REACTING TO VIRTUAL REALITY. Peter Marino is the principal of Peter Marino Architect PLLC, a 160-person, New York–based architecture firm founded in 1978. Widely credited with redefining modern luxury through equal emphasis on architecture and interior design, Marino’s work includes award-winning residential, retail, cultural, and hospitality projects worldwide.

Peter Marino, where are you at the moment?

My family and I left New York for Southampton, where I have two houses, because New York seems completely infected with Corona. Life has changed. I am working every morning for two hours in my spring time garden, where plants are blooming. Then I walk seven blocks to the village of Southampton, where I have an office. Very sadly, I pass the building where we are constructing my Foundation, but everything has stopped and we have no idea when it will recommence. In the office I sit in front of a computer. I am using Zoom with my architects and my clients, for eight hours a day. I have to say that I loathe sitting at a computer.

Didn’t you always say that you would never use a computer?

I wanted to be the last man going to his tomb without using a computer. Unfortunately, in the last six weeks I had to learn to become a computer literate. I find computers insufficient, slow and extremely limited in what you can do compared to just free drawing and thinking. With Zoom you have to press four buttons to share. If I think that we are in 2020, I am shaken at the discovery of how clumsy computers are.

“Computers have no sensuality.”

Peter Marino

Bulgari 5th Avenue, New York City.

Photo credit Manolo Yllera.

Peter Marino, you used to travel all the time. How about now?

Now it is absolute heaven not to have to take aeroplanes.

Do you feel lonely?

I adore being alone. Then I come home and have dinner with my family, and we take a series like Babylon Berlin, The Crown, or the Medici to watch on Netflix; and then I have time to read.

What are you reading?

A biography of Catherine the Great, a wonderful book; and ‘Leap Before you Look’ by Helen Molesworth. I am writing the foreword of an art book by a friend of mine, and because of that I am rereading a book by Victoria Newhouse, ‘Art and the Power of Placement’. I am working on my second book on French ceramics, on Pierre-Adrien Dalpayrat, because much to the surprise of my editors at Phaidon the entire issue of my last book on Théodore Deck sold out in six months.

What about your projects?

I have two kinds of projects. Those where we are designing – like private homes and a hotel in Los Angeles – and those are in the planning stages and clients have already founded their projects, so there is no lack of work.

Then there is the retail store business. Retail stores all over the world have stopped 80 percent of their projects, but each of the brands has large projects that are continuing because they were already in construction when the Corona virus hit. This includes the Christian Dior building in Avenue Montaigne and the Bulgari project of 2000 square meters in Place Vendome in Paris, and a Chanel project in Los Angeles in the middle of construction. But all new projects are delayed for one year.

“For some people to be alone in a monastery is a luxury.”

Peter Marino, you have worked in China, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan. What is happening there?  

Strangely enough, two weeks ago projects have started again in Hong Kong. We have an ongoing building for Louis Vuitton in Tokyo, and we believe it will open in September.

What’s going on in America?

America is 100 percent shut down. They said they will review this on May 15. I cannot imagine it being so soon.

Do you think that America was unprepared?

I think the entire world was unprepared. No one was prepared.

What is your reaction? 

In the history of the world, pandemias are not really shocking, as we have had many before, for instance the Spanish flu. Nowadays, with millions of people flying, I am not surprised by the spread. I am surprised by how long leaders took to react. Governmental people were very slow to react compared to the speed of the information available.

Walls have been very symbolic throughout history. People build them and then destroy them. Today are there walls for a pandemia?

It is the opposite, as human contact has increased. Nowadays, there are the least number of walls. I live in a country where there is a President who would love to build walls.

Do you think that because of the pandemia architects will be required to adopt new safety measures?

I know that distance will be required for some time, and governments will adopt systems for social distancing. We will never shake hands anymore, and French people will not kiss on the cheeks again. I think there will be limitations imposed on the Metro systems to prevent overcrowding.

What kind of a world do you imagine?

I think there will be a reaction to the fact that we have had two to three months of virtual reality. People will go back to sports, to shopping, and to museums. Basically human people are social animals. People probably will go back to what was before. If not forced to do so by law we will not keep distances. They should find a vaccine, and I am confident that they will. HIV seemed hopeless, and then they found a vaccine.

What do you think will be the attitude of people vis-a-vis luxury?

Definitions of luxury are always fluid. For some people to be alone in a monastery is a luxury. For me, not to have to travel in aeroplanes and to live in the country, this is a great luxury.

But what about luxury fashion brands?

For sure it is a human urge to have something beautiful and well-made, since the Egyptians, since 10,000 years ago.

Peter Marino

Fendi Madison Avenue, New York City.

Photo credit Manolo Yllera.

Peter Marino

Louis Vuitton Rodeo Drive (exterior + interior architecture Peter Marino).

Photo credit Paul Warchol.

Peter Marino

Chanel Istanbul.

Photo credit Manolo Yllera.

Peter Marino

Peter Marino.

Photo credit Francesco Carrozzini.

Peter Marino

Chanel 57th Street New York City. Artwork by Jean-Michel Othoniel.

Photo credit Manolo Yllera.

Peter Marino

Dior Seoul.

Photo credit Luc Castel.

“My way of working is not going to change.”

Peter Marino, what about art?

Art is and always has been a value. Art will be more important than ever, because in the Western world and in China it provides a certain spirituality that used to be provided only by organized religion.

You have been the architect and the friend of Andy Warhol. What do you think he would have thought about this time?

He would be taking photographs of Corona virus cells and would be coloring them in pop colours, and I think the paintings would sell like hot cakes. He would be doing paintings about the germ, a disaster series of what happened in the hospitals, and he would make paintings of deaths in the hospitals and show scenes of horror. He was a great artist, and his paintings reflected the values and the events in which we lived. His paintings defined the 60s and 70s, and if he was alive today he would define 2020 by the subjects he chose and the way he painted them.

Are there any living artists like him today?

One I can think of is Richard Prince. His paintings define American society in the times in which we live. I am madly collecting Georg Baselitz. He paints these portraits of falling men that seem really relevant at the moment. He asked me to design his show at the Biennale in Venice in May 2021 at Palazzo Grimani.

You are a motorcycle freak. Can you ride at the moment?

I will go in two weeks. It’s really too cold. I will start again as soon as it’s warm enough, with my KTM and my Triumph.

Is your way of working going to change after the pandemia?

My way of working is not going to change. Some people say we will do more work at home. My answer is: No! I don’t think working at home is the best. You need an environment in which to be productive, that’s why I am negative about staying home. In architecture and design, creativity is not going to be done at home. I don’t intend, once this quarantine is over, to continue working on the computer. I want to draw with my black Pentel, and to see and touch materials. With Zoom you can show plans, but computers do not convey the sense of materiality. Everything is flat on a computer. Computers have no sensuality. The effect is flattening. They try to make all equal, which is sad and difficult to work with.

Can I take it that you’re not going to work for Apple or Microsoft?

These are really not my clients.

April 24, 2020

Portrait of Peter Marino by Manolo Yllera.