Chiaroscuro is the contrast of light against shadow. It is a centuries-old technique in art used to create a sense of three-dimensionality in two-dimensional art forms. Rembrandt, the master of chiaroscuro, employed the technique to create emotional and psychological tension in his paintings, drawings, and etchings. Sixteenth century High Renaissance artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Titian, and Michelangelo utilized chiaroscuro to achieve visual focus on the key subjects of their paintings.
And seven centuries later, contemporary designer Patricia Urquiola applies the technique of chiaroscuro to capture light and shadow in the three-dimensionality of her work. The 61-year-old, Spanish-born designer is an academic scholar who has cultivated her trademark brand by employing the basic principles of art in the areas of color, texture, line—yes, and chiaroscuro—in the furniture, lighting, products, architecture, and spaces she creates. Minimalist, ultramodern, Dada, high-tech, or even avant-garde, whatever style her work may be labeled, more than anything else it is purely Patricia Urquiola.
THE MAKING OF A WOMAN OF VISION
In her younger years, Patricia Urquiola studied architecture and design in Spain at the prestigious Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and completed her postgraduate studies in Italy at the Architectural School of the Politecnico di Milano under the mentorship of architect, urban planner, and industrial designer Achille Castiglioni, a pioneer of contemporary Italian design and one of the most influential and prolific creators of functional furniture and lighting. In 2001, she founded Studio Urquiola with her partner, Alberto Zontone, building upon Castiglioni’s “fundamental element” of building an empathetic connection with the end-user of her designs. Today, the company numbers over seventy, consisting of 18 nationalities with a staff of 43 architects and interior designers, 15 product designers, textile designers, and model makers. The company was contracted by such companies as Moroso, BMW, Boeing, and Ferrari for industrial product design; residential and commercial furniture design for Driade, Andreu World, Kettal, and Haworth, among other furniture manufacturers; lighting design for Flos; accessories for Glas Italia; and textiles for Kvadrat. Luxury hotels predominate Studio Urquiola’s architectural clients, which include GAN SRL, the Marriott Group and most recently, Il Sereno Hotel in Como, the Room Mate Giulia Hotel in Milan, the SD96 yacht for Sanlorenzo, Marienturm and Marienforum Towers in Frankfurt, the spa of the Four Seasons Hotel Milan, The Jewellery Museum in Vicenza, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Barcelona, Das Stue Hotel in Berlin; showrooms and installations for Gianvito Rossi, BMW, Cassina, Missoni, Molteni, Officine Panerai, H&M, Santoni, and the general concept of Pitti Immagine in Florence.
Urquiola has been the creative director of the Italian luxury home furnishings and interior design company, Cassina, since 2015. Louis Vuitton, Starbucks, Agape, Alessi, Axor-Hansgrohe, B&B Italia, Baccarat, Boffi, Budri, De Padova, CoEdition, Ferragamo, Georg Jensen, Kartell, Listone Giordano, Molteni, Mutina, Rosenthal, Verywood, and Swarovski are among the growing list of companies that seek Urquiola’s unique approach to design as “the intersection of challenges and breaking prejudices, finding unexpected connections between the familiar and unexplored” in a humanistic, technological, and social amalgam.
Urquiola sits on the advisory board of the Politecnico of Milan University and the Triennale Milano Design Museum. She has taught interior design at the Domus Academy in Milan and lectured at Harvard University, University of Michigan, Shenkar School of Engineering and Design in Israel, the Alvar Aalto Academy in Finland, and Bocconi University in Milan. She has been a featured speaker at Design Shanghai, Design Week in Istanbul, the Expressive Design Conference at the Vitra Design Museum, Germany’s Weil am Rhein, the Bloomberg Design Conference in San Francisco, Festarch Perugia, the Mind Festival in Sarzana, the Mantova Literature Festival, and numerous events in Italy.
Among her many accolades are Designer of the Year by Wallpaper, Elle Decor International, AD España and Architecktur und Wohnen magazines. Highest among Urquiola’s honors is the Golden Medal for Merits in Art, awarded to her by the Spanish government, and the Cross of the Order of Isabella the Catholic, presented to her by His Majesty Juan Carlos I, King of Spain. Her work has been exhibited at MOMA in New York, the Decorative Arts Museum in Paris, the Triennale Museum in Milan, the Design Museum in Monaco, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, the Vitra Design Museum in Basel, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Design Museum in Zurich, the Stedelijk Museum of modern and contemporary art in Amsterdam, the Design Museum of Barcelona, and the Philadelphia Art Museum. A retrospective of Urquiola’s work entitled “Patricia Urquiola. Nature Morte Vivante” was held at the Madrid Design Festival.
“Exploring the mind of Patricia Urquiola offers many surprises, among them, discovering the unexpected themes that feed her voracious curiosity: virtual reality, economy, politics, artificial intelligence, the theory of color, the Anthropocene, robotics, ecology, sustainability, gender issues, man and machines, and so on. They are the foundation of an entire way of thinking that is imperative to the responsibility and coherence of a person that carefully introduces each new object of her creation into this agonizing and ill-treated planet. Patricia Urquiola´s career reveals a “rhizomatic” attitude towards projects, a type of mindset that is also her work method. Thus, all the elements involved have the same importance and influence each other horizontally, without imposing hierarchies.” explained Ana Dominguez Siemens, the curator of the exhibition.
Spanish by birth, Italian by choice, the work of this international visionary forces us to reconsider our relationship to our environment and make us wonder, and question, why. She contemplates our footprint and our handprint and follows Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium as a template for living: Lightness: how to be light in the heaviness of living. Quickness: and yet to take time to enjoy the process. Exactitude: how to be precise yet flexible in your life, and the concepts of visibility, multiplicity, and consistency. The search for answers to such eternal questions stimulates and empowers the international rock star of architecture and design known as Patricia Urquiola.
Editor’s note: Studio Urquiola is found at via Bartolomeo Eustachi, 45-20129 in Milan, Italy. www.patriciaurquiola.com.
By Emma Hamilton