Andrea Anselmo grew up in the Ligurian province and began his promising career at the Polytechnic School of Genoa. Gradually he developed the will to know different realities from the Italian one and so he started the Erasmus in France. It is precisely during this moment of his life that he increasingly understood the importance of perceiving his experience abroad as an opportunity for personal growth and development. Therefore, he moved during his academic career between Versailles, Paris, Berlin and Rotterdam, increasing his professional experience in the most important international studies, including OMA. As a graduate, he returned to Holland, where he started working for MVRDV. For almost 2 years he has been living and working in Paris where, on behalf of the Dutch studio, he follows the construction of the multifunctional complex Gaîté Montparnasse. His ambition, although he already has an important career behind him, does not seem to be extinct. In fact, the collective False Mirror Office, of which he is co-founder, is certainly one of his many projects in the process of taking off, and I think it will reserves us some pleasant surprises.
1 – What do you think of the contemporary phenomenon of immigration?
I think that immigration is not a contemporary phenomenon but a historical one and that, apart from some cases, in the past there have been much more shocking migrations than today. Regarding immigration, I am convinced that it is a phenomenon that, if properly managed, can create many opportunities. I am thinking of how the combination of the knowledge, skills and qualities of different populations is showing to produce interesting results, both in in the world of work and in the cultural industry or in sport.
2 – What do you think is the role of Architecture within this phenomenon?
I do not believe that architecture can play a decisive role in relation to immigration, rather it is the latter that can represent a great opportunity for the development of our cities and territories. Architecture can make a fairly conventional contribution, supporting the creation of optimal conditions for the integration of migrants: from rethinking housing for the most complex contemporary needs, in the case of young specialized workers, to designing emergency centers for refugees’ reception. Architecture is obviously only a small piece of a social, economic and territorial strategy that allows the integration of the migrant for the benefit of the whole society.
3 – What are the answers that Architecture can give to the issue?
I don’t believe that architecture can or should give resolutive answers, in this case as in general, with regard to complex phenomena; however, it can help to make a synthesis by using its complex system of immaterial and intellectual competences, to show possibilities or make critical points emerge. In this sense, two recent examples are the Perou research laboratory, which dealt with the emerging urbanism of the jungle of Calais, or the London-based Forensic Architecture, which investigated the trafficking of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.
4 – Can you tell us how your experience on this topic – your studies in Versailles and your work in Berlin, Rotterdam and Paris – has enriched you?
I’ve learned a lot from my foreign colleagues but probably the most formative aspect has been the comparison with the various forms that architecture can take in different countries and contexts. To make architecture, the experience of radically different spaces and places – from museums to supermarkets, from unspoiled nature to landfill – is fundamental. Moving to other regions, states or continents is a simple way to train oneself, but it does not exclude study and deepening: history can only be discovered in books or in archives.
5 – Is the mix of nationalities, and therefore of cultures, a great contribution for architecture studios?
Definitely. For some, it’s even crucial. When I joined OMA I had the impression that each person was selected for the cultural diversity of their CV (such as having parents of different nationalities or having lived in more than one continent) even before the quality of their university of origin or for their work skills. I had a “European” curriculum and I was the most normal. In this sense, to have experience only in Europe is no longer enough.
6 – Today there are many italian architects abroad. Do you think and/or hope that the situation in Italy will improve in the future so that you can return to develop projects in Italy?
Although I believe that in our field there are many things that can be done in our country to improve the situation – as a law for architecture – I think that the problem of the surplus of professionals is structural: for the same population in France there are 30,000 members of the order, in Italy 150,000, too many for the national market. Italy, in fact, provides half of the architects who are the basis of the best architectural firms, universities and European institutions: this is well demonstrated by excellence such as Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, partner of OMA, Umberto Napolitano of the LAN studio, or even the DOGMA studio, to name a few. Although this situation is considered critical, looking at it from a post-national point of view, one realizes an opportunity: our best faculties should enhance their qualities by promoting post-graduate masters on the AA model in London, IAAC in Barcelona or Barlage in Delft, taking care of training the European Architect, of any nationality.
7 – When, how and why did you decide that Architecture would be your way?
During the last year of high school, I found myself a truly motivated student, as I had never been before. After a summer internship in the studio of Pietro De Andreis, a good architect from Imperia, I chose to study architecture and I never left it. At the beginning I approached it convinced that it would have been an interesting profession, but at university, thanks to the teachings of professors Giovanni Galli, Djamel Klouche and Cédric Libert, I became passionate about its theoretical and cultural dimension.
8 – What is your definition of Architecture today?
I share Hans Hollein’s well-known definition: “Alles ist Architektur”. Having said that, although I am currently working on a large construction site and learning to love the most practical aspects of the trade, I think that first of all Architecture is the expression of a thought, in the form of words or drawings, the fact that these materialize in a building is secondary.
9 – What advice would you like to give to future architects?
Architecture is a complex discipline that can have many forms. Go in search of the one that really interests you and until you have found it do not stop.
Translated into English by Marco Grattarola.