Matteo Thun (*1952 in Bolzano, Italy) was a student of Oskar Kokoschka’s at the International Sumer Academy of Fine Arts in Salzburg, and received his PhD in architecture in 1975 from the University of Florence. In 1978 he began working with Ettore Sottass in Milan and became a partner with Sottsass Associati n 1981. That same year Thun became one of the co-founders of the legendary Memphis Group, whose sensual, ironic designs in expressive forms and colors turned against the purism of Modernism and the dogma of “form follows function.” From 1983 to 2000 he lectured at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. In 1984 he founded his own studio in Milan, and from 1990 to 1993 he was the Creative Director for Swatch. Thun’s architectural projects, as well as his interior and product designs, have been awarded many honors; in 2004 he became a member of the Interior Hall of Fame in New York. Thun lives and works in Milan.
The Aesthetics of Ecology, the Beauty of Economy
“Architecture means to draw the soul of a place.” (Matteo Thun)
Matteo Thun—whose full name is Matthäus Antonius Maria, Count of Thun and Hohenstein—easily moves from one discipline to another. Not only is he one of Italy’s most renowned architects, but he is also a trend-setting designer of interiors and products. He is a typical representative of the Milan School, whose “unique character” is, according to Thun, “holistic planning,” the tradition of designing “from the spoon to the city. . . I’m always an architect. And like all architects, I work with both large and small scales.”
Today, Thun’s company employs a staff of fifty architects and designers. In the field of architecture, his designs range from hotels and spas, such as the Vigilius Mountain Resort, in Lana in the southern Tyrol, winner of many international awards, and the first “ClimaHotel,” the Bellavista Family Hotel (Trafoi, Italy), to industrial and office buildings for Coca-Cola (Zurich, Switzerland), and Hugo Boss (Coldrerio, Switzerland), to the Biomass Power Plant (Schwendi, Germany) and the thermal baths in Merano, Italy. In the field of interior design, he has worked together with the American director and set designer Robert Wilson on the Side Hotel (Hamburg), the P1 Disco (Munich), shop interiors, and display systems for Porsche and Vodafone. He has erected exclusive single-family homes, as well as duplexes and apartments out of prefabricated timber in the projected “City of Wood” (Bad Aibling, Germany). In the field of product design, he has created glasses for Campari; lighting systems for Zumtobel and Artemide; baths and bathroom furnishings for Zucchetti, Duravit, and Rapsel; kitchens for für Febal; sunglasses for Silhouette; watches for Bulgari and Swatch; tableware for WMF and Zwilling; porcelain for Rosenthal and Villeroy & Boch; furniture for Baxter and Riva 1920; office chairs for Martin Stoll and United Office; and espresso cups for Illy—now a design classic that is not only one of the most widespread industrial products of our time, but also portended early on Thun’s development of a distinctive look and feel: “We call that tactile eroticism: the desire to touch something.”
Aesthetic, economic, and technological sustainability is always Thun’s leitmotif. “I don’t like to talk about ecology and sustainability, because they are essentially a pleonasm. They’re themes,” continues Thun, “that have belonged to our profession since time immemorial.” He not only tries to capture the soul of a place, the genius loci of each project, but also supports a kind of architecture based on his philosophy of the “three zeroes”: zero kilometers (using regional building materials and local craftspeople); zero CO2 (Co2-neutral construction methods and energy); zero waste (reduction of waste and recycling the materials used).
Building with wood—a regional, renewable, recyclable, and therefore inexpensive raw material that is also highly sensual and timeless—plays a crucial role in achieving Thun’s goals. “As far as real sustainability goes, wood is not only the only reasonable twentieth-century building material, but it’s also the only one that enhances well-being. That’s true of its patina as well as the way it increases in value over the course of its lifetime. Can you think of any concrete building that has become more beautiful fifty years after it was built?” Using his prefabricated house system, Heidi, for example, Thun developed passive energy houses out of wood until 1999. With a protected north wall and a south wall made entirely of glass, they were distinguished by their maximum energy efficiency, thanks to the use of natural materials and cutting-edge technology. His often copied prefabricated house, O Sole Mio (1993), satisfies the need for economic construction; it is built with plywood made of inexpensive types of wood, and—thanks to natural energy sources with heat pumps and thermal recycling—uses only a sixth of the energy consumed by a regular house of comparable size. “For me, as an architect, this ‘beauty of economy’ means making sure that the clients get value, style, and quality for the least economic outlay. . . ‘Beauty of economy’ also means that the investment pays off, no disposable products are produced, and sustainability is maintained.”
Thun’s usage of natural materials that protect resources can also be seen in his luxury projects, such as his redesign of the five-star hotel Vigilius Mountain Resort in the southern Tyrolean Alps in 2003. Here, he used larch wood from the surrounding forests for façades, floors, and furniture, which lived up to the highest expectations of sustainability, according to the “triple zero” principle. A green roof prevents overheating, and the building runs on solar energy, has a sun protection system along the entire length of the façade, a system that recycles heat, and wood-fueled biomass heating. Modern luxury, which Thun defines as “quality of life, freedom, a respectful way of dealing with nature, and the reduction of emissions and energy usage.”
Working closely with the CasaClima Agency, Thun has recently been concentrating on developing a certification called “ClimaHotel,” a concept dating from 2009 that is supposed to evaluate hotels independently of the existing star rating system. It is a new way of assuring economical, ecological, and socio-cultural sustainability, in support of sustainable tourism, which also explicitly focuses on the well-being of the hotel guest. “Well-being means, for example,” Thun explains, “that you drink water that comes from the earth upon which the building stands, that the wood comes from the surrounding area, and that the waiter you are talking to speaks the local language, and doesn’t come from Uzbekistan. That the tomatoes come from the garden there, and that, for instance, there is an understanding of microclimates, so that the building is properly positioned. . . . Where does the sun rise, where does it set, from which direction does the rain come, what kind of shade is there for the building? Bottom line, all of these things result in one parameter: well-being.”January 15, 2013 Stefanie Gommel