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Beauty and Emotion: Matteo Thun on the Past and Future of Architecture

Matteo Thun is known for his meticulous designs, which he implements at all levels of scale from industrial design and hotels to new hospital buildings. The South Tyrolean architect is a founding member of the legendary Memphis Group. For Detail, he looks at the Bel Design era in Italy.

In your opinion, what is the legacy of 1960s architecture and design?
There was a lot of optimism and thirst for action in the 1960s; we still draw on the fantastic visions from that time. Back then, architectural thinking was implemented on both a large and a small scale. In Italy, the small scale led to the era of Bel Design. This is not exactly what we now associate with that term. At that time, beauty was derived from a very good, emotional understanding of function. It was not “form follows function”, but rather the emotionally charged function that occupied the foreground. There were geniuses such as Ettore Sottsass and Achille Castiglioni, who created a wonderful balance between function and sensuality in their designs. And there were “architect-designers”, for instance Angelo Mangiarotti. He was a pure formalist, and he once actually told me: “It’s a shame; you have one flaw. You must liberate yourself from that Sottsass.”

Where will we stand in 60 years?
I hope that the teaching content at postsecondary institutions will undergo radical change. I myself taught for many years at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. When people ask me what they should study, I answer: please don’t study. Go to a good teacher instead! The Bottega dell’Arte in Italian art − Cimabue and Giotto − are my greatest idols with respect to training. When he was just four years old, Giotto went to Cimabue’s studio. Four years after that, when his mother visited him, Cimabue claimed that her son could now do everything. That is unbelievable! Nowadays we do hands-on work in many fields. Ultimately, we are autodidacts, which is why we need teachers who help us. For me personally, Ettore Sottsass was just such a teacher. He taught me to address the simple things, which certainly isn’t easy. It starts with how you use a pencil.
 
What do you associate with Detail?
Practical information, and I hope it will remain that way in the future. No hot air, just watertight know-how for us architects. 

Matteo Thun studied architecture in Florence and, along with Ettore Sottsass and other Milanese designers, founded the studio Sottsass Associati and the Memphis Group. In 1984, he established his own studio in Milan; in 2001 he founded Matteo Thun & Partners, also in Milan. Under the leadership of Matteo Thun and Antonio Rodriguez, the company operates internationally and develops projects in the areas of Hospitality, Health Care, Residential and Office Design as well as Retail and Product Design. The South Tyrolean designer has been distinguished many times with international prizes.

DETAIL 6/2021 features a detailed portrait of Matteo Thun.

Matteo Thun, Matteo Thun & Partners, Photo: Nacho Alegre
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