Reading Time: 8 min | Nov 2021

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Michele De Lucchi: "Technology is nowadays an opportunity"

Designer and architect Michele De Lucchi on AMDL CIRCLE's projects, the young design generation and the 40th anniversary of the postmodern design collective Memphis Group.

The "Tolomeo" lamp is one of the most famous products by Michele De Lucchi, who is a member of the iF DESIGN AWARD Jury this year. It is an icon of design history and at the same time calmly modern. It can be found on desks all over the world, even beyond the circle of design connoisseurs. Its technology is based on a well-known principle, yet it revolutionized the idea of private light. It precisely depicts what the architect and designer has always stood for: truthfulness, functionality and creativity.

Michele De Lucchi maintains his calm determination to intervene to this day; he had already focused on the radicalism and social aspects of design while studying architecture. From founding the Cavart group to projects for Alchimia to co-founding Memphis and his work as design director for Olivetti: Michele De Lucchi's things and architectures always find their place exactly where they are needed. They came to stay. In their sustainability and precision, they are the answer to the question of how we will live tomorrow.

The projects of AMDL CIRCLE, a multidisciplinary architecture firm founded in 1998, represent these ideas. They include the Bridge of Peace, which connects the historic and the new city center of Tblisi (Georgia) over the Mtkvari River, the houses of the Zirmerhof in Radein (South Tyrol) or the Z-LIFE office complex of the Zambon pharmaceutical company in Bresso (Italy). With the "Earth Stations", the new building typologies that are intended to break away from conventional thought patterns, De Lucchi is transporting his principles into the future. Collaborative places of creativity embedded in the environment offer space for interaction. Artificial intelligence takes over bureaucratic tasks and creates freedoms beyond formal attributions.

iF: Mr. De Lucchi, where do you work in times of the pandemic – in the studio, from home or is it indistinguishable between the two?

ML: I'm currently working at the "Chioso", my private studio in Angera, a little village next to Lake Maggiore. During the week I work both from my private studio and at the Circle office in the centre of Milan.

iF: Did you find time in lockdown for an activity that missed out before, or did the flow of thoughts and work move on?

ML: Coronavirus is a serious emergency that has both separated people and brought them together. Although the meetings are telematic we do have all a common goal to fight for and common stories to share. During these difficult times creativity and humanity are the most important tools we have.

The lockdown has certainly slowed down our lives. We all had time to deepen our thoughts and work by developing our researches, inspirations and creativity in order to project them on our future projects. The distance we were forced to maintain gave us the opportunity to get to know habits of people inside their own homes. This distance gave us time to deepen our personal thoughts asking our self new and challenging questions.

iF: Questions that also concern your own work? The portfolio of AMDL Circle includes numerous different projects, including cultural ones. What they all seem to have in common is that people meet there to pursue different activities. Is the determination of the location, be it a hospital, a chapel, an office or a public space, the starting point of the architecture for you?

ML: The determination of the location is a starting point and certainly very important. We have realized that people aren't looking for conventional and standard buildings. Designing office buildings on the basis of desk positions is no longer relevant. Today we think of the office as a meeting space with elements designed to be connected and not separated. Workspaces, especially offices, are the emblem of the rapid and constant transformation of the contemporary world. All these projects were born and developed around the idea of creating well-being through the quality of the space in which we work. If the office space is bureaucratic, sad and dark, people won’t work as efficiently, on the contrary if the office space is beautiful, full of light and stimulating, people will work better. These considerations can be applied to all spaces.

Earth Stations "Crown Station"

One of six stations for programming the future, this is the evaluation of the library | Design: 2018 | Completion: to be realised

Rokko Silent Ring for Rokko Silence Ressort, Kobe/Japan

A hotel project whereas the ring hosts the rooms of the ressort | Design: 2017 (in progress) | Completion: in progress

St. Jacob's Chapel, Fischbachau/Germany

A chapel, commissioned by a Munich family | Design: 2010-2011 | Completion: 2012

About Michele De Lucchi

Michele was born in Ferrara, Italy, in 1951 and is the founder of the creative multidisciplinary studio AMDL CIRCLE. During the years of radical and experimental architecture, he was a prominent figure in movements like Alchimia and Memphis. As designer and architect, Michele has earned a reputation for providing aesthetic innovation and modernism that extends far beyond the borders of Italy.

ML: The starting point of all our projects and architectures is based and inspired on our research Earth Stations, Stations on Planet Earth; active architectures designed to respect the environment and to create common access multi-engagement spaces where people can experience unplanned moments of learning, joy, interaction and reflection. Earth Stations come from exploring humanistic qualities in architecture which are influenced by atmospheric and sensorial experiences rather than purely the formal or visual definition of space.

iF: We find these definitions very pronounced at the moment: Home office, home school(ing) – what was intended as a place of retreat is now turning around in the course of the constant lockdowns for some. People are more than before looking for nature, the outside: How much do you think the pandemic will change the way we see things and design, us and the planet? Have your Earth Stations been a forecast?

ML: The lockdown made us feel the need to have an external perspective and to look outside. Even if on a small little terrace, we were able to experience freedom without feeling locked and maybe plant flowers experiencing its growth and connecting even more with nature. The architecture of the future must understand that we need transitional spaces just like the terrace space. The main elements of new architectures should be bow windows so that people can look outside, terraces or walkways between buildings where people can meet. Human beings need relationships and to take inspiration from both cities and nature. 

Earth Stations are a continuous and evolving research that imagine future architecture.

The Tolomeo lamp

is a design icon that makes a bella figura in every decade | Design: 1986

iF: On your studio’s website, visitors encounter the "explorers" of your team. Each and every one in a black box, almost Rembrandt-like in movement, portrayed with an object specific to her/him. Paper and pencil are your constant companions – do you give young designers tips on how to go when a sketchbook might say little to them today?

ML: The generation of new architects and designers know how to enjoy much more than I do the satisfactions that the good use of technology can provide today. To all of them I would like to say how much virtuality is possible to be produced with drawing, how important it was for me to carry a box of watercolours and a bunch of brushes in my bag every day and how much I was able to enjoy those unrepeatable moments with a pencil in one hand and a brush in the other. Together with the pencil, watercolours and brushes I always had in my pocket an eraser metaphor of the mistakes that fortunatelly are part of our lives.

iF: How can designers take action in the process of digital transformation? What are the main patterns and disruptive, that will shape society and its rules when it comes to designing for the digital age for you?

ML: Technology is nowadays an opportunity. As architects we are to facilitate easiness. Easiness is the primary objective of technological evolution. We design objects to facilitate the use of light and lighting installation, to facilitate entertainment, life in industrial environments, culture, education. Design aims to facilitate the use of technology and to transmit a more human side to architecture, objects and technology itself.

Earth Stations respond to our evolving life styles where artificial intelligence increasingly frees man from bureaucratic and repetitive tasks, establishing an opportunity to create places that express personal freedom and harness the enormous potential of technology.

iF: For the iF jury, you viewed numerous products in the Lighting categories. With the Tolomeo, which, when looked at and felt, finds its perfect place in every decade, in every type of use, you have created an icon beyond the inner circle of design. Do you keep rediscovering your own lamp?

ML: I do keep rediscovering the Tolomeo lamp every day; the lamp is the right mix of technology and simplicity which has made it a "symbol" of modern objects. The Tolomeo as you say has found its perfect place in every decade and it has been declined in many different versions: table, suspension, wall, floor, mini, micro, mega and XXL lamp; this demonstrates flexibility and manoeuvrability of its balancing springs mechanism.

iF: As a member of Memphis group and in retrospect: Why did especially that time give such a space to the phenomenon you all created?

ML: The Memphis group was characterised by a very special emotional strength. At the time the main discussion was around Alessandro Mendini's idea of taking back great design classics and placing on them a new identity, the world needed a different iconography. Mendini called it redesign, but we wanted to invent a completely new and different language. Ettore Sottsass said: "We have to do it all over again. And to do so, we needed a new creative and productive protagonist, and that’s what we developed." The functionality of a chair, when no one is sitting on it, it must be an object present in the environment and meaningful in the context in which it is placed. All our projects had these characteristics: ergonomic, expressive and sculptural.

iF: When Memphis turns 40 in 2021, could another Dylan song or quote, perhaps like "I Contain Multitudes" from the recent album, be the motto at this stage in life?

ML: The Dylan song accompanied us through the Memphis years but as the years go by  our minds, creativity and inspirations evolve. I don’t specifically know this song or quote by Bob Dylan but he has certainly always been an amazing interpreter of contemporary society. Today, in this stage of life, I would say that my motto is a quote taken from William Shakespeare: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”.

iF: Mr. De Lucchi, thank you very much for your time.

The questions were asked by Silke Gehrmann-Becker, freelance journalist, author and lecturer, Cologne, Germany.