Gaetana Aulenti, but known as Gae, was born in 1927 in Friuli, Italy. She studied to be an architect at the Milan School of Architecture of the Polytechnic University, and graduated in 1954 as one of two women in a class of 20.
She soon joined the staff of Casabella, a design magazine, and joined with her peers in rejecting the architecture of masters like Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius. They called themselves the “Neo Liberty” movement.
Aulenti's deep involvement in the Milan design scene of the 1950s and 1960s formed her into an architect respected for her analytical abilities to navigate metropolitan complexity no matter the medium.
Aulenti began her career as a private-practicing architect and freelance designer out of Milan in 1954. Her architectural practice included many interior flat designs for corporate clients including Fiat, Banca Commerciale Italiana, Pirelli, Olivetti, and Knoll International. Her freelance design work included products for Poltronova, Candle, Ideal Standard, Louis Vuitton, and Artemide.
She was art director and graphic designer for international magazines. She had a career as teacher too, at Venice School of Architecture and at the Milan School of Architecture of the Polytechnic University.
In 1981 she was chosen to turn the 1900 Beaux Arts Gare d'Orsay train station, a spectacular landmark originally designed by Victor Laloux, into the Musée d’Orsay, a museum of mainly French art from 1848 to 1915. Her work on the Musée d’Orsay led to commissions to create a space for the National Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. In San Francisco, she transformed the city’s Beaux Art Main Library into a museum of Asian art. In 2011, Aulenti oversaw the expansion of Perugia Airport.
Her career ended in 2012 with over 200 built works.
Gae was a prolific Italian architect, whose work spans industrial and exhibition design, furniture, graphics, stage design, lighting and interior design. Aulenti was one of the few women designing in the postwar period in Italy, where Italian designers sought to make meaningful connections to production principles beyond Italy. This avant-guarde design movement blossomed into an entirely new type of Italian architecture, one full of imaginary utopias leaving standardization to the past.