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Architect and designer Piero Lissoni talks Italian design

Piero Lissoni peering through a window (Veronica Gaido)

Piero Lissoni, the Italian architect, furniture, and product designer, was in town this week for ICFF and AN had a chance to sit down with him in his SoHo office to discuss his career, why Italian product design leads the world, and why Phi-3.14 is still key to all design.

Lissoni has worked for nearly every important Italian and international design brand but emphasizes that he is first an architect and secondarily a product designer. When I asked him about his (and Italy’s) success as a world leader in design, without hesitation he pointed to the educational system in Italy. Lissoni studied architecture at the Polytechnic University of Milan, which, he emphasizes, is not like so many Anglo-Saxon universities “a scientific” or technical university but a “humanistic” one that also teaches drawing, art, geography, history, and the importance of 3.14, the “Greek magic number.” He believes Phi and classical proportion is the “key” to good design and points to Hudson Yards as a “totally inhuman” alien environment because of its disconnection from scale and proportion. As a current faculty member at the Polytechnic, Lissoni still teaches hand drawing, physical model building, and not “just information,” but “the culture behind the profession.”

When Lissoni graduated from the Polytechnic, he worked for several years in architecture firms in Milan, Paris, Amsterdam, and Tokyo, but when he was “still very young” Boffi, the Italian kitchen manufacturer, picked him to be the firm’s “art director.” This role meant he was a “working intellectual” inside the office working across divisions to help design-direct all communications, advertising, catalogues, and trade show booths. This position at Boffi gave him a great education into the business of design and in 1986, together with Nicoletta Canesi, he founded the interdisciplinary studio Lissoni Associati in Milan. The firm opened a New York office in 2015, and Lissoni, looking for an inspirational break, will spend next fall in New York. From his SoHo office he will direct the architecture, product design, and graphic identities that the firm is working on in nearly every continent. It is one of the most successful design firms in the world, and it will be great to have the maestro in New York.

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