Rome, November 1 - President Giorgio Napolitano said on Thursday that he was saddened by the loss of one of Italy's "leading figures in contemporary architecture," following the death of 85-year-old Gae Aulenti. The much-lauded architect, designer and teacher died late Wednesday at her Milan home. Napolitano recently met with the designer in Palermo to survey restoration work she was directing on the historic 16th-century Palazzo Branciforte. "The magnificent (ongoing) restoration is symbolic of her sensibility and passion," Napolitano said. Colleague and friend, architect Paolo Portoghesi called Aulenti a "formidable forerunner of design taste and a skillful orchestrator of exhibition and museum spaces". "My first memories of Gae are when she worked at Casabella. Her graphic design was incredibly refined". Aulenti's multi-faceted talent led her to work as a graphic designer and editor for the Italian product-design magazine Casabella Continuita with the maestro Ernesto Rogers - a period she considered formative for her relationship to design. Architect Massimiliano Fuksas, a member of the Milan Triennial jury that recently awarded Aulenti a gold medal for lifetime achievements said that she was "one of the most important figures in Italian postwar architecture". The founder of Italy's international architecture festival Festarch, Stefano Boeri, said that the simple fact that she became an architect when she did made her "revolutionary". Though she never took a feminist platform, she stood out as an independent woman in a field that was male-dominated and where women generally chose to partner up instead of strike out on their own. "She looked at all fields with curiosity and passion...and managed to bring it all into her architecture," Boeri said. Co-winner of the Triennial gold medal, friend and colleague Vittorio Gregotti said trying to sum up Aulenti in a phrase, that she lived "many steps, so many places, design, interiors, and so many extraordinary actions without ever losing her dimension as a woman".