Interview with Mercurio Design Lab S.r.l.


Winner of Art and Architecture Design Awards

Award Winning Designer Mercurio Design Lab S.r.l. shares insights

 
 
 
 

Interview with Mercurio Design Lab S.r.l. at Wednesday 16th of August 2017:

DL: Could you please tell us a bit about your design background and education?
MM : Family tradition, combined with my Italian roots, have undoubtedly played a major role in the discovery of my artistic path. My father, the founder of the AMA Group, is an accomplished architect who has always allowed me into his world since I was a kid, and raised my curiosity towards the built environment. Concurrently, the exposure to the amazing display of Italian artistry that my home town Rome sports in every street and corner, has fed my deep interest in aesthetics and the healing power of beauty. Last, but not least, was my school that added the final touch in fuelling my interest in the Humanities. Marcantonio Colonna was indeed a peculiar school. I followed the syllabus of Classic Studies, but it was structured more like a renaissance academy, where science and arts were intertwined together to weave a cohesive system of knowledge, to equip us for a better understanding of the universe and the world we live in. Despite the proper introduction, I did not want to be a designer to start with. I did not choose Architecture and Art straight away. At the beginning, I was more inclined toward the technological accomplishment of mankind, therefore I studied Engineering with the intention of designing airplanes. Eventually, with a few route corrections, I graduated from the School of Mechanical Engineering of the Sapienza University of Rome with a specialisation in fluid dynamics and energy systems. Only much later, when I joined my father in his firm, then did I gain a more practical interest in Art and Architecture, beyond the theoretical admiration that has always accompanied me.  I must add that the duality of my world, the coexistence of a scientific education and an artistic one, has given me tremendous opportunities when I had to find inspiration for new designs. Borrowing ideas from seemingly unrelated worlds is a very powerful tool when one wants to break new ground and find new ways to express oneself.

DL: What motivates you to design in general, why did you become a designer?
MM : I found myself in the designer chair almost accidentally, I must admit it was not the career path I had envisioned for myself in my early days. Initially, as I said, I was inclined to take an interest into a more technologically-oriented profession, therefore I studied Engineering.  As I moved along in life, I ended up working with my father, who is an architect, and who had a brilliant career in the world of high-tech, where he designed buildings for some of the most prominent corporations in the electronics industry. When I joined him initially, I was looking more at the management aspect of construction, but in time I took a stronger interest in the design part of it, till it finally became my life mission. I finally recognised how design has a profound impact in people’s lives and how it can benefit humanity as a whole. Fighting for a better built environment is a fundamental aspect and duty of the designer and as I always strive to find a purpose, I eventually accepted that there was not better purpose for me than making the world a better place through good and beautiful design.

DL: Did you choose to become a designer, or you were forced to become one?
MM : It was surely a choice, a passionate choice actually, though life kind of nudged me on the right path a bit forcefully. Despite the paternal introduction, I did not want to be a designer to start with. I did not choose Architecture and Art straight away. At the beginning, I was more inclined toward the technological accomplishment of mankind, therefore I studied Engineering with the intention of designing airplanes. Eventually, with a few route corrections, I graduated from the School of Mechanical Engineering of the Sapienza University of Rome, with a specialisation in fluid dynamics and energy systems. Only much later, when I joined my father in his firm, then did I gain a more practical interest in Art and Architecture, beyond the theoretical admiration that has always accompanied me. 

DL: What do you design, what type of designs do you wish to design more of?
MM : It’s more who I like to design the most for. There is no limit to creativity and it can express itself with tremendous power, at any scale, with any design challenge. It is more who commissions the work that makes a difference. When you establish a relationship of trust with a client, and he or she lets you take full control of the composition, you normally achieve the best results. On the other hand, many times, clients believe they can do an equally good if not better job at understanding and finding the right aesthetic balance in a design composition. Unfortunately, and contrary to their beliefs, they are not educated to find the order within chaos and too often, only end up derailing an otherwise proper solution. The key to good design is coherence. Finding a common binder to all elements of a project, and carrying it through at every scale and every corner, thus results in a necessary harmony that makes the design appear as it just had to be that way. When clients interfere with the design composition of a good designer, they usually throw this harmony off balance, thus ruining a good proposition. For the sake of clarity, let me add that obviously, when a work is commissioned, clients have the right to express their feelings towards a certain design solution. If they do not like it, they need to say it. At times, these challenges push designers to better themselves, but the extent of the client involvement should end with the expression of an aesthetic inclination. It is when they want to indicate design solutions that things start going wrong. Frank Gehry once said that there is no point in employing an architect if you want to tell them how to do their job. It is probably for these reasons that the work I like to do the most are either those where the client has a definite trust in my design composition, or those that have no defined clients at all, like sculptures for public spaces. 

DL: What should young designers do to become a design legend like you?
MM : Attempting to codify creativity in a very structured way might be an unproductive effort as there is probably no effective way to narrow down the force behind good design to a simple learning process.  The debate on whether the creative mind can be trained, or it is simply innate, shares the same history with many Darwinian anthropological and evolutionary problems. The implication is obviously that there is no straight answer on who to achieve success in the design world, at least from a purely meritocratic point of view. It is probably easier to formalise a marketing strategy to follow, in order to achieve a larger and positive audience, regardless of the actually technical merit a designer might have. Once we have made this disclaimer, we can write an essay on how to produce good design work, but this would make me more appropriate for an academic context, so I will try to summarise what was the process I followed for acquiring a better understanding of the design process – a process that made me what I am today. I believe the most important fundament of good design is the deep understanding of the aesthetic problem, much in its essence of being a problem, rather than a set of rules to make beautiful things. The problem is practically that we cannot formulate an aesthetic checklist –we do not actually have universally accepted aesthetic guidelines – therefore there is no factual way to declare something beautiful or ugly. This problem has practically no solution, and this paradigm forces us to find a solution in the problem itself, which is to say that the ambiguity in the definition of beauty is beauty itself, or rather the meaning of beauty is its own assertive signification. In order for anyone to grasp this concept in its entirety, he needs to endure some kind of initiation and this initiation is a lengthy process of discovery. Practically the best way to understand beauty is to study how beauty has been interpreted by different people in different places, in different historical moments and across different disciplines, like finding the standard deviation of the perceived essence of beauty. The more someone becomes acquainted with the huge multitude of this disparate attempts, the more he grasps the concept of beauty and the more he can render his own interpretation with confidence of being within the perceived standards of beauty. And even when he decides to change these standards, he can do that with proper knowledge to support him. As beauty is found in many different fields, and at different scales, there is a lot of ground to cover, therefore it is good to start early in this journey of discovery, even before we think we can come to a decision for the path we want to take in life. A good designer is firstly an explorer, and an explorer that starts early in his youth, to look around filled by curiosity, and keeps an open mind in attempting to understand different minds, different cultures and different solutions to a certain problem. A part of this journey can be made of course in schools and universities, but that is not enough as there is always more to discover, and there are many areas of aesthetic that are not covered by any syllabus and probably will never be. Also, every country and every culture has its own interpretation of what is necessary to study, and there many interesting subjects might be left out only because of cultural and geographical reasons. Now, this osmotic education has its drawback: a lot of information we gather might end up being confusing and at times, the indications on what is considered beautiful and what is not, by different cultures, could be conflicting with each other.  It is important at this point to mediate the inputs of different ideas and aesthetic values with some kind of training about composition. Composition is what comes to aid when we are trying to put together various elements with differing characters, or we are trying to find a design solution that has conflicting requirements, or too many elements that appear confusing when arranged together at first. A typical complication of this overload of information, not mitigated by proper training in composition, is something I find common among my clients, who are typically quite wealthy and tend to travel a lot. They would come back after each of their trips and propose changes to the design we have done for their projects, just because they saw something they liked during their travels. In most cases, these clients have no proper understanding of how a design proposal is put together and they would not feel that requesting an intrusion of an idea, which most likely is totally alien to the overall composition, is a totally wrong proposition. So they might want to add a neoclassical detail they saw in a hotel in New York, to a contemporary Zen concept, and have no bad feelings about it. Composition is something that you learn through the application of theories that intend to teach people about how to assemble different basic elements of different artistic endeavours. And it is maybe here that the richer source of higher learning for a designer resides. It is in the dominion of aesthetic that you need to search for the answers to how to solve any problem of semantic organization of the building blocks of a given artistic problem. This works whether you are working with words in poetry, with notes in music or space in architecture. Therefore, like travelling enlarges your vision and knowledge of the concept of beauty, taking interest in different artistic disciplines amplifies enormously your understanding of composition, regardless of what is the subject you intend to compose.

DL: What distinguishes between a good designer and a great designer?
MM : The last ingredient of the recipe for becoming a good designer is the relentless strive for perfectionism. And the degree of commitment towards this cause in the search of perfection is what makes the difference between great design and good design. A good designer needs to strive for perfection. He needs to find the balance of all the aesthetic principles in his composition and the functional ones with elegance and ineluctability, since the best design is often the only real and necessary solution to a given design problem. The search for this balance often requires time and effort beyond the norm, and that’s why many fail in the attempt of finding a way though the multitude of possibility in crafting an adequate formal response. Yet, even assuming we managed to achieve this balance and finally have accomplished the task of crafting a good design solution to a given formal problem, our task is not at its end yet. Great design works should never really be finished for their masters. This feeling of impending becoming, which has not passed to be yet, like Michelangelo’s Pieta’ Rondanini, the balance of unattainable perfection that, through an infinite stages of quasi perfection, is always grasped yet never fully encompassed, is the secret of achieving greatness in design. The great designers are continuously challenging the dominion of commonly accepted taste – a sort of inquisition into the popular consensus of Kant’s critique of judgment, within the categories of the aesthetic and the functional, with an oath to finding the boundaries and move beyond them. A good formal solution is not the wishful end, but just the beginning. And so, genius is seemingly a final gesture of imperfection within the unblemished, as everyone else fails to comprehend the final godly touch of a great master when he surpasses himself and finally goes where no human has been before, when the presume error is the fundament of the future, when the asymmetry becomes sublimity, when Beethoven presents the world with the Große Fuge. This journey to the last Thule of Aesthetic, the search for the Golden Fleece, is the cornerstone of transcendence into greatness and the ascension to the greater part of what humanity can be.

DL: What makes a good design a really good design, how do you evaluate good design?
MM : Design is made successful by understanding its purpose and by giving it meaning. Personally, I believe purpose is a personal necessity that makes life more meaningful. In design and architecture, it gains a more measurable significance. It is the soft spot in the Vitruvian balance between function and aesthetic, and at the same time, there is the need to find this balance with a beautiful expression. The importance of understanding the purpose of a design, and delivering its purpose meaningfully, is the condition sine qua non of successful design. The designer needs often to anticipate the positioning of his work in its social and commercial setting, and understand what are the needs and expectations.   Unfortunately, because of the commercial essence of most projects today, designers are forced to skew the Vitruvian balance towards function and leave form to only a marginal role. In reality, I always believe that for any given commercial problem there is a beautiful solution. It is just difficult and laborious to find it, and often designers prefer to abandon the laborious road as it leads to higher costs that will not be repaid.   For this reason, a lot of cities today are designed by people that just put together a bunch of layouts that follow economical and functional needs. Seldom do designers make the effort to bestow meaning to their design, and they just stop thinking when they finish the plan views or meet their functional needs. Then they dress up the resulting massing with some cosmetic treatment, a procedure today defined as “designing the facade”, which very much resembles the application of make-up.    We like to follow a holistic approach to design and we think of everything together as a whole, without prioritising one element over the other. The solution needs to come about solving every aspect of the composition at the same time. So we normally approach the design in three dimension, and never just work on the layouts first. The volumetric composition of a project is always for us equally important as the plans are.    There should not be such a thing as designing the façade. You either design a building in its entirety as a three-dimensional whole, or you should not be designing at all. As a client, you should never ask that from an architect or a designer, as you fail in the essence of doing good design from the start.

DL: What is the value of good design? Why should everyone invest in good design?
MM : Design is finding the underlying order that hides noticed yet obvious in any chaotic system. This order is usually simple and yet, the necessary solution to a given spatial problem and, once revealed in its entirety, is always ineluctably beautiful. Michelangelo used to say he could see the artwork hidden within a block of marble, and that he was merely liberating its creation from its stony cage. That creative force that finds the artwork in a seemingly amorphous medium is the essence of design. We bring ugliness to our world when we choose the wrong design solutions. Ugliness brings a silent torment and illness in our lives. Planners, architects and designers therefore have a tremendous responsibility towards mankind, a responsibility that affects everyone, every moment, everywhere. That’s why a designer’s social role is so important. Ugliness needs to be banished from our communities, our cities, our world in general, and this can happen only when we consciously make an effort to produce good work and infuse beauty in what we are doing.  This healing power that beauty possesses is the key reason to invest in good design. The betterment to the environment and the positive energy it brings to the individual that basks in a beautifully built space brings invaluable benefits to society as a whole and quality of life. Additionally, one could only imagine how much better surroundings can benefit productivity too, as generally, people will have more energy and positive attitudes to invest in whatever they are doing.

DL: What would you design and who would you design for if you had the time?
MM : Design is always an exciting endeavour as you get to challenge your mind to produce a formal solution of a certain spatial problem, by focusing your fantastical thoughts into the world while crafting real objects. Therefore, there is always something to like about any design proposition. However, there are obviously themes or genres that bring more satisfaction while the mind works on its solution. For me, these more pleasurable challenges are those where mind and creativity can wander free of constraints and have less non-aesthetic driven constraints. Generally, these are projects of houses, places of worship and museums, where you do not need to have a measurable finance results, and you are not driven by sheer functionality in the composition of spaces and volumes. Condominiums, offices and shopping malls are usually less exciting to design as a lot of their planning is driven by necessities that have nothing to do with beauty. Another important aspect of designing is who you are designing a certain project for. There is no limit to creativity and it can express itself with tremendous power, at any scale, with any design challenge. It is more who commissions the work that makes a difference. When you establish a relationship of trust with a client, and he or she lets you take full control of the composition, you normally achieve the best results. On the other hand, many times, clients believe they can do an equally good if not better job at understanding and finding the right aesthetic balance in a design composition. Unfortunately, and contrary to their beliefs, they are not educated to find the order within chaos and too often, only end up derailing an otherwise proper solution. The key to good design is coherence. Finding a common binder to all elements of a project, and carrying it through at every scale and every corner thus results in a necessary harmony that makes the design appear as it just had to be that way. When clients interfere with the design composition of a good designer, they usually throw this harmony off balance, thus ruining a good proposition. For the sake of clarity, let me add that obviously, when a work is commissioned, clients have the right to express their feelings towards a certain design solution. If they do not like it, they need to say it. At times, these challenges push designers to better themselves, but the extent of the client involvement should end with the expression of an aesthetic inclination. It is when they want to indicate design solutions that things start going wrong. Frank Gehry once said that there is no point in employing an architect if you want to tell them how to do their job. It is probably for these reasons that the projects I like to do the most are either those where the client has a definite trust in my design composition, or those that have no defined clients at all, like sculptures for public spaces.

DL: What is the dream project you haven’t yet had time to realize?
MM : Herman Hesse left us a very good lesson about dreams and aspirations, suggesting our life should be constantly driven by them and that it is advisable for everyone to find their own, and to ensure you immediately set new ones if you manage to succeed in achieving that coveted end. For the same reason, it might be even better to have more than one of these dream, as they tend at times to be ephemeral. If you manage to be rather successful in life, you still are guided by an array of dreams still far out on the horizon, there to push you further and inspire you. One of the things I would love to work on, if I had time (the most precious commodity), would be to write a book about the philosophy of design and aesthetic in general. Most probably, the writer in me is one of my personalities that needs a bit more nurturing and dedication; so far, it certainly did not get enough.

DL: What is your secret recipe of success in design, what is your secret ingredient?
MM : There are three fundamental ingredients to becoming a good designer. The first is nurturing a good sense of aesthetic as we have spoken about earlier on. The second is to develop and work with a rigorous approach in composition. The third is to expand the personal ability of drawing inspiration from the most disparate subjects, in essence enhancing the ability of listening and watching with the curiosity of someone that wants to find meaning in objects and subjects that are seemingly disconnected with the topic we are researching.  The ability of seeing related elements across different subjects and disciplines, and finding a sort of background texture that connects everything like a coherence effect, gluing our experiential world together a bit like dark matter with the universe, is the secret to tapping an infinite source of inspiration and finding great design ideas for everything you do. When I was studying Latin literature, I was particularly impressed by what today is denominated by the philology of “contaminatio”. The early Latin comedy writers Plauto, Ennio and Terenzio took large portions of their inspiration from the Greek authors that had a great presence in the Mediterranean cultures. Instead of creating entirely original plots, they took scripts from Greek comedies and “contaminated” them with Latin bits of culture or at times, did the opposite by “contaminating” traditional Latin stories with Greek scenes and sketches – a brilliant way to greatly enhance creativity and be far more productive.   “Contaminatio” was not copying. Rather, it was readapting, mixing and possibly improving ideas from one culture into another. When Callimachus wrote his version of the story of the Argonauts, he proudly pronounced that he was imitating Apollonio Rodio not to subtly copy him, but to openly challenge his book (Not ut lateat sed ut pateat imitatio).   I like to think I can use “contaminatio” in many different aspects of creativity and design, not just by looking at the design that others are creating all around the world – something that today is particularly easy with the advent of the Internet and social media – but more I like to think that the universe and other fields of creativity and technology are doing a marvellous job at giving us inspiration. We just need to look around and “contaminate” our ideas with what is out there for us to grab.   Our designs can look like The Millennium Falcon, a Golden Eagle, a Black Panther, a Lamborghini Diablo. We just need to take great ideas and redraw them in concrete. We have at our disposal the entire knowledge of mankind when we need to draw inspiration, and if that does not suffice the best designer of all, Mother Nature can surely come to our aid.   On this note I can affirm that one of the most prolific areas to scout for when looking for ideas are some of Nature’s most amazing dominions. The very framework that allows our universe to exist is an amazing place for discovery. Physics, Geometry and Mathematics, they all offer insights in our physical world and the mechanics that are underlying its existence. They offer so much inspiration on how to forge volumes, the massing of three-dimensional constructs and objects, and receive and withstand the forces of nature while evoking beauty and awe.

DL: Who are some other design masters and legends you get inspired from?
MM : There are many great architects and designers to draw inspiration from. Some of them definitely stand out more than others, as they represent the fringe that is attempting to push the envelope of taste and aesthetic beyond the conventional and the commonly acceptable.  These are the bold, the daring, the unconventional. They allow themselves to dream big and do not let the environment, the social context, not even Her Majesty Gravity, constrain them within a cage of the common consensus. They are the heralds of progress in the field of design and as Galileo, Newton, Einstein. They help mankind thrust forward into the future of their own build. Anton Gaudi, with the great tribute he devoted to ergonomics in his architecture, the visualisation of beauty that geometry and force lines and their flow express in Calatrava’s Project; the ground-breaking modernity of Frank Lloyd Wright encompassing his juxtaposing pharaonic details; the fluidity of Zaha Hadid moulding gestures of concrete, are all majestic representations of the achievement that these explorers of the built environment can ascribe to their portfolio and the betterment of mankind. There are however two masters that have a special place in my All Stars Olympus mainly for philosophical reasons. The first one is Tadao Ando, a beacon in the universe of design with his unbelievably clear representation of what the simplicity of rigorous geometrical composition, and the proper arrangement of space and lights, can do to the built world.  Julius Caesar was a great writer and orator, beyond a great general and statesman, he subscribed to the principles of the Atticist in his composite style, σαφής κάι λιτὸν (Simplicity and Clarity), advocating a rigorous style with not much ornaments and frivolous embellishments. Whoever read the De Bello Gallico would remember the strength of his composition in his simple gesture and movements, where the structure of the composition is very obvious and particularly solid in its simplicity. It is quite peculiar that the word the Greek Atticists use to express simplicity is λιτὸν (simple) that shares etymological roots with the word λίθος (stone), that was at the time the primary material for construction. I find great assonance in this concept, and have always found the best formal solution to spatial problems being simple geometrical gestures on the tracing paper, which confer a formidable strength to the project massing and very often also represent a very solid functional solution. Lastly Antonio Sant’Elia is the great master I need to pay homage to for the inspiration and teachings he offered me since I got close to the world of architecture. Sant’Elia’s expression of futurism is fantastically divine. His juxtaposition of structural elements to form a sculptural monumental composition, even for the simplest projects, leaves the onlooker standing in awe. Yet, even the hardiest and most solid material begets a plasticity under Sant’Elia’s masterful handcrafting that competes with the organic fluidity of Hadid’s creations 100 years later. Sant’Elia also somehow manages to foretell the future of architecture by infusing the admiration of new surfacing technologies, and the need for dynamism, while forming massing that was typical of Marinetti’s adepts. He pretty much mirrors what Boccioni did for sculpture, in architecture, and that is enough for me to promote him to the Olympus of designers.

DL: What are your favorite designs by other designers, why do you like them?
MM : There are many and it’s hard to say a particular one is much preferred above the others. However, there are obviously projects and works that stimulate the discourse about the philosophy of aesthetic and design, and therefore do take a special place among others. These are buildings or objects that more than others represent either the essence of a particular design style during a defined era, or a fundamental departure from a consolidated style and the introduction of a new trend and idea. The Pantheon in Rome is the expression of the greatness of Roman engineering, and it almost defeats gravity and asserts the peaks we can surge to when we push ourselves beyond our limits. It is a physical manifestation of the superhuman once again. While standing in front of it you can almost hear Schiller whispering in your ears: “Mit des Menschen Widerstand verschwindet, Auch des Gottes Majestät.” A very much appropriate sonnet for the Pantheon itself. I find amazing what IM Pei did at the Louvres, the much criticised insertion of the pyramid in the context of the classical museum was a brilliant manifestation the human genius that transcends time and space, and creates new genres, new ideas and new styles for humanity to move forward in its journey true evolution. Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao is equally ground-breaking, like a cut through Fontana’s canvas, it opens up a new world and points us in a new direction that could lead us to a very fertile place that could be far better than the one we live in today.

DL: What is your greatest design, which aspects of that design makes you think it is great?
MM : I can’t really say I have a favourite among our works, though in some of them, we really managed to express the necessity of form better than in others. This probably goes back to the issue I just highlighted, where clients end up meddling too much with your design, and as a result, the forms are no longer as pure as they should be. Very rarely does a work of compromise achieve great results.   For this reason, some of our works that I actually consider the purest are where we managed to bring the flow of the composition from the architecture, to the interiors, to even the finishing and art curation, into one cohesive proposition without solution of continuity.   With smaller projects, this cohesion is easier to achieve as it is more likely that lesser parties get involved in both design and decision making. Also, these projects often have a lesser commercial connotation and are usually for own use than financial gain. This implies that the vagaries of commercial needs do not come into the picture, therefore liberating the design from a multitude of marketing constraints. That is why very often, the villas we design for single owners are normally the works that better express our style. I think Villa Mistral, Villa Lambda and Villa Otto represent today the epitome of the strength of our design and artistic creativity.

DL: How could people improve themselves to be better designers, what did you do?
MM : Undoubtedly a great portion of a designer’s creativity is something innate. It is a predisposition towards the ability of composing design elements into a coherent system, and the ability of mentally conceiving a particular space in three dimension, like projecting the design in your mind. This seems to be a predisposition for which you are probably gifted for rather than have been acquired. However, surely the remainder of this creative ability comes from training, studies and the commitment to becoming a good designer. Composition is something that can be learned, and it improves with constant exercise and engagement with practising solving design problems and finding formal solutions to any given spatial issue. Additionally, as we mentioned earlier, it is also the continuous exposure to good works and design solutions from various disciplines and various cultures that contributes to the formation of a well-rounded creative mind. That is why traveling while keeping an open, receptive attitude, and engaging with various subjects, is always a good practice for a designer as it forges lateral thinking and improves the understanding of the quality of aesthetic solutions.

DL: If you hadn’t become a designer, what would you have done?
MM : Fortunately, my wide array of interests in various disciplines would not leave me devoid of interests if I had not become a designer. I often wondered if I would have followed the same career path I had the chance to start it all over again. I have not always come to the same conclusion, as other fields of interest still exercise a substantial amount of charm on my mind. The subjects that exercise the highest attraction towards me are probably literature, music and high physics or cosmology, and, I guess, I would have loved engaging in these fields equally and with the same passion I have in designing. Unfortunately, I am a bit tone deaf, therefore music was definitely out as a career. Writing and Science would have been more feasible but somehow architecture took ground and rooted itself in my life and so here I am.

DL: How do you define design, what is design for you?
MM : I like to think of myself as a futurist. I need to believe that I can push the envelope of contemporary aesthetic beyond the comfort boundaries into new territories. I don’t necessarily need to preach the destructive impetus of early futurists but I do share their love for innovation, for the simple yet immense power of dynamic forces and the need for purpose.   My approach to design is simplicity, like in mathematical formulas where their elegance and power often is a reflection of their disarming simplicity. Just imagine how much power e=mc2 represents. It is rather satisfying to forge volumetric composition, to bend the low of gravity along simple yet powerful geometries.

DL: Who helped you to reach these heights, who was your biggest supporter?
MM : As matter of fact I actually had a fair amount of resistance in taking this route. When I decided to join my father’s company, I initially took a very different position and was mainly caring about project management, as that was probably more congruous with my engineering background. As time went by and I dealt more with the management of design issues, it became almost natural to engage myself directly in their solution, rather than passing them along. But that happened obviously not without a significant resistance.  Additionally, the environment in general is not very conducive for people to move across disciplines, as we live in a very specialised world. Therefore, you are locked into a profession you are not expected or supposed to move out of into another. Even the institutions and professional world pose a lot of hindrances to those who attempt to move their professional position from one disciplines to another. However, I was lucky to have my team supporting me and some of those closest to me have always encouraged my work and praised the designs that I initiated. Clients also add to the praise and gave me even more comfort. Unfortunately, in Asia, this is a very rare occurrence as it is very rare to express admiration and, in an obviously mangled psychological thinking, it kind of denotes inferiority.  Yet I think that more than everything, it’s the recognition of my peers that really gives me the strength and the impulse to continue and persevere on this path, as nothing more than the praise of those that most understand this work and its intricacies carries its weight when it comes to judgment. Therefore, awards like the A’ Award really mean the world to me and my team, and they are the tangible proof that our effort, our commitment, our time and all sacrifices we made were all well spent. 

DL: What helped you to become a great designer?
MM : I have always thought that a sense of purpose is what drives us through life and propels us forward, despite the adversities. Some people surrogate this sense of purpose with the divine but personally, I find comfort in a more concrete expression of it. Purpose can find its manifestation in the small things of life and in your daily engagements, yet I still have the penchant to look beyond my immediate necessities and feel that I might find meaning in contributing to mankind. I believe we are in a continuous struggle between evolution and extinction as a species, and each contribution towards the betterment of our condition is a step forward into the realm of evolution, and away from the oblivion of extinction. This is what we are here for and this is what we’ve got to do. I like to contribute to this process of transcendence and the thought that I could do this has given me the drive to become what I am today. A life without purpose is a life of misery, each of us needs to find his own purpose and start contributing. Not only does this bring a sense of accomplishment but eventually, it is what gives us the energy to make those leaps that eventually mark our own evolution as a species.

DL: What were the obstacles you faced before becoming a design master?
MM : Embarking on the journey of being a professional designer is a courageous choice and often, people that choose this path are not aware of it. As good design is not measurable, it is very difficult for good designers to prove themselves and they will find many obstacles along the way. They will need to pack a lot of resolution and confidence if they want to have a real chance to succeed on this journey. At the same time, they need to learn about balance and strategic thinking as managing clients and people’s expectations in general is a crafty skill that requires patience and long-term views. Sometimes, we need to follow the more Machiavellian way rather than the heroic one, as at times only a compromise might lead to a long-term victory.    Probably the most difficult moments of my career have been when I had to choose between design integrity and a commercial solution. At times, clients do not understand design well enough. Instead, they believe they do and tend to force design solutions into a position I don’t feel comfortable with. That is a difficult position to deal with and it does not come with an obvious solution. Compromising the design might lead to signing a project that is substandard by your measure, but not signing it might lead you to lose the project and have financial issues. It feels a bit like a Zen story but the gist of it is that this path needs lots of strength and patience. If you are looking for immediate satisfaction, it might not be the best path for you. But it can, in the long run, bring a great sense of accomplishment with the feeling of having really made your contribution to mankind and its betterment.

DL: How do you think designers should present their work?
MM : I don’t think there is a specific format for our presentation. Since we are doing a creative job, we need to be creative in the way we present it too. Everyone might want to have their own take on it and impart their style to the way they introduce their ideas to an audience. As a matter of fact, we even change our media and the mode of presenting our work often, at times adapting to the project itself, at times inputting some new ideas, at times just attempting innovation.  I personally always like to sketch my ideas with a brush marker. The pen flows easily on paper and it kinds of almost connects with your brain while ideas are flowing out of it. That’s the way I like to represent what I feel a certain design solution should be like. Unfortunately, I know that most of my clients will not understand what I am putting on paper as they lack this imaginative brain that allows us to construct a certain three-dimensional object in a virtual space inside our brain. “I cannot visualise” is what I hear from them most of the time unless we present a very clear rendering or a physical model of the project. This tremendous lotion obviously produces tremendous aberrations as even a 3D rendering only offers a particular view of a building under certain lighting conditions that most of the time are not even existing, thus giving the client an illusory image that in reality will never come to exist. Other times, people just do not understand the visual representation of design. Instead of capturing the essence of what is going to be built, they focus on small irrelevant items that in reality, do nothing to the complexity and totality of a creative solution. Therefore, instead of having great massing for each of our buildings, we hold in our cities a myriad of soulless formless giant concrete and glass boxes. The limitation actually lies in our prospects more than the tools we have at our disposal to present to them. The issue comes with how sophisticated and well educated, especially on aesthetics, the audience is and often, we do not really score high on these subjects. Additionally, given the fact that they are often very wealthy individuals, as they need to have a significant amount of money to set out on a journey to build something, our prospects have the tendency of not being able to see their shortfalls easily, and therefore they overvalue their abilities of making decisions about the validity of a design proposal. Basically, it’s hard for most people to say if a design solution is beautiful or not, whatever is the media used for showing the solution. Very probably, the introduction of virtual reality will help with this issue, and will at least allow people to comprehend the composition of a building massing or a piece of furniture in its actual scale from the human point of view, eliminating the aberration of a given camera view and the wonder of Photoshop. Yet, this will not eliminate the most important problem of our profession: How do we actually educate our audience to really understand our work, in all its intricacies, in what achieving a balance between function and form. This is probably not a problem without a solution in a world where information is available widely, and easily yet, some evangelisation needs to take place to bring the concept and problematic of the aesthetic to everyone’s attention, rather than the few elite of the design, art and philosophy circles.

DL: What’s your next design project, what should we expect from you in future?
MM : We are still quite busy with the Laguna Hotel and Resorts project in Singapore, that houses a 200-room hotel managed by Dusit Thani, beside a beautiful golf course. The other is the interiors of the Indonesia 1 twin-tower project, for which we did the architecture a few years back, and is probably the most prestigious building in Jakarta.  We also started work on a very exciting new large-scale project in Malaysia, in a beautiful countryside setting that has lots of environmentally-friendly features, and boasts a very low architectural impact on the environment. But we can’t disclose more information about it yet. We have also been working on the preliminary design of a very adventurous sky dome and city sky village in Shanghai. Generally speaking, as a vision and direction for our future, we are widening our horizons, expanding our reach into various countries we did not work in before, and are implementing new systems for presenting and documenting projects. This should propel us to the most exciting segment of the design market, where ambitious large-scale projects with outstanding features are conceived and brought to reality.

DL: What’s your ultimate goal as a designer?
MM : As I mentioned before, what I believe is the most effective source of motivation for a designer is purpose. If you set your purpose and focus on what you want to achieve as a designer, the difficult path towards success is well lit. My purpose as a designer is fundamentally to contribute in making the world a more beautiful place. This process is one of betterment at a social, economical and cultural level that eventually leads to better results in the way we function as a whole, and in what we can achieve as a species. Being part of this process yields a great sense of accomplishment, while giving us a clear positioning and a feeling of significance.

DL: What people expect from an esteemed designer such as yourself?
MM : I hope they expect to see great design works, as this is what we want to provide. It is not just a declaration of intent, but rather, the absolution of an important responsibility we hold as designers. In actual fact, we have been seeing this sense of expectation from most of our clients. They often come to us because they want to see something out of the ordinary, and it is clearly part of our brief on most of our projects.

DL: How does design help create a better society?
MM : We bring ugliness to our world when we choose the wrong design solutions – that’s why our social role is so important. While beauty heals us and makes our environment better, making us healthier, happier and more productive, ugliness on the contrary brings a silent torment and illness in our lives.    Renzo Piano once defined the importance of empty spaces around the buildings we design. Those spaces are, in reality, an integral part of the composition, as the empty parts are the negative of the filled ones, and the essence of the perception that people have while making use of these spaces. This relationship happens continuously and affects us in everything we do in the course of our life, as long as we come in contact with the built environment.   Architecture and the built environment are a violence to the natural world, regardless of how well we design it. The best we can do is soften the impact of this violence; the more we soften it the better the job we have done. People tend to regenerate and regain vital energies while exposed to natural elements – the seaside, the countryside, the mountains – this is because we are essentially an animal species and started by living in the wilderness, with no buildings anywhere. That is our natural state, our amniotic fluid. The change in our genetics to be physiologically, perfectly comfortable in a concrete-made environment might take millions of years. Bringing people to live in cities and towns is a violence, and, we as the designers of the built environment, need to be conscious of the damage we bring to the social texture with every stroke of our pencil.   For these reasons, planners, architects and designers hold a tremendous responsibility towards mankind, a responsibility that affects everyone, every moment, everywhere.

DL: What are you currently working on that you are especially excited about?
MM : There are a couple of exciting projects we are working on which we talked about, the countryside development in Malaysia and the City Sky Resort in Shanghai. Another project we have been developing is a very exciting new concept but it is at a very infant stage for now. It is a self-sustaining vertical community that has an almost zero carbon footprint ideal, and yet positions itself as a high-end real estate product. It’s an amazing project and we hope to see it on its way to realisation soon.

DL: Which design projects gave you the most satisfaction, why?
MM : Design is always an exciting endeavour as you get to challenge your mind to produce a formal solution of a certain spatial problem by focusing your fantastical thoughts into the world while crafting real objects. Therefore, there is always something to like about any design proposition. However, there are obviously themes or genres that bring more satisfaction while the mind works on its solution. For me, this more pleasurable challenges are those where mind and creativity can wander freer of constraints and have less non-aesthetic-driven constraints. Generally, these are projects of houses, places of worship, museums, where you do not need to have a measurable financial result and you’re not driven by sheer functionality in the composition of spaces and volumes. Condominiums, offices and shopping centres are usually less exciting to design, as a lot of their planning is driven by necessities that have nothing to do with beauty. Another important aspect of designing is who you are designing a certain project for. There is no limit to creativity and it can express itself with tremendous power, at any scale, with any design challenge. It is more who commissions the work that makes a difference. When you establish a relationship of trust with a client, and he or she lets you take full control of the composition, you normally achieve the best results. On the other hand, many times, clients believe they can do an equally good, if not better, job at understanding and finding the right aesthetic balance in a design composition. Unfortunately, and contrary to their beliefs, they are not educated to find the order within chaos and too often, only end up derailing an otherwise proper solution. The key to good design is coherence. Finding a common binder to all elements of a project, and carrying it through at every scale and every corner thus results in a necessary harmony that makes the design appear as it just had to be that way. When clients interfere with the design composition of a good designer, they usually throw this harmony off balance, thus ruining a good proposition. For the sake of clarity, let me add that obviously, when a work is commissioned, clients have the right to express their feelings towards a certain design solution. If they do not like it, they need to say it. At times, these challenges push designers to better themselves, but the extent of the client involvement should end with the expression of an aesthetic inclination. It is when they want to indicate design solutions that things start going wrong. Frank Gehry once said that there is no point in employing an architect if you want to tell them how to do their job. It is probably for these reasons that the work I like to do the most are either those where the client has a definite trust in my design composition, or those that have no defined clients at all, like sculptures for public spaces.

DL: What would you like to see changed in design industry in the coming years?
MM : “The future is always moving,” as master Yoda used to say. There are a lot of forces that are acting together in the design world and often they pull in different directions. For this reason, it is particularly difficult to make a good educated guess on what design will mean in a few years. While we think creativity is distinctively a unique human feature, machines are proving quite good at being creative at tasks we would never expect them to be, like poetry for example. There might come the day that designers will be replaced by AI, which will probably be more efficient and with a less complex ego to satisfy. Not all possible futures might have this sense of foreboding, but it is a possibility. Yet, infusing the sense of purpose in a machine might still be a very difficult task for many years to come and that might keep, for the time being, the domain of great art and design work out of reach of AI for a while. The masterpieces, the cultural treasure of mankind, the cornerstones of new trends, will need a human author to be crafted for a while more. Therefore, now more than ever, when the digital revolution places humanity on a junction between cultural flattening and greatness, we need the spearheads that will avert the desertification of creativity and inspire the masses to better prospects with beautiful and meaningful compositions. Everywhere in Philosophy, Music, Architecture or Economics we are hungry for excellence. But in order to nurture excellence, we need the proper environment suitable to support and sustain the forging of these brilliant minds. These environments require certainly the proper educational infrastructure who is the conditio sine qua non, yet it does not suffice as eventually, if the economics of excellence are not in place, nothing will emerge from the system and the throughput of our future society will just be creative boredom if not worse. One thing is sure, there are many reasons today to dissuade people from taking the path of a creative person, and even less to taking that path with conviction and the call of doing something good for mankind. The traditional professions are becoming distinctively more difficult to justify. Years of studies, and after that often a not very reassuring remuneration, does not compete well with job options that let you reach financial freedom in a short time, with far less responsibilities. This is particularly at odds with the fact that often, the value that good design brings to a project or a product is a quite substantial portion of its price, and this value is most of the times not recognised to the designer. Additionally, there are often a series of hefty responsibilities that a design work carries with itself, and they need often be shouldered for life – an aspect that again is too often conveniently forgotten by the industry that remunerates creative work. The world needs to reassess its education systems and revaluate the perceived value of the professional careers in the design industry. It certainly needs to look into the remuneration structure of creative jobs quickly, before there will be no one left to design your house.

DL: Where do you think the design field is headed next?
MM : “The future is always moving,” as master Yoda used to say. There are a lot of forces that are acting together in the design world and often they pull in different directions. For this reason, it is particularly difficult to make a good educated guess on what design will mean in a few years.   While we think creativity is distinctively a unique human feature, machines are proving quite good at being creative at tasks we would never expect them to be, like poetry for example. There might come the day that designers will be replaced by AI, which will probably be more efficient and with a less complex ego to satisfy. Not all possible futures might have this sense of foreboding, but it is a possibility.   One thing is sure, there are many reasons today to dissuade people from taking the path of a creative person, and even less to taking that path with conviction and the call of doing something good for mankind. The traditional professions are becoming distinctively more difficult to justify. Years of studies, and after that often a not very reassuring remuneration, does not compete well with job options that let you reach financial freedom in a short time, with far less responsibilities.   The world needs to reassess its education systems and revaluate professional careers. It needs to look into the remuneration structure of different jobs quickly before there will be no one left to design your house.

DL: How long does it take you to finalize a design project?
MM : The truth is most of our design work are never finished, they might be completed but not finished. This happens as there is always something we might want to perfect in a building we have done. At times, when I pass by projects we have signed off on, I suddenly have a sense of pain when I notice a particular detail I somehow believe is out of place. The actual conceptualisation of a certain design work might be quite fast. If we find the underlying idea, the basic massing and its planning might just be crafted in a few weeks. However, the final product is always a work of refinement that takes place with time. This process is actually quite standard in the industry and the passage from a conceptual idea to a buildable product happens through the design development stages of any project. It is just that we take a bit more initiative in validating design choices even when you expect us to take them for granted.  As I have said before, I believe the way to produce great work is to be able to challenge your choices at least one time, and ensure that what eventually comes out of the forge is a product that has tested your own criticism.

DL: When you have a new design project, where do you start?
MM : The beginning of a journey should be setting its destination, or at least a direction, otherwise we end up not going anywhere. I believe the destination for a design project is its own meaning, its symbology. Significance confers to any work we do an overall indication of its formal solution, formality becomes a semantic connection with symbology. When a design solution becomes a vessel of an idea, its strength as a solution multiplies enormously and it affirms itself proving its validity. Not only, this process of binding significance to a design often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way that the significance itself is bound to a certain ineluctable solution. When I was a student studying Latin Literature, our professor, the eminent Enrico Caveggia, introduced us to the great Orators. There is plenty to learn from Cato, Cicero and Caesar himself. But the one thing that stuck in my mind is the very basic cornerstone Cato suggested to build a good speech: “Rem tene, verba sequentur” (stick to the subject and the words will just follow through). I took this concept and turned it into a good guidance for my design work “Rem tene, signa sequentur” (stick to the subject the lines will follow through, where the subject here is intended to be the significance of the work you are embarking on).

DL: What is your life motto as a designer?
MM : When I was about 10, I used to accompany my father to a model maker shop where he would buy pieces and items for an electric train model he was assembling at home. Every time we went to that shop, we passed by a building sitting at the junction of one of the big bridges of Rome and the riverfront. On the building, there was a large travertine plate with an inscription that read: “Nihil Difficile Volenti”. Back then, I was not well-verse with ancient Latin yet, so I asked my father what the meaning was. He translated it for me: “Nothing is difficult for who really want it”. Since then I read aloud that motto every time I passed by the building. Today, It is pretty much the motto for everything I do in my life.

DL: Do you think design sets the trends or trends set the designs?
MM : Every design work lies somewhere on a hypothetical line that connects the two extremes. The first one where the trends sets the designs, the other one where the designs set the trends. The amount of creative juice that goes in a particular design work delineates the relative position on the line between the two extremes. When someone intends to be more edgy, and more adventurous, and he or she is willing to push beyond the envelope of accepted taste, then the design nears the trend-setting extreme. Otherwise the trends do normally influence the way we see and value composition. When we decide to give up the adventure for more secure lands, then the results are obviously more on the extreme where the trends set the design.

DL: What is the role of technology when you design?
MM : Technology has a very substantial role in design. The influence that technology has on what we design and the way we design is far larger than we might even manage to realise. We just need to take note of a couple of cause-effect relationships. The advent of electricity has dramatically changed the way we conceive buildings, but we often forget probably the most important one: the elevator. Only after the advent of the lift as a standard feature in common buildings could we free the height of the building of any serious limitation. Previously, more than six floor would have been a serious torture for the occupiers to climb up every time they had to come back home. The technology of steel has allowed us to conceptualise and actually realise structures that would be unthinkable otherwise, thus really breaking the barriers and limitations that the classical Trilithic system had – limitations that have been dramatically affecting the design and the way we even think about how to design certain objects or buildings. Our approach to the introduction of technologies in our buildings tends to be brave, as we believe that leading the trends on this front open the door for great innovation, even on a formal basis, and therefore it allows us to explore new design ideas and enter into perilously unseen territories.

DL: What kind of design software and equipment do you use in your work?
MM : I personally use a set of ink brush markers to sketch, which is by far my favourite tool. I don’t use the computer much for design work. However, my design team makes extensive use of modelling software such as 3D studio, Rhino and Maya. Obviously, we work with CAD as well. In particular, we use Archicad as we are very impressed with the object-oriented design and it is the best, Mac-friendly option we had.   Books are everywhere in our office as the study of design in general always yield great inspirations. We do not keep books about Architecture only, but also about all sorts of design work as we believe all kinds of objects and creations can bring new ideas to the table. Transferring volumetric solutions from one scale to another yields beautiful and unique solutions for any architectural problem.

DL: What is the role of the color, materials and ambient in design?
MM : When we set out to design a space, the aim is to eventually create a certain mood, a certain experience. Design is pretty much a real life scenography; the whole purpose of crafting a space and giving it an overall feel or tone to induce an emotional response from its occupiers – a response that is supposed to resonate with the elements of the design.  Ambient, colours and materials are very important ingredients in the recipe that make up a given mood, but the most important of all is space. This is the king of the ingredients in the composition recipe; it is the way we actually dispose of three-dimensional elements and volumes in general within a given area. Architecture and interior design is made of empty spaces that we frame with a series of ingenious expedients and creative ideas. That is why particularly clever designs do not need a lot of make up, and can rely on the strength of their volumetric composition to strike the best emotional chords of the onlooker, making them stand in awe. Often, a beautiful project can simply make use of black and white surfaces or just fair face concrete, and yet still feel majestic. I often feel that those in our industry that are promoting a resurgence to a baroque feeling, even though modernised especially in the building interiors, but at times even with the architecture, are really those that have nothing much to say and have surrendered creativity to the easy commercial expedient.

DL: What do you wish people to ask about your design?
MM : Since what drives our design is a guiding principle that comes out of a semantic inspiration, a certain definite symbology, I guess the most appropriate question for any of our projects would be: “What is the meaning this project? What does the building represent? What is the underlying story in this design?”

DL: When you see a new great design or product what comes into your mind?
MM : I am always amazed when I see great design inventions and innovating new products. I always enjoy celebrating the achievements of the human mind at its best, the testimonials of creativity explosions.  At times, I can stand in awe in front of architectural masterpieces and wish I was the one who composed it. After a moment of wonderment, I usually start thinking about what is that I can take with me from a great design work, what are the lessons and inspirations to bring back and make treasures of. When I see new inventions or new products in our industry, I always challenge my mind to think how we could possibly use them and I start forging fantastical imaginary cities built with these new materials. I make a mental projection on how living in this new environment would be and what kind of benefits people would be receiving.

DL: Who is your ideal design partner? Do you believe in co-design?
MM : I always work with my team and I believe that the contribution of each team member is an essential element to the success of our design work. The refinements that different points of view bring to a given design solution are a brilliant way to bring any design work to higher artistic levels.   There is, however, an initial portion of the creative phase of any of our jobs that I tend to do myself – that is where the basic idea is carved out of the infinite amorphous possibilities to any design problem, when the embryo of the project is conceived.   From then onwards, it is a team effort and it’s the part of my work that I enjoy the most, the dreaming part of our job, when we participate together to this idea of improving everyone’s lives and making this world a better place.

DL: Which people you interacted had the most influence on your design?
MM : In many ways, there is no doubt that my father, who is a undoubtedly a great architect, played a major role in what was the path I followed to form the basis of my creative mind frame. Beyond the influence he had on a personal level, the professional interaction eased me first into the career path I eventually embarked on, but also gave some fundamental frame to work on in terms of composition philosophy. My father’s designs always followed a strongly rational thinking process with a very rigorous approach to composition. Rhythm, alignments, and juxtaposition of materials are for him almost a precise science that always yield a very elegant and timeless formal solution for any give spatial problem. I have always admired this clear-minded attitude towards design and I hope I managed to absorb some myself simply by osmosis. I also admire, and at times do get envious of, his great hand in simple sketching – an ability that unfortunately I have never been able to emulate. Some of my colleagues have had also a great deal of influence on my personal approach to design work. I had the fortune of spending many years collaborating with them and we have undoubtedly affected each other’s process to creative solutions.  As design is a series of iterations of perfecting a formal solution, when this iteration is run by different people, the composition acquires some interesting angles because of the different interpretation that different people have of the same spatial issue. This yields a variety of tones and hues on the design that could be missed had a single mind crafted the whole by itself.

DL: Which books you read had the most effect on your design?
MM : Reading is probably one of the most important and necessary activity every human should put in his bucket list. There must be at least a 100 books you have read in your life before you should feel entitled to express an opinion about anything. Hopefully not about steamy novels, but something that can teach you something about anything. However, books are probably not the best tools to learn about Architecture and Design. While the rules of rigorous composition could be codified in a set of laws of design, the actual ability of creating spaces comes from testing your own mind on the ground. Apprenticeship is probably by far the best way to become a great designer. It’s a bit like trying to learn to swim by reading a book. That said, there are plenty of text that can help you frame these laws of design into a cohesive codex that works well for oneself. If you need to pick, I would suggest Vitruvius De Architectura as it sets the matrix you work with to build everything else. After that, Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture or Aldo Rossi’s Architecture of the City would make a good second choice. And if you insist one getting one more title, look at Rem Koohas’ Bibliography, he surely had a lot to say about buildings. Yet, pretty much every book you read teaches you something about design when you believe that design ideas spring out from anywhere and any new idea can affect your vision and philosophy of design in general. There is no doubt though that textbooks about the history of architecture and general books about contemporary architecture have a great influence on your view towards design and composition in general. Textbooks especially have a tendency of structuring the design process and providing a virtual frame to work with when it comes to ideas about spatial problems solution. This surely affects the way our own brain processes the various design issues. While this can bring knowledge and a deeper understanding on how the creative process happens in our brain, and later on, on the tracing paper, at times it can also be a limitation. The tendency of informing the brain (in the sense of moulding) can steer the creativity in a particular direction, rather than leave it to wander in any possible way.  Therefore, any tool, no matter how good it can be, will also have its limitations. When we intend to make use of it, we need to make a conscious decision to accept whatever boundaries we bring to ourselves by adopting it, or find ways to transcend the boundaries while extracting the value we need.

DL: How did you develop your skills as a master designer?
MM : Design is a composition, therefore the most important skill for a designer is the ability to summarise the various lines that emerge, when attempting to give a solution to a spatial problem, into one cohesive solution. It’s the strong analytical ability of the mind.   One might think that good drafting skills or great crafting hands are the most important, but with the tools available today in aiding anyone to express himself, the ability of rendering conceptual ideas into formal design documents is not the essence of design. Rather, the ability of conceptualising those ideas is.

DL: Irrelative of time and space, who you would want to meet, talk and discuss with?
MM : If I could travel at will through time and space, I am afraid I would be tremendously busy and would have a problem choosing who I would like to visit first. There a too many great men and women I would be thrilled meeting and sharing experiences with.  If I had to shortlist a few, I guess I would probably put Leonardo Da Vinci first, whose multifaceted personality, always curious about all aspects of the physical world and the artistic endeavours of man, makes him the epitome of my own interpretation of the Nietzsche superhuman. Da Vinci has always been a source of inspiration for me and the romanticised idea of the Renaissance Man has often captured my thoughts and dreams making me aspire to greater things. After Da Vinci, others I would be equally thrilled to meet are Aristotle, Dante, Galileo, Einstein, Beethoven and Tesla. It is actually difficult to put an end to the list as many others would come to mind that I have much to learn from and much to be inspired about. One more very special place in the list goes to someone that is a fictitious character but more than everything, represents the humane quest for betterment and discovery, the challenge to the gods, the desire of going beyond the known world. He would be the bold character on the list, the underlined one, Ulysses, the incessant human hero. He exists in all of us and continues to inspire us in his travels and whispers new destinations to us.

DL: How do you feel about all the awards and recognition you had, is it hard to be famous?
MM : I am always grateful and humbled by the recognition of my peers. It is indeed the highest form of recognition. It is precisely because of these awards that I feel compelled to continue my work and find the comfort that I am on the right path.  I tend to be reserved, and don’t really seek to be the centre of attention. I find the energy for social interaction because I feel the benefit of the exchange, rather than need the nurturing because of narcissism. If my contribution is recognised openly, I will be grateful, but it is surely not what drives my endeavours.

DL: What is your favorite color, place, food, season, thing and brand?
MM : My favourite colour is obviously orange, as it is our logo. It’s a happy and joyful colour and gives a great vibe to bask in. The sun is orange in its best moments. I particularly love my natal city Rome. It is just unbelievably beautiful. I wish I could spend more time there, it stills surprises and amazes me even after almost 50 years.  I don’t have a particular food I prefer among others, as I am a foodie and love good food in general. I really enjoy trying new restaurants and patronising great chefs with their creations as much I love good wines. Obviously being Italian, I am definitely spoilt by my own food and surely, if I was force to choose I would vote for my own. If you ask me about a particular dish, it would be quite hard to pinpoint one, yet if, in a morbid lunge, I had to choose my last meal, I would probably go for Cacio e Pepe. The end of Spring and early Summer are the best parts of the year for me, at least when I am not in Southeast Asia where there are no seasons at all. I love the warm but not hot days, the cool evenings, the wonderful scents of fruits, plants and flowers that abound in the air, and the colour of the light which seems to be more intense in this months. While I try not to be too brand conscious, as I often find value in boutique creations, there is undoubtedly some credit to be given to brands that invest time and money on research and development and design. Apple is a great example of effort in design even where design was not seen as a primary objective of the industry; this gives it even more value. I love Ferragamo’s shoes for their design and Audi for a great combination of mechanics and aesthetics.

DL: Please tell us a little memoir, a funny thing you had experienced as a designer?
MM : My job has required me to travel a lot, apart from living in a different country far from my home one. This has tremendously enriched my entire life, and it has given me the opportunity to meet people and cultures that I would have probably never met if I had stayed in Italy. It also gave me the opportunity to see and witness strange things, or at least things that seem strange to me as an Italian, and at times challenged my sense of normal. These experiences also allowed me to understand the complexity of the interaction of different cultures, and the importance of adapting to the situation when people of different cultural backgrounds are dealing with each other.  I was lucky to have never been in a challenging situation in that context; at the most, it might have required a bit of flexibility on my side, or a bit of explanation among intelligent people. However, I can see how the question could quickly become dicier when people that are less prone to adaptation or less willing to give in might face each other – something that we should always take into consideration especially in the current world. One funny episode I was involved in happened during a visit to Cu Chi, nearby Ho Chi Minh City. I went there to explore the possibility of developing a Formula One Circuit, invited by the mayor of the city who eventually after our visit, very generously hosted me in his countryside villa.  I suppose the mayor intended to, through a lavish feast for me, arrange the local delicacies to be served on the table. Unfortunately, Italians are not particularly fond of black beetles, especially when they are served alive, even if they come paired with rice. We are even less fond of boiled maggots or fried giant wasps. I was horrified, even though I tried to maintain my composure, eventually I thought I could save the day by declaring myself vegetarian for spiritual reasons. The mayor then called in a couple of assistants who, after a quick discussion, were dispatched to go and fetch something. A few minutes later, while I kept smiling and munching on the only edible things for me on the table (peanuts), two men came back with a large bucket that they put in front of me with great satisfaction, as they were fond of the solution provided to my dietary problem. And so there I was, with a big bucket of fresh hay, served as a salad, feeling rather equine. I don’t remember exactly how I managed to avoid eating the hay but somehow, I closed the lunch with a big fresh papaya that really saved me.

DL: What makes your day great as a designer, how do you motivate yourself?
MM : A great day is a day where we receive recognition for what we do, a testimonial that our work really yielded the results we were yearning for. Receiving an award such as the A’ Award is probably as good as it gets. It warms the heart and shines a good light on our path, raising the much needed confidence bar. These awards and recognition fulfil a great task and they do provide an objective to look forward to and are an excellent motivational tool. But at times, even a simple “thank you” could really turn an entire year from underperforming to shining. This might sound odd, but I found that in our industry, hearing this, especially from clients, is a rare oddity. Living in Asia makes this even worse as for a client to thank someone who provided a service, it might seem like a sign of weakness or be perceived as waking his or her bargaining power. Therefore, in the working environment, these two magic words are seldom heard. I have been lucky to receive a few thank-yous from some of my clients, which has given me great motivation. Yet unfortunately, quite often, the relationship gets astray as it is fraught with whimsical complaints about petty issues that most of the time have not even anything to do with our own work. This is something any designer of architect needs to be prepared to face in the course of their career. It is definitely something that with further education, improvement and information, I would like to see changing in the future.

DL: When you were a little child, was it obvious that you would become a great designer?
MM : Definitely not. In the early days, I thought I could be an emperor, though my ambition quickly vanished with time and the onset of reality. I had my astronaut dreams too, which actually lasted quite long, since my first year at university was actually at the faculty of Aeronautical Engineering. Again, even though it was a bit late, reality showed me a different path. For a while, I also played with the idea of undertaking a literary career, maybe teaching literature and writing books, but that, maybe unfortunately, vanished too. The actual commitment towards design came much later while I was already working. I steered from engineering and project management, to the actual conception of spaces. The transformation initially was almost a necessity more than a calling, but the more I was deepening my interest in the world of creativity, the more I found myself uncovering a passion that could only became stronger and stronger.

DL: What do you think about future; what do you see will happen in thousand years from now?
MM : The future is a very fluid dominion. But it is surely interesting though maybe a bit meaningless to speculate about; unless we want to depict potential threatening scenarios and learn how to avoid them at all costs. I sincerely hope we will be able to preserve life and not self-destruct as unfortunately a lot of our political and financial endeavours seem to suggest. I am actually often appalled by the blunt stupidity of many of the people that somehow surge to power in our world today. In a world where given the access we have to information, we should be making more educated and better decisions, but we seem to be doing exactly the opposite, and this surely baffles me. Beyond those that are the very obvious social and political dangers, we are also exposed to others that could be particularly unsettling, like the possibility of an AI revolt. If we manage to survive all this, and create an utopian society where cyber-humans can live together peacefully and intent to evolve to a better species, I suppose I might be able to see us building colonies in new worlds, living hundreds of years, being able to transfer consciousness on disposable bodies and much more.

DL: Please tell us anything you wish your fans to know about you, your design and anything else?
MM : I believe we have touched on many interesting subjects in this interview, and we covered a lot of ground when it comes to our credos and philosophy behind our work.  If there is anything I want to reaffirm here, it is that I really hope that my work will contribute in making lives better. We surely will do everything possible in our capacity to make this world a more beautiful place. Beauty brings order to chaos and sustains life with its healing vitality. This, ultimately, should be the purpose of every architect and designer on this earth.