Often referred to as ‘the Grand Lady of architecture’, Franca Helg was also a great designer, and a loved teacher.
Born in Milan, Franca Helg (1920- 1989) was much more than an architect, a designer and a teacher. She was feared by foremen, loved by building-site workers, and respected by his students.
For her elegance and talent, her colleague Antonio Piva nicknamed her ‘the Grand Lady of architecture.’
Based on a shared rigor and an exceptional complementarity, she established a professional partnership with architect Franco Albini (1905-1977) that lasted for her life-long career.
At the age of 35, Helg became a partner of the Albini-Helg architectural firm sealing a bond in which workplace, project, and professional life were shared. A bond so close that many asked if the two architects were husband and wife. Indeed, Marco Albini, Franco’s son, explained that the rule was that no work could bear an individual signature. They were all ‘Albini-Helg projects.‘ Later on, Marco Albini and Antonio Piva also joined the firm.
Among their most important works: La Rinascente in Rome (1957), the Olivetti shop in Paris (1958), and the completion of the museum of the church of Sant’Agostino in Genoa (1956-1986). But also, the Piccapietra district in Genoa (1964), the Terme Luigi Zoja of Salsomaggiore (1964-1970), and the Museo degli Eremitani in Padua (1969-1970). Moreover, they designed the furnishings of Metro 1 and 2 underground lines in Milan. And for the former, they won the Compasso d’oro award in 1964.
She often studied and designed innovative materials. One of these was the one used on the walls of Metro 2 in Milan. Referencing to the Middle Eastern-inspired jewels that she designed, she created a coating made of porcelain steel triangles. While for the Sant’Agostino museum in Genoa she designed decorative candy-shaped steel holders to hang works on the walls. And then there was the industrial design: vases, handles, chairs, suspension lamps, desk lamps, floor lamps, and the rush and wicker Primavera armchair.
Ilona Catani Scarlett