Osvaldo Borsani

Although regarded as eminently avant-garde, Osvaldo Borsani’s (1911-1985) preferences as a designer, architect and entrepreneur were conditioned by the artisanal environment in which he grew up. Borsani began training in his father’s atelier, Arredamenti Borsani di Varedo, at the age of 16, while the trend for Renaissance Revival furnishings was still strong. By the late 20s, under the dictates of architect and artistic director Gino Maggioni, ABV began producing increasingly geometric forms informed by international trends. Maggioni inculcated an expansive & global cultural consciousness in the teenage Borsani that would serve him well throughout his 60 year career.

In 1931 Borsani graduated from the Academia di Belle Arti di Brera in Milan with a degree in the fine arts, and then went on to study architecture at the Polytechnic di Milano. Two years before graduating in 1937, the then 22 year-old Borsani designed the Casa Minima project for the V Triennale di Milano. This success granted him greater responsibility at his father’s atelier and the ability to experiment with new ideas and technologies. During these early years in his professional career, Borsani began to cultivate his sensitive quality in dealing with clients that would become critical to his success. His ability to sell to the individual eventually extended to entire markets, but remained grounded in his prioritization of the careful study of each space regardless of scale in order to meet the practical needs of his clients.

Osvaldo completed his Villa Borsani, a showcase of his aptitude in combining pre-war artisanship and post-war technology, in 1943, and was subsequently commissioned to develop numerous projects for the Milanese bourgeoisie. He was particularly successful in his collaborations with artists, such as Roberto Crippa, Arnaldo and Giò Pomodoro, Agenore Fabbri, Fausto Melotti, Andrea Cascella, and Lucio Fontana, imbedded in the design of the space. Borsani had a talent for synthesizing the general conceptualizations of artists with the meticulous attention of technicians by marrying the design phase with that of manufacture. Borsani’s years of personal experience in various roles trained him to be able to shift seamlessly between these perspectives. His sincerity and perceptiveness in bringing people together assured his longevity in the epochal midcentury shift from artisanal to industrial production.

In 1953, Borsani proactively established Tecno with his business-minded twin brother, Fulgenzio, in anticipation of the imminent demand for high-quality furnishings in the international market. Its namesake is rooted in the Greek “techne” in an apt recognition of both the craft expertise and incorporation of new technologies foundational to the company. The integration of precious materials of the craft tradition with solid, mechanical parts allowed for an unprecedented fluidity of movement. Tecno quickly became a premier design and research center, producing many of the most iconic adjustable designs of the 20th century, including the P40 lounge chair boasting 486 distinct positions, the T41 dining table, and the 1968 Graphis office furniture system. Borsani interpreted the tastes of contemporary society as its customs and aspirations evolved, in constant anticipation of future trends. With incredible foresight, he maintained a close relationship between the furniture he developed for the office and home, operating on the assumption that the world of business would soon infiltrate the domestic realm.

At the center of Borsani’s work was his perennial preoccupation with the culture of habitation. His novelty was in the quiet abandonment of the traditional scheme in favor of modular, autonomous elements permitting free juxtaposition. Borsani saw his creations as alive and able to adapt and inform relationships with the environment and its inhabitants. Rejecting the dated typology and iconography of the past, Borsani’s furniture was modeled on the animated physical, psychological, intellectual and social realities of the individuals it was intended for.

Osvaldo Borsani’s works can be found in the permanent collections of the MoMA & Brooklyn Museum in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Triennale di Milano Museum, and the Neue Sammlung in Munich.

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