In this spirit, he approached Jill Fehrenbacher’s (Inhabitat) question with gusto — and came up with an amazing potential solution. Matteo joined us to discuss inspirations, and motivation, along with his love of Paris and dancing with the elderly.
For one of Bettery Magazine’s Q&As about green space, you created a mobile garden bench. Could you tell us how this idea came to you?
Back then, I lived on a street without any greenery. As a tree-lined street would really have improved my quality of life, I decided to tackle this problem head-on. A mobile bench simply seemed like the easiest and most obvious way to make trees accessible to everyone; you can just move it around from house to house and from street to street.
You mentioned that the lack of trees in Milan really bothers you. What are the positive aspects about living in Milan, the things that keep you there?
To be honest, I don’t really like Milan and its lifestyle too much. I grew up in cities like Venice and Vicenza, where you can easily walk around a stunning historic city center without seeing traffic or franchise stores everywhere. I like to read the newspaper, accompanied by some great tea and a pastry, seated somewhere in the main square—and all this for very little money. In most big cities, this has become a rare luxury or even impossible.
But the lifestyle in Milan is unhealthy and even antisocial. Here, everyone works hard all week, only to escape over the weekends to spend time in the mountains, on the seaside, or in one of the beautiful cities less than an hour away.
In Milan, it is very rare that a friend or colleague invites you over for dinner at their own home—everyone is always stressed and works long into the evening hours.
I don’t think I will start a family and raise my kids in Milan, although it is still the country’s financial, design, and fashion capital, i.e. the city to be in for the best public relations and international contacts. For my current job, I have to be here for at least three days out of every week.
I enjoy using the BikeMi (Milanese bike-sharing scheme) to cycle to appointments; it is definitely the fastest way to get around town, to access the colorful flea/street markets in the morning to buy fresh fruit or to join friends for dinner at home.
I am glad that you can still find some veteran artisans working in the city center, but unfortunately they are disappearing quickly.
You are a designer and a creative mind. How could design improve urban life?
I can think of many ways! Designers and creatives should get involved in city planning to redirect and reshape key decisions and interventions. Most city councils cannot afford to offer advanced services to their citizens anymore, so it is important to foster collaborations between private corporations and city management to support new public services. A lot of creativity is required to drive this process. As mentioned earlier, creatives should actively boost and support heterogeneity in the cityscape, taking charge of and supporting local social activities, services, and shops.
What is most important to you in your work? How do you approach your designs?
I like to work on the move (right now, my office is my laptop); two years ago, I shut down my actual office with three employees. I am so much happier and more relaxed now! I like to travel and work out of friends’ offices, on the train, or in creative workshops.
I like to take and mix the potential that any of these spaces or people can add to a project.
You’ve traveled to plenty of places in your career. What distinguishes Milan from other cities?
Milan is a small city; you can easily cross it by bike for various appointments. It will take just 15-20 minutes to get from one meeting to the next.
It might sound stupid, but this changes your approach to time and space during working and leisure hours. Living here just gives you more time to actually get things done instead of traveling from A to B.
Is there something other cities could learn from Milan…or Milan from them?
Most cities look very similar. Wherever you travel, you find the same stores with the same products as any big city around the world. Corporations are invading Milan. I think that cities in general should protect their retail heritage. Keeping small local shops alive and supporting local products is really important. I like small towns where it is still possible to find shops with local products, nice window displays and an interior design unlike anything you’ve seen before. Paris does this extremely well; it still boasts a nice array of retail stores with authentic, but sophisticated interiors.
Upon arriving in a city you have never visited before, how do you approach exploring it? Do you use maps or just wander around?
Sometimes, I use a map, but usually I just glance at it once or twice for general orientation. Whenever possible, I like to rent a bicycle and walk around alone at night, when the town changes its look and appeal.
When do you feel like you “know” a city? Is this even possible—or do you think cities are in constant flux?
Most cities change very quickly, and you can never claim to really know one; they are filled with subcultures and hidden places to discover. At the same time, I believe that cities are far more about their residents than about their physical spaces. So, I suppose when you want to get to know a city, you actually have to get to know its people.
What are you currently working on? Any city-changing works in the mix?
Right now, not really. For the last four years, I have been working on a social art project called Arizona2000.
The idea is to get people to meet in the context of dancing—people whose paths would never cross otherwise. During Fashion and Design Week, I invite select characters from the fashion and design realms to join me at an old Milanese ballet space otherwise filled with lively 70-year-olds. There is always a moment of great surprise and delight for both the normal punters and invited guests. I like the idea because everyone has great and genuine fun—afterwards, many have said that it was the best time they had had in years.
Arizona 2000, all photos by Matteo Cibic
Interview: Lia Pack