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April 21, 2014

In Residence: Italo Rota

The Uncompromising Milanese Architect Discusses His Designs For Living

“As an Italian, I have always found the Renaissance period an unbearable bottleneck,” says Milanese designer Italo Rota. “I think what blocked the modernity of the 20th century has been this kind of thinking." Renowned for his use of light and strong gestures—from the restoration of Milan’s Piazza del Duomo to Roberto Cavalli’s phosphorescent Florence residence—Rota is an advocate for the evolution of contemporary architecture over heritage conservation. “The danger that Italian design was in has been elegantly overcome with great intelligence, allowing people all over the planet to play the game,” he says. “Today, most Italian design is designed by non-Italians. It is an inclusive system.” His progressive attitude extends to the development of the next generation of designers in his role as the unconventional Scientific Director of NABA and the Domus Academy. “My advice to a young architect is that all buildings are just one of the many clothes worn by that particularly capricious emperor we love to call architecture,” says Rota. “The gap between the ages of teachers, students and mentors should be reduced. I think the future is all about finding an equilibrium.”

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In Residence: Rolf Sachs

The Renowned Designer and Artist Shows Us Around His St. Moritz Hideaway

Rolf Sachs hurtles down a toboggan run made from natural ice and invites us into his high art-bedecked Swiss mountain retreat in the first installment of our new film series, In Residence. Directed by Matthew Donaldson, today’s short tells the story of the building that was originally erected for the 1928 Winter Olympics, when officials and VIPs filled stands on the roof and a band played national anthems from the balcony. Sachs rescued the structure from dereliction, restored it to its former glory and brought in a period-relevant collection of design. “It is very clearly a Bauhaus building, a functional building. There are no decorative aspects,” says Sachs, who has paired the utilitarian architecture with pieces from Dutch furniture maker Gerrit Rietveld and the Suprematist movement. Sachs is at the heart of St. Moritz life. “I’m very involved with everything in town. The locals accept me as a local,” says the 57-year-old designer,  a committee member of many clubs, including the St. Moritz Tobogganing Club that maintains the town’s famous Cresta Run. His connection to the Engadine region was the subject of his recent exhibition Herzschuss in St. Moritz, in which he poetically reinterpreted some of the familiar motifs of the region. “Having been brought up here I understand all of the materials, the originality of this place,” he says. “One aspect that is especially fascinating is the light. It is crystal clear, making it look like the horizon has been cut out with scissors.”

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M to M of M/M (Paris)

The Parisian Graphic Design Duo Celebrate Twenty Years of Visual Alchemy

An illustrated duck on a Björk album cover, a typeface dedicated to Carine Roitfeld and bit-character humanoids populating a deconsecrated chapel feature in this series from two of the most acclaimed creatives of their generation, Michael Amzalag and Mathias Augustyniak, better known as M/M (Paris). Since crossing paths at Paris's Les Arts Décoratifs school, the pair have worked as graphic designers and art directors on distinctive fashion, art and music projects incorporating unconventional typography, print, illustration, photography, film, objects and interior design. Envisioning their commissions as “conversations,” M/M (Paris) have collaborated with the likes of photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, and Mert and Marcus, and designers Riccardo Tisci, Nicolas Ghesquière and Yohji Yamamoto. Invited by Thames & Hudson to produce a monograph of their oeuvre some 12 years ago, the pair have finally collated their trailblazing imagery into a definitive 528-page softback, designed by Graphic Thought Facility, that includes dialogue with close collaborators alongside hundreds of illustrations. “You can't design a book for your own work because it becomes too self-centered,” explains Amzalag. “It was important for us to put ourselves in the position that we have put so many others in—what it feels like to put our work in the hands of someone else.” Ahead of their 20th anniversary, M/M reveal the secrets behind their innovations.

On establishing collaborations…
Most of our relationships have happened organically. Riccardo Tisci came to the studio to buy some of our posters as he really liked our work. I lived near Nicolas Ghesquière before he was working at Balenciaga. A friend introduced us to Yohji Yamamoto. We met Inez and Vinoodh at an A.P.C. party in Paris and clicked straight away.

On translating an artist's message…
We think of all of our collaborators as artists. They all have something they want to communicate visually. Each collaboration is about understanding an individual and working out how to communicate their world, in a graphic sense. The work we've done for Björk is a succession of portraits—she's a transformative character.

On their love of alphabets…
Mathias: We have always thought of our work as a series of signs and from the beginning we decided that we wanted to create our own “language” so people would immediately be able to recognize our work. Our own typefaces allow us to create our own language; each letter carries meaning. Our own alphabets form part of our collection of tools.

On their working dynamic...
Michael: Oliver Zahm came up with the perfect metaphor for our working relationship. He said one is the bone, the other is the muscle. To me, it's the most accurate description of how we work.

M to M of M/M (Paris) is published by Thames & Hudson in October. Their exhibition Carpetalogue, 1992-2012 runs at Gallery Libby Sellers from October 10–December 15, 2012.

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