Architecture en miniature
von Franziska Horn | Feb 11, 2010

There are throngs of people in Ingo Maurer's Showroom. On the opening night of an exhibition which is to be the first in a series, the host announces his star guest with warm words: "His work is already big - and as a person he is really big!" Sometimes he also likes to express himself on a small scale: Here, the Italian designer Michele de Lucchi presents a series of self-made, small wooden buildings that he calls architetturine - mini buildings or "Architekturchen".

To start with, the approximately 15 exhibits show what design is capable of, provided you liberate it from the functions of daily life. Yet the miniatures, measuring between 25 and 60 centimeters in height, do not look cute. It is much rather the case that the models celebrate the material of wood itself, in a quiet, contemplative way. They seem unique, archaic and alive, like illustrations from another world, yet definitely individual and marvelously imperfect. Moreover, if you take a sculptural approach, like de Lucchi, and do without diagrams of the production steps, the textures of the woods really come into their own.

The Italian came up with the idea while sharpening a pencil with his pocketknife. The trained architect found this so much fun that in his free time he started working on various tree trunks (oak, cherry, birch or olive) with a chainsaw - a technique that displays evidence of the creative process. Behind these experimental studies was a desire to explore architectural forms without having a definite commission for once.

"These are not necessarily buildings that need to be built. I didn't make them to add more buildings to existing buildings. I repeatedly find myself thinking about why I make them and why, small and crooked as they are, they are beautiful, but would be ugly if built to scale", says the designer, known for his unruly, bushy beard. Born in 1951 in Ferrara, together with Ettore Sottsass Michele de Lucchi actively influenced movements such as Alchimia and Memphis. He worked as Olivetti's design chief for ten years and is known among the design community as the designer of the best-selling lamp "Tolomeo" of 1987. De Lucchi has designed luminaires and furniture for leading European companies, and alongside major architectural projects, has continued his focus on craft techniques.

"Wood is wonderful, because every piece is different, because it ages beautifully, and because it is sustainable. It is lovely to work with it, lovely to touch it, it is simply familiar", he explains. "I always wanted to work as freely as possible. I never wanted to be either an artist or a designer or an architect. If I didn't work as a designer, I wouldn't be able to work as an architect either", he says, adding: "Sawing and carving is very metaphysical work, a Zen activity. I spend every free day I have in my studio and try to find in this way new perspectives and ways of thinking." He then sits working on one piece of wood from two days to two months. This is work that in the end generates concrete products: As well as the mini buildings in the exhibition, a series of wooden plaques on the wall very clearly demonstrates the influence of the freely conceived buildings. "These plaques are a product - while the mini buildings are my handiwork, which I created using few tools. Here every cut, whether right or wrong, turns out to be an advantage!", he concludes with a smirk.

Thus, for de Lucchi, you cannot have one without the other. "Michele de Lucchi adds a personal element in a very poetic way", says Ingo Maurer of him. That is what links the two design greats. And we onlookers are fascinated by the imperfect, non-standardized aspects, drawn in by hand-painted, crooked lines and windows that look like arrow slits.

Works by Michele De Lucchi
February 4 until March 20, 2010
Ingo Maurer Showroom Munich

Ingo Maurer and Michele de Lucchi; photo: Stefan Geisbauer, München
Showroom by Ingo Maurer in Munich
Showroom by Ingo Maurer in Munich
All photos: © Michele De Lucchi
Showroom by Ingo Maurer in Munich