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Interview with Mercurio Design Lab S.r.l.

Home > Designer Interviews > Mercurio Design Lab S.r.l.

Editor Frank Scott (FS) from DesignPRWire has interviewed designer Mercurio Design Lab S.r.l. (MDLS) for A’ Design Award and Competition. You can access the full profile of Mercurio Design Lab S.r.l. by clicking here.

Interview with Mercurio Design Lab S.r.l. at Tuesday 22nd of August 2017

FS: Could you please tell us more about your art and design background? What made you become an artist/designer? Have you always wanted to be a designer?
MDLS: 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 specialisation 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.

FS: Can you tell us more about your company / design studio?
MDLS: About 10 years ago we decided to dedicate a team in the AMA Group to focus on special commercial projects that have a strong focus on design, and sway away from the corporate architecture AMA Group had focused on for decades. In order to give a face and brand to this team, we spun off a new studio that could operate within the group, but under a new name, with a certain independence and new characteristics. That was how Mercurio Design Lab was created, with the vision of exporting the beautiful lines of contemporary Italian design around the world, particularly in Asia, where we were already had a presence.

FS: What is "design" for you?
MDLS: 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.

FS: What kinds of works do you like designing most?
MDLS: Design is always an exciting endeavour as you get to challenge your mind to produce a formal solution of a certain spatial problem by focusing your fantastical thoughts into the world while crafting real objects. Therefore, there is always something to like about any design proposition. However, there obviously themes or genres that bring more satisfaction while the mind works on its solution. For me, these more pleasurable challenges are those where mind and creativity can wander freer of constraints and have less non-aesthetic driven constraints. Generally, these are projects of houses, places of worship and museums, where you do not need to have a measurable financial result and you are not driven by sheer functionality in the composition of spaces and volumes. Condominiums, offices and shopping malls are usually less exciting to design as a lot of their planning is driven by necessities that have nothing to do with beauty. Another important aspect of designing is who you are designing the project for. There is no limit to creativity and it can express itself with tremendous power, at any scale, with any design challenge. It is more who commissions the work that makes a difference. When you establish a relationship of trust with a client, and he or she lets you take full control of the composition, you normally achieve the best results.

FS: What is your most favorite design, could you please tell more about it?
MDLS: I can’t really say I have a favourite among our works, though in some of them, we really managed to express the necessity of form better than in others. This probably goes back to the issue I just highlighted, where clients end up meddling too much with your design, and as a result, the forms are no longer as pure as they should be. Very rarely does a work of compromise achieve great results. For this reason, some of our works that I actually consider the purest are where we managed to bring the flow of the composition from the architecture, to the interiors, to even the finishing and art curation, into one cohesive proposition without solution of continuity. With smaller projects, this cohesion is easier to achieve as it is more likely that lesser parties get involved in both design and decision making. Also, these projects often have a lesser commercial connotation and are usually for own use than financial gain; this implies that the vagaries of commercial needs do not come into the picture, therefore liberating the design from a multitude of marketing constraints. That is why very often, the villas we design for single owners are normally the works that better express our style. I think Villa Mistral, Villa Lambda and Villa Otto represent today the epitome of the strength of our design and artistic creativity.

FS: What was the first thing you designed for a company?
MDLS: My involvement with the design aspect of our work has been something that happened gradually within my company. It actually evolved from managing projects to designing them. Probably the first time I really got involved in the design of a building from the conceptual stage was the development of the corporate headquarters of ST Microelectronics in Singapore. Since then, I gradually shifted my interest from project management to design and eventually, a few years later, my personal focus became the conceptualisation of buildings and interiors rather than the execution. The first project where I was fully involved in the design from the beginning to the end was probably my own apartment, which I still keep today the way it was conceived 15 years back. I still find it very enjoyable though I must admit if I had to do it again today I would design with a rather different approach.

FS: What is your favorite material / platform / technology?
MDLS: I like to explore new construction materials and new technologies as they allow you to free creativity from the constraints of gravity and the rigidity of the most natural of the construction composition the trilithic system. The advancement in the technology of metals allowed us to conquer the sky. Equally, the advancement in construction technology needs to lead us to the defeat of gravity. I have always been fascinated by concrete, its basic purity and the necessity of affirming its own weight. I am particularly intrigued now that we have new kinds of concrete that allow us to form it and bend it with an ease we were not used to, allowing us to bestow our designs a fluidity we practically never saw before. Another material I have a great admiration for is stainless steel. We can do wonders with it, it is strong and has beautiful structural properties, but at the same time, it allows us to forge it in any form without much constraints, yet always maintaining a pristine and pure feel.

FS: When do you feel the most creative?
MDLS: Unfortunately, I do not have a recipe for entering into that state of inspired creativity. I cannot make that happen on command or have a particular time of the day, or a setting that makes it right. It is a state of bliss that just happens and it strikes without warning – you need to be able to just catch the moment. So I often find myself scribbling and sketching on a paper tissue, as I have nothing else to sketch on, when that crazy idea suddenly coalesces in my brain. That might happen while reading the news over breakfast, sipping a coffee with a friend or waiting at the doctor’s lounge.

FS: Which aspects of a design do you focus more during designing?
MDLS: I often find myself looking at design works we have produced and trying to read its meaning. I want this work to speak to me and explain its composition. It needs to flow from top to bottom, from the outside to the inside, it needs to look effortless yet inevitable. It is this need for cohesion and meaning that I focus on.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when you design?
MDLS: Any creative act is an assertion of life, creating any work makes me feel alive.

FS: What kind of emotions do you feel when your designs are realized?
MDLS: Looking at our completed projects is something I like to do often, especially those that we are proud of. Unfortunately, there is always that one that every time you look at, you ask yourself “…and why did we do that??” But the good ones, fortunately the majority so far, give me a sense of wholeness and justice, like we fought for the right reason.

FS: What makes a design successful?
MDLS: If you pose this question to anyone in the real estate industry that is not a successful architect or a designer, they will tell you that a successful design is one that sells well. I suppose I would have to agree with this statement. Undoubtedly, the aesthetic problem of a project cannot transcend its economics, fundamentally because to build something takes generally a lot of money and in the majority of cases, whoever decides to embark on a construction project is proportionally very committed to the servicing of capital requirements to see it to the end. This predicament has fundaments even for genres which might be seemingly detached from the financial aspects of life, like a church or a museums. As a matter of fact, these buildings have their economics in place too and they all need, in a way or other, to provide returns to their investors which could be at times not just financial returns. However, the subject is a bit more complex than what it might appear to be. While it is important for any designer to comprehend the financial balance of any endeavour they accept to work on, and ensure that eventually the primary target of making the economics work well is met for the investor, he also needs to see the implication that the quality of any design work has on the environment and its effect on the society beyond the financial aspect. In this gesture of transcending the economics of a project, a designer needs to stand his or her ground and, at times, this requires strength, resolve and even sacrifice. The biggest predicament is that some clients behave like Solons of the industry who believe they have reached the enlightenment. They do this because of their financial success, as if financial success would be equivalent to a degree in design, and they impose their ideas that would probably meet financial objectives well, but substantially betray the needs of the social aspect of design. These Solons normally think that their lifestyle has granted them a sort of universal knowledge, which they have to impart on the masses and also the poor designer alike. This attitude, if left unchecked, would support the destruction of a good and healthy social texture in favour of the god of profits, and would eventually fill our cities with garbage. So what is the deeper meaning of a successful design? Personally I believe Design is made successful by understanding its purpose and by giving it meaning. Purpose is a personal necessity that makes life more meaningful. In design and architecture, it gains a more measurable significance. It is the soft spot in the Vitruvian balance between function and aesthetic, and at the same time, there is the need to find this balance with a beautiful expression. The importance of understanding the purpose of a design, and delivering its purpose meaningfully, is the condition sine qua non of successful design. The designer needs often to anticipate the positioning of his work in its social and commercial setting, and understand what are the needs and the expectations. Unfortunately, because of the commercial essence of most projects today, designers are forced to skew the Vitruvian balance towards function and leave form to only a marginal role. In reality, I always believe that for any given commercial problem there is a beautiful solution. It is just difficult and laborious to find it, and often designers prefer to abandon the laborious road as it leads to higher costs that will not be repaid. For this reason, a lot of cities today are designed by people that just put together a bunch of layouts that follow economical and functional needs. Seldom do designers make the effort to bestow meaning to their design, and they just stop thinking when they finish the plan views or meet their functional needs. Then they just dress up the resulting massing with some cosmetic treatment, a procedure today defined as “designing the facade”, which very much resembles the application of make-up. We like to follow a holistic approach to design and we think of everything together as a whole, without prioritizing one element over the other. The solution needs to come about solving every aspect of the composition at the same time. So we normally approach the design in three dimension, and never just work on the layouts first. The volumetric composition of a project is always for us equally important as the plans are. There should not be such a thing as designing the façade. You either design a building in its entirety as a three-dimensional whole, or you should not be designing at all. As a client, you should never ask that from an architect or a designer, as you fail in the essence of doing good design from the start.

FS: When judging a design as good or bad, which aspects do you consider first?
MDLS: When you need to evaluate any kind of work, you probably need to follow the same process, and it’s a process that brings you back to a few fundamental aspects of proposing a solution to any practical or formal problem. The very first assessment you would probably conduct, if you had to examine the work, would be if the solution proposed does respond to the brief correctly, which practically wants to evaluate how well the functional aspect of the proposed design is resolved. In any job that is not purely artistic in nature, function precedes form, and in reality even pure art respects the same norms. When we are involved in pure artistic endeavours, the form is the function itself. In this, art is the ultimate sublimation of the semiotic process of signification through the infusion of a philosophical function into a craft that would be otherwise seemingly deprived of it. Therefore, practically, whatever we do we need to observe that the outcome of our actions, whether tangible, like a craft or a project, or intangible, like ideas, will be assessed on the basis of its functional aspects first above anything else, and this obviously is particularly true with design and architecture. Now the essential boundary control that sets good design aside from all other variants whether bad, inessential or just inefficacious is that the proper resolution of the function is only a conditio sine qua non. Yet it is not sufficient and the only way to complete its assessment positively is to pass the test of the harmony of its composition. This approach also applies to any work. The first aspect you consider to assess whether a job meets the minimum standard is that it fulfils its functional needs. After that, in order to pass the mark of goodness, it has to clearly show the traits of a good composition. A good solution is necessarily beautiful. As a cathartic consequence, in a sort of karma of the creative world, bad design will not function properly, but will eventually always look ugly whatever expedient we try to adopt to make up for its shortcomings.

FS: From your point of view, what are the responsibilities of a designer for society and environment?
MDLS: I believe I have answered this question earlier but I will elaborate further. We bring ugliness to our world when we choose the wrong design solutions – that’s why our social role is so important. While beauty heals us and makes our environment better, making us healthier, happier and more productive, ugliness on the contrary brings a silent torment and illness in our lives. Renzo Piano once defined the importance of empty spaces around buildings we design. Those spaces are in reality an integral part of the composition, as the empty parts are the negative of the filled ones, and the essence of the perception that people have while making use of these spaces. This relationship happens continuously and affects us in everything we do in the course of our life, as long as we come in contact with the built environment. Architecture and the built environment are a violence to the natural world, regardless of how well we design it. The best we can do is soften the impact of this violence; the more we soften it the better the job we have done. People tend to regenerate and regain vital energies while exposed to natural elements – the seaside, the countryside, the mountains – this is because we are essentially an animal species and started by living in the wilderness, with no buildings anywhere. That is our natural state, our amniotic fluid. The change in our genetics to be physiologically, perfectly comfortable in a concrete-made environment might take millions of years. Bringing people to live in cities and towns is a violence, and, we as the designers of the built environment, need to be conscious of the damage we bring to the social texture with every stroke of our pencil. For these reasons, planners, architects and designers hold a tremendous responsibility towards mankind, a responsibility that affects everyone, every moment, everywhere.

FS: How do you think the "design field" is evolving? What is the future of design?
MDLS: “The future is always moving,” as master Yoda used to say. There are a lot of forces that are acting together in the design world and often they pull in different directions. For this reason, it is particularly difficult to make a good educated guess on what design will mean in a few years. While we think creativity is distinctively a unique human feature, machines are proving quite good at being creative at tasks we would never expect them to be, like poetry for example. There might come the day that designers will be replaced by AI, which will probably be more efficient and with a less complex ego to satisfy. Not all possible futures might have this sense of foreboding, but it is a possibility. Yet, infusing the sense of purpose in a machine might still be a very difficult task for many years to come, and that might keep, for the time being, the domain of great art and design work out of reach of an AI for a while. The Masterpieces, the cultural treasure of mankind, the cornerstones of new trends will need a human author to be crafted for a while more. Therefore, now more than ever, when the digital revolution placed humanity on a junction between cultural flattening and greatness, we need the spearheads that will avert the desertification of creativity, and inspire the masses to better prospects with beautiful and meaningful compositions. Everywhere in Philosophy, Music, Architecture or Economics we are hungry for excellence. But in order to nurture excellence we need the proper environment suitable to support and sustain the forging of these brilliant minds. These environments require certainly the proper educational infrastructure who is the conditio sine qua non, yet it does not suffice as eventually. if the economics of excellence are not in place. nothing will emerge from the system and the throughput of our future society will just be creative boredom if not worse. One thing is sure, there are many reasons today to dissuade people from taking the path of a creative person, and even less to taking that path with conviction and the call of doing something good for mankind. The traditional professions are becoming distinctively more difficult to justify. Years of studies, and after that often a not very reassuring remuneration, does not compete well with job options that let you reach financial freedom in a short time, with far less responsibilities. This is particularly at odd with the fact that often, the value that good design brings to a project or a product is a quite substantial portion of its price, and this value is most of the times not recognised to the designer. Additionally, there are often a series of hefty responsibilities that a design work carries with itself, and they need often be shouldered for life - an aspect that again is too often conveniently forgotten by the industry that remunerate creative work. The world needs to reassess its education systems and revaluate the perceived value of the design industry related professional career. It certainly needs to look into the remuneration structure of creative jobs quickly before there will be no one left to design your house.

FS: When was your last exhibition and where was it? And when do you want to hold your next exhibition?
MDLS: We have not done an exhibition yet, we are however planning to put together one. We will publish our first book this year and after that, work on exhibiting the works featured in the book. We are also thinking of including my sculptures in the exhibition, as part of more cohesive creative forces that work as a total solution for projects of any scale, from urban planning to industrial products.

FS: Where does the design inspiration for your works come from? How do you feed your creativity? What are your sources of inspirations?
MDLS: When I was studying Latin literature, I was particularly impressed by what today is denominated by the philology of “contaminatio”. The early Latin comedy writers Plauto, Ennio and Terenzio were taking large portions of their inspiration from the Greek authors that had a great presence in the Mediterranean cultures. Instead of creating entirely original plots, they took scripts from Greek comedies and contaminated them with Latin bits of culture or at times, did the opposite by contaminating traditional Latin stories with Greek scenes and sketches – a brilliant way to greatly enhance creativity and be far more productive. “Contaminatio” was not copying, rather it was readapting, mixing and possibly improving ideas from one culture into another. When Callimacus wrote his version of the story of the Argonauts, he proudly pronounced that he was imitating Apollonius Rodio not to subtly copy him, but to openly challenge his book (Not ut lateat sed ut pateat imitatio). I like to think I can use “contaminatio” in many different aspects of creativity and design not just by looking at the design that others are creating all around the world – something that today is particularly easy with the advent of the Internet and social media – but more I like to think that the universe and other fields of creativity and technology are doing a marvelous job at giving us inspiration. We just need to look around and “contaminate” our ideas with what is out there for us to grab. Our designs can look like The Millennium Falcon, a Golden Eagle, a Black Panther, a Lamborghini Diablo. We just need to take great ideas and redraw them in concrete. We have at our disposal the entire knowledge of mankind when we need to draw inspiration, and if that does not suffice the best designer of all, Mother Nature can surely come to our aid. On this note I can affirm that one of the most prolific areas to scout for when looking for ideas are some of Nature’s most amazing dominions. The very framework that allows our universe to exist is an amazing place for discovery. Physics, Geometry and Mathematics, they all offer insights in our physical world and the mechanics that are underlying its existence. They offer so much inspiration on how to forge volumes, the massing of three-dimensional constructs and objects, and receive and withstand the forces of nature while evoking beauty and awe.

FS: How would you describe your design style? What made you explore more this style and what are the main characteristics of your style? What's your approach to design?
MDLS: 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. 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.

FS: Where do you live? Do you feel the cultural heritage of your country affects your designs? What are the pros and cons during designing as a result of living in your country?
MDLS: I live in Singapore, but spend as much time as I can in Italy. 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 Singapore 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.

FS: How do you work with companies?
MDLS: When we work with companies, it’s normally either with developers or corporates. They each have a very profound difference in approaching the planning and construction of a building, since the first group uses the buildings as the primary source of their income, while for the second group, buildings are just a place from where to operate and conduct their business, and are normally not their primary source of income. It’s normally easier to work with corporates as they do not interfere much in the architectural problem of a building’s planning. Whether they care about the final results because it might carry their image or they don’t, they usually take at face value the input of the designer and they respect it. Developers, on the other hand, probably because they make of building a primary business, have always much to say of every aspect of the building process. Often, it is because they believe that they can do a better job than us – a belief that is in most of the case just a fantasy, but unfortunately a fantasy we need to respect them for since they are the clients. Working with developers is often a difficult experience and requires plenty of dedication and patience, but it is a necessary evil as a large portion of the industry is made by their investments. It is exactly because of their arrogance in providing the industry with products that are developed more to suit their wallet, rather than to benefit the society and people, that we need to keep making an effort to balance the greed with the necessity of a better environment. This can be done with clever and ingenious design, one that satisfies the need of the greedy, but also respects the canon of the necessary beauty.

FS: What are your suggestions to companies for working with a designer? How can companies select a good designer?
MDLS: It might appear obvious on how to structure a selection process for a good designer but it is not as simple as it might seem especially because many companies are not looking for a good designer in the first place. The most important question is if these companies want to work with a good designer or not. I have seen many companies or individuals that hire designers to tell them how to do their work. That is, in its definition, a badly-posed proposition. If you want to tell a designer what to do and how to do it, you might as well design it yourself. If you have a good or great designer working for you, let them freely unleash their creativity and be amazed at what they can achieve. What matters is to give a clear brief on what the final product is expected to achieve, and leave the rest to the creative mind to work out. Once this is established, the actual selection of the proper candidate for the creative work is simpler and fundamentally relies on the stylistic approach that is required for the project. You need to match the two styles, if you need a cutting-edge design for a certain project you need a cutting-edge designer for it. It might sound obvious but I have gotten clients who have asked me to design a so-called “French-style villa” when my design style is obviously the furthest from it. It’s a request I can only laugh about.

FS: Can you talk a little about your design process?
MDLS: 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: firstly 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 outs. The second phase of our conceptualisation 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 visualised and properly drafted. Once the concept has been finalised 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.

FS: What are 5 of your favorite design items at home?
MDLS: In the study, my overly-comfortable Eames black leather padded chair. Achille Castiglioni’s Taccia’s in my living room, next to the Gerard Van Den Berg Lounge Chair. The two Ernesto Gismondi Miconos lamps that I switch off in amazement every night when I go to sleep, and finally, my own coffee table, the first thing I actually designed.

FS: Can you describe a day in your life?
MDLS: Unfortunately, I am not an early riser. I have always envied those who start the day at 6am, go to the gym, and are at work by 8am. I have tried the regime but it does not work for me. I am more of a nocturnal animal. After the lengthy process of awakening my brain function, I try to hit the gym when I have time as the blood pumping does make the day more productive. The working day unfortunately is more about project and human resources management, than sitting at the drafting table spinning ideas on tracing paper. I wish I could always be doing that but our job is largely about facilitating projects rather than actually designing them.

FS: Could you please share some pearls of wisdom for young designers? What are your suggestions to young, up and coming designers?
MDLS: 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.

FS: From your perspective, what would you say are some positives and negatives of being a designer?
MDLS: The good side of being a designer is the great sense of accomplishment it can bring and the feeling of making your contribution. It allows you to express yourself in ways that other professions don’t, and it gives a tangible result to the effort of your work life – something not everyone can claim. The negative side finds their roots in the issues I have discussed earlier on. It is also a career that usually underperforms in comparison with other professions, especially if you weigh the amount of effort you need to do to obtain tangible results. On the other hand, the satisfaction you can harvest from it are greater than what you find in other industries and that kind of composes the overall balance.

FS: What is your "golden rule" in design?
MDLS: The beginning of a journey should be setting its destination, or at least a direction, otherwise we end up not going anywhere. I believe the destination for a design project is its own meaning, its symbology. Significance confers to any work we do an overall indication of its formal solution; formality becomes a semantic connection with symbology. When a design solution becomes a vessel of an idea, its strength as a solution multiplies enormously and it affirms itself, proving its validity. Not only, this process of binding significance to a design often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way that the significance itself is bound to a certain ineluctable solution. When I was a student studying Latin Literature, our professor, the eminent Enrico Caveggia, introduced us to the great Orators. There is plenty to learn from Cato, Cicero and Caesar himself. But the one thing that stuck in my mind is the very basic cornerstone Cato suggested to build a good speech: “Rem tene, verba sequentur” (stick to the subject and the words will just follow through). I took this concept and turned it into a good guidance for my design work “Rem tene, signa sequentur” (stick to the subject the lines will follow through, where the subject here is intended to be the significance of the work you are embarking on).

FS: What skills are most important for a designer?
MDLS: Design is a composition, therefore the most important skill for a designer is the ability of summarise the various lines that emerge, when attempting to give a solution to a spatial problem, into one cohesive solution. It’s the strong analytical ability of the mind. One might think that good drafting skills or great crafting hands are the most important, but with the tools available today in aiding anyone to express himself, the ability of rendering conceptual ideas into formal design documents is not the essence of design. Rather, the ability of conceptualising those ideas is.

FS: Which tools do you use during design? What is inside your toolbox? Such as software, application, hardware, books, sources of inspiration etc.?
MDLS: I personally use a set of ink brush markers to sketch, which is by far my favourite tool. I don’t use the computer much for design work. However, my design team makes extensive use of modelling software such as 3D studio, Rhino and Maya. Obviously, we work with CAD as well. In particular, we use Archicad as we are very impressed with the object-oriented design and it is the best, Mac-friendly option we had. Books are everywhere in our office as the study of design in general always yield great inspirations. We do not keep books about Architecture only, but also about all sorts of design work as we believe all kinds of objects and creations can bring new ideas to the table. Transferring volumetric solutions from one scale to another yields beautiful and unique solutions for any architectural problem.

FS: Designing can sometimes be a really time consuming task, how do you manage your time?
MDLS: I came to the conclusion that time is a very esoteric concept of which we have not grasped yet. I gave up managing my time a long time ago. I just do what needs to be done in the time that is needed do what needs to be done.

FS: How long does it take to design an object from beginning to end?
MDLS: Unfortunately, I am a perfectionist, therefore the design process never ends. There is always some final stroke to add to the canvas to make the work perfect. If you want to trace an actual timeline for a project duration, the basic underlying idea could just come up in an instant, while other times, it might take days to find the right path. However, the execution phase that describes the project into a series of buildable design documents might take months if not years, depending on the complexity and size.

FS: What is the most frequently asked question to you, as a designer?
MDLS: How many of this kind of project have you designed? And what’s the budget?

FS: What was your most important job experience?
MDLS: I believe my early years working as an engineer with a German construction company were an amazing collection of experiences for me. First, I learned how to actually build stuff and then I learnt how to manage projects the German way, which is a standard of efficiency and quality. But to be frank, in this job there is really never a dull moment and we are constantly learning new things, techniques and how to solve problems. Therefore, enriching experiences are constantly presented in front of us. Even the hardship we need to often endure is a teaching in itself. Though it is not something you wish for going thorough challenging times it’s the best way to measure oneself.

FS: Who are some of your clients?
MDLS: In the early years, when we were mostly working as AMA Group, our clients were corporate entities, in particular, many of the giants of the electronic industry. Later when we moved into the more commercially-inclined lifestyle market with MDL, clients became a mixture of developers and private individuals. The developers usually for the larger projects and the private owners for the bungalows and villas. We also work with individuals for larger projects and often anyway, even when we deal with developers, we still deal with the owners or top management as they normally curate the design elements in their project themselves. Frankly, I find that more a problem than a good thing, but that’s the reality of the job. The biggest issue with these private individuals is that they normally have a large ego, which makes them believe they know the intricacies of design and aesthetic better than us. Additionally, they tend to travel a lot and so see and experience many different designs. They then think it’s good to replicate what they see in their projects, and start suggesting, if not imposing, these stolen ideas from all over the world to be implemented in your project. Unfortunately, they completely ignore and not even understand the problem of composition. They don’t comprehend that certain things or styles don’t go well together. They might be good taken individually but they don’t mix well. So they end up ruining a perfectly good design solution, just because they think they know better, like mixing coffee and salt since they both taste good.

FS: What type of design work do you enjoy the most and why?
MDLS: I don’t think the scale really matters when it comes to projects you really enjoy, it’s more a question of artistic freedom and the cognition that a particular work might contribute to the social and natural environment more. The matter of artistic freedom is something we have already discussed here at length. Yet, it is still worth mentioning that the ability of expressing yourself without much interference by third parties, or obligations to third parties, yields the most exciting work. This does not mean that constraints are not desirable in our work. As a matter of fact, they are usually a great source of inspiration. The necessity of working around constraints literally jots down the first few good lines of any good design sketch. However, the kind of constraints we like to engage with are the natural ones, like the terrain and its obstacles, orientation, views, the regulatory ones, like a given plot, buildable area (the numerous regulation that give guidance to the construction industry). These are all positive challenges that we like to face and overcome with great solutions. The constraints that usually negatively affect design work are the meddling by third parties, especially those that do not really understand the concept of composition but think they do better design than anyone else. These are the most undesirable of the situations, excluding of course when you are not getting paid for your work.

FS: What are your future plans? What is next for you?
MDLS: We like to believe we can contribute to the environment and we have the ambition to do that at bigger scale if possible. We would like to bring value to the great squares of the big cities of the world, or work on more culturally-oriented projects like museums or libraries. Therefore, we are working to expand our presence in areas we have not worked in yet before.

FS: Do you work as a team, or do you develop your designs yourself?
MDLS: I always work with my team and I believe that the contribution of each team member is an essential element to the success of our design work. The refinements that different points of view bring to a given design solution are a brilliant way to bring any design work to higher artistic levels. There is however an initial portion of the creative phase of any of our jobs that I tend to do myself – that is where the basic idea is carved out of the infinite amorphous possibilities to any design problem, when the embryo of the project is conceived. From then onwards, it is a team effort and it’s the part of my work that I enjoy the most, the dreaming part of our job, when we participate together to this idea of improving everyone’s life and making this world a better place.

FS: Do you have any works-in-progress being designed that you would like to talk about?
MDLS: We currently have two projects under construction that I believe are worth mentioning and will be the next design pieces we will really like to show to the world. The Laguna Hotel and Golf Resort in Singapore is one, which I believe with its sinuous and almost uncanny shape, will be a valuable contribution to the landscape of the city state. Indonesia 1 is a twin-tower project in Jakarta that, being the tallest buildings in the country, with a very distinctive composition, will become a symbol of the capital city. We have a few work-in-progress designs that are very exciting too but we will keep them under wraps for now.

FS: How can people contact you?
MDLS: People can contact me at my corporate email address massimo.mercurio@amagroup.com.

FS: Any other things you would like to cover that have not been covered in these questions?
MDLS: I believe we have covered a lot of ground here, though obviously the subject is vast, and has many discussion topics. If anyone wants to cover any subject we did not talk about, they can always contact me at the email I have provided above and I will be glad to respond.


FS: Thank you for providing us with this opportunity to interview you.

A’ Design Award and Competitions grants rights to press members and bloggers to use parts of this interview. This interview is provided as it is; DesignPRWire and A' Design Award and Competitions cannot be held responsible for the answers given by participating designers.


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