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The Italian architect and designer Piero Lissoni grew up in Milan, curious and eager to experiment. His surroundings and interests naturally led him to become an architect and designer. In 1986 he founded Lissoni Associati, which grew into Lissoni & Partners as an international interdisciplinary studio focused on architecture, art direction, interior design, and product design. While his firm has designed everything from luxury resorts to furniture, from interiors to lighting, he’s getting back to his roots—ready to experiment again.
As of January, Lissoni now leads B&B Italia as its artistic director. He’s embracing the company’s history and expanding on its steadfast efforts to become a more sustainable design brand. For starters, Lissoni’s first outdoor collection for the house in his new role, “Borea,” was made from recyclable aluminum structures and cushions made of polyester fiber obtained from recycled PET plastic bottles. Seamlessly designed sofas, armchairs, and chairs are complemented by a series of dining, coffee, and side tables that offer support solutions in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. For an artistic touch, some tops are glazed in the nearby volcano Mount Etna’s lava stone and topped with recycled glass from discarded TV and PC monitors.
Lissoni spoke with Whitewall about joining the B&B Italia family, how the pandemic has impacted his view of design, and what elements of eco-design can affect the future of humanity now.
WHITEWALL: How would you describe your role at B&B Italia today?
PIERO LISSONI: I count myself very lucky because the work that Antonio [Citterio] did for B&B Italia was truly wonderful. My work is more a question of fine-tuning. I want to bring out even more the company’s aptitude for the contemporary. This is what it is renowned for and is possibly the only thing it had lost a bit of by maybe looking a little nostalgically to the past. And I’m working a lot on communication.
WW: What was the starting point for your first collection, “Borea”?
PL: The starting point of the seating collection is lightweight tubular aluminum structures, while the cushions are made of polyester fiber obtained from recycled PET plastic bottles. However, aluminum is also a sustainable choice, because it is extremely strong and durable and entirely and easily recyclable, and thus can be used again and again to produce an infinity of products. B&B Italia has been following a process of integrating sustainability for some time.
The company works constantly to develop projects that increasingly consider the product’s entire life cycle—starting from the designer’s idea, passing through the choice of materials and production, and ending with the user’s experience. But right from the start it also looks ahead to the end of the life cycle and the reclamation and disposal of the materials that make up the product.
In this perspective, “Borea” is an eco-design collection with exceptional features of design, comfort, durability, and sustainability. It uses recycled and recyclable materials that can be separated when the product has finished its useful life, so each individual element can be either reused or disposed of in a way that does not damage the environment.
WW: Can you walk us through the creative process of making this collection?
PL: The “Borea” collection includes numerous pieces that have in common tubular metal structures with a fluid and seamless design, without joints or interruptions. The metal bending process takes advantage of techniques typically used in the aeronautical industry and transfers them to the world of outdoor furniture. “Borea” is a hybrid of a bicycle, an airplane frame from the 1920s, a racing car, and, why not, a sofa.
WW: The campaign was shot at your home in the Italian countryside. What art or design objects fill your personal spaces?
PL: The house was built a few years ago by intensifying the element of concrete and using it as a form of origami. The thin walls are used as sheets of “concrete paper” and the shape of the house is completely dictated by its structure. I used a classic archetype and the musical scores of large glass elements as the code. I have collected many design pieces inside—chairs by Eames and Jasper Morrison, and pieces by Noguchi and Castiglioni.
WW: In our last interview, in 2018, you said, “We are facing a lot of challenges in our environment, and how we build and design today matters.” How are you presenting solutions to problems or addressing these challenges at B&B Italia? How will you focus on social and environmental responsibility moving forward?
PL: Sustainability lies in choosing the right materials. But generally, I think that the best way to be sustainable is to realize objects and products that can last as long as possible, and this is exactly what I have always done and will continue to do.
WW: What makes a well-designed space?
PL: I have a humanistic vision of my profession. For me, being an architect or a designer means being bound to a single element, that of proportion. Proportion is human proportion, so anything I touch has to have this as its constituent element, be it a building, a factory, a museum, a boat, an interior, or an object.
WW: Has the pandemic impacted the way you view design?
PL: My thinking about design hasn’t changed at all. I will continue to do things with the same professionalism and the same level of responsibility as before. In general, I don’t think things will change much from how they were before. We will probably be more careful and maybe take certain matters such as the environment more seriously, but we will continue to sit on chairs and sofas, and, similarly, our cities cannot undergo too radical a change. In design as in architecture, nothing will change in my work apart from improving the small details.
The truth is that we don’t have the least idea how things are going to turn out, neither in terms of a cure nor in terms of our control over what’s happening, but I don’t think we’ll close ourselves off in plexiglass boxes. If there is something that needs to be re-examined after all that has happened, I think it’s that we need to learn to choose those parts of the projects that deserve to be recognized as even more important, without reasoning in purely financial terms, so I hope for a return to a design model that is of a higher level—qualitatively speaking.