Patricia Urquiola, designer, born in Oviedo (Asturias, northern Spain), but based in Milan for over 20 years, since the days of her degree in Architecture from the Milan Polytechnic, is a professional who knows how to listen to places and things. She lives in a home-studio, upstairs and downstairs, in a building from the early 1900s, inside a courtyard in the area of Corso Buenos Aires.
A very Milanese location: an old textile factory that has been completely restructured and thrives on soft atmospheres composed of rigorous geometries. You can still sense the industrial spirit of the place, in rugged, informal open spaces on three levels, devoted to creative work. Walls in smoothed concrete, panels of marine plywood, flush-mounted doors finished like the walls, resin floors, parapets made with white sheet-metal grilles.
The lightness and luminosity of the enclosure also come from a large central skylight, a figure of architectural reference, together with the two-story zone made for the Ideal House IMM 2006 installation, in one corner of the studio, containing material samples. The same approach can be seen in the residence: a very spacious duplex built around the island of relationships, constituted by a fluid, uninterrupted continuum of living-dining-kitchen areas, along with a terrace, a jungle of grasses and evergreens designed with the help of the landscape architect Stefano Baccari.
Patricia has been living here for several years now. A move always corresponds to a passage, an opportunity to complete one chapter and begin another.
We asked her what she brought with her and what she left behind, and what this place ‘told’ her when she found it and chose it. “It told me about the possibility of making a sort of fast track suited to my timing, to the many time frames that intersect in my life. Everyone should have their own fast tracks to speed up or intensify certain moments. For me it was necessary to unite public and private: projects, voyages, a personal family and a professional family. Inside a safe haven, a truly tailor-made home-workshop. For me, the studio is a very private place. I may be doing a conference call with the other side of the world, and helping my daughter to do homework at the table in this room, at the same time.
Many objects, from the vases to the chairs, constantly migrate from the dwelling to the work spaces, like the materials of everyday testing. We live in a much more liquid reality than in the past, and we have to learn to navigate smoothly. Magistretti, who was a mentor for me, said: you know, Patricia, my life is or should be that of a good professional, in the traditional sense: every day I go to the studio, then back home, I move around on a bicycle or in the subway, even when I’m going to De Padova or Kartell; then, every so often, they invite me to do a lecture… You will move in a different world, everything will be much more mixed up, and you will have to learn to defend yourself.”
WHAT EXISTS OF THE MILAN OF DAYS GONE BY INSIDE THIS NEW PERSONAL DIMENSION?
“The poetry of Milanese courtyards; I had never lived inside a courtyard; in this industrial space I have discovered the relationship with neighbors, nearby gardens, care for the back of the building, plants and trees that become a shared backdrop. Everything is very soft, like the background noise from the street. Then I have rediscovered the beauty of a work of Liberty architecture, well-conserved in the whole building, with multicolored glazings, gates in wrought iron featuring figures of owls, dragonflies and other animals.”
MILAN HAS CHANGED A LOT SINCE THE EARLY 1990S, WHEN YOU ARRIVED, AS A STUDENT. IN THE EXPO YEAR, HOW WOULD YOU NARRATE THE CITY TO THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW ABOUT IT?
“I would say that in this introverted city, in the shadow of its buildings, where the air is always quite still, there is a strong positive energy, the desire to grow. With Expo, beyond the event itself, the city has taken a risk, analyzing itself, trying to finish many things on time, a restaurant, a hotel, the Refettorio Ambrosiano, Fondazione Prada. Such initiatives are always productive.”
FEEDING THE PLANET, ENERGY FOR LIFE… SPEAKING OF NUTRITION, WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DISH, IN RELATION TO THE CULINARY TRADITIONS OF YOUR COUNTRY OF ORIGIN, SPAIN? DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A GOOD COOK, AND HOW DO YOU EXPERIENCE THE SPACE OF THE KITCHEN?
“I can’t do without a potato tortilla and gazpacho. I like to cook, I’ve done it for years, a bit less now because I travel a lot, but it always relaxes me. The wok is a great help on certain occasions. I have a Boffi kitchen, well-connected to the dining and living area, for direct communication; I enjoy it, because it has push-pull doors, without handles, that remind me of the gestures of Jacques Tati in Mon Oncle. I’m a bit more mechanical, by character. Then there are the two kitchens of the studio; in the end I live around three kitchens.”
WHAT ARE THE CRITERIA WITH WHICH TO CHOOSE AN OBJECT AS PART OF EVERYDAY LIFE?
“I like to test the things I have designed for others, to mix prototypes, found objects, vintage pieces, abandoned typologies. In this sense I had great teachers, from Achille Castiglioni to Maddalena De Padova. I don’t have a collector’s spirit, a special attachment to things, I don’t want to live in a museum. Though I am very fond of the old Rosenthal cups my mother gave me, a green Phonola radio by the Castiglioni brothers, a graduation present that still fills me with cheer; then a Flos lamp from the 1960s designed by Mario Bellini, which I keep near my bed, and a drawing by Gio Ponti. Little things that keep me company.”
WHAT DID YOU DREAM ABOUT DOING, WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD?
“I don’t remember, but I already knew, at the end of high school, that I would do something creative and that I would continue my studies in Madrid, because in Oviedo there was no School of Architecture. In Milan, where I finished college, they taught me a second profession, that of the designer: a stimulating crossover.”
YOUR WORK IS VERY RECOGNIZABLE, THOUGH YOU DON’T HAVE A CLEAR TRADEMARK. WHAT DOES THAT DEPEND ON?
“It’s a question of method: there is always a driver, a fundamental element in every project that guides and orients, that has to be conserved. Then I always try to find a point of contact between the basic rigor (of an architectural nature) and the emotional function; that is what gives an object magic, when it establishes an emotional relationship with the user. This magic is the hardest thing to achieve, but it can exist in even the most essential, minimal object, which corresponds to its times in a synthetic, rapid, effective way. Other coordinates add desire: sensory, materic research, attention to detail, Latin spirit (part of my Spanish background), a background of memories. In any case, if there is a fil rouge through the many things I have designed, I think it is the passion for mixing industrial things and crafts, mass production and handiwork. It is always a constructive dialogue to reach something new with someone: whether you are talking with a community of Indian or Sardinian women, or with industry and its processes.”
WHAT DOES THE WORD ECOLOGY MEAN IN YOUR DESIGN APPROACH?
“For me it corresponds to being informed and conscious of the world in which we live. In every project you can create an opening to improve the parts, optimizing the human energies called into play.”
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?
“I am continuing my research with the design companies with which I have worked for years, and in architecture I am experimenting with different concepts and formulas of reception-hospitality: from the Heart in Ibiza, commissioned by the Adrià brothers and the creator of Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté, an inclusive restaurant (offering finger food, music and performances) inside the figure of an overturned basket with black and white patterns, the colors of the clothing for the fiesta of the women of the island, to the new hotel for the Room Mate chain in Milan, near Piazza Duomo; from a large hotel in Mumbai conceived as a green resource with a double green skin for indoor-outdoor living, to the Le Sereno hotel on Lake Como, where I have tried to integrate everything, from the design of the spoons to the architecture to the garden.”
photos by Alessandro Paderni/Eye Studio
text by Antonella Boisi