In the context of a comparison between three architects who participated in the Blueprint competition, organized by the City of Genova, Paolo Brescia of OBR Studio was interviewed.
Paolo Brescia graduated from the Polytechnic of Milan, after he studied at the Architectural Association in London. He worked from 1998 to 2000 with Renzo Piano, after which he founded, together with Tommaso Principi, the OBR Open Building Research studio, which focus its research towards new ways of contemporary living, creating a network between Genoa, London and New York.
The project for the Blueprint competition presented by OBR with Arup, Baukuh, Michel Desvigne Paysagiste, Rina, Acquatecno, HMO, Open Fabric, Silvia Bassi, Carlo Cocchi, Margherita Del Grosso, Mario Kaiser, Matteo Orlandi, Giulia Poggi and Valter Scelsi, underlines a strong urbanity of Genoa by the sea, recovering the area of the Ex-Fiera di Genova in a new urban front by the sea. The OBR project enhances the “voids” by seeking the quality of the intervention starting from the open spaces, the mirrors of water, but also the large flat roofs (typically Genoese) from which to reveal new and surprising views of the city and the sea, “transforming what was a back in a front and what was a below in an above, through a change of perspective”.
1 – What do you think about the Masterplan of Renzo Piano?
It is a vision of the city that recovers the urban vocation of Genoa on the sea, enhancing the theme of the port starting from the city.
2 – What is your opinion about the approach and management of the competition by the Municipal Administration?
I think the intentions were good. However, I believe that a competition should have been held on the basis of a shared brief with the city. In my opinion, the competition is interesting when it becomes the tool to implement a common vision with the city.
3 – How did you place yourself in relation to the project and how did you set it up?
Our approach was to start from the “voids”, transforming what was a back in a front and what was a below in an above, relativizing in a certain sense the “real share” through a change of perspective. Therefore, we have tried to recover that Genoese mood that manifests itself between the port and the city, from the double point of view: from the port, but also from the city. Despina, one of Italo Calvino’s invisible cities, comes to mind: it can be reached in two ways, either by land or by sea. Coming from the ground, you see it as the cameleer sees a sailing ship; vice versa, coming from the sea, you see it as the sailor sees the hump of a camel. Similarly, if you see Genoa as a city that maintains its port and urban characteristics, then I believe that interesting scenarios open up.
4 – What were the problems you encountrered during the design phase?
In general, I believe that the greatest risk has been to see the limits and not the potential of this project. I do not think that we can seek economic and financial sustainability on a local scale. I believe, however, that this project is part of an international circuit that finds its reference context in the Mediterranean. I see it as a new polarity of talents looking for a habitat that represents them, a sort of hub or energy condenser that aggregates multiple creative activities.
In addition to being super-urban, it is also a super-accessible place, connecting Corso Italia with the historic center. In a way, it’s like having the suburbs in the center. In addition, in that borderline between the city and the sea, you have the opportunity to exchange, to interact, celebrating the rite of urbanity on the sea.
From a functional point of view, it is necessary to guarantee the right mix. It will then be the city with its time to shape the program, as a body that acts and reacts by virtue of the dynamic exchanges with society and the market.
From a dimensional point of view, I believe that it is preferable to remove to obtain more, enhancing what remains. Therefore, the theme is not how many apartments you put on the market, but imagine a new model of living according to more hybrid and innovative typologies (workshops, ateliers on water with berths…). We don’t have to compete with a local market (which doesn’t exist) but start from the real expectations of people (which are yet to be defined). It’s about starting a search similar to serendipity, through which you find something that you weren’t really looking for, but being in a searching state, that you find.
In any case, the project wins: if the project is beautiful it works and vice versa, or to put it in terms of the ancients, kalòs kai agathòs.
5 – What do you think about the result of the competition and about the new project called “Levante’s Waterfront” promoted by Renzo Piano?
The contest was a unique experience, in the sense that I have never participated in a contest without a winner, so we have to ask ourselves questions. I believe that a project of this scale should be the result of collective work, developed by a multidisciplinary team with different skills, from the urban planner, to the sociologist, to the landscape architect, to the transporter, etc. For us, design is the result of a process given by the synergy between different knowledge.
As architects, I believe that our task should be to recreate the urbanity on the sea to which the city has been aspiring for years. Only if we focus on this mission, then we can do something about Genoa. Looking at the recent history of the port, it is clear that the extension of the port eastwards and westwards has denied the natural relationship that the city has constantly had with the sea. The port of Genoa has always been the interface between the city and the sea, according to an organic relationship between urban form and landscape.
To regenerate the seafront of Genoa, it is necessary to provoke the simultaneous presence of three factors at the same time: visibility (I have to see the sea), accessibility (I have to get there), and usability (I have to travel). Therefore, by bringing water back along the historic city walls and creating the port-factory island, we restore Genoa’s organic relationship between the city and the sea, while preserving the dual soul of the port: the urban port and the industrious port. The port of Genoa must not be distorted, it must not become a “marina”, it must not only be free time, but also work, activity, business … seven days a week and twelve months a year. Today the city sees the back of the port, we do not see the sea and we do not even see the port. Tomorrow, however, bringing water back between the city and the port, we will have a double shore: the urban and the port, with the double result of bringing the port back to the city and the city by the sea. The view must become suture.
I think the great value of the Blueprint was to take away to get more, bringing water back to where it was, restoring the old balance between city and sea.
6 – What is your vision of Genoa for the future?
My vision of Genoa is ancestral. A seafront facing south is wonderful when you think about it. In Genoa, you always have the light that comes to you from the sea, so it is a light that always moves. However, Genoa is also unique because it is at the center of everything, it has always been, is its geographical feature, historical and cultural, between east and west, between north and south. We should start from this ancient centrality, to trace the circle of opportunities in Genoa. This city must start to think in these terms. Milan succeeded with the Expo; Genoa should do so with the sea.
Thinking about the Ex-Fiera area, I believe that there you will find everything that is not there, but that everyone is looking for. I would like to live in Genoa, but I work in Milan. We must create that community where we meet and exchange experiences, forming a habitat similar to a Campus, not bucolic, but strongly urban, where you feel part of a whole, designed right there where city and sea meet, where the city is on the water’s edge, in a situation protected by the port, but visually open to the sea.
We should all get together and share a common vision. The scale of this project is such that it would not be a problem, on the contrary, it is necessary to unite. If this table were to expand and include all those who are thinking about this project, the results would be much more than the initial expectations. Clearly, we’re not all going to feel the same way at first. It will be discussed, but the very fact that a dialogue is born, even a heated one, means animating a path, therefore a process that must have common objectives. There would be a coincidence between politics (the real one) and the common good.
Genova must become a destination for talent in the world. To attract capital, we need to attract talent first. This is well known by large multinationals, which focus their offer not so much on economic values of compensation, but on issues related to quality of life, personal enrichment, sense of community, loyalty, to ensure the best talents. Genoa is not Disneyland and neither is Dubai. Here it’s all true. That’s why it takes two thousand years to do so.
7 – When, how and why did you decide that Architecture would be your way?
As a child, when I played with my friends, the game that took us best was to imagine stories, which we represented by improvising scenes with what we found. It was a form of group creation, with a certain collective holistic form. My dream was to be a director, but at the same time I could not escape the infinite pleasure of building anything. I also liked to draw and there were no architects in my family, so studying architecture was one way to find my way.
8 – What is your definition of Architecture today?
As Paul Virilio says, today we live in a world that has become a world-city, in which information, messages, images, things and people circulate… However, it is also true that today’s city is increasingly a city-world, with its own ethnic, cultural and social differences (denying in a way the illusions of the world-city). It is on this uncertain terrain, suspended between the city and the world, that I am thinking of architecture today, understood as the spirit of our time, as a mirror of our reality. Now, as reality is constantly changing, I believe that as architects we are called upon to manifest this becoming. Michel Foucault, interviewed by Paul Rabinow, said that the architect creates social benefits when the “liberating” will of the architect coincides with the real practice of freedom by the people. I’m not sure we can change the world, but we can do something to improve it.
9 – What advice would you like to give to future architects?
To do everything! Whether you make a table or a Masterplan, you do it with the same attitude. You do everything with the same motivation. Then it’s statistical: if you do things right, you’ll always get better.
Translated into English by Marco Grattarola.