Q&A With Master Architect and Designer Piero Lissoni

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By Julia Brenner / Published by Dwell
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Milan-based architect and designer Piero Lissoni is a modern design visionary with a vast portfolio that spans to everything from furniture collections to cutting-edge architecture projects.

We recently talked to Mr. Lissoni about his inaugural U.S.-based project, The Ritz-Carlton Residences Miami Beach, to learn about the process he took when approaching his first stateside project.

Piero Lissoni

Piero Lissoni

When discussing his approach to architecture, Mr. Lissoni refers to his consideration of—and respect for—history, while still proceeding with the courage necessary to continually innovate. The convergence of a respect for the past and a desire to move the conversation forward results in a dynamic tension from which emerges Lissoni's sleek designs that are bold yet refined—and always pristinely realized down to the smallest details.  

The loft residences

The loft residences

Q: Is there a specific quality about Miami that drew you to the city for your first U.S.-based project, The Residences

A: Miami has become a sort of global hub—many cultures co-exist, from South America to Europe and North America. It is a curious, very open-minded city. Those who live here are more cultured in the field of design. We Italians are showing them another aesthetic model, which they have certainly understood and very much appreciate—luckily for me. 

One of the meditation gardens designed to extend the connection between indoor/outdoor living spaces.  

One of the meditation gardens designed to extend the connection between indoor/outdoor living spaces.  

Q: Why was it important for you to celebrate elements of nature (including lush gardens and a quaint lakeside marina), beyond the oceanfront scene South Beach is famous for? 

A: We designed a very contemporary building because The Ritz-Carlton wanted the apartments at The Residences to have an urban design with minimal (commercial) maritime influence. Elements of nature, such as water or gardens, are always very important to my projects. And in this case, the buildings are intentionally set on seven acres of land on an ocean inlet in a tranquil setting. The light in Miami Beach also played into every aspect of my design. The result is an elegant, yet modern aesthetic.

One example of the 15 single-family villas at The Residences.

One example of the 15 single-family villas at The Residences.

Q: Why did you choose to create The Ritz-Carlton Residences Miami Beach as multiple, smaller connected buildings rather than one central building? 

A: The project began with an original building that was difficult to deal with. It once housed a hospital, which could not be completely demolished. In contrast to what is normally done in Miami, where they create vertical towers that rise to 150 meters, the project progressed horizontally with a very low impact. We ensured that the buildings were not excessively high—only up to 10 floors—which is ridiculously low by local standards, but working this way, I was able to take a wide-ranging approach to the interiors and arrangement of the sizes of each building.

Lissoni designed a communal art studio for residents.  

Lissoni designed a communal art studio for residents.  

Q: Can you talk a bit about your philosophy when approaching a residential project? 

A: The European approach to residential intervention is certainly something I use in most of my projects. By European approach, I mean the ability to come up with a complicated design that is simultaneously respectful of the past and courageous when it comes to redesigning everything—and transforming it into a new design while still preserving part of the old structures. We are used to thinking like this (as Europeans. We live in complicated cities like London, Paris, Rome, Venice, and Amsterdam, with a burden of historical material that is sometimes very hard to bear, but at other times, it is a lifesaver. For The Ritz Carlton Residences Miami Beach, we tried to take exactly this approach.   

Cabana at night 

Cabana at night 

Q: Who are some up-and-coming architects or designers that excite you? 

A: Buildings from the Japanese architecture firm SANAA, founded by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizaw. Also, the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, whose work is frequently described as uncompromising and minimalist.