Matteo Thun, whose full name is Matthäus Antonius Maria Graf von Thun und Hohenstein, was born in 1952 in Bolzano, in Italy as the first son of a family of entrepreneurs who established the company Thun AG in 1950. Over the years, it made a name for itself around the world as an international ceramic manufacturing brand. Today, Matteo Thun is grateful for having had a great deal of freedom in his childhood, for being allowed to discover the world around him independently, but still being brought up with a sense of humility. As a child, Matteo Thun came into little contact with plastic. He had no plastic toys at home, but instead played with figures made of clay or wood. He believes that to be the reason why he developed an affinity for sustainable materials at an early age.
Genius loci as a source of inspiration
The genius loci, the spirit of a place, is the starting point for his projects:
“You need to understand and capture the spirit of the place where you intend to build” (Matteo Thun)
Matteo Thun is today considered to be a leading light in aesthetic, economic and technical sustainability in design. For him, sustainability is always of particular importance in both architecture and product design. It is the foundation on which his work is built and is something that his customers are aware of. Indeed, the individual, energy-optimised architectural and spatial concepts he creates reflect the principles of Matteo Thun, the visionary. For, as he says, even decades later, his children’s children should still think his buildings look contemporary and not like outdated architecture.
“One only finds out 50 to 100 years later what has lasting aesthetic appeal; but it takes centuries to find out what has technical longevity.” (Mona Lisa, on the German TV channel, ZDF; report by Sibylle Bassler, broadcast on 29/10/2016).
Matteo Thun’s projects connect Man and Nature, and aim to use natural resources or materials that respect the environment. For new-build projects, he tries to dispense with reinforced concrete and, where possible, to use wood.
“The things around us should be simple, beautiful and good.” (Matteo Thun)
“Simplicity” is Matteo Thun’s watchword for his work, which he brings to life in a world that is miles away from lavish extravagance. The so-called “Walser mountain farmers” in the Swiss canton of Valais have long been his role model. They have always sought out the most economical and simplest solutions. Matteo Thun believes the motto “Less is more” always to have been the guiding principle of their artisanal tradition. He also puts this lifestyle into practice in his private life. His house on Capri is 30 minutes by foot from the nearest road. Nature and the view come to the fore and architecture takes a back seat. In Milan, he cycles to work.
An established institution in Milan’s design history
The name Matteo Thun has represented Milanese design for over 30 years. It has become a brand in itself, which has an influence on architecture and the design world in Italy and around the world. From a wooden house to a water bottle, from cutlery to a luxury hotel, Matteo Thun stays true to the slogan of the Milanese school, “from spoon to city”, and his work covers everything from micro to macro.
Matteo Thun began his studies under Oskar Kokoschka at the Salzburg Summer Academy and gained his doctorate in architecture at the University of Florence in 1975. In 1978, he moved to Milan where he met Ettore Sottsass that same year. Their first collaboration led to a partnership and the co-founding of Sotsass Associati in 1980. One year later, Matteo Thun founded the Memphis group, an association of designers, which, for the first time, questioned the purely functional nature of design objects and emancipated themselves from both customers and industry, wishing to work in a more self-sufficient manner. The Memphis movement was born, with Milan as its centre. In a short time, the whole world was talking about it. Memphis design was new and different; it was colourful, tactile and full of emotion.
From 1983 to 2000, Matteo Thun taught as professor for design at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. In that time, he also founded his own studio for the first time in 1984, in Milan’s Brera artists’ district and, between 1990 and 1993, worked as creative director for Swatch.
Matteo Thun & Partners
Together with Luca Colombo and Antonio Rodriguez, he founded “Matteo Thun & Partners” in 2001. The company is a powerful international brand in the architecture, interior and product design worlds. With interdisciplinary teams of around 70 architects, designers and graphic artists in offices in Milan and Shanghai, it stands for 360° sustainability as well as aesthetic and technical innovation.
Even today, Matteo Thun says that he learnt a lot from Ettore Sottsass, in particular with respect to reducing projects down to the essentials. He describes his design style as ‘zero design’. The concepts that he develops together with his partner Antonio Rodriguez are intended to produce timeless, iconic forms that are not only visual and contemporary. In this respect, the individual nature of the brand and dialogue with the customers and their technical expertise are of particular importance.
Customisation – Matteo Thun Atelier
His latest project has the name “Matteo Thun Atelier” and stems from his passion for Italian craftsmanship. At the 2016 Milan Furniture Show, he presented his own collection of furniture, designed with hotels in mind. He explained that the idea was “…to combine our experience in architecture and design with the expertise of Italian craftsmen”. The collections of furniture, wooden chairs, ceramics and glass objects were specially designed for hotels and restaurants and can be ordered by customers in whatever colours, patterns and materials they desire.
Hotel, design and wellness according to Matteo Thun
The Italian star architect has become an authority who is much in demand particular in the hotel industry and has had a marked influence on the design landscape of hotel architecture. He loves simplicity, subtraction and the elimination of all that is superfluous. His last project that won an international award is the JW Marriott Resort and Spa. Together with his partner, Luca Colombo, he transformed an island in the Venetian lagoon, which is subject to a conservation order, into a luxury resort. Here, his architectural practice oversaw the project from macro (masterplanning) to micro (the details). During the reconstruction, preservation of the historical character of the buildings on the islands was always foremost in his mind.
Three large dream projects in South Tyrol also bear Thun’s signature: The Vigilius Mountain Resort (2003) near Lana (close to the town of Meran) takes the form of a reclining tree and is located at an altitude of 1,500 metres. It can only be reached by cable car. Just one year after the Vigilius Mountain Resort opened, Matteo Thun was awarded the “Gala Spa Award” and the “Wallpaper Design Award” for its design. In 2005, the “Panda d’Oro” from the WWF followed suit. In 2004, Matteo Thun created the Mountain Residence Pergola nestling among vineyards and, in 2005, the Hotel Terme Merano. The architecture and furnishings only use natural materials such as wood and stone that are typical of the region.
Well-deserved awards for Matteo Thun
The list of Matteo Thun & Partner’s successful projects is long and his projects rightly deserve the awards they have won. Matteo Thun has already won the “Compasso d’Oro” three times for first-class design. In 2001, the Side Hotel in Hamburg, developed by Matteo Thun jointly with Jan Störmer and the artist Robert Wilson, was elected “Hotel of the Year”. In 2006, the Radisson SA Frankfurt was chosen as the best hotel that opened that year at the Worldwide Hospitality Awards. The JW Marriott Resort + Spa near Venice gained the MIPIM Award and the Hospitality Design Award in 2016 and also won the European Hotel Design Award in three categories. And also at the Red Dot Design Awards, some of the products he co-designed have been awarded for for their outstanding design at the Red Dot Design Awards, among them the Axent One Shower Toilet (2015), DuraStyle bathroom collection and the Look Wood LED outdoor luminaire.
Fascinating projects with heart and soul
Matteo Thun always surprises with the astonishing diversity of his projects that are not solely limited to luxury projects, even though the glamorous P 1 club in Munich also bears his hallmark and he has designed boutiques for Porsche Design and Hugo Boss or the “Edel:Weiss” Apartment Residence in the Austrian resort of Katschberg. Industrial and public buildings such as the Eisenberg Waldkrankenhaus, energy-saving prefabricated systems, façades of commercial buildings and installations, or the Schwendi biomass plant demonstrate that Matteo Thun works on projects that are close to his heart and that make sense to him.
Matteo Thun only becomes a true “designer” if it matters for his projects or the development of a product really stimulates him to achieve innovation and the associated ecological and economic benefits for the consumer. Thus, Matteo Thun and Antonio Rodriguez create bathroom designs for Fantinia, Zuchetti, Dornbracht and Duravit, saunas for KLAFS, or carpets for Objekt Carpet, to name but a few. For over ten years, they have designed the knives and kitchen aids for ZWILLING and are now behind the concept for ZWILLING’s first flagship store in Shanghai.
You can find an interview with Matteo Thun in our book recommendation for “The Architecture of Wine” by av edition.
Posted on 19.06.2017