considered to be more interesting and with greater possibilities of future development than any of the modular systems. In spite of the great esteem Ponti and Borsani shared for one another, their strong personalities caused them to clash more than mesh. This had something to do with the fact that Gio was nominally the designer in this project. Osvaldo, on the other hand, while being the owner of the company with his brother Fulgenzio, was also used to exercising his role as Tecno’s art director and principal—if not sole— designer. We have found a number of letters from Ponti in the Borsani archives (we have no records of Osvaldo’s

replies) recounting some critical phases of this project and expressing Ponti’s impassioned conviction of the need for this type of furniture. In the first letter (dated 5 January 1969), handwritten and “illuminated” in keeping with Ponti’s most classic epistolary style, and evidently making reference to the prototype for the “Triposto” [three-person writing desk] element, which he received as a gift from Tecno, Ponti writes: “Thank you, dear Borsani, for the gift. I will make a gift to you of the designs. … But now that you have made this prototype, as well as a bed and a wardrobe, why don’t you potentiate them? Do you not think that this is the path of the future? I do! If one day you begin to think the same, let me know, we’ll immediately set to creating interesting things.

And hence in plastic! Your GP.” But we learn from a typewritten letter of 30 May 1969 that things took an ugly turn a few months later. In the letter, Ponti, using a rather dry tone, makes clear reference to the epilogue of the story, in which his project was no longer part of Tecno’s production plans. “Dear Borsani, I can understand the fact that you may decide not to produce, even in a small run, the three-seater and the bed on casters, because it’s your choice. But it has disappointed me, and I think you too will be able to understand this. But I must add that it would have been kind of you to tell me immediately, because then I would have had the liberty of turning to someone else. With all dearness, your Gio Ponti.” However, by the end of that year, Ponti was pushing again. This time, taking

advantage of the occasion for wishing Borsani a happy new year, he wrote another of his famous handwritten and decorated letters: “Dear Borsani, You did not believe in me and did not make the entire bedroom on casters that I designed for you! Why don’t you do it for Eurodomus 3 (in Milan in May)[?] Read my article in the December ’69 issue of Domus 481 about Eurodomus 3. Are you game? This is my wish to you for 1970! Gio Ponti.” A pre-series was subsequently created for exhibition at the Eurodomus show in 1969, as we read in a typewritten letter dated 20 January 1970: “Dear Borsani, Dr. Ratto tells me of your intention to participate conspicuously in EURODOMUS 3, and that pleases me because it is a proof of your faith. However I don’t know, given all the requests, whether we will be able

to give you all the area you have requested. […] I would like to see you, because since you have already exhibited many times, with well deserved success, your brilliant white office furniture [he is referring to the Graphis system presented in 1968, editor’s note], this might be the moment to present a group of ‘moveable’ furniture pieces, of which you have already produced the threeseater and the bed, and I have already given you the designs for the wardrobe and nightstand. I firmly believe in this free conception of household furnishings, and have no faith in modular blocks. My appeal to the idea that inspired those first pieces is not just to have more of them made, but to make an integrated, complete and highly suggestive demonstration of their use as a modern vision

of the living space. I’ll explain it to you [added by hand, editor’s note]”. We have no documents or other testimony that clearly explain why Borsani eventually opted not to produce the collection of furnishings designed by Ponti, but we can easily imagine that Ponti’s proposal, albeit inspired by the theme of “mobility” so dear to Borsani’s heart, did not coincide aesthetically with the image Osvaldo had of his creature, Tecno. In 1991, when neither protagonist of this story was still with us, Valeria Borsani, while organizing a new collection dedicated to the history of ABV, added to the catalogue the most interesting piece in the system conceived by Ponti, the threeperson seat and writing desk known as the Triposto.

Two letters written by Gio Ponti to Osvaldo Borsani to press the case for the production of his “furniture on casters”. The “Triposto” in the foreground and other furniture on casters designed by Gio Ponti presented at the Tecno stand at Eurodomus 3 in 1970.


Albert Leclerc Free Modular cube storage unit system Design and production 1968

The characteristics of the Free system were fully described in an article titled “Un cubo per tanti mobili” [A cube for many different pieces of furniture] published in issue no. 11 of Ottagono in 1968. “The new modular unit produced by Tecno was designed by Albert Leclerc, a young Canadian architect marking the beginning of a collaborative relationship with Tecno. Leclerc is not new to the field of furniture design—he has many North American works to his credit—but this is his first encounter with Italian furniture makers. “‘Free’ is approximately a cube measuring 35 x 37 x 35 cm covered in white, purple or turquoise washable PVC. It can be open on either end or on only one. It can be equipped with a door and be used as a bar cabinet or cubbyhole. It can be closed with two sheets of translucent ® Perspex and become a lamp. A 160 x 60 cm top may be added to create a desk, while four

casters convert it into a mobile toy chest. A pillow is enough to create a stool. “‘Free’ is delivered disassembled in a package, ready to be assembled and glued. It has been created because approximately one year ago, Tecno decided to complement its household and office furniture with a series of furnishings with more immediate appeal to the needs and mentality of the new generation. ‘Free’ was thus born in full awareness of new lifestyles, conscious of the boutiques of Milan and the shops on Carnaby Street, and knowing that for a young person, even a piece of furniture can be a vehicle for identification and representation. Hence, this container proposes itself in a simple manner, alongside a different tradition upheld by Tecno, as a furnishing element that is unpretentious yet strongly belongs to its own time and expresses it in its own way.”

Detail of an assembled unit, disassembled basic unit and the Free storage unit system in its package.


Various combinations of the Free storage unit system.


Vittorio Borachia, Carlo Santi MB Bigia Disassemblable polyester armchair Design and production 1968

One of the first Tecno products to be made entirely of plastic, the MB Bigia armchair is delivered disassembled as two packages, each containing one cushion. The four components of the packages, made of reinforced polyester, are assembled with simple clamp screws to create the seat, back and two sides of the armchair. The identical and independent cushions are available with corduroy, fustian

or cotton weave covers that may be removed and washed as necessary. The chair may be equipped with various optional elements attaching to the sides or back, such as newspaper racks, table tops or semi-closable pockets. The chair may also be mounted on four casters or on four rubber balls if mobility is not an issue. The MB Bigia is available in a broad range of colours.

The ready-to-assemble MB Bigia armchair packed into suitcase form for transport and fully assembled (left) and broken down into its constituent elements (above).


Marco Fantoni T127 Nesting tables for the living room Design 1970 Production 1971

The T127 nesting table system in a closed and open configuration.

In 1970, before he made the decision to stop designing his own pieces and assume management of the Centro Progetti Tecno, Marco Fantoni designed this convertible living-room table system marked by a strongly rationalist

character Ă la Bauhaus. Allowing a great deal of flexibility of use, the extendable T127 is composed of three pieces: two slightly narrower and lower elements that slide out from under a central element, transforming a square table into a rectangle.

The frames of the three tables are made of square steel tube with a satin finish while the tops are in black marble or wood with a polished white or black polyester finish.


Marco Fantoni T147 Coffee table Design 1970 Production 1971


With an extremely minimalist style that endures through time, Marco Fantoni (before he gave up designing products to manage the Centro Progetti Tecno) created a number of pieces, including this large coffee table that is particularly suited to large salons or other rooms and spaces where guests are entertained. Its pure form, echoing

contemporary pieces by Donal Judd and Nanda Vigo, comprises a raised base in wood with a satin polyester finish and covered on the top with a sheet of satin-finished stainless steel. A steel cube is positioned orthogonally in the centre and supports a top in 16 mm glass. The base contains eight drawers, two on each side.

Three-quarters and top view of the T147 coffee table.


Giampiero Bosoni

Communicating the Tecno project

Technical drawing of the geometry of the Tecno trademark created by Roberto Mango with Osvaldo Borsani. A sketch by Osvaldo Borsani of an idea for a mobile outdoor stand that could be transported in an Alfa Romeo van and used at the Paris tradeshow in the late fifties.

In the early fifties, when Osvaldo Borsani began (with no small amount of difficulty) to propose the founding of a new company dedicated to industrial production of technically designed furniture to his twin brother, Fulgenzio, and their father, Gaetano, he was probably well aware of the attendant need to give impetus to this idea through a new advertising effort. Osvaldo Borsani’s work experience in the midthirties in his father’s company, where he introduced much of the rationalist spirit he had absorbed during his training as an architect, also saw him, among other things, reworking the publicity for Arredamenti Borsani Varedo. He stylized the name into a simple trademarkacronym, ABV, and adopted a lean linear character in place of the previous trademark, which had had more words and decorations. In the climate of intense cultural and entrepreneurial ferment associated with reconstruction immediately following the end of the Second World War, innovative and dynamic proposals for a modern vision of domestic space were circulating among architects, designers and businessmen (thanks mainly to magazines, and Domus in particular). Outstanding among these proposals was the work of Charles and Ray Eames with their revolutionary furniture made of moulded plywood and produced by Herman Miller. Borsani was fascinated by these products and also by the American company’s style of advertising. Practical, disassemblable, mobile objects and a simple, immediate and dynamic ad-

vertising language became key concepts for Borsani in creating the image for his Tecno project. An important testament to this embryonic vision is contained in the graphics of the first Tecno cataloguei (1953–1954), which illustrated an exemplary selection of pieces that were still part of the ABV collection. The distinctive marks in the catalogue were the trademark (still provisory with just the written name, distinguished by a “technical” game of alternating positive and negative effects) and the novel use of sinuous and rounded colour fields, typical of Charles Eames, graphic designer, on the covers of Arts & Architecture in 1942–1944. The strategic occasion of Tecno’s preth sentation at the 10 Milan Triennale in 1954 marked the debut of the famous and very elegant trademark with the capital T. The creator of this strongly iconic symbol was Roberto Mango,ii a young Neapolitan architect just back from the United States, where he had gone with a scholarship issued under the Marshall Plan. He had spent three years there in Princeton and Boston (M.I.T.) and kept company with Gropius and Fuller. In New York he had also worked with Raymond Lowey, been a guest in the house of the artist Nivola, lived in the studio apartment formerly occupied by Le Corbusier, and served as art director for the magazine Interiors. He was clearly the right person to give an international flair to the Tecno project. “The T came into being just like that, as a sudden inspiration,” recalls Roberto Mango in a detailed historical recon199

Full page advertisement for the P32 armchair, late fifties.


structioniii, “a quick sketch standing on the staircase at the 1954 Triennale, the 10th. Like the A, the H, the U and the V, the T is an axial, symmetrical letter. It also represents a structure: base, support, roof. The geometric matrix immediately induced me to translate the new spirit of Tecno into graphic form, avoiding the rigour of angles by resorting to curves. Only the curve could give a sense of industrial technique and exactitude, however it had to be a curve rendered with expressive liberty. What curve? What proportions? Out of the ‘Tecno’ idea, an idea of precise, identical, repeatable elements but at the same time elements that were free and new, my pencil immediately found a single curve traced out with a compass. At the top, a large upper arc (roof), a semicircle, that is, two quarter circles. Then analogously, two upside-down quarter circles (the base). The total was four quarter circles of equal dimensions, two to support and two to cover. Osvaldo liked it for the clarity and immediacy of the structural concept, not limited to a pure graphic solution, of two essential geometrical figures. In developing the sketch, compass in hand, the two components, contained within the figure of a square as a first approximation, were too far away from one another. The square was too high! And so I reduced the height by one fifth, sacrificing the horizontal correspondence between the two circles. L = 10, H = 8. The slenderness of the central supporting axis was nice because it brought to mind minimal structural elements such as the metal rods that had become a standard in the fifties. The structure could have been built in any material. The support turned out to be graphically useless, but it aided interpretation and gave it a more complete sense of structure. Now that that T can only stand for TECNO, I would almost propose getting rid of it. At the end, joking with Osvaldo, I asked him to pay me one lira for every time it was reproduced! Now, thinking back on the spirit of those days, I am very satisfied that I found an emblem that was born well, built well and has grown well.” With the adoption of the T conceived by Mango together with Borsani, the Tecno image found its keystone. The catalogues and advertising of the nineteen fifties and early sixties were clearly inspired by the graphics introduced by the

Eames starting in 1948, by the Herman Miller image, and, on close observation, the trademark reflects this sophisticated analogy of form and structure. And let us not forget that those years in Italy witnessed the beginning of a very lively and interesting season in graphic design, with Olivetti certainly representing an exemplary and stimulating model in any quest for a modern concept of the coordinated image. In the period straddling the fifties and sixties, even though no graphic designer was ever named in Tecno catalogues or advertisements, we know that Borsani involved Enrico Ciuti— who was, among other things, the designer of the introductory image to the 10th Triennale in 1954—in the publicity effort. As a confirmation of the dynamism of the Tecno spirit in those years, it is interesting to observe the freshness of the sketch, which is kept in the Borsani Archives in Varedo, where we see a mobile display structure (probably used for a tradeshow in Paris) hitched to a van adapted to function as a publicity vehicle with the T blazoned in large dimensions on its side. Another question that bears emphasis is the consideration exercised by Tecno right from the beginning regarding the communicative qualities of the written word, edited carefully by the Borsani brothers themselves. We mention in particular the text written for a full page advert (1957) for the P40 armchair by one of the most famous journalists and writers of the time, Orio Vergani, and the direct and indirect contributions of the poet-engineer Leonardo Sinisgalli (he is responsible, among other things, for the fascinating presentation of the Graphis system in the first catalogue in 1969). Other authors joined the ranks over time, kindly offering their services in describing the salient points of the Tecno project: Natalia Aspesi, Guido Vergani, Giulio Carlo Argan, Pier Carlo Santini, Daniele Baroni and Joseph Rykwert. This full spectrum communicational vision also included Tecno’s active participation in the creation of one of the first magazines in the field of design, interior design and architecture, Ottagono, founded in 1966. Ottagono was supported by a group of businesses and was edited for many years by Sergio Mazza and Giuliana Gramigna.

Envelope with the Tecno coordinated image, late fifties. Giulio Confalonieri, set of coordinated graphics for Tecno catalogues and other publications, early seventies.

After the experience with Enrico Ciuti, Tecno’s graphic communication effort witnessed a brief but significant period of collaboration in 1968 and 1969 with the Unimark studio of Bob Noorda and Salvatore Gregorietti. This was followed in the early seventies by intense work in moulding the company image under the guidance of Giulio Confalonieri. After this work, which made the trademark the key element in Tecno’s recognizability, the Borsani considered the process of consolidating the company image to be fully matured and decided to bring this aspect of their publicity effort into a new inhouse design organization. Starting in 1972, it would be the newly constituted Centro Progetti Tecno—already in charge of all product design work under the guidance of Marco Fantoni and Valeria Borsani—to handle company advertising via the internal communication design iv team, coordinated by Roberto Davoli. In the seventies and through to the early nineties, Tecno made significant efforts in cultural initiatives, such as an exhibition dedicated to artists historically close to the Borsani (including Lucio Fontana, Agenore Fabbri, and Arnaldo Pomodoro) in the prestigious venues that Tecno had in the meantime opened in Europe and the Americas. There were also a number of exhibitions with cultural themes such as “Torino: dallo scrittoio del Presidente” [Turin: from

the President’s desk] (Turin, 1983). Tecno was also involved in contributing to the content and graphics of a series of books, Edizioni Tecno, dedicated to the work of some of the major protagonists of contemporary architecture who had shown an affinity to the Tecno culture and line of products. The Centro Progetti Tecno maintained a constant work program into the late nineties, when various transformations in the company ushered in a new strategic orientation. In more recent times (2006), the trademark—or more precisely, the logo beneath the trademark—was updated by the Lissoni Graph.x studio (coordinated by Sergio Menichelli with Tommaso Cavallini, Bessi Karavil and Alberto Cantone) during the period when the designer Piero Lissoni was the art director for the company. In 2008, the Graph.x studio also handled the coordinated image—minimal and rarefied—of the Tecno catalogues.

1 See the chapter titled “1953: the Tecno project for four hands”, p. 32. 2 Cf. Ermanno Guida, Roberto Mango, progetti, realizzazioni, ricerche, Electa, Naples 2006. 3 Text excerpted from a letter written by Roberto Mango to Giuliana Gramigna on 8 October 1990. Archivio Borsani, Varedo. 4 Various authors, The European Design Prize 1988, European/ECC Design Editions, 1988.



Centro Progetti Tecno (communication design director, Roberto Davoli), Tecno coordinated image and publications starting from the mid-seventies.


The Seventies Centro Progetti Tecno: the baton is passed

Osvaldo Borsani, Eugenio Gerli Graphis Office system Design 1967 Production 1968

Exploded drawing of the Graphis desk for the patent request submitted to the US Patent Office on 20 October 1969 and granted on 16 May 1972 with Patent no. 3,663,079.


The Graphis system was presented th in 1968 at the 14 Milan Triennale, whose theme was “Il grande numero” [Big numbers]. As if wanting to make a strong statement of intent with respect to the theme of the exhibition, with this product that had already achieved a certain “maturity” from the point of view of serial production, Tecno marked its definitive shift to industrial production. The absolute and elementary form of this system, in tune with the Arte Programmata of those years, offered a bold, if not radical, interpretation of the spirit of the times, and not just in respect to the revolution in the office realm. Years later, Osvaldo Borsani had the following to say about the evolutionary path of this project: “We needed an office furniture series which, with the models that we still produce today, oriented principally to executive and ceremonial functions, would cover all the areas of the office. We sought a type that did not have a strong character of its own so that it would be suitable, according to the most recent criteria, for undifferentiated use: from the office director to the staff and to the doorman.” This “democratic” vision of the workspace sought by Borsani was interpreted by Leonardo Sinisgalli (in a text for the first product catalogue) also regarding the formal choices that were apparently in conflict with the “power to imagination” movement, generally understood as a great creative freedom extending all the way to decorative redundancy. “I am happy,” he writes, “that the two authors have shown their respect for geometry. Clean cuts, right angles, flat surfaces. No swellings, couplings, flaccid conceit. The idea is not hidden but revealed… Oftentimes imagination has to help strip things down, not to accumulate them.” The programmatic meaning of this project was stated anew in the introduction to the product catalogue, which laid out a clear premise: “Investigations in the

quest for the working ‘implements’ in today’s operations offices have led to the study of ‘systems’, that is, they have taken us beyond the single, strongly characterized and predetermined furnishing element. This has been replaced by basic elements for limitless and shifting combinations changing over time and changing purpose. This is all demanded not only by the configuration of office architecture itself (moveable partitions, flowing spaces that can be used in different ways), but also by the organization of the sales channels, which demand compositional agility, reduction in stock times and simplicity in provisioning. It was thus a question of achieving a normalization of dimensions and colours.” On 20 October 1969, Osvaldo Borsani and Eugenio Gerli (the Frenchman Joseph Motte was cited as the author for the first tens years because of problems with the patent), as inventors for Tecno, submitted a request to the US Patent Office for “Modular Elements for Pieces of Furniture and Pieces of Furniture Obtained Thereby”. They were granted Patent no. 3,663,079 on 16 May 1972. The many different compositions of the Graphis system derive from three basic elements: a loadbearing L-shape in white enamelled sheet metal; a drawer unit; and a top in plastic laminated fibreboard. The L-shaped structural units are made of bent sheet steel finished in heat cured enamel, with extruded thermoplastic feet and nylon assembly brackets. The drawer unit is available in three versions: C1, the highest, without casters, reaching the height of the underside of the top and containing two file drawers, one above the other; and the C2 and C3, which are lower, mounted on casters, sitting lower than the top and thus completely independent of it. The C2 has three drawers, the C3 has one normal and one deep drawer. The are made of sheet steel with a heat cured enamel finish. The drawers ride on ball bearing guides

Bird’s-eye view of the Graphis office system components. Warehouse with packaged Graphis components. Note the piling method for the L-shaped angle units.



and are equipped with locks and nylon handles. The low drawer units have nylon casters. There are two types of tops: a full top (P) and a half top (M) with a fibreboard core with a laminated plastic overlay with flat finish and extruded thermoplastic edges. The supports are fastened to the tops via brackets and self-threading screws and can be assembled without the need for specialized technicians. Initially the concept of normalization was applied by opting for a single colour, white, in order to minimize any feeling of fragmentariness among the pieces. Subsequently, Graphis was proposed initially in black and later in a natural wood version. This system was soon complemented by a suitable and equally innovative chair, the Modus (1972), which brought with it the missing touch of colour. Over time other elements were added to Graphis: cabinets, couplings, conference tables, partitions, tables for audio-visual systems. As the office evolved from open-space configurations to screen landscapes, Valeria Fantoni Borsani would work with the Centro Progetti Tecno to develop the Graphisbox system (1989), comprising a variety of different integrated panels/screens. In response to the increasingly complex demands for ease of cabling for the various electronic devices that had begun to populate offices in 1993, Valeria Borsani again worked with the Centro Progetti Tecno to create Graphis 5, with desks whose height could be adjusted at one-centimetre intervals and completely inspectable conduits for cables contained in the supports. Still one of the leading Tecno products, the system was further updated in 2005 by Piero Lissoni together with the Centro Progetti Tecno. In addition to the reworking of a number of important details, they also introduced a broad range of colours and materials. In 1990, the production of Graphis angle pieces had already exceeded one million, corresponding to some three hundred thousand workstations. tagliare 2 righe grazie

Various compositions with the Graphis office system, from a simple angled desk with a lower typewriter table to more complex arrangements which here include the E4 cabinet system.


Different views and details of the Graphis desk with drawer units. Graphis desks in wood veneer and black versions. Alternative configurations of the L-supports.




Battery composition of Graphis 5 desks, 1993.

The Graphis 5 system in the updated version by Piero Lissoni and the Centro Progetti Tecno, 2005.


Giampiero Bosoni


The Centro Progetti Tecno

The original Centro Progetti Tecno team. Left to right: Valeria Borsani, Osvaldo Borsani, Eugenio Gerli, Fulgenzio Borsani, Marco Fantoni. Historical collaborators of the Centro Progetti Tecno: the Japanese designer Kugo Toru and the head of the Technical Office, Enrico Regondi.

In 1970, Tecno shifted the work of industrial and communication design to its newly constituted Centro Progetti Tecno (CPT). Although Osvaldo Borsani would remain the guiding light (at least into the mid-eighties), the Centre was officially coordinated by the architect Marco Fantoni with various supporting roles played by the other principal figures in the company: Valeria Borsani; the “historic” Enrico Regondi, for thirty years head of the technical office, already


Interview with Marco Fantoni and Valeria Borsani, Milan, 8 February 2011. 2 Various authors, The European Design Prize 1988, European/EEC Design Editions, 1988.

working with Gaetano Borsani in ABV before the war; the Japanese “critical conscience” Kugo Toru, who joined the company in 1963; the elder Signor Grassi, head of the woodworking department; the “iving image manual” Roberto Davoli, manager of communication design; and, with one foot in and one foot out, Borsani’s longterm travelling companion, Eugenio Gerli. Marco Fantoni recalls that when he began working in the Tecno design group in the late sixties, he soon became convinced that after the initial experience with Osvaldo Borsani, it no longer made sense to put one’s own name to projects developed within the company. He thus proposed that all products created within Tecno be presented as the creation of the team. There was some initial resistance from Borsani, but he soon realized that, in effect, the thing that his brother and he had always sought to create was precisely a design and communications unit with a strong identity, and the group that had taken form was exactly the result of that long-term effort.1

The CPT did not have a precise spatial and cultural definition; depending on the various needs dictated by the project and its stage of development, various roles and skills were called into action. On either side of Fantoni’s office, where all the production projects were coordinated (but not the major custom projects, which were handled by Regondi’s Technical Office), were the offices of Osvaldo Borsani and Valeria Borsani, and also close by was the Publicity Office, which directed work on catalogues and displays. The Modus seating system, the first project to bear CPT authorship, was a great success: it is calculated that 1.1 million of the polypropylene shells were manufactured. This was followed by other important projects, such as the WS bench, the PS/S148 upholstered chair, and, among the many other projects recorded in the logbook, also various armchairs for auditoriums. At the 1988 European Design Prize awards ceremony, Marco Fantoni stated that it was Tecno that had won it: “Tecno has its own culture. It is a culture based on attention to quality, and this is the most precious legacy that our predecessors have left us. We now have a team of invaluable collaborators who believe in themselves and in their company. We only rely on external consultants for specific tasks. This is the best way to ensure we maintain the quality level we demand.”2


Centro Progetti Tecno

Various prototype studies of the components of the Modus chair system.

Modus, GTS, TM, Modus T Chair for offices and public seating, table Design and production 1972, 1973, 1981

“The Modus chair was developed mainly in response to the need to complement the Graphis office system with a chair that could resolve the multitude of issues arising out of the many different uses of the furnishings. The Modus needed to function as a desk chair (with fixed support or on casters), as a seat for waiting rooms, cafeterias or auditoriums, and also in the workplace, especially when there was a need to take notes on a convenient writing surface that could be incorporated into the structure. The design process for this model was thus focused not so much on the creation of a specific chair, but on the development of a sequential process, i.e., the planned union of various components that could be combined to meet different needs. “The basic element in this approach was the shell, the chair


body, which was designed to be injection moulded and immediately ready for assembly, or else used as a support for a further application of polyurethane foam. In the final analysis, the choice was made for injection moulding with nylon as the basic thermoplastic material. The reasons for the choice were based on the need to use a material that was pleasant both to the touch and to the eye and that also offered characteristics of high technical quality. Nylon is very strong while also having minimal electrostatic properties. It can be made in a broad variety of colours [six different colours, editor’s note] with—and this is a rare quality in plastics—exceptional sheen and a finish like high quality porcelain. Transparent shells were made using cellulose acetate. “Different solutions were applied

to the supporting structure to transform the shell into a chairs with a great range of different characteristics. A variety of alternatives were possible: fixed or swivel bases, single pillars, casters, stackability, connections into rows, and the addition of a writing surface. All these solutions belonged to the same sequential process or unified plan and thus featured logically coordinated designs. Die-cast aluminium was used for pillars. A pure and forthright material, it also possessed all the characteristics demanded by industrial production: like nylon, it could be moulded (die-cast) in nearly finished form, thus favouring large-scale production. A single element, the ‘spider’, to which armrests or writing surfaces could be mounted, was used to connect the seat to the base. It was designed to allow all

the possible variations envisioned for the system. The element is designed with very evident mechanical characteristics and manufactured to very close tolerances. It is also made of die-cast aluminium. “The Modus system comprises a total of 65 different component pieces, of which 10 are made of die-cast aluminium and 19 of injection-moulded thermoplastics. The fundamental thing is that when you see the fully assembled chair, whether it is mounted on a pillar or on four legs, and whether it has a writing surface or not, the 65 pieces are forgotten and all that remains is a simple, logical and attractive i piece of furniture.”

Text presenting Modus in an article prepared by the Centro Progetti Tecno titled “Progettare per l’industria” in Ottagono no. 29, 1972.

The initial form of the Modus seat hammered out of sheet steel. Drawing for the Modus patent application to the US Patent Office submitted on 22 December 1972. The patent was granted on 6 August 1974. Technical drawing of the die-cast aluminium “spider” seat support.

On December 22, 1972, Marco Fantoni submitted a patent application to the US Patent Office for the “Support for the Seat of a Chair”. Patent no. 3,827,750 was issued on 6 August 1974. In 1973 an addition was made to the Modus system for collective use whereby the chairs could be combined into groups of two, four or six. This feature was denominated GTS and had a single support for the writing surface. The Modus seats are mounted to the support by means of articulated arms with spring return, which was the system’s most interesting mechanism. In 1975, the stand with five radial feet was introduced along with the TM series tables with a die-cast aluminium disk base having a diameter of 60 centimetres and a black painted finish. The tops were made of rosewood or white or black plastic laminated fibreboard. The original Modus A series was joined in 1982 with the Modus T series, where the technology of iron replaced that of aluminium, and the traditional die-cast aluminium support, the “spider”, was replaced by two bent steel T-profiles welded laterally to deeply moulded pre-cut sheet steel supports. The entire frame was finished in black epoxy paint.


Demoulding of the nylon seat shell. The Modus chair with a nylon seat among a group of chairs with transparent cellulose acetate seats.



Low version of the Modus chair with a five-ray pillar support (above) and the stackable version with four die-cast aluminium legs (right).


The Modus seat mounted on an orthogonal solid wood frame. Modus GTS system seat-and-table unit for collective use.


Centro Progetti Tecno Series 403 (T403, C403,R403) Executive desks and office furnishings Design and production 1975-1976

Conceived as a series of high-level executive office furnishings, the 403 series comprises a desk, a service element behind the desk, and a drawer unit that can be outfitted for specific functions such as accommodating a computer monitor. The pieces are rigorously orthogonal, almost abstract


in form, and make minimal use of materials and fittings: this marked a shift with respect to the earlier T95 and T96 desk series, with their boomerang or faceted tops. The pieces have a wooden structure with a flat black finish. The metal fittings are made of steel, while the tops of the desk and service unit are made of thick glass.

Three-quarters view and technical drawing of the T403 desk. Front view of a composition with the T403 desk in front of the C403 drawer unit and the R403 service unit.


Centro Progetti Tecno Eugenio Gerli’s 333 Bookshelves Series 333, Conrad 333 bookshelves, T334a/b/c, T335a/b/c Desks, drawer units, shelves, service units, bookshelves and conference tables Design and production 1975-1978

Technical drawing of the T334a conference table. Technical drawing detail illustrating the transverse section of the supporting element for all tables in the 333 series.


Following the successful development of the desk system for executive and staff offices generated by the T90 in the period from 1954 to 1968 (T93-T99 with associated furnishing complements), 1969 marked the debut of Borsani and Gerli’s Graphis system, which radically changed the conception of office work during those revolutionary years. With the winning choice of the “democratic” Graphis model, particularly for general staff offices, Tecno began to work on a new series of desks and conference tables dedicated specifically to executives. With respect to the characteristic forms of its predecessors (rectangular or boomerang desktops made of wood with rounded edges, with metal column supports standing

on four or five radial feet), the new 333 series was founded on a compact, orthogonal design. The new polished die-cast aluminium support took the form of a small I-beam in a rectangular configuration with bevelled corners (except the external ones on the upper part where it attaches to the top). This form seemed to be a means for carrying on the theme of the aluminium armrest supports of the P125 executive office chairs (1966), which at the time was Tecno’s leading executive chair. The line also gave form to the T333 desk with a top in wengé wood or with a black finish, supported on the I-beam system described above arranged along the sides and connected by a crosspiece. This model could

be combined with a number of complements: the C333a and C333b drawer units; the M333 shelf in different lengths; and an early service unit, the R333, placed behind the desk, soon replaced by the MG33, a version with mobile elements. This latter element is proposed principally in conjunction with a larger desk model, the T333m, with the same support system along the sides—but twice as big. The various sizes of the conference tables T334a/b/c and T335a/b/c are made using the same wood. The former is composed of three pieces connected via steel inserts and mounted on dual supports in die-cast aluminium. The latter has the same supports but a one-piece top. These models also constituted the basis for

oversized tables for conference or board rooms, seating up to more than fifty people. The Conrad 333 bookshelf system was matched to this series. It is composed of independent pieces that can be assembled into six different configurations. Eugenio Gerli was the original designer of the Conrad; he had come up with the idea several years earlier for his own studio. The concept behind the composition is that of stratification (shelf-books-shelf) evidencing principally the horizontal elements. Hence the thick wooden shelves with rounded edges are clearly visible through the transparent doors made of unframed panes of tempered glass and covering three sides of the shelf unit: the front and both ends.

Composition with the T334a conference table (top), the 335a conference table (middle) and a series of T333 desks with P125 chairs.


Osvaldo Borsani, Eugenio Gerli

Riyadh Dome

Saudi Arabia, 1978

The brief regarded the construction of a tea room, a living room and a reception room on the roof of a newly built villa in a residential district in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. It was also desired that the project should reflect, as closely as possible, the social traditions of the Saudis. The Tecno designers combined the three functions under a single roof, subdividing and differentiating the spaces exclusively via a particular interior design and through the arrangement of the sofas. A circular form was proposed, comprising a dome characterized by a series of horizontal disks decreasing in diameter upwards and serving the purpose of protecting the interior from direct insolation. The dome is made of a double wall of glass, with a gilded outer surface to help reflect the sunlight, and the horizontal disks provided continuous shade. … The disks, decorated around their perimeters with bands of goldanodized aluminium (in order to emphasize the horizontal dimension of the building and reduce the impression of thickness of the elements), are connected by three load-bearing “meridians” anchored to the reinforced concrete base. Three other meridians, visually identical to their companions but not bearing loads, are used exclusively as braces to absorb shear stresses. The six meridians are all hollow and

Scale model of the dome and steps in the construction process in Riyadh using elements prefabricated in Italy.


function as air conditioning ducts, conveying the air through linear vents and along the glass, much like the defroster current in an automobile. … The entire structure was prefabricated in Italy using sheet steel with tubular sections painted a sand colour to evoke desert tones. The dome was then disassembled for shipping. The entire structure, including the inner furnishings, was then reassembled in situ by Italian technicians. The interior design of the single enclosed volume works with the circular theme to create a sequence of confluent spaces united by a dark green carpet and distinguished by brass dividing strips. The floor levels have a polished polyester finish while the raw silk cushions allow a freer colour scheme evoking the hues of traditional Arab dress. … The furnishings, including a bar and stereo system, were entirely custom designed and produced by Tecno, with the sole exception of the Clamis armchairs, which were chosen for their rounded forms. … The overall dome interior is thus subdivided into a series of concatenated but differentiated spaces united into a single volume that interprets the arrangement of the Islamic majless (consultation chamber).1 1

Project report written by Osvaldo Borsani and Eugenio Gerli, published in the Tecno house organ in 1979.

Exterior views and interior of the custom built and furnished dome. The only standard furnishings are the Clamis series 142 chairs.


Centro Progetti Tecno T407 Conference table Design and production 1974

Detail of the inner side of the webreinforced leg for the T407 table, which bends inwards near the bottom. Composition with the T407 table.


Marco Fantoni, who at the time was one of the directors of the Tecno Research Centre, recalls that this table was the fruit of shared thinking with the Japanese designer Kogu Toru of the Centro Progetti Tecno. However, the characteristic feature of the leg bent inward near the bottom was the brainchild of Osvaldo Borsani, who suggested it to decrease the intrusiveness of the legs, which were mounted flush with the corners of the top. According to Fantoni, this is probably the last product designed and produced under Osvaldo Borsani’s direction.

Centro Progetti Tecno PS/S 148 Chairs on casters with and without armrests Design and production 1980

Following the S/PS142 chair series designed by Eugenio Gerli in 1966 (and still in production), Tecno introduced, fourteen years later, another series of upholstered chairs characterized by a squarish form and equipped with armrests. The new series shared with its predecessor the principle of upholstered panels assembled at right angles. The simplicity and harmonious proportions of this model are probably what explains the fact that it has remained continuously in production for over thirty years. The metal frame is upholstered in moulded polyurethane foam to create panels that are then finished in fabric or leather.

Detail of stitching on a leather-upholstered S148 chair. Three-quarters view of two PS148 chairs.


Centro Progetti Tecno T210 Series of conference tables Design and production 1975

This series of tables is composed of models manufactured in three heights and with three different table-top sizes. The tables are characterized principally by the angled structure of the leg, derived from the structural element par excellence, a steel I-beam measuring 100 x 50 x 4 mm. The subsequent phases of bending, sandblasting and burnishing potentiate


the essence of this basic article. The foot is cast in bronze and its print mirrors the section of the bent I-beam. The top has a polyester finish which is glossy in the centre and flat along the four border elements. In the designers’ conception, the difference in finish and the clear groove separating the two sections serve to mark the boundary between work surface

and serving surface. The tables are also available with an alternate top in granite. The purity of line and attention to detail give these tables a broad flexibility of use, making them equally suitable for the dining room or living room of the home as for the prestige areas of a business.

Detail of joint between top and leg, made out of a bent steel I-beam. Composition with the T210 table and PS148 chairs. Drawing illustrating the type of I-beam used and the way it is bent to create the legs for the T210 table.


Centro Progetti Tecno WS, WSp, WS2 Chair and bench system Design and production 1981-1983

Photos and drawings of the WS seating system. Notice the variable spacing of the wire in the seats.


Waiting System (WS) is a series of wire mesh seats designed for waiting areas, especially for heavily trafficked areas (airports, hospitals, train stations, etc.). We read in the presentation published in the catalogue: “Robustness, hygiene, cleanliness and comfort were the prevailing criteria in the design of this seating system.� The seat is 60 cm wide and made of phosphatized, pickled music wire finished in white or black epoxy powder.

The base is in rough cut serizzo granite while the table surfaces are in the same stone cut into 3 cm slabs with a rubbed finish and bevelled edges. Longitudinal strip upholstery and armrests are options. In designing this system, practical issues were addressed regarding its use both in indoor public areas and as outdoor urban furniture. The seat structure of the WS2 is made of steel and finished in black paint.


Angelo Cortesi/G.P.I., Marco Fantoni, Gianfranco Facchetti, Umberto Orsoni/G14

Coordinated image for Alitalia worldwide agencies

First model agency in London, England, 1982-1983

As part of a company strategy to relaunch the Made-in-Italy through a demonstrated capacity to interpret Italian style and taste and give it concrete form, in 1982, Alitalia invited a number of qualified Italian companies to participate in a design contest for a new image and interior design for its various agencies around the world. Tecno, having enlisted the services of Studio Cortesi and Studio G14, was preselected to design the new Piccadilly agency in London. “Starting from the observation that a framework design for a passenger agency has to provide adaptability to a broad range of physical characteristics of spaces that may differ significantly from one another,” we read in the project report, “we have chosen to propose a solution embodying a design

choice using a balanced set of finishes and fittings that will create a setting that is homogeneous both in relation to the various socioeconomic contexts in which it is located and in regard to the level of complexity of the agency’s plans.” Carefully considered formal, functional and technological characteristics work together to determine the design of the “objects” that decorate the homogeneous settings of the various agencies around the world. These “objects”, which can be combined in various ways into a strongly characterized whole, assume a strongly signifying power in order to produce, promote and publicize the services of the national airline company. The elements include: the technological

portal as an emblem defining the virtual workspace within which services will be provided; the counter; the large cylindrical columns; the WS series seats; the display units; the planisphere; and the entrance portal in black enamelled sheet steel. A open-section dropped ceiling is proposed with aluminium slats, which can accommodate a number of existing functions that can be changed depending on need. The walls will be finished in enamelled glass panels. The floor will be covered with green carpeting bearing the coordinated Alitalia image designed by Walter Landor. The overall project for Alitalia’s worldwide agencies won the 13th edition of the Compasso d’Oro prize in 1984.

External and internal views of the Alitalia agency in London, 1983.



External and internal views of the Alitalia agency in Milan, 1984.



Herbert Neuman Associates, Glen Gregg

Lecture hall at Yale University

New Haven, Connecticut, USA, 1974

The project to remodel one of the preeminent historical lecture halls at the prestigious American university had to achieve a more rational organization of space and greater ease of cleaning and maintenance while respecting the original structure of the building, built in 1928. In designing the furnishings for the hall,

the Modus series chairs were used with a mounting system specifically suited to the context. This prestigious project, albeit on a small scale, represented one of the first test cases of the great flexibility of the Modus seating system, which would gradually acquire a broad and detailed series of accessory equipment.

Exterior view of the historic building on the Yale campus. Interior views of the semicircular hall with the Modus chairs.



The Eighties From High Tech to the Return of the Classic

Norman Foster and Partners Nomos System Office system Design1984 Production 1986

The Apollo Lunar Module (a.k.a. LEM) with its characteristic spider-like structure, on the lunar surface, 1969.

Norman Foster, Renault Centre in Swindon, England, 1980–82, for which Foster custom designed office tables whose features were incorporated into the Nomos system.

Marco Fantoni, who at the time was director of the Centro Progetti Tecno, recounts that the Nomos system originated by coincidence in 1983 while he was visiting Norman Foster’s studio to present Tecno as a possible partner in the interior design for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building that Foster was working on at the time. The proposition unfortunately turned out to be fruitless. But while Fantoni was in the studio he noticed a type of table he had never seen before, with tubular frames made along the lines of certain spacecraft, and in particular the LEM used for the first landing on the moon. Fantoni asked about the pieces and was told that they had been designed by Foster in 1980 to be used in limited numbers in the building just built by the architect for Renault in Swindon (1980–82). Well pleased with the result, Foster had had some additional exemplars made for his own studio. Fantoni immediately stated, “We can make those

tables,” and proposed that Foster allow Tecno to produce the system on an industrial scale. Hence began the project, which lasted some two years, to transform the still somewhat schematic—and in some ways artisanal—design of the tables in Foster’s studio into a complex and varied system of industrially produced office furnishings. On 13 March 1987, an application was submitted in Paolo Borsani’s name to the US Patent Office. After the usual meticulous examination, Patents nos. 306,101 and 306,109 were issued on 20 February 1990. The design philosophy for this system was based on a number of basic principles. From the typological viewpoint, these regarded the recognition that the set of possible spatial relations between a table-top and the floor encompasses all the possible table types, whether they are used in the office or in the home. It was thus necessary to transcend the pat categories of home and work.

From the standpoint of morphology, they principles regarded the conception of the structure simply as a skeleton, not so much traditionally architectural as zoomorphic, which holds together an organism of mobile and differently combinable elements. From the technological perspective, the principle regarded the need to offer a system of elements which can be used to construct a wide variety of compositions that can be disassembled and modified at will. The fine tuning of this product required different specific industrial resolutions that would be too long to list here, but the reader is warmly invited to consult the long and detailed article “Sistema ‘Nomos’” published in the January 1987 issue of Domus, no. 679. In the year 2000, a limited and autographed edition of two thousand tables was produced in the colours yellow, red, blue and white.

Patent drawing in the patent application submitted for the Nomos table to the US Patent Office on 13 March 1987. US patents nos. 306,101 and 306,109 granted on 20 February 1990.


The first model of the Nomos system photographed in the factory: Norman Foster (left) with the Centro Progetti Tecno team, including Marco Fantoni (extreme right). Patent drawing for the modular, articulated cable ducts submitted to the US Patent Office leading to Patent no. 4,840,023 of 20 June 1989. Sketches by Norman Foster of certain parts of the table for the Nomos system. Technical drawing for certain components (joints and ribs) of the Nomos system.


Norman Foster, sketches and drawings of the different functional characteristics of the Nomos system.


Side view of the Nomos multilevel workstation system and a sketch by Foster summarizing the characteristics of this workspace organization principle. View from below revealing the structural design of the basic Nomos table with a glass top.


Various Nomos system workstation compositions with Modus chairs.



Nomos system workstations in a historical setting.

Table with coloured frame from the limited edition series produced in 2000. Recent composition of Nomos system tables presented in the 2008 Tecno catalogue.



Giorgetto Giugiaro P55 Office chair series Design1983 Production 1984

The P55 is a series of swivel chairs with armrests, rocking motion, height adjustment and flexible back. The seat shell and five-ray base are made of painted aluminium and the padding is polyurethane foam. These office chairs are outfitted with a sophisticated system for regulating the height and the position of the back using a pneumatic piston-and-cylinder device. A patent request was submitted to the US Patent Office

US Patent Office drawing, wooden model of the seat base, and structural and mechanical prototype of the P55 office chair.


on 31 December 1984 and US Patent no. 4,650,248 was granted on 17 March 1987. The P55 chair is characterized aesthetically by a vertical slash in the upper part of the back and by the forthright use of colour, which is applied to all materials and components with the idea of injecting a chromatic stimulus into the office work environment, which was prevalently given to neutral tones at the time.

Three-quarters and front views of various models of the P55 office chair.


Richard Rogers Partnership, Ove Arup & Partners

Lloyd’s, The World’s Leading Insurance Market

London, England, 1986

Lloyd’s represents the centre of the international insurance market and is, after the Bank of England, the most prestigious institution in the city of London. Lloyd’s traces its origins back to the seventeenth century, when insuring risk was a business conducted in one of the city’s coffee houses. Today Lloyd’s represents the heart of the insurance world but they still conduct business according to the traditional practices of the marketplace: a company of underwriters organized into syndicates Model of the Lloyd’s of London building designed by Richard Rogers.


who have their stall in Lloyd’s marketplace, known as “The Room”. For Richard Rogers, architect for the new Lloyd’s building, his earlier experience of designing the famous Beaubourg in Paris together with Renzo Piano in 1977 had been a question of conceiving a popular cultural centre; his reference for his work for Lloyd’s was a late twentieth-century English club. The most characteristic elements of the building are the large lobby, symbol of the marketplace, and its exterior aspect, emphasized by the six towers whose fragmented profile now constitute an important part of the London skyline. After various relocations and expansions of their various historical facilities, Lloyd’s organized an invitation-only design competition in the early eighties, where they asked six architects to illustrate—rather than

a completed project—the theoretical approach they would take in managing a specific set of issues. They wanted a strategy for development and expansion rather than simply another new building. Richard Rogers Partnership won the competition with a strategy responding to the key requests contained in the client’s brief: first of all, the need to cater to the needs of the market into the twenty-first century while retaining a single underwriting room, but in a single hall three times larger than the pre-existing “Room”; secondly, define a flexible space for the “underwriting of risk” that can expand and contract in sync with future market trends; thirdly, provide for the creation of high prestige offices that could be rented out should it turn out, at any time in the life of the building, that the space is superfluous to the real needs of the enterprise; lastly, create a building of quality which not only contributes to the environment of the City of London, but maintains Lloyd’s position at the centre of the world’s insurance trade. Regarding the furnishings, built by Tecno based on designs by Rogers’ studio, it was a question of a standardized system that was fine-tuned expressly for Lloyd’s to make it possible to create stalls of different sizes: the components are based on a modular structure that allows for changes in layout and dimension.

Interior view of the famous rostrum with the Lutine Bell, which was struck once for bad news and twice for good. View of an office floor designed by Richard Rogers with stalls that are easily adapted to different users.


General view and details of workstations for the various insurance agents. Bottom left: Section of an example floor showing how the workstations integrate with the building’s technological systems.



Luca Scacchetti Ianus Executive office system Design1987 Production 1988

We may read about the designer’s thinking process in the book Luca Scacchetti per Tecno: Ianus (Edizioni Tecno, Varedo, 1989): “In a certain way, Ianus is a contest between Tecno’s ‘rationalist’ culture and the formal memory of centuries of European architecture. … In spite of the architectural elements it uses to express itself, Ianus’s past is not that of classic furniture. It is more correct to discern suggestions from Nordic rationalism (à la Asplund), and in any case, the memory of forms

that cannot be eliminated from our architectural imagery.” Ianus presents itself as a collection of executive office furnishings composed of desks, drawer units, tables and cabinets that is rich in refined detail, exalted by a classic design and by the use of hand crafted solid wood. The collection is characterized by worktops having a natural or flat black finish—although leather and Alcantara are also options—set into frames of solid wood. The desk elements in solid wood

are either mahogany with a natural finish or finished in flat black lacquer. The series offers solutions both for individuals, with open or panelled desk bases, and a range of options for meeting rooms or large conference halls. All solutions, which can be customized in terms of measurements, finishes and fittings as specified by the designer, are distinguished by the characteristic border in solid contoured wood. The finishes, which are used throughout the collections

to ensure all elements can be integrated with all products in the layout, range from black walnut to mahogany and from teak to clear oak or graphite, which can be freely combined with white or lead grey flat lacquers and with the leather used for inset writing pads. Accessories include lateral service units and electrified tops. The coordinated cabinets reflect the same characteristic design traits.

Luca Scacchetti, detail of a mixed technique drawing of a detail of the Ianus office system with architectural references in the background. Composition of Ianus executive office system elements.


Combination of a desk with open base and a low cabinet, where we clearly see the architectural theme and the contours that characterize the entire system.


Various combinations of elements from the Ianus executive office system. A suggestive image of the large Ianus system conference table in the stunning setting of the Sala dei Giganti in Palazzo Te, Mantua, painted by Giulio Romano.



Giampiero Bosoni

The ABV Collection Returning to art with Alviani, Fabbri, Man Ray, Mo, Morellet, Munari, Pomodoro, Ponti, Steele, Veronesi


Gio Ponti, panca attrezzata su rotelle Triposto, 1967, Collezione ABV, 1991 Agenore Fabbri, seduta Nastro di gala, Collezione ABV, 1991

A close and ongoing relationship with artists is a constant and distinctive characteristic of the Borsani family history, first during Gaetano Borsani’s Arredamenti Borsani Varedo, and later for Osvaldo and Fulgenzio Borsani during the Tecno period. There were already significant collaborative relationships established with Futurist artists such as Cesare Andreoni and Giandante X in the early days of ABV, but it would especially be in the mid-1930s, with the meeting of the multifaceted and versatile personalities of the architect Osvaldo Borsani and the artist Lucio Fontana, that a partnership would be forged opening new exploratory terrain and offering a multitude of creative outlets in the relationship between art and the design of furnishings and interiors in general.1 Osvaldo Borsani’s educational path certainly provides some clues to the nature of these elective affinities. He received his diploma in 1929 from the arts lyceum of Brera, and then his university degree in architecture in 1936 from the Milan Polytechnic. These were phases where we can easily imagine the occasions that would have arisen for meetings and interactions with the most vibrant avant-garde artistic movements in Milan at the time. Additionally, the opportunities to get involved in projects undertaken by ABV (where Osvaldo learned his father’s trade), working to give form to the interiors of the Milanese haute bourgeoisie, were just the thing to introduce further original artistic stimuli. In addition to Fontana, who was an active creative force in creating

many interiors, where his mastery transformed walls, floors and ceilings into bona fide “spatial concepts”, the Borsani forged friendships and collaborative relations with such artists as the chiarista Adriano Spilimbergo and Angelo Del Bon, with Agenore Fabbri, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Fausto Melotti, Aligi Sassu and also Gianni Dova and Roberto Crippa. The favoured place for many of these encounters was the Ligurian town of Albissola, famous since the midthirties as a capital of ceramic arts and much frequented by artists in the late Futurist movement. It is an interesting coincidence that in 1954 the famous “International Ceramics Meetings” were organized in Albissola and again at the 10th Milan Triennale that same year, the venue for Tecno’s “official” debut. As a worthy celebration of this long and impassioned history of cultural influxes along Tecno’s path, in 1991 Valeria Borsani, Osvaldo’s daughter and an architect with many years in the company as director, with her husband, Marco Fantoni, of the Centro Progetti Tecno, proposed that a collection be created of articles that would be representative of this path. The intention, naturally, was also to render homage to the figure of Osvaldo Borsani, who had passed away some years earlier (in 1985). His twin brother, Fulgenzio, the “economist” behind the Tecno project, still active in the company (he would leave us in 1995) was an ardent supporter of the project in spite of the fact that he knew its prospects for commercial success were limited. 261

François e Frédéric Morellet, tavolo Détabilisation n. 1, Collezione ABV, 1991 Jeffrey Steele, paravento Orlando, 1960, Collezione ABV, 1991 Getulio Alviani, tavolo piccolo 1/2/3/4/5, Collezione ABV, 1991

Thus, under the artistic direction of Teresa Pomodoro and Fausta Squatrini, the ABV Collection was created, drawing on the participation of nine artists: the “historical” collaborators of the Borsani, Agenore Fabbri and Arnaldo Pomodoro; the more recent artists Getulio Alviani and Carlo Mo, whose works had brought them into close contact with the world of Tecno; representatives of the “historical avant-garde”, Man Ray and Luigi Veronesi; interesting contributions from abroad by Jeffrey Steele and François and Frédéric Morellet; and the ninth, in a class unto himself, was Gio Ponti, with his famous Triposto, created in 1967 for Tecno but never getting past the prototype stage. Valeria Borsani wrote in the presentation for the collection: “Tecno asked for contributions from artists—painters and sculptors—in designing furniture. Not sculptures on which you can also sit or set things. Not multiples of art. Furniture in the full sense of the word: forms designed specifically for a function, objects that exist thanks to the techniques of industrial production.” A second collection would be created in parallel titled “Disegno ABV”, containing a selection of historical design pieces by Borsani, De Carli, Gerli and the Centro Progetti Tecno.


New pieces in limited series would be added the following year, designed by Bruno Munari (the Guardaunpò [“take a gander”] mirror), Norman and Sabiha Foster (the Aksa table), Gae Aulenti (Totem Casa cabinet and the Tlinkit chair), Luca Scacchetti (San Carlo cabinets A and B) and Justus Kolberg (P08 folding chair). In addition to representing an homage to a workshop that had always remained deeply integrated into the design sensibilities of the Borsani, the choice of using the ABV trademark was also due to the fact that the ABV store on Via Montenapoleone in Milan was still doing an active business (it would close in 1995) in custom furnishings. A catalogue was created to present the ABV Collection of the artists’ works (published by Edizioni Tecno) with a wealth of images, texts and interviews with the artists themselves. An invaluable critical assessment was provided by the eminent art historian Giulio Carlo Argan, who wrote an interesting essay on the relationship between art and design, which we have decided to present here in its entirety. 1 Giulian Gramigna, Fulvio Irace (eds.), Osvaldo Borsani, Leonardo De Luca Editori, Rome, 1992.


Giulio Carlo Argan

Preface1 Arte e progetto

Chairs, tables, screens are no longer the architecture on a small scale that perhaps they once were when the home was an intermediate institution between State and person, between the authority of the law and paternal rights. Today, fortunately, it is simply a place where one lives; its structural laws of furnishing are no longer the coordinates of the floor and the walls. The typology and the iconology of furnishings no longer exist, the furniture models itself on the animated physical, psychic, intellectual and social reality of the inhabitant. In economic terms, furniture is a category of industrial products tending towards serial uniformity: total seriality would be a general conformity of ways of life, a privation of every freedom of the individual or group. The uniformity of customs is indubitably one of the causes of the crisis of art, of the danger of its disappearance from the system of the present and future civilization. But there are still forces of opposition, and it does not go without saying that they will not prevail, and in consequence the persistent presence of art gives strong support to the endeavour to limit the absolutism of the society of superfluous and compulsory consumption. It is not a matter of going backwards and recovering but of stating the problem in clear terms: value impedes consumption and, therefore, the maximum of consumption, towards which one is tending, signifies the destruction of the concept of value. In the logical formalism of this chilling discourse, modern art as a whole is clearly more than a 264

technical alternative to industrial automation: it is a mode of experience which, identifying the moments, once they have been separated, of perception and the intellect, gives life a new sense and a faster, more intense rhythm. Thus not only the architects, but also all the artists, as technicians of the image, are engaged in an action which, in effect, has the purpose of preventing the imagination from ceasing to be an intellectual faculty. There are reasons to believe that today, in the field of design, painters and sculptors may represent a point of advancement beyond that of the architects themselves, because their interests concern the visuality more than the structural character of the image. Even in the recent past the formative work of painters and sculptors was essentiallly inventive, that of architects concerned with planning. There is no antinomy between the two terms: invention is more closely linked to the imagination, planning to structure, but invention that does not become plan is Utopia and planning without invention becomes mere calculation. The whole history of industrial design reveals the co-presence of invention and planning, in varying proportions. And even today the imaginative-visual root of industrial design is not only vital but also helps to preserve industrial design from an undesirable assimilation by the technical mechanics of serial production. When, over fifty year ago, the first pieces of furniture in gleaming tubular metal designed by 264

Getulio Alviani, tavolo grande 1/2/3/4/5 e schizzo di studio, Collezione ABV, 1991 Luigi Veronesi, scrittoio Costruzione, 1935, Collezione ABV, 1991

Braeuer appeared, I was struck not only by the novelty of the invention but also by the implicit and as if connatural animation, not without irony, of those filiform and almost immaterial domestic figures, which outlined themselves in space without filling it, evaded the laws of equilibrium and symmetry, were agile as serpents and, when no longer needed, fitted back into each other. It was said that their archetype was the Adler bicycle, and there was some truth it this: previously the archetype of the chair was the regal throne and it is not so surprising that in Bauhaus circles, in the period of the Weimar Republic, a cyclist had more appeal than a sovereign. But the real matrix of that inventive project lay in the linear graphics of Klee and in the colourful choreography of Schlemmer’s mechanical ballets. It was, thus, a courageous appeal to painting that opened a new path to industrial design; not so much because painting, even non-figurative, was still somehow connected to the naturality of the human figure, but because of the unusual vein of irony to be found in Klee’s drawings and Schlemmer’s ballets. The demythicization of the home, stripping it of all ancestral solemnity, belongs to our day: it is no surprise that modern furniture has in it an element, more or less marked, of subtly profane irony. Artistic invention is not bizarre discovery: it has a method which has developed in the course of modern art. Looking back to the first half of the century, it can be seen that art has effectively entered the system of production and

consumption in two clearly distinct ways: the designing of serial objects and the designing of advertising. In the first, the project-aspect predominated, in the second visuality. It is pointless to name the many architects, from Behrens and Gropius onwards, who have worked in industrial design, or the visual artists, starting with Toulouse and Forain, who have produced advertising material. It is enough to remember that, if the advertisements of artists contributed to establishing consumption of the object through the image, the consumption of which is more rapid and instinctive, the requirements of advertising contributed to the engagement of painting in the search for a more intense visuality, endowed with a great force of impact, that stimulated a behaviour which was prehensile and voracious, immediate and unconscious, without logical or practical reasons. Irrespective of commercial purposes, there have developed lines of visual research all more or less aimed at the creation of perceptive effects which had the quality of being immediately intellective. It is not without significance that the currents of kinetic and visual research are connected in various ways with the study of the psychology of vision and researches on imaginative thought (Arnheim). It is known that consumerism is founded on image information and communication intended to upset the logical equilibrium of need and consumption. The system stimulates the circulation and consumption of images, making 265

Man Ray, poltrona Armchair e disegni di studio dell’autore, 1930-1941, Collezione ABV, 1991

the consumption of the object a secondary effect of the consumption of the images. But at this point there arises the problem of the values that consumerism tends to destroy and which art, throughout its history, has sought to establish as the basis of a whole system of value: aesthetic values. It is by no means theoretically certain that a consumption culture could not in the future postulate values contradictory to its present system. And it is a fact that there is the intention, on the part of a number of artists, to overcome the contradiction by re-establishing aesthetic values inside the present system of production-consumption. I shall confine myself to trying to identify the common purposes of several lines of research with different characteristics. Since industrial mass production is theoretically unlimited, it is certainly possible to establish costs and prices, apparently impossible to define object values. What it seems to me that artists, even very different from each other, coming from painting and sculpture to industrial design have in common, is not so much the invention of images as the search for a quality lying outside the typology and the iconology of serial or standard industrial production. They could not have rejected that typology and iconology without abandoning the system, which they aim instead to correct from within. And how? By finding beyond the image a possibility of qualitative research with regard to the materials, the design, the manufacturing process. A radical change of 266

the linguistic factor would have meant revoking all possibility of visual communication: the Bauhaus idea of educating people by means of domestic and office furniture proved to be Utopian. If anything, the search for a quality of the object beyond its image is a sort of re-education, of recovery of an inventive method that was characteristic of art and as such seemed to have been lost for ever. The modern world is fascinated and frightened by the economic and technological system it has created: it could disuse the intelligence, nullify morality, revoke all freedom of choice in every field. There is reason to fear the mechanism of a seriality which, to quantify, disqualifies. Quantity and quality were terms that were opposite but correlated; once the equilibrium of need and consumption is cancelled, so is the logical relationship of cause and effect; to produce more consumption one destroys that extra value, over and above what is needed, which throughout history has always been art. There will no longer be a natural passage from the single to the many: universal seriality means the end of every hierarchy of values, each unit of the series will be at once one and infinity, archetype and copy. Seriality is incompatible with the authenticity of the object as of the subject. Art is institutionally pure authenticity: by producing and enjoying art the world instituted and has conserved the idea and the value of the authentic as a condition of life. Artists are

Arnaldo Pomodoro, letto Triclinio, Collezione ABV, 1991 Carlo Mo, seduta africana Chip, Collezione ABV, 1991

neither angels nor demiurges, they live the life of their time; they certainly do not aim to stop or slow down the world’s becoming, they do not consider themselves benefactors and saviours of humanity: they simply reject consumption as an end in itself and so propose, beyond consumption, a new value of being, of doing, of using. By means of the intellectual recreation of the serial object, they re-create the individuality of the subject: to enjoy objects remade by art is to re-propose the value of inter-subjective communication, which the seriality of industrial production tends to eliminate. The artist-designer does not communicate other than that he is an artist, his gift for invention and for inventing himself, and in this way he brings back invention to a designing that otherwise could reduce itself to mere calculation. Modestly, the artists seek to communicate not inspired genius, but simply their authentic way of being and doing. They do not generate, regenerate the world; the objects they design remain economic realities, products, goods. But everyone knows that producing and consuming are economic acts like buying and selling, and thus to enjoy an object made by art is an artistic act, like producing art. The serial

object re-invented by the artist solicits a criticism and a judgement which frees the user from a consumption which is compulsory, thoughtless, idiotic. What else if not art produces things that can be consumed without being destroyed? The artist-designers and the designer-artists are today the only custodians of quality in a world which is quantifying itself: the quality of an object re-invented by art passes into the user, regenerates him, gives him an inventive capacity. This is the aim of the research of mathematical exactitude carried out by the better part of modern artists, who seek in this way to restore calculation to invention. The artist who makes things useful for living is not, nor does he wish to be, a pedagogue. There is the risk of scholasticism also in industrial design, and there are some who succumb, which is a pity: one does not design without criticizing what already exists, and there is no criticism without a part of irony. The artist-designers are ironical towards an industrial design always blindly obedient to the laws of the market: there is irony in its history, the irony of Klee, of Duchamp, of Man Ray, of Magritte. Tratto da Teresa Pomodoro, Fausta Squatrini, Collezione ABV, Edizioni Tecno, Varedo 1991.



The nineties In search of a new identity

Foster Associates

Stansted Airport

London, England, 1990

Destined to become one of the major London airfields, Stansted Airport, with regard to the terminal itself, is easily understood: its simplicity of composition, idea of space, and traffic flow is its raison d’être. Easy to expand horizontally, transform and manage, the terminal was designed as a system of independent structures which, in addition to allowing an absolute and magical dimension of 360 degrees of transparency, represent an organizational model that stands in opposition to the sort of random and anarchical process of interior growth that regularly seems to afflict airports. Foster imposed a clear separation between the structure of the terminal and the apparatus needed to make it function. The macro-scale of the structural pillars and the micro-scale

London’s Stansted Airport and its interior featuring Tecno’s WS seating system in an upholstered version.


of the check-in modules do not emerge from the same design matrix, although they share a common purpose. This demonstrates the commonality of intent that connects the large to the small in the terminal: Foster designs the part above and the part below. Each has its own clear and unequivocal horizon that forms the substrate for a sober order, almost a landscape. The public transit areas and the more restricted internal spaces are calibrated by means of signage similar to that found in the Milanese airports. Foster chose Tecno’s WS waiting area seating system for the new airport, affirming the comfort, safety and hygiene of a product that has been installed in many European airports.


Michel Bourquillon, Jean van Pottelsberghe de la Potterie, Guy Maes

European Parliament

Brussels, Belgium, 1992

For the hemicycle of the European Parliament in Brussels, with a seating capacity of 750, both the president’s rostrum and the benches of the deputies were designed ad hoc. After reviewing the architectural plans, Tecno developed the technical design and manufactured the furnishings. The Italian company also provided the Qualis chairs designed by Emilio Ambasz. Additionally, the document consultation and study area was outfitted with specially adapted Nomos system tables.


General view of the debate chamber of the European Parliament and details of benches produced by Tecno and outfitted with Qualis chairs. Document consultation and study area outfitted with Nomos series tables.


Yaacov Kaufman S22 Folding chair Design1987 Production 1991

The S22 is a multifunctional folding chair with fabric upholstered seat and back perfected and developed by Tecno based on designs by the Israeli designer of Polish origins, Yaacov Kaufman. The frame is made of painted

steel. A special system of pins and guides makes it possible to tilt the back backwards and to tip the seat forwards. An accessory system of armrests is also available to create rows of numbered seats with writing surfaces.

The S22 folding chair in a row configuration for conference rooms and as an independent piece.


Justus Kolberg, Centro Progetti Tecno P08

Various views of the P08 folding chair showing the possibility of arranging it into rows and also its extremely compact profile when folded.

Folding chair Design and production 1991

With the collaboration of the young German designer Justus Kolberg, after a long hiatus Tecno produced another folding chair for conference rooms. The frame is made of flat steel bar painted

with a glossy black finish or with a satin-finish stainless steel treatment. The seat and back are made of nylon. A wall-mounted hook system can hold up to six chairs per hook.


Emilio Ambasz Qualis Series of office chairs Design 1990 Production 1991

The design of the Qualis chair is characterized by the covering on the seat shell, which we might define as “tailor made”. In designing this collection of chairs for the office, Emilio Ambasz sought to bring together two apparently conflicting concepts, which he calls “familiarity” and “exceptionality”. According to Ambasz, a chair is something you recognize, something you reappropriate every day, and hence a comforting and familiar presence. However, at the same time, you also want to be allured by this object, and hence it needs to be elegant, seductive and able to make


the ordinary extraordinary. Two elements determine the comfort of the Qualis chair series: the thin cushions padding the shell with a “billow” formed along the entire lateral profile of the chair held together by “tailor’s stitches” that highlight the fine finished quality of the work; and the back adjustment mechanism, which has earned a patent for its excellent performance using a much simpler design than competing models and thus better integrated into the design of the chair. The collection is developed in terms of dimensions and equipment to meet

the needs of the three categories into which office work is generally organized: staff, managers and executives. The five-ray base is made of steel and covered with a polypropylene casing or else made of polished die-cast aluminium. The individual saw-horse base, with feet or skid, is made of painted steel profiles. The basic model is also available for mounting on a bar for use in waiting areas, entertainment venues or classrooms. The Qualis chair series won the Compasso d’Oro prize in 1991.

Various upholstery options for the Qualis chair.

Various models of the Qualis office chairs.

Emilio Ambasz, drawing of the Qualis chair.


Gae Aulenti Kum, Tlinkit, Totem Collection of executive office furnishings, chair and multipurpose cabinet Design and production 1991 (Tlinkit, Totem), 1993 (Kum)


Collection of office furnishings comprising desks, tables, drawer units and storage units. The Kum series allows a rigorous interpretation of the office without abandoning simplicity, with the goal of a sophisticated representativeness of the decision-making space. It is a varied offering that never loses sight of the original design and the purpose behind it, ranging from desks to conference tables to custom-made furnishings. The desks and conference tables have wood or glass tops supported on enclosed elements in painted sheet metal, with or without cable

ducts, topped by two short column elements on which the top rests. The collection is characterized by the relatively thin tops. In the first collection, the finishes available for the desks are natural wood or flat black paint. The glass tops may be painted green or aubergine (the latter a colour carefully singled out by Gae Aulenti) or left transparent. Leather is an option for conference tables. For worktops there is also the option of extra thickness laminated fibreboard. The bases are always made of sheet steel elements painted green, aubergine, greyish-green, anthracite or black.

They have chromed fittings and can be outfitted internally with universal outlet blocks. The system is complemented by high and low wooden storage units outfitted with drawers, open cubbyholes, or closed compartments with glass or wooden doors. The Tlinkit chair with a rattan structure covered in natural rattan cloth and the multifunctional storage unit Totem, which was part of the ABV Collection in 1991, both designed by Gae Aulenti, comprise attractive and harmonious additions to the collection.

Composition with desk, table and cabinet on casters from the Kum series.


Elements from the Kum series accompanied by Tlinkit chairs.


The Totem wheeled cabinet with the Tlinkit chair.


Norman Foster and Partners

Right and bottom: The faceted design of the Kite chair inspired by the geometry of its namesake.

Kite Series of work chairs Design and production 1998

The Kite chair is composed of an aluminium frame (a product of advanced engineering developed by the Centro Progetti Tecno) to which ergonomic upholstery is applied, finished in a broad range of possible fabrics and leathers. This combination


of materials and colours produces the possibility of modulating the characteristics and appearance of the chair. The most characteristic aspect—the bent sheet metal shield-like casing on the back of the chair—evokes the image of a kite. The aluminium frame is supported on a five-ray

base made of sheet metal bent and welded to form and finished in a metallic grey, as is the underside of the seat. The sheet metal back is the only part of the seat that can be painted, and is available in metal-fleck grey, white, black, red, green, yellow or blue.

Norman Sabhia Foster Limited

The Aksa table with its two different tops, glass and wood.

Aksa Table Design and production 1992

Designed specifically for a Japanese client, the Aksa table was later considered an apt addition to the limited edition ABV Collection. There it was reproduced alongside the Nomos collection, playing off their particular affinities and contrasts. The large cylindrical base is made of wax-finish steel supporting a wood or glass top.


Rafael Moneo

Atocha Station

Madrid, Spain, 1992

The large public area under the vaulted iron and glass ceiling of the former Glorieta de Carlos V train station in Madrid, and a number of spaces furnished using Tecno’s RS seating system.


Rafael Moneo’s station is not just a modern, efficient train station; it is above all an urban hub, a micro-city, or, as the practitioners of the art like to say, an intermodal node that integrates into and interacts with the metropolitan fabric. The remodelled Atocha station in Madrid has often been called “Operación Atocha” to capture the complexity of a job that demanded macro-scale decisions and coordination in terms of technology, architectural design and urban planning. The task was the restoration and redevelopment of the nineteenth-century Glorieta de Carlos V station and its expansion into the available space under the terminus canopies as a nexus for the regeneration of an outlying area of the city. No simple project, the Atocha complex includes a high speed rail station (long-distance trains), a local rail station and a subway station. As an intermodal node, the “Atocha Operation” revolves around the resolution of what the planners call “transit spaces”, which comprise the interconnection spaces between services/amenities and the public transportation system, i.e., in the spatial relations between the international terminal, the commuter rail

station, the subway, the nineteenth-century building and the sunken square that connects the entire complex with the rest of the city. The plan for the entire railway system depended on the choices made in redeveloping the Glorieta station, which is stripped of its function as a “rail link” and transformed into an “urban link”, that is, a space designed for social interchange, symbol of the transformation of the station from a mono-functional facility serving only those who are in transit, to a locus of social interaction open to all. Hence the large space formerly encompassing the platforms and sheltered by an iron and glass canopy, in keeping with nineteenth-century architectural engineering practice, was transformed into a huge greenhouse à la Paxton, where soaring tropical plants form an exotic garden providing a green setting for restaurants, bars, cafés and shops. The effect is that of a large mall giving onto the urban square beyond. The city flows into the station, which becomes a continuous extension of the urban space. And the flows of travellers and city dwellers are accommodated on various models of the Tecno RS seating system for collective spaces.


Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura

El Prat International Airport

Barcellona, Spain, 1991

The El Prat Airport in Barcelona, interior and exterior views. Views of benches designed by Bofill for the El Prat Airport and manufactured by Tecno.


In the early nineties, Barcelona built a large new airport capable of supporting the city’s push to boost its tourism market and the significant increase in air traffic to and from the city. Ricardo Bofill designed a building that extends linearly for one kilometre with four triangular units extending towards the runway. The spine of the plan is a raised pedestrian corridor for air-side and land-side

passengers. Containing shops and commercial stands, its linear layout is reminiscent of Barcelona’s famous Ramblas. The simplicity of the structure eliminates the need for complicated signage. Tecno was the main contractor for the interior design, manufacturing all the furnishings designed by Bofill. The experience also led to the addition of new items to the Tecno catalogue.


Ricardo Bofill

Inspired by the close and rewarding collaboration between the architect Bofill and Tecno for the interior design of the Barcelona airport, the two players sought to further the experience, developing other pieces for the airport and also embarking on other design quests. Two different projects were explored: a proposed bench for the airport with red marble blocks as the bases and the seat and back in thick solid wood boards; and a series of seats and tables with wooden parts on a metal frame, which did not get beyond the prototype stage.

PRAT, RB Bench and chair Design and prototypes 1992

Prototype of the RB chair. The PRAT bench in the version with red marble bases and red wooden boards for the seat and back.


Justus Kolberg Kora Seating system for public areas Design and production 1998

Different chair types in the Kora public seating system.

Kora is a versatile, economical and “multifunctional� seating system designed expressly to cater to the needs of a wide range of public spaces, ranging from waiting rooms to conference or meeting rooms and offices. The stackable chairs are composed of a comfortable seat distinguished by grooves moulded into the back. The plastic components are made in a fire-resistant batch-dyed polyamide in the colours anthracite grey or white that met requirements enacted at the time regarding antibacterial and antistatic properties. The frames are made of shaped tubular steel with a chrome finish or painted a metal-fleck grey. The chair sits on black plastic self-levelling articulated feet.

The upholstery, full or partial (seat or back), is optional for all Kora models and made of fire-resistant fabric in a range of colours. The version with four legs (available with or without armrests fitted with black plastic covers) is stackable and can be assembled into rows by means of plastic connectors that snap onto the legs and keep the chairs properly aligned. Seat numbers may be applied to a special area moulded into the back of the chair. Kora chairs are available with two types of writing surfaces: a more traditional version with a tip-up table made of thick plastic laminated fibreboard and a more essential, high-tech version with a die-cast aluminium table finished in black paint that tips up and tucks away.

Even when outfitted with these writing surfaces, the chairs can still be stacked. Stacked chairs may be transported on special trolleys made of tubular iron with a grey paint finish. The series is completed with a version on a five-ray height-adjustable base with casters (for the office, home office or small meeting rooms) with or without armrests. Bar-mounted versions, available exclusively in metal-fleck grey, like the frame, can be assembled into rows of two to eight seats. They are made of white or anthracite polyamide and available in a range of different versions to suit the particular setting in which they will be used.


Jean-Michel Wilmotte Pour le Louvre, Todo Modo Seating and table series, adjustable-back sofa Design and production 1993

Chair and complete series of “Pour le Louvre” coordinated furnishing elements.


Present with its own monobrand store in Paris since 1968 on Boulevard St. Germain, Tecno had the opportunity in 1993 to make a creative and industrial contribution to the work of architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte, who had been entrusted with the interior design of Ieoh Ming Pei’s pyramid at the new entrance to the Louvre. The result was a new chair called Grand Louvre, which was immediately put to use in the food service facilities in the museum. This sparked a thought quest for a more extensive series of furnishings that eventually took form in the furniture collection “Pour le Louvre”. The pieces are the result of “a rigorous process

of simplification of design, which expresses a notion of the classic through symmetrical and balanced formal solutions” (Ottagono, no. 95, 1990, p. 172). Wilmotte developed an entire collection of seats and tables in wood, leather, sandstone or glass almost exclusively in the colour black (except for a limited version in natural wood) and characterized by a polished steel brace connecting the various components. The brace existed either in two dimensions as an L-shape or in three as a “T” folded axially at a right angle. An exceptional piece was added to this collection and also used at the Louvre. Dubbed “Todo Modo”,

it was a sort of ottoman-chair with a mobile backrest. Mounted on a hinged arm, the cylindrical backrest could be moved from back to front or vice versa, reversing the seating direction. Todo Modo is constructed of wood and metal, with the latter components coloured a gun-metal grey. The upholstery is polyurethane foam covered with fabric or leather. This seating system can be joined together in different ways to create sofas in various configurations. A special system allows tables, available in wood or finished in leather, to be mounted to the seat.

Side and three-quarters view (with dormeuse extension) of the Todo Modo system.


Jean-Michel Wilmotte

Interior design for the Grand Louvre

Paris, France, 1993

Jean-Michel Wilmotte, architect, urban planner, designer is internationally celebrated as one of the foremost interior designers of museum spaces. This renown may be traced back to his famous work with Ieoh Ming Pei for the Grand Louvre. Below Pei’s iconic Pyramid, Wilmotte developed an interior design that incorporated a number

Exterior view of Ieoh Ming Pei’s Pyramid and the interior with the WS benches. A grand exhibition hall in the Louvre with Todo Modo sofas for visitors.


of furnishings produced by Tecno. These included the WS benches in the entrance foyer under the Pyramid and several pieces designed specially by Wilmotte for the occasion, such as the “Pour le Louvre” system developed for the restaurant areas and the Todo Modo upholstered seats for the exhibit halls.


Jean-Marie Duthilleul, AREP, SNCF Agences des Gares

SNCF high-speed rail station

France, 1999-2011

Different models of the RS seating system for different areas in the high-speed rail stations of Aix-en-Provence and Avignon.


After important work with the French Department of Public Works, Jean-Marie Duthilleul was asked by the directors of SNCF (French national railway company) to reorganize and direct the Station Architecture Studio. This marked the beginning of a design strategy that laid the theoretical and conceptual groundwork for large contemporary train stations, seen as new elements of the cityscape in an innovative urban and architectural approach. In 1997, Duthilleul created the multidisciplinary consulting company AREP, a subsidiary

of SNCF, with Étienne Tricaud. AREP specialized in the design and construction of spaces dedicated to the transit and transportation of people. Starting in 1999, as part of the early projects in the long series of new TGV stations, the RS seating system, designed by Duthilleul, was adopted for the new facilities. For special areas, such as the Eurostar waiting rooms, the RS series was enriched with a version with leather upholstery, while complementary elements were added for the TGV Méditerranée lines: writing surfaces, tables and lamps.


Ronald Cecil Sportes RCS Stackable chairs for indoor or outdoor public areas Design and production 1994


Originally designed for restaurants in French railway stations, RCS was simplified and rationalized for a more general use: food service, recreation, entertainment, or relaxation and conversation areas. This stackable chair

is made completely of finely embossed, anodized or painted aluminium in grey or black. Options include cast aluminium armrests and leather upholstery on the seat and/or armrests.

Various colours of the RCS stackable chair.


Crinion Associates Compas System Office workspace system Design and production 1995


Designed by the Canadian studio directed by Jonathan Crinion, the Compass office workspace system introduced concepts of economy and sustainability of industrial products. The system offers a great variety of components including support structures, worktops, drawer units, storage units, electrified partitions, panels and accessories. The support structure is made of steel and is height-adjustable. It is composed of individual or sawhorse legs with a powder

finish in the colours sandstone-grey, light grey and sand with a finely embossed surface treatment. The worktops are made of fibreboard with low formaldehyde content, either extra-fine texture painted MDF or fibreboard surfaced in melamine with a flat finish and ABS edges. The tops are made in a variety of rectangular or contoured ergonomic forms allowing for a broad and flexible range of configurations, which is matched with an equally extensive colour palette.

Various workplace compositions using the Compass System.


Norman Foster and Partners

Carré d’Art

Nîmes, France, 1993

Carré d’Art is an important cultural centre containing a museum of contemporary art, a library and media centre with some 400,000 volumes and other services, including a cinema on a sublevel. It is built of cement, steel and glass and stands opposite the Maison Carré temple, a Roman building dating to the first century BCE. The architecture echoes the same serial arrangement as the Classical temple, which is given form in a portico and the use of straight lines. The building comprises nine floors, of which five are underground. Norman Foster, volumetric sketch of the Carré d’Art. Front view of the light and airy structure of the Carré d’Art face to face with the massive ancient Roman Maison Carré. Right: the trilith structure of the basic Tabula series table.


The challenge in designing the building was establishing a relation between the old and the new, while at the same time creating a building that manifested a contemporary image without stylistic compromises. In 1992, Norman and Sabiha Foster designed the furnishings for the library and the offices. This experience gave rise to the Tabula furniture series, comprising a series of tables and desks that can be outfitted with a variety of accessories, and a type of bench for waiting areas.

Varie viste interne con le poltroncine e il tavolo per la sala lettura della biblioteca


Mario e Claudio Bellini Extra Dry Office furniture system Design1996 Production 1998

In the late nineties, Mario and Dario Bellini brought to Tecno a highly flexible system that responded to the most dynamic and varied demands of the office realm, liberated from many constraining schemes of the past. Extra Dry offers office designers a broad range of options for meeting the requirements of the specific project. These range from the structural partitions, which may be built in different heights and lengths to provide anchorage for the worktops and provide varying levels of privacy, to freestanding solutions meeting individual or collective needs with long desk-sharing configurations. These options are based on an aluminium substructure to which brackets, braces and legs are mounted. The legs are also fabricated in aluminium and have either a natural finish or are painted white or dark grey. In freestanding configurations, this allows workstations to be composed that share the same structure, reducing the number of necessary supports, as well as the attachment of panels or partition screens. In workstations mounted on structural partitions, it makes it possible to completely

eliminate other supporting elements. The rectangular or contoured worktops satisfy personal tastes without sacrificing functionality or ergonomics. Along with surfaces in white, light grey, dark grey, or light or graphite oak melamine, there are also elegant lacquered finishes with rounded edges in white, light grey or dark grey. Additionally, desktops may be made in a variety of woods available in the collection. The structural partitions and supporting elements are made in the same colours and materials, which may be matched or contrasted depending on individual tastes. The system comes with a broad range of accessories, from glass partition panels to fabric coated sound-proofing panels, from electrical wiring to paper trays, and from CD indexes to individual lighting systems. “Basic�, a line of storage and drawer units that mixes well with any of the Extra Dry furnishings, introduces a further touch of imagination, if necessary, with colour that ventures beyond the functionality and sobriety that generally distinguishes the collection. Drawings illustrating the various components and possible combinations of the Extra Dry system.


Details showing the flexibility of configuration of the different elements.


Particular features to allow continuous modifications of the wiring system and the addition of new elements through time. Combinations proposed in recent catalogues.



Jean-Marie Duthilleul, SNCF Agences des Gares RS Bar-mounted seating system for public areas Design1997 Production 1998

RS is a system of individual seats that can be mounted and aggregated on a bar to create benches for two to five persons. The seats, mobile bases, connectors and armrests are made of die-cast aluminium. After demoulding, each cast component is fettled, any remaining surface irregularities are machined, and threads are cut where needed for the installation of threaded steel inserts. Each piece is then sandblasted or fine shot-peened and chrome plated. The surface finish is in polyester powder or else micro-shot-peened aluminium to provide high resistance to acts of vandalism. The armrests are mirror polished where they contact with the forearm. Special care is taken


to ensure a sharp and clean line separating the mirror finish portions from the powder finished portions. The extruded bar that provides the unifying structure, as well as the fixed bases, are chrome plated and finished in polyester powder or else micro-shot-peened aluminium to provide high resistance to acts of vandalism. The versatile system also includes table surfaces made of glass painted in one of three different colours and then sandblasted, or else made of extra thick black laminated fibreboard, optional upholstery in various fabrics, and “back-to-back” spacing units. Thanks to the compositional freedom afforded by the system and the great success it has received since

it was introduced, it is undergoing continual and rapid development. The treatments enhance the wear and impact resistance of the furnishings and allow them to be used flexibly both indoors and—for the versions fully in aluminium or in mixed aluminiumwood—outdoors. There is also a continuous bench version with wooden slats, a modern reinterpretation of the most classic form of this furnishing item. RS finds its natural application in all large capacity waiting facilities, such as train stations, which was the context for the first project with AREP, one of the most highly specialized international design studios in the sector, and SNCF,

the French national rail company. The versatility of the product and its different possible configurations and image, depending on the importance and dimensions of the architecture, as well as the unquestionable reliability of the producer, a fundamental factor in large scale projects and essential element of master service agreements, have ensured the success and rapid spread of this system also in other spaces. These have included, for example, the large waiting areas at airports such as Schiphol in Amsterdam, or urban furniture, as in interchange nodes in the metropolitan rail system or equipment at stations of the surface transport network.

Various solution types (continuous bench, individual seats with or without backrest, with slats or continuous surfaces) and materials for the RS bar-mounted public seating system.


Jean-François Bodin

Bibliothèque publique d’information Centre Georges Pompidou

Parigi, France, 2000

Ever since its inauguration in 1977, the Pompidou Centre, designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, has been an enormous hit with the public. Of course, one consequence of this has been unexpectedly rapid wear and tear on the exhibition and amenity spaces resulting from their intense use. These stresses made it necessary in the late nineties to close the Centre Exterior view of the Centre Georges Pompidou and interiors of the library.


for approximately one year. It was reopened in 2000 with a refurbished interior design. One of the contributors to this renovation project was Jean-François Bodin, who designed the new Bibliothèque publique d’information, one of the world’s premier visual arts libraries. Tecno was also a participant, producing the custom-made reading tables designed by Bodin.


Benthem Crouwel

Schiphol Airport

Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2001

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is the largest airfield in the Netherlands and one of the busiest in Europe. In 2009 it ranked fourteenth worldwide for overall number of passengers. Originally built in 1920, over the years it has undergone numerous modifications and expansions. In 1990, the architect Benthem Crouwel began work on a new airport master plan, doubling the volume of its facilities with the construction of Terminal 3. The Schiphol airport had already earned

Exterior view of the Amsterdam Schiphol airport and interiors featuring Tecno’s RS bar-mounted seating system.


distinction in the sixties for the quality of its interior design, work of the Dutch architect-designer of Sino-Indonesian extraction, Kho Liang le (1927–1975), who was much admired also by the Italian designer Ettore Sottsass. In 2001, as part of the ongoing terminal development process, the Tecno RS seating system was adopted for the waiting areas, later also being installed at the stops on the shuttle service among the terminals.


Giancarlo Piretti Noria Office seating system Design1999 Production 2000

Giancarlo Piretti, hand drawing of the technical and formal features of the Noria chair. Various models of the Noria office chair series viewed from different angles.

The Noria family of chairs is based on a single chassis that can be customized with different backs and/or bases to create the main types requested in offices: task chair, managerial chair and executive chair. The chassis, made of a black techno-polymer, is visible along the seat edges and top of the task chair (the seat is completely


upholstered in the managerial and executive versions). The lower part of the back is outfitted with an interchangeable casing over the lumbar support mechanism. The cover may be coloured or finished in fabric. The partial fabric upholstery on the front of the seat is restricted to the lumbar zone. The executive chair is fitted with a add-on headrest integrated into

the back. The various versions of the five-ray base are made of a black techno-polymer, while the pillar, finished externally with a telescoping casing, is made of plastic in a coordinated colour. The add-on armrests have the shape of an upside-down “L� in solid self-skinning polyurethane for the task chairs or upholstered for the managerial

or executive chairs. All chairs swivel and can be adjusted to nine different heights and three different seat depths. Giancarlo Piretti designed the Noria series to meet the European EN1353 standards, meeting the requirements for advanced Class A.


The New Millennium Meeting the challenges of the global market

Norman Foster and Partners

Great Court at the British Museum

Londra, England, 2003

Interior view of the new roof over the Great Court. Various furnishings designed by Norman Foster for the Great Court of the British Museum.


The large courtyard at the heart of the British Museum had been interpreted by architects as one of the “lost spaces” of London; hence the idea for its redevelopment so that it may represent new opportunities both for the Museum and for the city as a whole. When the British Library moved to its own facility on Euston Road in March 1998, Foster and Partners had a chance to rework the central Museum courtyard, which provides access to all the different sections. The role of the Great Court extends beyond the confines of the Museum. It is an important urban and social space accessible both to Museum visitors and the general public. The grandiose Round Reading Room with its enormous dome, larger even than that of St. Paul’s Cathedral, was opened to the public for the first time. This space accommodates a new public library dedicated to world cultures and equipped with the latest technologies. The most important choice in Foster’s design was that of putting a roof over the Great Court. The undulating glass expanse covering an area of 6,100 square metres makes the Great Court Europe’s largest roofed courtyard.

The designed introduced a broad range of new structures, increasing the space available to the public by 40%. This was a fundamental aspect of the project, given that it had to respond to the constant increase in visitors to one of the world’s most frequented museums. New galleries and exhibition spaces, auditoriums, classrooms and study rooms, shops, cafés and restaurants have given the Museum new functional qualities. Indeed, other needs addressed by the project included an expanding educational program and increasing public demand for multipurpose facilities. Tecno was asked to produce all the furnishings designed by Foster and Partners for the project, which for some parts of the Museum included the Tabula series tables initially designed for the Carré d’Art in Nîmes, France. Located along the pedestrian route connecting the British Library to the north with Covent Garden to the south, the Great Court is a cultural urban square open to all. The entire complex, open to the public from early morning to late evening, has become an important new point of attraction for London.


Jean Nouvel

Library in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

Madrid, Spain, 2005

Exterior view of the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and interior views of the library outfitted with Nomos system tables.


The Museo Nacional, Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (“The Sofia”) represents one of the fundamental reference points for Spain’s artistic heritage and, given the importance of the works of art it houses, also a landmark for international culture. In response to a need to expand the exhibition spaces and incorporate new supporting equipment and facilities, a new addition designed by the architect Jean Nouvel was inaugurated in 2005, after four years of work. The new structures house new galleries for temporary exhibitions, two galleries for the permanent collections, an auditorium, two conference rooms, a library laid out on three levels, a cafeteria and a restaurant. These functions are all housed in three buildings under a broad and linear cherry-coloured roof with large cuts in it to allow natural lighting of the spectacular entrance atrium. As an added element, light plays a fundamentally important role in the design. Nouvel’s objective, right from the start, had been to allow the new to co-exist harmoniously with the old. The expansion of the museum facilities, costing a total of 92 million euros, increased exhibition space by 60% to a total

of some 84,000 square metres. The various functions in the addition are all arranged around a central plaza, which constitutes an important nucleus for urban aggregation. The library, located on the southern side, is 14 metres high and developed on a number of different levels arranged in the part in front of the pre-existing nineteenth-century building. Public access is possible from the central court, which is also sheltered by the enormous roof that connects the new apparatus to its historical counterpart. A lighting system composed of special lamps, enormous suspended glass domes and large shaded skylights provide zenith lighting to the spaces below. Tecno was invited to provide furnishings for the reading room and the executive offices of The Sofia with the installation of Nomos tables in black floorpan and chromed supports. Nouvel’s project in Madrid represents a significant attempt to integrate museum space into the daily life of the city, thus achieving the role of coordinator of active elements and a fundamental driving force in the life of the city.


Piero Lissoni Cento, Asymmetrical Executive desk and storage unit system Design and production 2005, 2006

A number of different compositions with the Cento storage unit system. A composition with an Asymmetrical system desk. Oval meeting table with offset base.


When he became Tecno art director halfway through the first decade of the twenty-first century, Piero Lissoni created a new image for the company based on a more contemporary idea of technology hidden in pure, minimal forms held in a precise and rarefied equilibrium. The Asymmetrical system is composed of large modular conference tables where the asymmetry of their tops joins with and complements the geometrical rigour and formal purity of the solid supports, with references to modern painting and recent developments in architecture. These elements compose spacious workstations (functioning both as desks and meeting tables) where everything is within arm’s reach, with sophisticated formal solutions

(ranging from the refined overhanging table tops to the various types and sizes of storage units to the built-in secret compartments), pure volumes and alluring shadow and light effects. The Solenoidi are occasional tables with irregularly shaped tops in various sizes and heights for auxiliary functions. And Lissoni’s vision also has given form to the long pursued project of the Cento storage units: a single line harmonizing with all the Tecno collections of executive furnishings. It offers a simple and original solution that constitutes a guiding thread uniting the different compositions. Cento’s rigorous design is exalted by the apparent lack of any strongly characterizing elements. Options included in the catalogue

include: swinging doors, sliding doors, drawers and full wall compositions, all available in four heights that can be combined and composed in hundreds of ways, as the name itself suggests. Showcases in smoked or etched glass are also included in the product range, allowing additional possibilities for balanced and customized compositions and easily installed atop the low elements or on the shelves of fullscale wall systems, where they play counterpoint to the large L-shaped sliding door. Given the storage function of this system, the finishes are the same as those used in other Tecno collections with which Cento may be coordinated, whether as a wall system or in the middle of the room as a partition.


Jean Nouvel

Agbar Tower

Barcelona, Spain, 1999-2005

This is not a tower This is not a tower. It is not a skyscraper in the American sense of the expression: it is a unique growth in the middle of this rather calm city. But it is not the slender, nervous verticality of the spires and bell towers that often punctuate horizontal cities. Instead, it is a fluid mass that has perforated the ground—a geyser under a permanent calculated pressure. The surface of this construction evokes the water: smooth and continuous, but also vibrating and transparent because it manifests itself in coloured depths—uncertain, luminous and nuanced. This architecture

comes from the earth but does not have the weight of stone. It could even be the faraway echo of old formal Catalan obsessions, carried by a mysterious wind from the coast of Montserrat. The uncertainties of matter and light make the campanile of Agbar vibrate in the skyline of Barcelona: a faraway mirage day and night; a precise marker to the entry of the new diagonale that starts at Plaça de las Glorias. This singular object becomes a new symbol for an international city. Jean Nouvel

Exterior view and two floor plans of the Agbar Tower designed by Jean Nouvel in Barcelona. Interior views showing the storage unit system integrated into the skin of the façade with variably spaced openings.



Pierandrei Associati (Alessandro Maria Pierandrei, Francesco Maria Pierandrei, Stefano Anfossi) Beta unopuntozero Office workspace system 2009


As we read in the product catalogue: “Developed following ethnographic research into the workplace with design by Pierandrei Associati and technical expertise provided by Tecno, beta is a workplace system designed specifically to respond to the needs of a creative office and to give new form to space, adapt to human behaviour and evolve through time. The creative office represents the current state of workspaces. Moving away from repetitive tasks and focussing attention on the sharing of experience, today’s offices are contemporary agorae, where different styles of work overlap and where personal wellbeing translates into on-the-job performance. … “Inspired by the evolutionary processes of nature, beta responds to these needs,

and through a series of fluid and flexible elements, facilitates the reconfiguration and renewal of workspaces. More than a simple system, it is a bona fide environment informed by a non-linear growth process that generates spaces without limiting itself to merely filling them. … “The beta system unites advanced technology and recyclable materials (including the packaging) with a natural process that allows the system to evolve over time. … “The system comprises three families of elements: worktops (desks); storage units (backbone); and accessories. The compositional logic of these components aims to allow the customized configuration of spaces and optimum accessibility by differently-abled people.

“Like a tree, the basic structural module, a.k.a. backbone, generates growth and nourishes the workstations. Acting as an infrastructure, the backbone allows beta to develop free of the dimensional limitations of the office. With its multiple functions as storage units, worktops and/or seats, structural support for worktops, and compositional elements of workspaces, it constitutes the structural and characterizing element of the office system. “The external surface of the storage unit, made of polycarbonate or ABS (skins, drawer backs and fronts, frames and doors) is produced in a uniform colour, which may be either white or beta green. “The storage unit is built of a structural base in steel made with more than 60% of recycled

material and different types of plastic. “Another essential element in beta is the workstation, redesigned specifically for the creative office and redefining a desk whose dimensions are the same as those in use in the days of large CRT monitors. Nowadays, with the use of notebooks, a part of the surface is underutilized and thus the top has been reshaped to suit the new needs of today’s working people. “… The worktop rests on a metal support structure and can be used either with the backbone storage units or with independent metal bases. The structure is made of steel and aluminium elements painted white. The bearing structure is made of die-cast aluminium with an average content of recycled materials of over 30%. Connecting members

in steel are made with at least 60% recycled materials. The worktops are made of 100% recycled particleboard meeting Class E1 standards for formaldehyde emissions and are fully FSC certified. “The beta panorama around the backbone and desktops is determined by accessories ranging from personal support elements to implements designed to improve work performance in the office. “The beta system provides horizontal and vertical electrification incorporated into the structure of the backbone.” Beta unopuntozero won the Red Dot Design Award 2010 in Essen.

Diagram illustrating the organic aggregation of beta system elements. Basic compositions of elements. Movement of the lightweight storage units with structure in steel finished in polycarbonate and ABS. Scheme of a workstation unit open to various spatial continuity lines. Illustration of the different cabling options via conduits hidden in the beta system elements.



Various combinations of beta system elements for the free organization of workspace.


Workstations correlated as a cell and arrangements providing more heterogeneous solutions.



Regesto dei prodotti Tecno







1953 1953 1953 1953 1953 1953 1953 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 prototipo 1955 1955 1956 1956 1956 1956 1956 1957 1957 1957 1957 1957 1957 1957 1957 1957 1957 1957 1957 1958 1958 1958 1958 1958 1958 1959-1962 1960 1960 1961 1961 1961 1961 1961 1961 1961 1962 1962 1962

1949 1946 1952 1952 1952 1952 1952 1951 1950 1951 1953 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1954 1955 1955 1955 1956 1956 1956 1946 1953-1954 1956 1956 1956 1957 1957 1957 1957 1957 1957 1957 1956 1957 1957 1957 1958 1958 1958 1956 1960 1961 1961 1961 1961 1961 1961 1961 1961 1961 1962

Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Carlo De Carli Vico Magistretti Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Roberto Mango Roberto Mango Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Carlo De Carli Eugenio Gerli Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Giorgio Madini, Carlo De Carli Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Eugenio Gerli Osvaldo Borsani M. Cristiani, E. Gerli Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani

S80 L60 (E60) P30 P35 L50 T45 A55 L51 T42 Sending 1 T90 P/D71 D70 P38 T47 T49 T93 LT8 P34 T94 T48 poltrona conica P/D72 T60 T43 T95 P40 T46 P/D32 S33 S3 A57 S88 L77 P99 S29 P36 Balestra T61 T62 T91 T40 T96 T41 E22 T44 P37 P28 P20 T92 C7 AT15 AT16 P24 T67 M6 M7 M59 T98 T58 M124

sedia pieghevole, libreria pensile, poltrona poltroncina, letto d’angolo scrittoio armadio letto con braccio di servizio, tavolo poligonale tavolo ampliabile tavolo scrittoio poltrona, divano divano ad ali mobili poltroncina tavolini smontabili scrivania scrivania operativa lampada verticale sedia tavolo per dattilografia tavolo ampliabile poltrona in foglio di compensato poltrona, divano scrittoio in compensato curvato tavolo soggiorno scrivania direzionale poltrona a inclinazioni variabili tavolo ingrandibile poltrona girevole e divano sedia smontabile, sedia smontabile in compensato armadio componibile sedia pieghevole letto relax snodabile poltroncina girevole sedia smontabile Emilia Sala poltrona serie di tavolini tavolino con cassetti tavolino con giradischi tavolo scrivania direzionale tavolo regolabile in altezza libreria pensile componibile tavolino con struttura di ferro poltroncina poltroncina serie poltrone per ufficio tavolo ampliabile a farfalla carrello portavivande appendiabiti a pannello appendiabiti con palo poltrona tavolino per P24 mensola mensola mensola scrivania direzionale tavolo meeting mensola

p. 44 p. 42


p. 64

p. 47 p. 82 p. 76 p. 45 p. 48 p. 52 p. 67 p. 68 p. 70 p. 103

p. 79 p. 80 p. 50 p. 69 p. 56 p. 94 p. 96 p. 84 p. 135 p. 62 p. 104 p. 118 p. 65 p. 78 p. 86 p. 98 p. 98 p. 102 p. 172 p. 100 p. 92 p. 66 p. 167 p. 136 p. 168 p. 138 p. 106 p. 107 p. 108 p. 110 p. 110 p. 114 p. 114 p. 114 p. 174 p. 114







1962 1962 1962 1963 1963 prototipo 1963 1963 1963 1963 1964 1964 1964 1965 1965 1965 1965 1965 1966 1966 1966 1966 1966 1966 1966 1966 1967 1967 1967 1967 1967 1967 1967 1968 1968 1968 prototipo 1969 1969 1969 1970 1970 1971 1971 1971 1971 1971 1972 1973 1973 1974 1974 1974 1975 1975 1975 1975 1975 1975 1975

1962 1962 1962 1963 1963 1963 1963 1963 1963 1963 1964 1964 1964 1964 1964 1965 1965 1965 1962-1963 1965 1965 1966 1966 1966 1966 1966 1966 1966 1967 1967 1967 1967 1967 1967 1967 1968 1969 1968 1969 1969 1969 1969 1969 1969 1971 1971 1971 1970 1972 1973 1973 1974 1974 1975 1975 1975 1975 1975 1975 1975

Eugenio Gerli Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Eugenio Gerli Eugenio Gerli Osvaldo Borsani O. Borsani, E. Gerli O. Borsani, E. Gerli O. Borsani, E. Gerli O. Borsani, E. Gerli O. Borsani, E. Gerli Edoardo Vittoria Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Eugenio Gerli E. Gerli, Enrico Gerli Eugenio Gerli Robin Day Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani V. Borsani, A. Bonetti Osvaldo Borsani Eugenio Gerli Eugenio Gerli O. Borsani (attribuito) Mario Bellini Osvaldo Borsani Eugenio Gerli Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani O. Borsani, E. Gerli Albert Leclerc V. Borachia, C. Santi Eugenio Gerli Giuseppe Pestalozza Eugenio Gerli Eugenio Gerli Eugenio Gerli Eugenio Gerli Marco Fantoni Marco Fantoni Marco Fantoni Osvaldo Borsani Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno P. Deganello, G. Corretti Osvaldo Borsani Centro Progetti Tecno Eugenio Gerli Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno

S81, S82, S83 L75 SE 1/2/3 P31 T97 Servomuto L78 L79 T68 T69 T102 T87 E105 Prisma P103 P/D/PA 110 E101 Domino P121 P/D73 Sir Mk2 (licenza Hille) T110 P125 P/D120 L/T/M/PA150 B106 Jamaica P/PS/D142 Compos serie 1000 Nastro LR57 L108 T160 MG14 T118 T125 Graphis Free MB Bigia Margherita E1/2/3 P/D104 Jacqueline Clamis A/B L1-L2-L3 T128 T127 T147 serie 207 T118Q Ca151 Modus GTS serie 233 T407 Archizoom (da MarcatrĂŠ) L171 serie 333 E333 C403 MG33 R403 T113 T114

sedie smontabili letti sovrapponibili mobili accostabili, poltroncina tavolo a coulisse servomuto con vassoi girevoli letto letto tavolini con elementi variabili tavolo tondo da pranzo tavolo ovale da pranzo tavolo con altezza variabile libreria componibile poltrona girevole poltrona, panchetta, divano libreria componibile poltrona con schienale inclinabile poltrona, divano serie di sedie con sedile in Moplen tavolino serie di poltrone per ufficio poltrona, divano letto, tavolino, mensola e panca contenitore poltrona, poltroncina, divano sistema operativo per uffici sistema componibile per contenitori letto in armadio letto scrivania direzionale mobile di servizio a T160 tavolo tavolino abbinato a P125 sistema operativo per uffici sistema componibile poltrona scomponibile poltroncina poliestere contenitori poltrona, divano poltrona vasi tavolo girevole sistema di tavolini tavolo basso sistema di imbottiti tavolo contenitore sistema di sedute sedute per la collettivitĂ sistema di imbottiti tavolo riunioni sedia letto scrivania direzionale e contenitori libreria e contenitori cassettiera contenitore contenitore/consolle tavolino tavolino

p. 142 p. 124 p. 112 p. 116 p. 140 p. 145 p. 123 p. 126 p. 128 p. 128 p. 130 p. 182 p. 122 p. 120 p. 146 p. 155 p. 144 p. 184 p. 120 p. 170 p. 188 p. 127 p. 148 p. 150 p. 176 p. 186 p. 152

p. 177 p. 206 p. 192 p. 194 p. 149 p. p. p. p. p. p.

150 150 154 152 195 196

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1975 1975 1975 1975 1976 1976 1976 1978 1979 1979 1980 1980 1981 1981 1981 1982 1982 1983 1984 1984 1984 1986 1987 1988 1988 1989 1989 1989 1991 1991 1991 1991 1991 1991 1991 1991 1991 1991 1991 1991 1991 1991 1991 1991 1991 1991 1992 prototipo 1992 1993 1993 1993 1993 1993 1993 1993 1994 1995 1995 1996

1975 1975 1975 1975 1975 1976 1976 1978 1979 1979 1980 1979 1981 1981 1981 1982 1982 1983 1983 1983 1984 1984 1987 1987 1987 1989 1989 1989 1930 1935 1949 1960 1965 1967 1978 1978 1985 1990 1991 1991 1991 1987 1990 1991 1991 1991 1992 1992 1992 1992 1993 1993 1993 1993 1993 1993 1994 1995 1995 1996

Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Osvaldo Borsani Osvaldo Borsani Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno E. Gerli, Enrico Gerli Osvaldo Borsani Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Giorgetto Giugiaro J. Kastholm, P. Fabricius E. Gerli, G. Gerli con Centro Progetti Tecno N. Foster and Partners N. Foster and Partners E. Gerli e G. Gerli con Centro Progetti Tecno Luca Scacchetti V. Borsani con Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Franco Perrotti Man Ray Luigi Veronesi Osvaldo Borsani Jeffrey Steele Carlo Mo Gio Ponti Getulio Alviani Getulio Alviani Agenore Fabbri F. e F. Morellet Bruno Munari Arnaldo Pomodoro N. Sabiha Foster Justus Kolberg con Centro Progetti Tecno Emilio Ambasz Yaacov Kaufman Gae Aulenti Gae Aulenti Ricardo Bofill Ricardo Bofill Luca Scacchetti Gae Aulenti Centro Progetti Tecno F. Faggioni con Centro Progetti Tecno V. Borsani con Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Jean-Michel Wilmotte Jean-Michel Wilmotte Ronald Cecil Sportes Emilio Ambasz Emilio Ambasz Centro Progetti Tecno

T210 T33X (334-335) TC TM P126 VE serie 403 serie 230 serie 201 serie 225 Ab-Ac1-Ac2-Pm S/PS148 ModusT P767 WS M210 P757 P/D44 P55 KT/P11-12-13 P131 Nomos System Tabula Aries E, M, O Ianus GraphisBox P/T03 T04 Armchair Costruzione T1, T2 Orlando Chip Triposto 1/2/3/4/5 1/2/3/4/5 Nastro di gala Détabnilisation n.1 Guardaunpo‘ Triclinio Aksa P08 Qualis S22 Tlinkit Totem PRAT RB San Carlo a/b Kum Agence 2000 Caridesk Graphis5 LS Pour le Louvre Todo Modo RCS Qualis dattilo Qualis Couture CAT

tavolo meeting tavoli meeting direzionale tavolo chiudibile (serie Graphis) tavolo (serie Graphis) serie di poltrone per ufficio libreria con vetrine scrivania direzionale, contenitori serie di imbottiti serie di imbottiti serie di imbottiti posaceneri sedia, poltroncina sedia poltrona auditorium sistema di panca mensola poltrona auditorium poltrona, divano poltroncina ufficio serie di sedute sedia sistema operativo e tavoli sistema di tavoli sedute per ufficio sistema ufficio direzionale sistema operativo uffici sedia collettività e tavolo tavolo poltrona scrivania tavolini paravento sedia divano-panca tavolo tavolino sedia-panca tavolo specchio letto tavolo sedia pieghevole serie di poltrone ufficio sedia pieghevole poltroncina contenitore su rotelle panca seduta e tavolo armadio e contenitore basso arredi uffici direzionali sistema coordinato per banche sistema coordinato per banche Sistema operativo ufficio panca sedia, panca, tavoli divano a schienale mobile sedia sedia panca contenitore

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283 275 276 274 278 278 288

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per PC






1996 1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 2000 2000 2002 2002 2003 2005 2005 2006 2008 2009 2009

1996 1996 1996 1996 1997 1998 1998 2000 1999 2002 2002 2003 2005 2004 2005 2008 2009 2008

Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Crinion Associates Mario e Dario Bellini N. Foster and Partners Justus Kolberg SNCF Agence de Gares Jean-Marie Duthilleul N. Foster and Partners Giancarlo Piretti CLS architetti con Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Piero Lissoni Piero Lissoni Centro Progetti Tecno Centro Progetti Tecno Pierandrei associati

P77 Wallbox Compas Extra Dry Kite Kora e Kolt RS Nomos 2000 Noria Cleis S133 A148 Basic Cento Asymmetrical C40 Box Beta

poltrona auditorium pareti/armadi sistema operativo per uffici sistema operativo per uffici sedia per ufficio sedia, tavolo sistema sedute su barra tavolo numerato 2000 pz serie sedute per ufficio contenitore sedia poltrona auditorium contenitore contenitori sistema direzionale per ufficio contenitore contenitore sistema operativo per ufficio


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Tecno’s path through nearly sixty years of design, production and cultural development has represented one of the vital arteries in Italian design. Founded in 1953 by the Borsani twins (Osvaldo, the architect, and Fulgenzio, the economist), Tecno has always been particularly admired for the brothers’ choice to develop their father Gaetano’s fecund artisanal business, the renowned Atelier Varedo, dating to the early twenties, into an efficient organization adhering to a clearly industrial paradigm. The discreet technical charm pursued by Osvaldo Borsani, Tecno’s designer and creative deus ex machina, was augmented by the “culture of doing” assimilated during the architect’s long apprenticeship in his father’s workshop. And it was also enhanced by the close collaboration and indissoluble friendships that the brothers constantly sought with artists such as Lucio Fontana and Arnaldo Pomodoro. During the first heroic phase, from the fifties to the early seventies, other important architect-designers such as Carlo De Carli, Vico Magistretti, Roberto Mango, Robin Day, Gio Ponti, Mario Bellini, Edoardo Vittoria, Albert Leclerc and Eugenio Gerli were occasional travelling companions along the precise and fertile lines traced out by Osvaldo Borsani’s projects. This first and glorious generation was followed by others, bringing prestigious architects into the Tecno fold such as Norman Foster with the famous Nomos system, Ricardo Bofill, Jean-Michel Wilmotte, Emilio Ambasz, and Gae Aulenti, as well as designers of the stature of Giorgetto Giugiaro, Justus Kolberg, Piero Lissoni and Giancarlo Piretti.

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