The Artist’s Way: Patricia Urquiola, Architect and Industrial Designer

In this special feature, T photographed and interviewed 34 artists from various disciplines about 24 hours in their creative lives.

Article by Noor Brara

Patricia UrquiolaUrquiola, photographed in the archive research room at Cassina headquarters in Meda, Italy, on Nov 23, 2022. Photography by Laura Villa Broncelli.

Cassina has manufactured furniture since 1927 and maintains an archive of roughly 600 pieces, some of which are still being produced. But, from the beginning, it’s also been important to the company to make new things, to be open to collaborating with and editing the contemporary masters of design. It’s this idea of creating a cultural continuum that interests me, and to which I’m honoured to contribute as Cassina’s art director.

That’s what I was thinking about when this photograph was taken. I was sitting in the archive, where I was doing some research — reading a historic comic strip about the Aeo chair by Paolo Deganello and looking at drawings by the Italian architects Vico Magistretti and Afra and Tobia Scarpa — and the placement of the furniture around me highlighted the meeting of then and now. I was sitting on a Superleggera chair by the Italian design icon Gio Ponti, a style that’s been in production without interruption since 1957. Above me was a prototype for the LC4 Chaise Longue, designed by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand, that we used as a model for versions we made with the Fondation Le Corbusier and Perriand’s daughter, Pernette, for a 2019 exhibition of her mother’s work. Then, on top of the filing cabinet was a ’70s-era Golgotha chair by the Italian designer Gaetano Pesce, a beautiful, prescient piece that’s more about social commentary than the functionality of furniture. I look at all our archival pieces as vectors; they come from the past, but we’ve given them a future.

For me, each project is an empty canvas — Achille Castiglioni, the Italian design pioneer and my mentor, would tell me never to forget that. I feel it especially strongly now. We’re at the beginning of a great cultural reframing, the start of a new world, a merging of online and off. I often feel caught between those two modes of being, but it helps to work in both design and architecture, to be able to switch from the small details of the former to the capital “A” of the latter. When I’m stuck in one, I get energy from the other. And sometimes a long walk is all I need—that and an openness to ideas from art, lectures and books, and also from the larger culture that reinforces how we’re all connected, for better or worse.

The goal is to find projects that offer a sense of freedom. Sometimes, you only get that in little bits — as an architect, you can’t always negotiate the terms of a commission — but I like that in each project I do, I can search for my idea of quality or find the context for a new definition of quality. Ultimately, the work of an artist comes down to just that: to searching for your own idea of quality, a pursuit that requires freedom, for which you must advocate. And what better time to do that than now, when we’re living in a reality as mutable as this one?

This is an extract from an article that appears in print in our seventh edition, Page 76 of T Australia with the headline: “The Artist’s Way”