I recently had the honour of spending an hour in the inspiring company of Mr Andrea Morgante. I arrived feeling tired and run down, and left absolutely bouncing with creative energy – I only hope this post does our conversation justice…
Tell me a bit about your work for Alessi.
It’s about taking as much as possible from nature, not just a visual language, but a structural inspiration. So inspiration came from botanics and how certain leaves, certain surfaces in nature, are ribbed. Despite a small thickness, a small section, and they perform amazingly well in terms of… load bearing structures.
We produced the Megaptera tray (Mageptera being one type of whale because it also recalls the ribbing; the ventral groves of the Magaptera whales). It’s a tray that uses less steel, and also explores the possibility of ‘one hit’ – there’s one operation involved, rather than sixteen different operations, like assembling, screwing, plastic against metal and so on. Mono-material, one process and you achieve something that is structurally relevant.
This is something I’m very intrigued by, so it’s a constant trajectory in my language.
It has influenced of course the light… I wanted it to be the extension of this language. How do you work stainless steel so that you can fold it?
And it’s rooted in the botanics field, so the light becomes the most precious blossom that gets protected. Alessi is doing lights for the first time… so it was quite a privilege to be amongst the selected designers and I wanted to start with something small, intimate, ubiquitous. I wanted it to be something you decide where to put it and also where to direct the light that’s coming from the petals in a way. And I wanted to try to make it diginified, even when it’s switched off.
Then came the watch. Watches rarely achieve something for me to get excited about. So the idea of exploring something that grows, and the ribbing here, I have to admit doesn’t bear any structural agenda, but it in a subconscious way relates it to growing, nature, muscle fibres, so there is still a value implied. I just wanted to be gentle and kind around the wrist – I wanted it to be something that has grown, that has stretched, from one section it gets swollen where the watch face is positioned. It wraps around the wrist like tissue or muscle fibres. If you see an anatomy chart, they are beautifully intricate and blend into each other, so the watch is a sort of external manifestation of this language.
What’s the most important thing to know about you?
Oh, you’re tricky! Gosh! As a designer, in my work? I think coherence, coherence and trying to stay relevant in your coherence; it’s about always trying to have an identity and always trying to bring it forward without compromising because of a client, because of different typology, it’s about having some strong beliefs and taking [them] with you every time you do a design.
May I ask you about Jan Kaplický? You worked very closely with him; how did that affect your work then and how does it affect your work now?
It’s affects like you having a father that you love; it’s the same relationship. He affected me in not accepting compromise, in choosing beliefs and sticking to them in your work, which is integrity and coherence and a love for anything that it artful and creative. I think a lot of designers or architects grow up in their own environment so feeding the brain with similar typologies of buildings or products. One of my passions is botanics, is anatomy. Meteorology, I like. I know everything about planes. So for me, it’s much more interesting to feed my work from these parallel disciplines, than the design world. This is what Jan taught me. Looking further.
What are you most proud of?
My coherence. I’m proud of standing still in what I believe. And I think that if you flick through my portfolio, they all have the same the DNA. So this coherence, extruded through every single idea and project is one of the few things that I’m happy to show and talk about.
What inspires you? We’ve talked about botanics and parallel disciplines, but where do you turn when inspiration is lacking, when it runs out?
When it runs out, you just have to leave your everyday life. [There] comes a point I think to everyone who is doing some creative work, not just design and architecture, when you feel empty. I don’t know what you can do All I know I that you detach yourself, and you just keep living your own life with your own interests, keep going to see weird exhibitions. I travel a lot, I tend to go to Japan quite often, because I find [it’s] one of those countries – you’re completely empty running low, you go there, just talking to people, see the lifestyle see what they do, it’s such a weird wonderful country it’s a great inspiration. You come back with maybe a pebble that you found on the beach with a particular shape, with an old antique you found in the flea market in Kyoto, and it gets you going for another month.
What advice would you give to an aspiring designer?
I would say not to look in design, but try to fall in love as much as you can, with anything that is outside design. Design is an output. It’s about absorbing everything else outside, in terms of culture, art, sculpture… everything can be incredibly inspiring. I think too much nowadays there’s a sort of claustrophobic environment bubble surrounding design where it’s difficult to get out. It’s difficult to implant new values in it, cultural values, because it’s all down the selling points and who is who. I think this is the effort the new designer should try to understand – that you need to take something from the outer world and bring it into design, design is an accident at the end. I think maybe Philippe Starke said that, but I confirm it.
Design island design – which three items could you not live without?
The Batina coffee mug designed with Jan back in the days at Future Systems, it’s with me all the time because it’s just an amazing thing that fits your hand in all sorts of ways, that even the builder, the plumber, relates to.It’s the shape that fits the hand and everyone recognises that.
Humidifier by Fukasawa, which I recently managed to get from Japan – because it’s just a beautiful object.
I’m an avid collector of objects. One of them is a Neolithic stone, a scraper, because that’s the first object that man designed and produced. By the way the coolest designer that ever existed, is Neolithic man. This flint, beautifully faceted, is the first product design, because they were doing the same shape in Africa, and at the same time in Norway or in England. It’s a teardrop shape with all the facets – and they achieved that efficiency without knowing each other. So, I have one of those, I’m lucky enough to have one – and that’s my third object.
What’s next for you?
In a month’s time I’m finishing the Ferrari museum in Modena. Which in a way relates to Jan again, because we won the competition, we did the design together, thenin 2009, Jan passed away. The client asked me [to] complete the work for us on Jan’s behalf, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last three years. And next month is the opening, and for me it’s a big deal, because it’s three very intense years of my life; on my own, thinking of Jan. And also trying to push also my work ahead, with my studio, Shira Studio which was founded three years ago.
What’s your favourite colour?
White. But I can tell you for three hours why! Shiro Studio, Shiro is ‘white’ in Japanese. Shiro is a book that an amazing guy called Kenya Hara; he’s a Japanese graphic designer; wrote explaining that white is not a colour, it’s a mental state. And because I always shared the same beliefs, the day I found that book it was like for a Christian to have found the bible eventually, and say “I knew it!” so I embraced the concept. And because my work is always based on dualism there’s always an extreme associated with the opposite and white is exactly the same, it’s the most precious colour because it’s the one that gets dirtier, the fast and the better, so it’s a sort of fragile creative state that no other colour can represent and it’s blank like the paper you’re writing on, which is the symbol of pure freedom in terms of creativity. Everything begins with a piece of paper.
Further reading for the especially geeky: