Architect and poetic crafter of smooth forms Michele De Lucchi’s vision
by Gaia Grassi
photo Giovanni Malgarini
Michele De Lucchi signed the Pavilion Zero which was the most visited at the Expo Milano 2015 and then continued in good vein with the opening of the renovated space in the Museo della Pietà Rondanini inside Milan’s Castello Sforzesco, a subtly designed backdrop and new permanent home for Michelangelo Buonarroti’s final masterpiece. De Lucchi’s third closed project took him in a very different direction, however.
This was the design for a stunning boat show stand for Azimut Yachts which made its first outing at the Cannes Yachting Festival 2015. This latest move, naturally enough, piqued our curiosity in no small way. We spoke to the legendary architect recently in his aMDL studio in Milan. When we arrived, waiting for us in a wood-lined office was man that is calm personified.
His voice was light, almost timid, and his long, luxuriant signature beard a work of art in its own right. “Water and sun: architecture, like life, centres around those two elements and they are the guiding lights of every single one of my projects,” Michele De Lucchi explained. “Every time I think of water, I think of it running and smoothing, polishing. There’s an old Indian story in which a Hindu master recommends to his student become like a stone in a river: so smooth that the water can run over him without a ripple.
I think smoothed forms are perfect metaphor for the contemporary mentality in a world that needs to flow without making any ripples, without creating tension”. Both De Lucchi’s Intesa San Paolo Pavilion at the Expo 2015 (which – no coincidence – is called Waterstone, ed.’s note) and the UniCredit Pavilion dominating Milan’s futuristic Piazza Gae Aulenti are the perfect architectural expression of that sentiment.
De Lucchi’s other great influence is, of course, the sun. “Nothing can exist without light. But we also have to shield ourselves from the sun, hence my investigations in terms of shadow and shade”. This segues us on to the design for Azimut’s boat show stand. “The recognisability of the structures, the lights, the atmosphere and the environmental quality in general all hark back to the sensory and material experience one gets from boats and creates a strong identity that visitors will understand very directly.
We designed these spaces as salons, welcoming and airy, but also connected to the natural world surrounding them, thanks to filtered light and natural materials”. So how would Michele De Lucchi envisage a yacht of his own design? “I am still working on finding the right mental formula to enter into an authentic vision of that kind but if I think about it, I see gashes of dry light and a soft half-light all around. A bit like childhood memories of home which centre around a rarefied atmosphere created by half-closed shutters.
Then I can a glasshouse or a winter garden, where the resulting atmosphere is comforting. Lastly, obviously enough, I see a lot of wood. I have to admit I have a problem with plastic,” De Lucchi adds with a smile. “Two subjects very dear to my heart are the naturalisation and temporality of objects: nature itself is a concept in movement.
Any material, form, building or living thing is a process that’s continually evolving and adapting to its environment, just like Darwin said. So designs can’t be ‘timeless’, as people often want them to be – they have to live and change over time because you can’t avoid aging. But aging well is a must. However, plastic does not age well. Wood, on the other hand, does. But then, once I’d finished I would have to look at the result and see what I could eliminate. Because the biggest mistake an architect can make is cluttering up space. Pointlessly”.