PIERO LISSONI: ‘I was born on the outskirts of Milan, in the industrial village of Seregno. My family was marked by interesting personalities – principally my grandfathers, one who was a socialist and an anarchist, and the other a communist and an aristocrat. From them I gained a taste for fantasy and an intolerance for rules. My father was a restorer of antique furniture and mostly of old fabrics. He imparted to me a feel for beautiful things but also showed me the importance of rules. I grew up between freedom and discipline, and I have certainly taken in something of both worlds.’

‘I learned how to draw at an early age. My father taught me. I wanted to be an architect, although I considered unconventional jobs, too. To be honest, at a certain time I was not sure whether I wanted to be an architect or a ski instructor, but eventually common sense prevailed – and my father’s opinion, too. Skiing has remained my favourite hobby, though. I must confess that today I make architecture so as to have as many ski holidays as possible.’

I do not accept disconnecting the different aspects of architecture

‘I attended the school of Architecture at the Polytechnic University of Milan in the late 1970s, during a time I call the Counter-Reformation. After the years of student protests and political struggles, I found myself in a rigid academic setting with a very conservative view of architecture. But a combination of the rational and the creative made for a stimulating atmosphere. Technical subjects, such as industrial design, as well as the more humanistic ones, like the history of architecture, were approached with a deep critical spirit. My teachers were extraordinary personalities like Achille Castiglioni and Marco Zanuso. With them I learned to see architects as modern humanists. Through their teachings I came to envision architecture and design as one all-inclusive discipline.’

‘To me, to be an architect means to be flexible. You have to be open so you can change the scale and design of a watch, for instance, to make a building. I like to work like a child, full of curiosity and always eager to play with a new toy.’

‘As a student I was never one of the best, not because I lacked of enthusiasm, but because I always studied and worked simultaneously. I learned a lot and made many contacts while practicing in the best studios in Milan. In the summers I attended classes at architecture schools and universities around the world, from New York to London.’

‘I started my professional career as an art director for Boffi kitchens. As it often happens, my first studio was my own kitchen at home. In 1986 I opened my first office, along with a partner, Nicoletta Canesi. At the beginning I chose to be an art director and not an architect because I did not want to accept compromises. At that time Italian architecture was based only on competitions: an ideologically old model, in my opinion. I saw it as a way of selling oneself to the best buyer.’

There is no sense of interdependence between me and my clients

‘The world of industrial design couldn’t exist without design companies that challenge themselves and take risks. Even the most notable names in the history of industrial design – Scarpa, Castiglioni, Zanuso, Mario Bellini, the Bourellec brothers – owe their international renown to the illuminated policy of good design companies, the strength of their brands and their innovative cultural backgrounds.’

‘I feel part of a common creative process with each company that produces my work. There is no sense of interdependence between me and my clients: I do not oblige them to do something, and they do not influence my work. I feel that it is important for me to be coherent while matching what I do with my client’s DNA. I feel grateful to my clients for taking the risk of letting me work for their brands.’

‘As a designer, I never get in touch with the final user of the products I make; I can only guess who he is from the company's story. So when I draw, I never try to meet the needs of a potential customer, because I don’t know him.’

‘There are three increasing levels of sensibility according to whether you design graphics, objects, or buildings. If you are a graphic designer like the ones in our studio – working on institutional communication, packaging or corporate identity, rather than advertising – the damage you can do to the company you represent is a venial sin. If you are designing a product, the object you make must be as pure and clear as crystal, the cinematics have to be as perfect as those of a sports car – but if you mess up, your error is not irreparable. Perhaps your client won’t give you a second chance and customers won’t buy an object designed by you anymore. But by contrast, your responsibility in architecture is frightening. Your mistake not only affects your client, but impacts a whole community of people for many years to come.’

‘I really like making architecture, not to boost my ego or leave my signature on the world, but for the thrill of the overall process. When I design a building, it is impossible for me to only think about the shell and leave the technical parts and the interior design to somebody else. I am totally convinced that architecture has to be interactive with the interior, the environment, and the people. I do not accept the idea of disconnecting the different aspects of my work.’

‘I like making buildings that only last up to 25 or 30 years, using materials that are fully recyclable after that time has expired. Today’s architecture should not use more energy than required – I mean zero-energy buildings – or at least be energetically efficient. As an old anarchist, I consider any further discussion on sustainable architecture a worn-out mantra.’

‘Among the objects I’ve designed during my long career, the bad ones are my favourites, because I try to learn from my mistakes and try not to make them again.’

‘The ideal product should reveal the idea and the research behind it, and have a certain amount of style. A period of long reflection goes into each of my projects. The development phase may take years and require constant modifications. I normally work on small-scale prototypes before making a 1:1 scale unit, then eventually I start to remodel the object – a bit thinner here, a bit thicker there – and the research begins to become a project.’

I never try to meet the needs of a potential customer, because I don’t know him

‘In my eyes, design means industrial design. Without the industrial aspect, the result isn’t as impressive.’

‘Even though I develop an idea by myself as a rule, I always share my visions with my partners. There is a very energetic atmosphere in our studio; discussions are often extremely passionate, but I never try to impose my ideas just because I am the boss. I always accept the opinions of my staff, and we discuss them together. Good design needs collective thought. I have never stepped out of the shower in the morning with a winning idea.’


A version of this article previously appeared in Frame 115 – Retail Revolution.