This week Maria Cristina Mariani Dameno, known by the name of Cini Boeri, passed away in Milan at the age of 96. “Cini” was her infantile nickname, short for “picinin”, a dialect way of saying “little girl.” The Italian architect and designer cultivated an apparently playful but very pragmatic style both in her houses.
The best known are the ones she made on the island of Sardinia, the Casa Bunker and the spectacular Casa Rotonda and in the furniture she designed, pieces that still they continue to be produced and imitated, such as the Strips sofa, which won the Compasso d’Oro in 1970 and is part of the collection of various design museums.
Her most cited book is entitled The Human Dimension of the House and that was what worried her throughout her long career and what differentiated her from some of her contemporaries in the miraculous years of Italian design, which she kept in mind that furniture and houses are made to live, not to admire.
That is why in the Serpentone, the sofa that preceded the Strips, it was bought by the meter and adapted to any space, and in the Strips, even now, the covers are removed with a zip and can be used as blankets, creating a sleeping cocoon work, read and think. The architect also managed, together with Gae Aulenti, to have her own studio and earn the respect of the profession at a time and environment that could be very hostile to women.
Boeri was born in 1924 into a family of anti-fascist convictions. “My father couldn’t even look at me when I had to put on the Piccola Italia uniform,” explained the architect in an interview with Klat Magazine, referring to the Italian version of the Women’s Sectionestablished by Mussolini for girls between 8 and 14 years old, who had to wear a black skirt and beret and a white piqué shirt.
By age 18, Boeri was already active in the partisan cause, working as a courier passing classified documents through the Mottarone peaks in the Italian Alps. “Anti-fascists are born, they are not made. In my family we were anti-fascists from birth, ”he said in the same interview. Boeri recalled having sewn a skirt from the fabric of the resistance paratroopers.
With the Second World War just over, she enrolled in Architecture at the Milan Polytechnic, despite the fact that everyone tried to convince her not to do it because it was “a man’s thing.” She graduated in 1951, one of three women who made it that year. He obtained a scholarship in the studio of Gio Ponti, one of the fathers of modern design , where he learned “a certain mental and physical discipline to create projects and make decisions.” After that, she worked for several years with Marco Zanuso.
It was another architect, Franca Helg, who encouraged her to set up her own studio before becoming fully integrated into Zanuso’s and diluting her own stamp in the signature of her boss. In 1963 she founded Cini Boeri Architetti. As his obituary on Wallpaper pointed out ,the economy of materials has always been one of its concerns and it is from this simplicity that the harmony of its products is born.
His Serpentone sofa (1971), which he had as one of his most beloved designs despite the fact that it had to be discontinued, was made only of polyurethane foam, the same as the Strips. Also from the seventies, its glorious time, are the Lunario table series for Gavina, made of glass and with an oval shape, as well as the Botolo chair from 1973, which Artflex relaunched a few years ago with new finishes and can be seen for example in the Jaffa Hotel in Tel Aviv, designed by John Pawson. With its three cylindrical legs, one of which is also the backrest, its sinuous shape and its finish made to be touched, the Botolo fit perfectly in a boîte of the time or in a house made for enjoyment,
Another of his hits is the Bobo armchair and ottoman, also for Arflex, a soft and playful caterpillar that was also the first seat to be created without an internal structure, using only foam.
The designer married the neurologist and also anti-fascist partisan Renato Boeri, from whom she divorced after 25 years of marriage. They had three children: Sandro, a journalist, Tito, an economist and Stefano, also an architect. The latter said about his mother’s work in Dezeen magazine.
“What I consider elusive in my mother is her elegance, a kind of natural gift that defined each one of her actions. Cini created pop objects and buildings, extremely elegant without being boring or presumptuous, an almost impossible mix that she knew how to create ”.
The son acknowledged that he knew how to permeate the great currents of his time to interpret them in his own way, without subscribing to any.
“There is nothing serious or elitist in the essentiality of its architecture, just as there is nothing austere or penitent in the minimalism of its furniture. On the contrary, the seriality of the Serprentone and Strips reveals a playful and modular value that is present even in their names, while the sinuous shapes of the Ghost chair or the Villa Rotonda are a break with the aesthetic of rationalism ”.
The chair you mention, from 1987, arose from a kind of challenge that she set for herself. It is made of a single piece of 12 millimeter wide, curved glass. It can be purchased lacquered in different colors but in its original format it seems, as its name suggests, an appearance, a breath that does not seem entirely reliable to sit on “I never would have thought to make a glass chair.
My initial reluctance of an idea that seemed quite unrealistic was overcome by the desire to accept the challenge, ”he said when the 30th anniversary of the piece was celebrated. The Ghost was on display for a time in the MoMA design area.
This week, art and design professionals have remembered her not only as an original creator, but also as a tireless and enthusiastic woman.
The curator Hans Ulrich Obrist posted on his Instagram a post that says: “I would like to create architecture to design happiness! We need it so much. We tried? I’m ready”. Behind it, Boeri, in sunglasses and high boots, is seen smoking, leaning on a very long Serpentone sofa.