Interview with Massimo Mercurio, Founder of Mercurio Design Lab S.r.l., Italy

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Massimo Mercurio

Massimo’s passion for architecture allows him to create out-of-the-box concepts that translates to iconic buildings and contemporary Italian aesthetics.

Interview with the 2020 MUSE Design Awards Winner - Massimo Mercurio

1 Please give us a brief bio of yourself and your design background.

Born in Rome, I grew up surrounded by magnificent art and architecture. The influence of Italy’s culture and environment, and my exposure to AMA group- an architectural company owned and lead by my father- have shaped my career path. Armed with a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Sapienza University of Rome, I furthered my studies in Architecture and International Construction Management.

2 What made you become/why did you choose to become a designer/artist?

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 powerful healing power of beauty. Last, but not the 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 specialization 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 himself.

3Tell us more about your business/company, job profile, and what you do.

I have always wanted to create out-of-the-box concepts so I knew that I can only design iconic buildings outside the classical and antique architecture of my birth country. With a vision of exporting the beautiful lines of contemporary Italian design around the world, particularly in Asia, in 2008, I started Mercurio Design Lab (MDL), a spin-off of the AMA Group, with a braver, more innovative spirit that caters to the real estate and lifestyle markets. MDL creates new milestones in architecture, interior design and industrial design. It seeks to elevate and balance the synergies of the Asian architectural context with the Italian style and tradition. Our team is composed of passionate architects, engineers, designers and artists who integrate art with technology in the design process, while respecting the three fundamental criteria: the functional, the aesthetic and the social.

While the studio works at any scale, we carefully select a limited number of projects to undertake each year, focusing the attention on works that will impress a significance on the design scene. With roots still firmly planted in Italy, our studio has become a global company with offices in Italy, Singapore, Vietnam, China, and Philippines, and works with visionary developers and private owners that want to leave a mark in the industry. For more than a decade, our company has been consistently recognised as one of the leaders in the world of design, and has received a total of 39 awards in Design and Architecture.

As the Managing Director of my firm and a futurist, I lead the team to push the envelope of contemporary aesthetic into new territories and approach the dynamic fields in a mathematical way so that everything looks perfect. My strong engineering background lends a sense of balance between pure bold creativity and the reality of manufacturing MDL’s creativity. Experimental and not constricted by standard formulas, I like to challenge the force of gravity, and press the limits of structures and structural engineering to extremes. I also constantly look for ways to soften building designs and to forge a stronger affinity to the natural world because I believe that men are not born to live in concrete boxes.

4What does “design” mean to you?

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. That’s why a designer’s social role is so important. While beauty heals us and makes our environment better – by making us healthier, happier and more productive – ugliness, on the contrary, 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.

5Describe your design style and its main characteristics.

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. For years, our innovative studio’s work has evolved to embrace a more cutting-edge style, fuelled by a craving to experiment with ideas and move them over the limits.

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.

6Tell us about your design process.

We begin always with symbology—this is our starting point. It is a negatively sterile approach to start designing with only a function in mind. Doing so will often lead you to building shapeless concrete boxes. Worse, some architects apply the architectural equivalent of cosmetics to improve the concrete box problem. We on the other hand, aim to balance aesthetics and creativity together with functionality. We push boundaries and create projects which are out of this world. Design is a three-dimensional exercise, where all the elements are developed at the same time.

As architects and designers, it is our job to fuse our own ideas and someone else’s. We need to blend our creativity with someone else’s requirements, to maintain the aesthetic together with the functional. There is always a compromise involved, so from the beginning, we need to work with people whom we can work with and who share the same aesthetic value.

Creativity is unlimited and it can express itself with tremendous power, but who commissions the work makes a difference. When a client entrusts you to take full control of the composition, you will likely achieve the best results. The clients have the right to express their feelings toward a design solution, to push designers to better themselves, however, the extent of client involvement should end with the expression of artistic inclination. Because when a client is not educated to find the right aesthetic balance in a design composition, it may derail an otherwise proper solution. When a client interferes with the design composition of a good designer, the harmony is often thrown off-balance and a good proposition is ruined.

Further, at MDL, we have created a think tank unit that produces the core of the design concepts. Within this unit, I keep the most creative people. We have devised a concept design process that is structured in a few phases. I am normally fully engaged in the first phase, where the basic idea is conceived. Here, we follow a few steps: first, I work on the guiding principles that are supposed to keep the entire design together, which normally consist of identifying the purpose that can often have a very focused commercial perspective.

Once the purpose has been clearly defined, I then move to express it into a hypothesis with a volumetric solution, where the spatial experience is the primary guiding element both from the perspective of the user, and the onlooker – basically the way the space is viewed from the inside and outside.

The second phase of our conceptualization commences once I pass this cohesive set of ideas to the design director, who then elaborates it further into a documented concept, which with the help of our think tank team, gets visualized and properly drafted.

Once the concept has been finalized and eventually approved by the client, we then move the design development to a project team that carries out the duties of seeing it to completion. Obviously, our think tank unit continues to supervise the development of the project to the end, to ensure the consistency and adherence of the completed work to the original design intent.

7Do you think your country and its cultural heritage has an impact on your design process?

My cultural roots have definitely affected what I am today and I am proud to believe so. Basking in Italy’s rich cultural heritage has provided tremendous nourishment for the enrichment of my creative mind. Just walking around the streets of Rome you are continuously immersed in such an inspiring environment that aesthetically sensitive characters cannot avoid grooming an artistic side. Both the classical elements and contemporary ideas of the Italian artistic and design scene are continuously engaging us on a multitude of levels and give an endless fuel for the sustenance of cultural discourse. As a designer, I am sure I couldn’t be born in a better place.

Moving to Asia has definitely provided me the opportunity to test and employ my creative abilities more than I would have done in Italy. Unfortunately, in my own country, less is built than in the developing areas of the world. Additionally, the Italian social scene is naturally very antagonistic, people tend to always be destructive and never supportive with the work of others. Individuality is rampant and there is not much belief in team work. Probably the same reason that historically created such a conducive environment for the nourishment of creativity, and the artistic mind is also the reason why it is so difficult today to make things happen in a such beautiful country.

8Congratulations! As the winner of the 2020 MUSE Design Awards, what does it mean to you and your company and team to receive this award distinction?

The Muse Awards is a prestigious award that recognises the best in design from across the globe. This award is another testimony that we are continuously making a name in the different parts of the world and an affirmation that our position in the industry has not changed. To win such an award is an honour and acknowledgement of our work at Mercurio Design Lab. We would like to leverage on Muse’s platform to showcase our work and also to draw inspiration from other deserving designers in the community.

9Can you explain a bit about the winning work you entered into the 2020 MUSE Design Awards, and why you chose to enter this project?

Villa Lambda, a private residential project inspired by a scale model of the Lamborghini Gallardo, is a geometrical description of space. It is near Singapore’s east coast and set in a very suburban sea of red-tiled pitched rooves in a mix of classical and modern pastiche. The villa represents a unity between the exterior architectural form and the interior character of the house. The form of the house is expressed inside and by eschewing complicated furnishings, becomes the main theme of the interior design.

I chose to enter Lambda this time as the villa represents today the epitome of the strength of our design and artistic creativity. The design asserts a strong architectural message which arouses interests among the audiences.

10What was the biggest challenge with this project?

One of the greatest difficulties faced at the early stage of the design was Singapore’s restrictive code that imposes a pitch roof with very distinctive geometric conditions. The challenge was to comply to the regulation for habitable attic spaces in a bungalow while finding an aesthetic solution that had to visually adhere to the dynamically unique and futuristic style set for Lambda since its inception. A careful balancing of building lines and roof eaves was the key to convince the authorities as it remains within guidelines without any compromise to the formal character of the building.

11What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?

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 expectation 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 suggestion. 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, on the long run, bring a great sense of accomplishment with the feeling of having really made your contribution to mankind and its betterment.

Winning Entries

Villa Lambda | 2020

Interview with Massimo Mercurio, Founder of Mercurio Design Lab S.r.l., Italy

Lambda, a geometrical description of space is near Singapore’s east coast and set in a very suburban sea of red-tiled pitched...
(read more at MUSE Design Awards)

Mercurio Design Lab

Mercurio Design Lab S.r.l. (MDL) is an award-winning Italian design studio that creates avant-garde concepts inspired by the vibrancy of Asia.