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Veliero Shelving by Cassina

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.

The Veliero bookshelf by Franco Albini made its U.S. debut at Cassina's SoHo showroom on Tuesday, May 1st.
The Veliero bookshelf by Franco Albini made its U.S. debut at Cassina's SoHo showroom on Tuesday, May 1st.

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.”

Stainless steel rods, brass fastenings, glass, and two ash pillars constitute the shelf's structure.
Stainless steel rods, brass fastenings, glass, and two ash pillars constitute the shelf's structure.
veliero shelf cassina side

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.

Drawing on engineering techniques from the sailing world and suspension bridges, Cassina finally made the base in metal but clad it in ash wood; replaced the luxurious crystal shelves with high-quality safety glass; and to up its load capacity, placed a circular cross-section bar above its diagonal struts.

The structure uses engineering techniques commonly found in sailing and bridge building.
The structure uses engineering techniques commonly found in sailing and bridge building.
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.”

The base is steel with an ash veneer.
The base is steel with an ash veneer.

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