Design Voices | Patricia Urquiola

Spanish architect and Cassina art director Patricia Urquiola shares her approach to ‘the masters’ as curator of the brand’s Milan exhibition, Echoes, 50 years of iMaestri.

During the 2023 Milan Design Week and Salone del Mobile, architect Patricia Urquiola opened her home to friends, which she described as ‘Hotel Urquiola’ – “I woke up this morning to a friend in my shower and another in the kitchen having breakfast,” she laughs.

Welcoming friends to her home aligns with the Spanish architect’s perspective on the fair. “It’s a week to share culture and for people to go away having experienced different attitudes, thoughts and emotions,” she says. “We have to enlarge the design conversation. It’s too closed,” she adds.

Urquiola is admired for her industrial product design and architecture, including numerous retail spaces, homes, hotels and installations. Counting how many times her name appeared on stands at Salone del Mobile alone only hints at her prolific portfolio. Art direction and strategy are also part of her ambit, collaborating with leading Italian and international brands since establishing her studio alongside partner Alberto Zontone in 2001. In 2015, Patricia became art director at Cassina, where she has led the conversation around sustainability, circularity and respect for ‘the masters’. 

In 2023, Cassina presented Echoes, 50 Years of iMaestri, curated by Urquiola with Federica Sala, on show at Palazzo Broggi in Milan.

The exhibition revealed how Cassina had developed furniture designed by the ‘great architects of the Modern Movement’ through a dedication to ‘authenticity and design culture’. “We chose a place with a clear intention. It’s a bank in the middle of the city – a building in transformation,” Patricia says. “Finding somewhere nobody had seen, even the Milanese, and sharing it with everyone was important”. The bank’s vault was central to the installation. “To go inside a vault is very interesting; it’s where valuables are kept – where the jewels of design should be,” she says.

On Cassina’s approach to reproducing the designs, Patricia puts it simply: “It’s serious work. Some companies just reproduce, but that’s not the way to approach the masters,” she maintains. “You need to approach them with complexity, time and respect. They are part of our culture and understanding of the world,” she adds.

As part of the Cassina Perspective in their Milan showroom, the brand debuted its lighting collection, featuring a prototype by Charles and Ray Eames to be launched in 2024, alongside designs by Tobia Scarpa, Philippe Starck and Linde Freya Tangelder. Cassina also presented new designs, such as Patricia’s Moncloud sofa – devoid of glued parts, enabling it to be completely disassembled at the end of its lifecycle. “We are rethinking the process of everything to find a lighter way of producing,” she says, urging other companies to follow. “At the end of the day, there’s no other way forward.”

Patricia has also led the return to the original names of pieces designed by Pierre Jeanneret, Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand. “Working with the foundations, we are changing things to give them more value,” she says. “We are proud to share how alive our relationship with the masters is – we’ve led this for years in Italy and in Europe.”

Patricia Urquiola with the Moncloud sofa system for Cassina | Photography by Valentina Sommar

Echoes, 50 years of iMaestri | Photography by Agostino Osio

The architect is particularly passionate about ensuring Charlotte Perriand is credited for her work while leading the reproduction of new pieces in recent years. “Charlotte has been so important in the study of design,” she says. “She is one of the most enlightened designers we’ve had, especially concerning nature and materials.” Patricia recalls listening to Charlotte speak in the late nineties as an architecture student at the Triennale Milano. “I thought, if she exists, there is light,” she reflects. “She created enormous focus for me as an architect.”

At the same time, as an art director, Patricia is constantly looking for new voices in design that offer a ‘state of mind for the moment and understand domesticity’. She believes that to unpack the world’s complexity, designers need to be curious, adaptable and resilient. “I perform a lot of roles in my life every day because I’m a woman – there’s a lot of value in being hybrid,” she says. “Design is not a profession. It’s a way of living.”

This feature originally appeared in the Milan 2023 Special Issue of est magazine. 

Photography by Agostino Osio

Photography by Agostino Osio

Photography by Agostino Osio

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