Architecture and Hope: interview with Luca Molinari

Architecture and Hope: interview with Luca Molinari

Accompanied by thirty years of experience in the academic, curatorial, editorial and research fields, in 2015 Luca Molinari founded his independent office supported by a team of professionals coming from the architectural context and the sectors of exhibit design, graphic, advertising, copyediting and project management.
Luca Molinari Studio offers tailored and integrated services concerning content design, consulting, curatorship, planning, coordination and management of projects and processes in the field of architecture and design.
Great media impact was given to the proposal of the famous and pioneering exhibition on Made in Italy : “Environments and Counter environments. Italy: The New Domestic Landscape”, held at MoMA in 1972. The exhibit had been curated by Molinari together with Peter T. Lang and Mark Wasiuta.
His activity as a theorist and critical is constant in the editorial field. Since 1995, he has been the editorial manager for the Architecture and Design sector at the “Skira” publishing house and he is currently Editorial Director at the international magazine PLATFORM. He collaborates with numerous Italian and foreign magazines, such as: Domus, Area, Lotus, Abitare, Ottagono, Archis, Il Post, The Plan, A+U.
Among the goals of his philosophical work, some efforts are remarkable. Firstly, the attempt to provide sustainable tools capable of promoting and sharing knowledge; secondly, the trial to give concrete form to visions and needs regarding the issue of contemporary living; thirdly, the act of “building” awareness; last, the concept of giving voice, identity and quality to urban places and territories.

1 – In your opinion, what are the existent differences between nowadays and the last Century concerning the act of designing and thus of doing architecture?

Concerning the issue of “style”, I am convinced that the substantial difference is that the last Century, or just the past two Centuries, had the representation of a codified, recognizable and shared system of thought in the conceptual and formal declaration of style. This defined meaning of the world was recognized by part of the intellectual elite, who contemporarily declared itself as a bearer and a manager of the way of interpreting the world itself. This mechanism shaped into treatises, books, teaching, magazines, etc… Somehow, the culture of modernity identified itself in some styles that became an interpretation of reality. Even during Postmodernism, there were the same characteristics that linked theory, object, form of the project, language and its transmissibility.

Starting from the 1960s, style was progressively disintegrated; desiring human beings multiplied and, consequently, those people defining and limiting a portion of reality, the same that were managing and controlling, even politically, the representation of reality, fell. Moreover, in the last years, a clear distinction between architecture and building has been established; a difference according to which the latter became a simplification of the recognizable language of modernity.
From the 1960s onwards, thanks to radical movements and to Robert Venturi, there was a progressive deconstruction of this conceptual crumbling that metaphorically opened the famous Pandora’s box. As a matter of fact, in the 1960s everyone was potentially the bearer of an individual language. The unitary monolithic dimension in which language and word interpenetrated was gradually lost.

During the 20th Century, the dimension of individualism progressively took over; within the Modern Movement, everyone confessed to be modern, each with a different language. However, these varieties of languages were paradoxically all modernistic and all grouped in a family. Affected by the effects of the crisis of the Modern, this type of rhetorical device, that was keeping everyone together, gradually wore out as a system of life and it experienced a corrosion that lasted at least 30-40 years, until digitally detonated this condition definitively.
Therefore, digital represents the fulfillment of an itinerary according to which every thinking and eager individual can express his essence and his personal language.

Nowadays, idealistically, the present does not allow to build a common language and the Capital power remains as the only element holding everything together. The expression of “HyperModernity” still makes modern, for the umpteenth time, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid or any great architect that most people have decided to consider as such.
The current system is totally imploded. The reason why lies in the exponential multiplication of the places of communication of possible languages: everything is equal to everything, because everyone has the right of expression. Therefore, what is the difference between a blog and “Dezeen”? What is the difference between “Casabella” and any other platform? Is it an economic issue of domination? Or of numbers? Do clicks correspond to copies already sold? However, the answers do not involve a unitary vision according to which language represents the world.

But what does the world “style” represent today? As I said, I believe it is impossible to condense the concepts in a dominant “style”. If speculation is really needed, there is perhaps “HyperCapitalism”. The latter is the representation of a generic, Class A and “Lead Certified” architecture, in which performances becomes the form of architecture because they give shape to the catalog of pieces and represent a language that is indifferent to the world. Feasibly, this is the only true global language, which anyhow does not arise from a cultural reflection or from an intellectual hegemony; instead, it is born as an expression of a global market that seeks reassuring forms for absent consumers.

2 – You mentioned how digital entered this cultural discourse and which was the natural consequence. In this regard, how fast does it relate to the project?

The progressive sedimentation of contents give birth to the construction of the project and to the generation of an architectural language. It involves a work of listening, of memory, of assimilation and of reworking. If, as Homo Sapiens Sapiens, I can download and copy different information every second, at the same time the physiological time is not enough to elaborate something that is mine.

I still belong to a “bastard” generation, between one life and another, but I find a problem of sedimentation of meaning in you, my son and students. Language is the result of a personal and collective path. Personal since each of us establishes and pursues what is of interest, also collective because somehow people find themselves while working with others and sharing experiences. The “style” was also referring to being part of a family, a diverse group of profession of “Faith”. The word “Faith” is another word used a lot in the twentieth century that seems to have disappeared. In a world where many “Gods” have been permanently killed.

I think that the digital is an instrument like others; however, an instrument that, unlike others, is profoundly and radically changing the world.
When I was 20, I spasmodically waited for the end of the month for the last number of “Casabella”, “Domus” and “Abitare”. I bought them and I had the future in my hands for a month, there was nothing else, books have a slower time. Nowadays, every 20 seconds there is a different project on “ArchDaily”. Then, the future appears immediately, continuously, 24 hours a day. However, the sedimentation time has remained the same; as Homo Sapiens Sapiens, the anthropological time is indisputable in terms of speed, human beings are resistant animals and they need to believe in things and to take possession of them.
Architecture is created by giving time to the project to establish physical, mental and emotional coordinates. Making a model requires time, as well as drawing does.

The internet speed is increasingly sophisticated and complex; it makes people totally inadequate compared to the contemporary time. I believe that at this moment none have the cultural and conceptual tools to face a new time that poses arguments and dynamics that people are starting to understand just now and that will be elaborated by at least the next two generations.
In this regard, I continue to reason about the fact that the intellectual’s task is not to resist, because it is impossible to deny the network and the digital. The scholars, perhaps, should find sources of slowing down the flow; information should be collected and processed in a critical and non-consumerist way. Indeed, the issue is not resistance, instead the conscious slowdown of flows, in the name of planning. In addition, the more the network will raise the issue of the vastness of the information it offers, the more fundamental it will be to get back consciousness of being and will. Therefore, an almost humanistic dimension is renewed and if someone does not know what he wants and what he is looking for, he will not find it sinking.

3 – The speech of “Faith” was catching, in the sense that, while talking to my colleagues, we fell in love with the idea that Architecture can be an “act of Faith” and of hope when considering the actual historical moment… The word “Faith” mentioned the death of the “Gods”. From my personal viewpoint, these two concepts are connected by the fact that my generation has no fathers to kill. As suggested in the previous question, they have already been murdered or they are biologically dead. What do you think in concern of this condition?

During the past Century, the theme of “Faith” was a very heavy hammer because it caused the death of those people who were not on the right side. Authors such as Bollino or Gio Ponti paid very high prices since they were not aligned with contemporary “Faith”.
In my case, I have been very lucky being the first Erasmus student of the Politecnico di Milano in Delft, in 1989. Thanks to that experience, I have discovered a world that was previously unknown to me because of the university: Aldo van Eyck, the Smithsons, Giancarlo De Carlo and others who were not nominable within the Milanese faculty. This “Faith” has also caused cultural heritage and important black holes in my generation.

Try to strip the word “Faith” from that dangerous religious dimension that transforms it into fanaticism. Regarding your generation, I perceive a powerful desire to return to order, perhaps to recover those fathers who have never existed.
To me, “Faith” is linked to the awareness of one’s civil and cultural role, within an increasingly expanded social body, and it should lead to proudly affirm who someone is and what he brings. I do not believe that one is equal to one, I do not believe in this digital rhetoric, I am different from another, but not because someone is better, simply because I bring my own story and my knowledge that is compared with other stories and knowledge in a totally democratic and respectful manner. It is incorrect that I can be a minister; someone needs to study to be a minister or, instead, to become an architect or a farmer. The specificity of knowledge is very important, the rhetoric according to which everybody is equal is extremely dangerous.

4 – Which point could be identified as a rupture after which the world changed, and “Gods” permanently died?

I would like to quote Robert Venturi. I have never found the source of these words, so I am uncertain if it was reported by someone or if it is an urban legend. However, it is a quote that I really like. When the Velasca Tower was completed and Venturi saw it, he stated: “This project has opened the Pandora’s box: from now on, everybody can truly do and think whatever they like.” I do not believe that a single building can decree the change in the way of reasoning.

Nevertheless, if the necessity is to identify a time when things changed radically, I would certainly indicate the 1960s since they represent a very powerful conceptual shift. In 1968, Man admired Earth from the Moon for the first time, and he saw it very small, so the idea of the world as a center was definitively eliminated; this event was very important from a symbolic point of view. At the same time, conceptual art and architects began to reason through images rather than words; this is another fundamental step, which is also an intuition of what is happening today. By now, the reasonings are expressed almost exclusively by images, so much so that there are serious problems conceptualizing what is lived. In addition, the 1960s are a period in which disciplines mix and experience paradoxes, even from a political point of view. Furthermore, during the 1960s and the 1970s, the ten epochal books of western architectural culture were published: Venturi, Rossi, De Carlo, Tafuri, Grassi and Jacobs wrote scripts that changed the way of thinking about architecture, eradicating what was there been before. Finally, in the 1960s an important schism occurred: the return from monotheism to paganism took place, since the blind “Faith” in the reason and culture of the Enlightenment was gradually dismantled to restore a condition that I would call premodern, in which the definitive distrust of reason has taken over.

I had the opportunity to work for a long time on the exhibition “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape” and that exhibition had already insights dimension that they are still valid and visible on the network, on digital, on listening, on changes of perspective, on breaking the central perspective and on the landscape.
The consequences of that decade are still perceived since it was a decisive epochal passage that projected the human being into another dimension. Before the 1960s, someone could have said that the breaking points in which the world changed were the concentration camps, but, to me, it seems a bit rhetorical.

The theme of your Number 04 is interesting because, perhaps, to return to work on the archives of the memoirs, with a non fideistic but naturally contemporary look, could be a way of re-establishing a condition of fresh and current research. Instead, for my part, the historical task of my generation is evident: to clean the fields, to plow and to wait for you to find the seeds to create something new.

5 – The “Pandora’s box” has been mentioned few times. So, I would like to use the same image in another sense. I might envision the internet as that jar that has been opened and from which all the evils of the world have come out. But the original myth does not end at this point; as a matter of fact, Hope is still trapped inside the vase and it stays enclosed until the jar is re-opened.
If the internet is compared to the Pandora’s box, what could it mean to open it again to get Hope out?

There is a sentence that I love very much: “Architecture as the substance of desired things”. Without hope, without trust and without “Faith” there is no architecture. Architects work on the future continuously: that is the real task. The trial is to give shape to something that does not yet have any. A desperate man cannot make architecture, maybe he can make ugly architecture in which others might live and that is even worse. Hope is an inevitable and necessary condition for transforming the inhabited environments at all levels.

I believe that the underlying issue regards the profound epistemological rupture; the tools to re-establish a new condition still must be found. Therefore, the rhetorical image of Pandora’s box is the demonstration of the actual confusion. Everyone clings to what wanted to survive. Some dedicate themselves to a form of cynical relativism, for which everything is worth it; others claim a return to order to feel reassured by nostalgic figures that are only beautiful white marble tombs, but that no longer have any relationship with the past. Moreover, some become Gods themselves, therefore they assume their own language, their body and their Ego as a solution to problems.

The alternative to the “Pandora’s box” is certainly the “Tower of Babel”, different from the first myth because in this second one there is no Hope and there is a lack of communication. The limbus is between these two paradoxical extremes. On the one hand, the life is compared to a babelic labyrinth; on the other, a direction is needed since the human being is an animal that demands the belief in future.
Since I am not a catastrophist, I think there is the possibility of building different solutions and this is what I expect from the next generations.

6 – According to a previous answer, the argument was that the intellectual should process a critical information rather than a consumeristic one. So, what is your critical opinion of contemporary architecture?

Nowadays, I think that architecture is in real crisis. I cannot find works indicating fragments of the future. I find an architecture living inertially with respect to the market and I am convinced that the authorial dimension, the heretical one of experimenting, is increasingly reduced. Criticism is not taught in universities; moreover, architects rarely practice it, instead they often confuse it with marketing.

On the one hand, the situation of the past 250 years cannot be carried on any longer. Principal actions were about consuming new territories and colonizing what was left. This is no longer possible because the ecological balance would become even more unsustainable.
Therefore, architecture needs to densify, to break down, to naturalize and to think of alternative strategies. In addition, I believe that architecture should develop a more critical and deeply radical way of thinking, which does not mean “strange family”, but that means having an extremist thinking on the world view. Through the shape of inhabited space, it should express a vision of the world that tries to systematize the new need to make community, to share, to be together, to generate completely different spaces, to break down the principle of privacy as the only organizing element in the world. In the current Century, the mono-functional dimension of the ‘800 and’ 900 is completely abolished: the borders are completely erased. So, what does it mean to live together? What is the meaning of being individual and at the same time collective? From this point of view, digital has a predominant role in changing the perception of life in the lived space.

Many ongoing experiences are interesting, but still too fragile to express a formal and linguistic vision of the world. I notice many high quality talents in Mexico, China, Italy, Belgium and many other Countries of the world; however, due to the current economic market conditions, many of these talents do not have the opportunity to express themselves as they should. If everything is bind to a few interiors, a few temporary installations and a few houses, there are no steps in front. In addition, architecture needs to make critical mass and produce something that enters the collective imagination, becoming a form of address.
Nevertheless, this crisis regards health because it allows the elimination many aged “whales” that just took a self-portrait.

7 – Since the need for radical concepts has been evoked, I wanted to talk about three of these rooted notions that are closely related to the discourse made so far.
Let’s start with the issue of privacy, which I personally do not conceive as a right; I certainly do not perceive it as a fundamental right, and I think it no longer makes sense to assume it in these terms.
The second point comes from an article concerning the economic crisis of 2008; therefore, another type of crisis compared to the one discussed in this interview. However, within the analysis, the developed concept concerned the fact that, perhaps, the financial crisis is our perennial economic status. By transposing this mental snapshot to the current speech, the architectural crisis and the conception of the current condition might not be considered anymore as they are now. Maybe, in this way, a step further could be possible because the victimization, together with a series of other mental defense mechanisms, would be lost.
The third and final radical concept, as well as the subsequent question, concerns the “style” that today seems to be dominant: the performance in favor of ecology. This trend starts from the following wrong premise: “Let’s save the planet!”. My personal feeling is that Man is returning to being Nature (see Antropocene). At the same time, the assumption appears imprecise to me since Man is destroying himself and not the Planet. The Earth has overcome phenomena much more destructive than humanity: meteorites that have transformed it into a pressure cooker, volcanic phases, immense glaciations, etc… Then, it has always found balance and life returned. I would say: “Let’s save Man!”. If the rhetoric of the “poor helpless Planet”, which seems to be the basis of this type of architectural research, is dismantled, would people be able to overcome this trend?

I totally agree on the fact that, as human being, we are irrelevant to the balance of the Earth. It is easier for nature to survive to our conditions rather than for us to overcome nature. Ours is an animal species and the planet would find its balance, even in case of Man extinction. After having remarked that, the issue of environmental sustainability cannot be underestimated or abandoned.
Let’s not forget that man was counter-nature until the 18th Century and that only in the last 200 years Man have tried to change the conceptual course.

In this regard, I believe that a balanced and aware attitude is very important. Nonetheless, I do not think that the solution is to hide architecture with trees. More than an answer, to me it seems a “fig leaf”. Claiming that everything must disappear and become a great wood has a great visionary and educational power, as well as an extraordinary value of the real estate market; at the same time, this reasoning seems more the result of a sense of social guilt than a real solution.

What architects should work on is the landscape and the life cycle of things. Regarding this issue, contemporary architecture is beginning to question itself. Perhaps, the buildings are not eternal, like a 5000-year-old Greek temple. Architecture has a life cycle of two generations maximum. This conscious ecological intelligence works with materials in a totally different way. Moreover, it deals with the consumption of surfaces in a more conscious way by implementing the abatements, the re-naturalization, and by densifying and studying architectural-design strategies that have an environmental coherence. The constant awareness is the fact that the planet counts 8 billion humans and that the demographic pressure is evident.

8 – When, how and why did you decide that Architecture would have been your way?

I always say that Architecture saves my life. I have chosen Architecture with a great aspiration; I did not know if I would have become an architect and, in fact, I am not. Nevertheless, I graduated in architecture and I devoured everything with great hunger. Architecture has fed me; it loves me, and it has given a meaning to my life.

To me, Architecture is not the Parthenon in itself, it is not just an absolute project; instead, it is space with people on the inside. It is obvious that I recognize the Beauty. I will always remember the emotion I have felt in “La Tourette”, in front of the church of “Sant’Andrea” by Leon Battista Alberti, or, again, in Urbino (Italy). Some places move me, they are sites of the soul that I deeply love. At the same time, I have the same strong feelings in front of a garden, it is not a matter of build bricks. I feel an absolute love for those inhabited spaces where life is accepted in a proper way and where it produces Beauty to everyone that can endure time.

Finally, I was lucky enough to have good teachers and a heterogeneous background. I graduated with Cesare Pellegrini who spoke more of Hegel rather than Adolf Loos.

9 – To date, what is your definition of architecture?

I constantly prosaically remark the sentence by Persico that I have already quoted: “Architecture as matter of separated things”.
Architecture is matter, it is essentially physical; at the same time, it does not exist without hope and desire.

10 – What advice would you give to future architects?

I suggest travelling much or just walking by the streets. Try to listen to the world and to people; try to reach those places characterized by famous architecture: discover how they are inhabited and find out how they are cannibalized and transformed.

I propose to travel and to draw; it might seem trivial, but it is a way to slow down and to choose carefully an interest by developing a point of view. It is necessary to obsessively seek an opinion on reality and to understand what and how something must be developed and shared with others. I strongly believe in the strength of generosity; thus, an architect must be generous, and he must have a lovely viewpoint on what is real.

Translated into English by Elisa Goi.

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Marco Grattarola AdministratorKeymaster
He graduated in Architecture Sciences at the Polytechnic School of Genoa with a thesis on “Active Architecture”. He did two internships, in an art gallery and in an architecture studio. He currently attends the Master at the Polytechnic of Milan. His interests range from music to drawing, in which he experiments with curiosity and passion.
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