Interview: Architect and Designer Piero Lissoni
A look into the work of the Milanese designer famous for his minimalist style
Piero Lissoni is world renowned for his pared down interiors and furnishings. Now the designer is bringing his understated touch to the Ritz Carlton Residences, Miami Beach.
Piero Lissoni is often regarded as a minimalist designer. But, schooled in the Italian tradition of all-inclusive design, the Milanese designer also appears to thrive on complexity. From architecture to graphics to furniture to lighting fixtures his studio has built everything from private villas to corporate headquarters to hotels and yachts. His minimal aesthetic is the result, he has said, of the desire to “create a harmonious blend of different styles by cultivating the art of understatement.”
Understatement is often under-represented in the world of high-end design, as is a focused, uncluttered approach in a global cultural that is increasingly defined by distraction. In Lissoni’s studio, television and electronics are kept to a minimum. Instead the space is adorned with books, flowers and a gallery of items. He calls his studio “a playground with 71 children.” But however playful, these children must also be cultured in languages beyond design. “If you work for me you must be humanistic,” Lissoni states. “You better know Faulkner, Dante and Shakespeare. You must connect with cultures and speak several languages.”
Sensitivity to culture, history and place runs through many of Lissoni’s designs. At the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem, designed by Moshe Safdie, Lissoni’s pared down interiors frame the traditional architecture. Rough-faced masonry walls are met by walls of the same material but rendered in smooth blocks. In the vast reception areas he selected minimalist furnishings including green chairs from Living Divani and a white table by Kartell. In the hotel rooms, sheer curtains allow enough light to filter in to offset the black metal headboards, while the wood floors and bright stone walls give the rooms a calming, natural feel. The lamps, custom-made by Light Contract and Flos, sit on original side tables by Porro. “Mamilla wants to express harmony with a solution that brings modernity and high class in a soft way, respecting the local traditions,” Lissoni says.
Harmony between tradition and modernity is also evident at Hotel Mare de Pineta, a recent project along Italy’s Adriatic. Lissoni added a new wing and 16 rooms to the 1920s hotel, one of the region’s most exclusive, in the form of two overlapping volumes originally occupied by the building’s terrace. Inside he created a clean canvas of white walls with teak, bronze and glass. Outside on the roof, which is visible from the upper floors of the historic core, he created a roof garden complete with boxes in the grass, river pebbles and geometric patterns in teak.
After graduating from the Milan Polytechnic with a degree in architecture in 1978, he went on to work as an Art Director and Designer at Boffi. In 1986 he founded the firm Lissoni Associates with Nicoletta Canesi and today his studio works on all aspects of architecture, interiors, industrial design and graphics projects. His exhaustive list of furniture clients reads like a luxury showroom catalogue and includes Alessi, Boffi, Cappellini, Cassina, Desalto, Fantini, Flos, Fritz Hansen, Glas Italia, Kartell, Knoll, Living Divani and Porro. Recent architectural projects include the Grand Hotel Billia and the Parc Hotel Billia in Saint Vincent, the Conservatorium Hotel in Amsterdam, the Mamilla Hotel in Jerusalem, the Mitsui Garden Hotel in Tokyo and the interior design of the Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal Hotel in Venice.
Today, the studio has projects underway in the UAE, South Korea, Shanghai (for Swire Hotels Group) and Miami where Lissoni is designing a complex of condos and villas for The Ritz-Carlton Residences Miami Beach. Developed by Lionheart Capital, the waterfront development is located on seven acres facing a lagoon and will feature 111 condominiums and 15 villas, as well as 36 private boat dockages. Prices range from $2 million to $40 million.
Lissoni says Miami reminds him of Portofino — the Italian vacation resort famous for its picturesque harbor and its historical association with artists and celebrities. “In Miami, similar to a European seaside town, the architecture is built around the landscape, rather than on top of the landscape, to complement the setting.” The Ritz Carlton Residences are also positioned in “beautiful combination” with the waterfront, he says, with framed views and a design that mirrors the shape of the lagoon.
For the interiors, Lissoni has selected Boffi kitchens, oversized stone countertops and Gaggenau appliances for a look that is modern Italian-meets-tropical-warmth. “My vision was to create a contemporary and modernist project, one of purism, cleanliness, and openness,” he says. “The expansive, open floor plans at The Residences and the organic materials used in the design have facilitated a space that links directly to its surrounding environment. Each and every element was designed in harmony with Miami Beach”.
Q & A
In recent years you’ve worked on several residential projects in Miami. What interests you about design and architecture in the city?
Miami is, for me, a city with two faces of modernism. There is the art décor aspect, which is a historically modern style of building, as well as a contemporary wave of modern architecture being constructed throughout the city. Miami also features a distinctive, complementary combination of vertical and horizontal architecture unlike other cities in the United States. You have beachfront skyscrapers living the coast and yet, just behind Lincoln Road, you have entire flat neighborhoods that contrast with their more vertical counterparts. This unique combination is aesthetically pleasing, and has contributed to Miami’s reputation as an architectural destination.
When designing a new project, where do you begin?
I begin with taking a classical, European approach working around the individual and the context, to respect the nature in which I design. I work with the water, the existing dimensions of the space – and I design projects that contribute substance to the neighborhoods in which they are built.
You’ve remarked before that the quality of light in Miami left a strong impression on you. Did this influence your design for the Ritz Carlton Residences Miami Beach?
If you are visiting Miami for the first time, the initial feeling you get is the quality of light encompassed throughout the city. However, beautiful light also produces strong shadows. I wanted to reflect Miami’s quality of light in the design for The Residences, to create a building that reflects both the light and the shadow. It was important to me to respect the natural light and shadow, as this is an integral contextual element of the building.
The Residences include many state-of-the art features. What role does technology play in the project design?
From a designer’s perspective, the most significant technology for me is in creating a clean and clear building that contributes to a more sustainable Miami. With an intelligent water system that filters black water, we were able to focus on clean water with zero water waste. Overall, we incorporated appropriate materials, glass, screens and façade to create an honest building in an increasingly sustainable city.
Text by Sophie Kalkreuth
This article was originally published in PALACE 15