In 1940, architect Franco Albini made a single model of his ship’s rigging-like Veliero bookcase for his Milan home—where it eventually collapsed. Sixty-six years later, Cassina fabricated the shelves in a re-creation of Albini’s study for the Renzo Piano-curated Zero Gravity exhibition. Again: poor stability. But Cassina, which has committed to keeping alive the work of select master architects in the form of its I Maestri collection, did not give up. Instead, it embarked on an epic five-year R&D effort that would lead to the product’s launch in April 2012.
Albini’s dilemma was that the bookcase is high strung. The pressure from its metal struts snaps the base or uprights if the base is made of wood (as in the prototype) and the shelves are loaded. Working with the architect’s son, Marco, who directs the Franco Albini Foundation and the masters of competition sailboat production at Luca Brenta, Cassina began, through many iterations, to replicate the 70-year-old prototype excavated from Albini’s basement and, as brand director Gianluca Armento puts it, “torture it with testing.”
Today, this high-fidelity Veliero—made in a limited edition of 50—represents a hybrid of engineering and visual poetry. At the very least, Armento points out, it is a “seaworthy vessel”. In fact, Albini was a sailor and his son has said that the torsion in the wooden uprights and base of the Veliero prototype would creak like a wooden sailboat at night. “But,” Armento says, “maybe they were dreaming of a regatta. Today, the Cassina Veliero is majestically silent.”