Stepping into a Cassina showroom is like stepping into architect's heaven, full of classics by Rietfeldt and Le Corbusier. But their shrine in Milan also had a striking object I had never seen before: a bookshelf built with two angled columns with an arched cable in between, supporting glass shelves below as if they were the deck of a bridge. It was designed in 1940 by Franco Albini as a room divider in his own apartment and reintroduced by Cassina last year. Cassina describes it:
The bookcase consists of two pillars of ash with brass tip ends. 4mm stainless steel tie rods. Anchoring elements of the rods are in burnished iron with the central rods in polished brass. The shelves are made of safety glass 3 +3 mm.. Shelf supports in ash with polished brass ends. Diagonal reinforcing tie rods for the shelves in polished brass. The base is in steel with the covering panels in ash.
Christopher Turner of IconEye describes how it came to an early end:
It used to act as a room divider between the dining and living spaces in the family apartment, Albini’s son Marco explains when we meet in Milan, but after 15 years it collapsed. Its remains were consigned to the basement and Marco Albini describes it as a “ghost piece” because, though it was mentioned in all books on Italian design, it had effectively ceased to exist. He’s pleased that Cassina, with whom his father collaborated from the 1940s, are “republishing it and bringing it back to life”.
“I was the cause of collapsing it,” Marco Albini admits. “I was listening to loud music – din, din, din – and the rhythmic sound started vibrating the glass. Like the San Francisco bridge it was moving more and more and then suddenly it went BAM! Without me touching it, it exploded into a million pieces.”
I think he means the Tacoma Narrows bridge in , but you get the idea. Architect Renzo Piano, who did the California Academy of Sciences and who apprenticed with Albini, recreated it for an exhibition in 2007 but it was still unstable. Icon explains that Cassina commissioned structural and marine engineers to solve the problems, and rebuilt it with tempered glass and a heavier base. It can now hold about 1200 pounds of books.
It is such a marvelous demonstration of the benefits and strengths of different materials: wire works in tension, the two columns work in compression, and the whole thing works together. Lovely.