Marco Dessì: how to balance heritage and modernity

6 July 2023

Marco Dessi

The Vienna-based architect from Merano has introduced a new chair collection for Thonet that enhances and brings the company’s history into the present

Born in Merano in 1976, Marco Dessì chose Vienna as his home, through an unusual life path for a designer. At the age of 16 he began his studies as a dental technician in his hometown but after a few years he began to desire something different and this search led him to Vienna. Here he starts working in an artisan laboratory that creates models and prototypes for architects and designers, a world from which he was so fascinated that he decides to enroll in the university of applied arts to study design. The link with Vienna remains strong and it is here that he settles at the end of his studies, fascinated, as he himself says, by Austrian companies and their ability to carry on their heritage by making it current without betraying it. Among these, Thonet stands out, for which Dessì designed the 520 collection presented at the last Salone del Mobile in Milan.

How did the collaboration with Thonet come about and which aspects of the company fascinate you in particular?

The collaboration with Thonet was born following a meeting I had with Norbert Ruf (who is the Product Manager of the company): Thonet was looking for a studio that had some experience with the upholstery technique and that had above all a sensitivity in designing for companies that have strong historical references. I share many values with this company, I am fascinated by its heritage and the importance this company has in the ‘History of Design’. Thonet revolutionized the “chair project” at least twice: by developing the steam bending technique combined with decomposability, which at the time was fundamental for optimizing transport and distributing chairs all over the world… and of course production of a cantilever chair in tubular steel, thus creating an icon… brilliant!

How did you balance the company’s traditional values and your personal approach in the 520 collection?

In my way of designing I look for lightness and constructive elegance, I like it when a piece remains legible, when you can see how it is made. I studied Thonet’s historical pieces and understood that in its iconic chairs every detail has its own task and that overall, even if each element appears decorative, everything is structure! I believe that with this project we have managed to develop a seat that is unmistakably Thonet, which “carries” all the company’s DNA towards the future without resorting to nostalgic elements. The 520 is a modern chair, combining new and old technologies!

In general, what are the priorities in your approach to a new project?

In the studio, in addition to working on projects commissioned by companies, we work on projects or even “just ideas” that derive from my personal research, ideas that arise from the observation of what surrounds me, and I encounter on a daily basis. From here various models and prototypes were born which I then developed together with other brands and became industrial products. This approach to design ensures that I am always intrigued by everything and that my passion for the sector is always renewed.

You chose Vienna as a base, what won you over about the architectural history and design of this city?

In Vienna I really like the artisan tradition that is still found around the city; Historical architects such as Otto Wagner, Adolf Loos and Hoffmann with the secessionists developed an “all-Viennese modernity” that still inspires many designers, not just Austrians. In Vienna I started my career working with historic brands such as Lobmeyr, Augarten and Wittmann, then I started working in Germany and we are currently involved in several projects in Italy as well. Vienna has a very high quality of life at a price that is still quite reliable compared to other European cities, unfortunately, however, I perceive that today there is not yet such an affinity, sensitivity, and interest in design as, for example, there is in Italy Germany, Denmark… but never say never!

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La Manufacture Linus Chair
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