Being a humanist is essential
On the human dimension as an objective, the human dimension as a possibility and the cornerstone of intellectual curiosity. A conversation with Piero Lissoni in Milan.
Piero Lissoni makes more out of less. Clear lines, subtle forms and natural materials surround his works with sensual simplicity. His Milan-based studio, Lissoni Associati, holds branches in New York and Tokyo. Together with more than 70 employees, the 62-years old multi-talent designs apartment buildings, hotels, showrooms and company headquarters, but also pieces of furniture, lamps, graphics and even yachts; like a Renaissance master who jumps back and forth between cultures and continents and creates his own sophisticated universe. When we visited Piero Lissoni in his Milan office, we went over to a nearby fish restaurant for lunch to start our conversation about curiosity, coherence and humanity.
Mr Lissoni, you are working as an architect, designer and art director at the same time. Would you describe this holistic approach as something typically Italian?
Working in different disciplines is very Milanese, because it’s in our tradition to design everything — from this spoon to the city itself. When you want to become an architect here, they teach you at the university to be a graphic designer, furniture designer or something else as well. Because achieving curiosity is a form of intellectual preparation. I’m completely against the Anglo-Saxon culture of specialisation. If you’re a doctor and you become a very good doctor for a specific field, I understand. But if you’re an architect, you have to be a poet, engineer, photographer and filmmaker all at the same time. You have to be a humanist.
Interaction between disciplines creates coherence.
Architecture today is forgetting the human scale. If you lose these measurements you create something off the scale, something megalomaniac. Think about how many buildings have been designed in the last 20 years where the architect just does the shape of the outside shell, and then somebody else does the interior design. If you’re an architect, you’re an architect. You are involved in the entire process. If not, go and do something else. In that way I am quite radical.
When did you decide to become an architect?
When I was very young, maybe 14 or 15 years old. My grandfather taught me a bit about style and other things. He was a methodological engineer for metals. It’s a different field with different boundaries. You could say he was quite the enemy. We had a classic conflict between an engineer and an architect. But it was also very enriching.