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Piero Lissoni Discusses His Latest Furniture Piece For B&B Italia

The Italian architect and designer offers valuable insights into his success

You’ve just unveiled The Dock for B&B Italia at the Milan Furniture Fair. Please describe it.

I don’t know if it’s a sofa or a platform. It has 85 modular components – from armrests to cushions and detachable side tables – that can be used to create everything from a classical sofa, to something more informal. The idea was to design a platform like an island with a versatile functionality. On The Dock, you can do many different things like watch television, work, read, eat – the possibilities are endless. You can also have it without legs, so it sits on the floor like a tatami bed. The most important thing was to design a new ambience around the sofa.

What inspired The Dock?

I don’t want to call it inspiration, it sounds too holy. In my life, I have never woken up in the morning with a very good idea. It’s a constant discussion with the clients. With the team at B&B Italia, we knew that when we started the project more than two years ago, we wanted to reinterpret the sofa. How do we give it new life? If I had a choice, I would continue improving on The Dock. Luckily for me, someone in the factory said, “Game over”. So I had to stop and let it go into production.

The spectrum of your clients is very wide, from property developers to kitchen and furniture manufactures. How do you decide what work to take on?

I normally accept 15 to 20 percent of the requests we receive. I never decide to choose only important projects. What I do is my passion, it’s not only work. I choose because I like the passion, vision or the client. If I don’t feel good in front of them, I don’t accept the project. Think about all the energy you have to put in it and if you don’t like anything about it, you will become very tired. It is important to be selective.

How would you advise a young architect or designer to do this?

Be honest with yourself. Make sure you are mentally coherent. It is important to be a strong worker with a lot of discipline. Be responsible. Don’t think about money. I understand it is important, but they are just tools. If you sell your soul, that’s it. After that, you die.

How do you work for different brands in the same industry?

It’s the same product but the factory of each brand is different. They have a special setup, soul, quality. It means one is different from the other. And I need to be a bit schizophrenic. I am always conscious that I am one head inside the different teams. In the end, the brands choose me because I am beautiful and decorative, like a public face of the team. I mean this metaphorically of course. You need to stand in front of the mirror and be a bit ironic to make things more lively. As architects and designers, we are not icons or rock-and-roll stars. We are workers with a lot of discipline.

You have more than 25 architecture projects currently in your pipeline. What would you say is the biggest challenge architects face at the moment?

Responsibility. We are absolutely not artists. We are workers. Ours is a profession. Our link is with society. It is not me (the artist) with the collector (the client). The person who develops the building becomes my client, but the rest of the world are victims. Sometimes when I talk to my colleagues, I tell them to be quiet, take measure, because we are responsible. We build something for one client who likes it, but the rest of the world doesn’t ask for it. There has to be respect and responsibility.

It is different as a designer. If I design something for B&B Italia, I need to be respectful and responsible towards the people inside the factory. They ask me to be a good designer, to create a piece of furniture that will sell well, to help the economy. If I design a sofa that you don’t like, you don’t buy. But if I design a building you don’t like, unfortunately, it is not going to go away.

What, in your opinion, is the way to be a responsible architect?

Be intelligent, have a low level of ego and work hard. It is important to be connected with history, the site, life. I don’t think I’m a prophet. I don’t like to teach my colleagues how to do their work. I’m not a team leader. I just do what I know.

This story first appeared in Issue 110: June/July 2019 of d+a. 

Low Shi Ping
Valentina Sommariva
07 August 2019