Michele de Lucchi for Alessi

logo2Michele de Lucchi for Alessi


Since he graduated from the Florence Art College in 1975, the Italian architect and designer Michele De Lucchi (b.1951) has had a long list of accomplishments. He was one of the founders of the seminal Memphis collective; has exhibited at the Milan Triennale and Vitra Design Museum; taught in Milan, Michigan and Rome; and created successful products for the likes of Olivetti, Artemide and Classicon.

But this week brought a first for De Lucchi. At the Paris trade show Maison et Objet, De Lucchi is showing Quattro muri e due case, a bamboo tray developed for the Italian design brand Alessi. It is De Lucchi’s first product for Alessi, a surprising fact when considered against the breadth of the Alessi back-catalogue and the sheer number of designers with which the company has worked in its 93-year history.1

The tray is simple and handcrafted – a far cry from the exuberance of De Lucchi’s playful and anarchic Memphis designs – recasting the typology of the tray as a simple walled landscape, with two hollow houses for handles. To mark the unveiling of the design, Disegno spoke to De Lucchi about working with Alessi, the legacy of Memphis and how he interprets the state of the contemporary design world.

Why haven’t you collaborated with Alessi before now? They’re a major Italian manufacturer after all.

That’s a nice question. I don’t know. I’ve known Alberto Alessi [managing director of Alessi] for 30 years, but we’ve never felt the need to collaborate with each other. But maybe it’s the result of a change in Alessi. I think the company is moving its philosophy away from ironic and extravagant products, towards a more conscious look at the time in which we are living. It’s concerned with the dangers of production. We both believe that products are a way to communicate culture and consciousness about the culture in which we’re living.

What do you mean it’s concerned with the dangers of production?

I think Alberto and I are both quite nervous about what is happening in industrial culture. The industrial culture is moving away from the real needs of human beings. The market is pushing continuously for new stuff, new offers, new things to see and present. So both of us wanted to use this opportunity to communicate through industrial products and spread a little bit of calm, a little bit of consciousness.

What is that calming message? How do you convey that through a tray?

Well it’s a product with a very poetic inspiration. It’s not performing any special functionality. I think what it does is bring to the table, on a small scale, a landscape – a very simple piece of land with four walls, two houses. Landscape has become a very poetic condition and something we’re increasingly worried about damaging. In Italy we destroyed a lot of our wonderful landscapes. So one message of the tray is to present a human being living in the world without fighting against the natural landscape.

Did you present the product and this message wholesale to Alessi, or was it developed together with the company?

Part of my philosopher as a designer is to always elaborate a project with a company. If you design something and then bring that to a company as is you don’t acquire the art of the people who then have to produce and sell that product. If you’re able to create something and give it the feeling that it has been generated within the company and is part of the philosophy of the company, then that’s much better.

Did you take advantage of the industrial capabilities of Alessi?

It’s a very simple design and I would call it a craftwork product. It’’s not interesting from a production point of view to mechanise such a product. So this tray is more or less produced by hand.

In that case does it share a philosophy with Produzione Privata [a company founded by De Lucchi in 1990 that prizes craftsmanship and a separation from industry]?

Yes, yes! I love to work in wood as you probably know. Wood has a great sensibility and it’s very contemporary because of the interest humans have in nature today. It’s a natural material and can be grown responsibly. Of course there are still some wonderful forests that are in danger because of logging, but it’s not impossible that for every tree felled, another could planted.

But Memphis for instance worked with non-natural materials like plastic laminates, celluloids and neon tubing. Similarly, the Memphis works were much more flamboyant and ostentatious than the Alessi tray. Do you sharply divide between the different stages in your career?

I think with Memphis that it was very easy in some ways to take it in a totally artistic direction. But what people don’t always appreciate was that we were always very, very careful to design objects that could be used. We made very strange chairs, but they were always chairs; very extravagant table, but they were always tables. With Memphis we were very attentive to not design objects that couldn’t be used. That was always a condition.

But while that core may have remained, other things have clearly changed.
Yes, my thinking process has certainly changed, as has the sensibility of the world. Every design movement is a sign of the time in which it was made. Memphis was definitely related to the 1980s, just as minimalism was a sign of the 1990s. Today I would say that we are concerned with the comparison between industrial production and nature. We’re looking at things like mechanical production, technological production, industrial production and craftsmanship. Not because they’re totally different ways of acting, but because they’re all ways of facing the same problem. The problem is producing, selling and distributing in the world.

You obviously feel connected to wood as a material, which ties in to the concern with nature that you’ve just described. What appeals about it?
When I’m working in wood I have much more consciousness about the importance of detail. Today is the day after the time of minimalism. In minimalism the shape had to be very clean and very pure. Minimalism allowed no formal details on the surface. But when you work with wood, you understand that everything you do produces a lot of details. The surface of wood becomes so rich and full of deepness. Everything is a condensation of small details. We are going back to an idea where you can appreciate details in pattern, texture and surface. Certainly much more so than you could 10 years ago.


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