by Jerry ElengicalNov 19, 2021
"I try to find the soul of the place. That means every project starts from scratch. My signature is that there is no signature at all”.
Matthäus Antonius Maria Graf von Thun und Hohenstein: widely known as Matteo Thun, can be argued to have the intent of a designer behind his name too. Born in 1952 to a South Tyrolean entrepreneurial family, Thun took it upon himself to shorten his name to his current one on account of people not being able to pronounce it correctly, and of being simply too long. The Italian designer extraordinaire then brings the best of two cultures - German and Italian - together by account of his birth in Bolzano in South Tyrol, and the unique geographical bearings the region brings with it. Along with the socio-political dichotomy the region propounds, Thun claims that spending his childhood in Bolzano was a similar two-fold experience. On one hand, Thun mentioned that Bolzano didn’t necessarily do anything to impact his creativity owing to the Austrian/ Italian cultural divide, making it a rather “schizophrenic” town for him. On the other, his relationship with nature strengthened owing to his desire to scale the world famous ‘Dolomites’ in South Tyrol, despite the province’s rather scattered architectural character: something that came to inform his very distinctive architectural and design language and character years hence. Among many such interesting and unknown facts about Matteo Thun, one that took prominence was perhaps the one he affably opened his UNSCRIPTED chat with, defining his surname to be the German translation for “tuna fish”.
Founding his eponymous studio in Milan in 1984, the multidisciplinary designer established a global presence by showcasing his prowess in the fields of interior design, lighting design, furniture design, product design, and art direction, apart from a soft, much more meaningful approach to the buildings he designed as an architect. Thun’s work, and the unique artistry as well as pragmatic thought they displayed can then be attributed, apart from a sense of Italian design and German functional precision, to two very unique associations and influences in his life. Thun studied the arts under famed Austrian impressionist painter, Oskar Kokoschka, a rather stringent training that he fondly remembers to have taught him the nuances of human proportion, followed by being drawn to work with legendary Italian designer Ettore Sottsass, who he called a “Renaissance man”. His association with Sottsass would go on to develop into the famed Memphis movement, influencing and transforming the very landscape of Italian design in the 80s. Thun lovingly recalled how a cohort of young designers who wanted to break free from market convention, along with Thun himself and Sottsass, joined the movement from different parts of the world, and how they would occasionally meet at Thun’s place to discuss all things design. The brunt of the jolly unions was often borne by Thun’s refrigerator that the designer fondly remembers would be empty hours after 'Memphis' met.
I don’t like any ‘isms’. Not in architecture, not in design. I like to start from scratch whenever I do a new job. It’s not about becoming part of a style, or becoming part of a category. I want to remain free.
Remaining free seems to have evolved almost as a biblical adage for Thun. Starting from his earliest desire to scale the Dolomites in South Tyrol, Thun harboured a desire to push his body and mind to their respective physical and mental extremes. Adventure sports, and the design veteran’s fond proclivity to the adrenaline they brought in, became an obvious pursuit. From cycling, to skiing, sledding, and gliding, there is no adventure sport geographically availed to him that Thun hasn’t tried. Moving between Milan, Munich, and now settled in Capri during the course of the pandemic, wherein his current residence frames expansive views of the sea lined by vines upon vines of Bougainville, the 69-year-old designer has now found gratification in his travails to the higher contours of land, and jumping off a cliff into the nearest water body he can find.
Engaging in his own bout to live meaningfully and simply, decluttering in an Italian villa by the seaside on the island of Capri, Thun rediscovered his love for painting and sketching, an activity that grew to be much more than recreation for him. Currently documenting the flora he encounters in Capri in watercolour with a probably nascent hope to reflect those in his unique brand of botanic architecture, and what I like to call “habitable hospitality”, Thun jovially commented on his sketching prowess and his inability to use computers. “I can’t afford to work on a computer because it’s not fast enough. My sketches are faster than any computer,” states Thun, on being the only employee at Matteo Thun and Partners’ Milan studio to not have a computer at his desk.
All this and much more: tap on the cover video to view the full conversation.
All photographs © Matteo Thun. Images may not be downloaded, copied, reproduced or used in part or whole without obtaining permission. The photographs in this video are not licensed for personal, commercial or public use, or use in the public domain in any form.
Curated by Pramiti Madhavji (Consultant, Content Adviser, STIR), UNSCRIPTED is a STIR-original series of quick-witted video interviews with leading design professionals who give us an undiscovered peek into their lives. A melting pot of quests, revelations and quirks, the series releases a new episode every Sunday as designers reveal unheard and unknown nuggets from their lives, in response to 30 questions.