by Julie Klein

Originally released in 1982, the Ouverture sofa, designed by the late Pierluigi Cerri for Poltrona Frau, continues to stand out thanks to its unusual marriage between industrial construction and super-soft upholstery. Artwork by Maria Gysi for PIN–UP.

“I’m interested in forms that survive history,” the late architect and designer Pierluigi Cerri once told an interviewer. Now that Poltrona Frau has re-edited his 1982 Ouverture sofa, Cerri, who passed away in 2022, is one step closer to fulfilling his destiny. Born in Milan, in 1939, Cerri came of age in the classic postwar tradition of progettisti, trained architects who fluidly moved between all scales of design. Educated at the Politecnico in Milan, he was “seduced by the peculiarities linked to the work of an architect,” and in his early career designed numerous buildings with partner Vittorio Gregotti (with whom he founded Gregotti Associati in 1974), before creating Studio Cerri & Associati in 1998. Throughout his career, Cerri’s love of variety also saw him seek out smaller, faster projects — teaching (together with Umberto Eco), editing architecture and design books as well as magazines (Casabella and Rassegna), developing visual identities, and designing exhibitions at countless prestigious institutions, including London’s Science Museum, Tokyo’s Sogetsu Kaikan, and Paris’s Centre Pompidou. The latter’s late-Modernist, hi-tech style (by Cerri’s friends Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers) may have influenced one of Cerri’s most iconoclastic furniture designs: the Ouverture sofa, commissioned by Poltrona Frau.

Video by Maria Gysi for PIN–UP. Creative direction by Felix Burrichter and Ben Ganz. Music by Interview.

Ouverture’s defining characteristic is the contrast between its super-soft, relaxed upholstery and what Cerri described as its “brutalist” structure, in powder-coated steel, which stands out thanks to its crossbar with circular openings (“ouvertures,” in French). With its similarity to the cellular beams used in bridges and other infrastructure, Ouverture introduced a whole new industrial language to domestic aesthetics — a “protest against bourgeois conformism,” according to Cerri. The advertising campaigns at the time reinforced the sofa’s rebel air, showcasing it in industrial settings or in surrealist illustrations, sometimes with bath-robed punks. Four decades later, Ouverture has lost none of its revolutionary spirit, a “classic in its future form,” as Poltrona Frau describes it. Known for its precision-crafted products, the 111-year-old company is also famed for working with some of the best leathers in the industry. For the re-release, Poltrona Frau has subtly reworked the Ouverture in three models — small and large two-seaters, as well as a three-seater — proving that the past can still be avant-garde, as long as its upholstered in the supplest Pelle Frau®.

The Ouverture sofa in red, photographed by Pietro Carrieri for Poltrona Frau's 1992 catalogue. Courtesy Poltrona Frau.

The Ouverture sofa in yellow, photographed by Pietro Carrieri for Poltrona Frau's 1992 catalogue. Courtesy Poltrona Frau.