Whenever I come across Vincenzo Latina, I notice silence. That precious and singular silence that identifies a man full of values. Simplicity, culture, depth, humility. These are those first values it is possible to perceive when dealing with him; the same values that this Man, before being an Architect, can translate in truth through his Architecture. A silent, draft, possibly coy architecture, nevertheless conscious, powerful and spectacular. An architecture woven in the weaves of time, research after research, stone after stone…
Vincenzo Latina, was born in 1964. In 1989, together with Francesco Venezia, he graduated in Architecture at the IUAV University in Venice.
He is the winner of numerous prizes and awards. Among the most important and recent ones are the “2012 Gold Medal for Italian Architecture” and the “2015 Italian Architect Award5”.
He is currently a professor of Architectural and Urban Composition at the University of Catania and an architect, a lover of matter and of lights and shadows, who carries out the profession in Syracuse, located in his Sicily.
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?
In the last decades, the industrial culture has proved to be particularly pragmatic and at the mercy of the construction market and of contemporary architectural trends. Similarly, while having some advantages, such as advertising in magazines and/or sponsoring at exhibitions and events, some critics and publishers working in the sector have lent themselves to the promotion of some architectures related especially to the construction industry. This condition has contributed to the flattening and perhaps trivialization of architecture. For some decades, architecture has needed clarity of communication and program; all of this has been made possible through a sort of special “crutch”, that one of adjectives. Bioclimatic architecture, sympathetic architecture, architecture of deconstruction, greenery and more, just as if the definition of architecture itself was not enough.
Everyone “glues” to contemporary architecture an adjective, the most suitable connotation, the most useful character for the political program of the moment, moving from one trend to another, in order to be recognizable and present in the global communication and construction market. It is necessary to resist to the consequences of the global architectural market. Instead, for thousands of years, architecture had constantly nourished by some principles of construction such as soil, surface, light, space and matter. If all of this is forgotten, it becomes difficult to distinguish the peculiarities that characterize engineering, architecture and construction.
Among a multitude of 20th century architectural excellences, Le Corbusier could communicate the architecture of his time with extraordinary ability, also through the cult of his own personality. Le Corbusier was a pioneer who understood the importance of “new” materials (including reinforced concrete and steel) and of new systems of construction by encoding them in his “five points of Architecture”. He had been able to promote the new principles of “rational” construction of the new language. Le Corbusier found the synthesis between the composition of the new elements of his program and the underlying order of the harmonic relationships, those that regulate the proportions and partitions of classical and historical architecture of excellence. In the contemporary panorama, the research of architecture has mainly focused on the coatings, the surfaces, the “skin” of buildings and facade systems. The research for surfaces is an expression of a society by itself… superficial. It is difficult to find depth of thought. The current situation is pervaded by a society of appearance, and perhaps by a “banal” society… indeed, it is enough to devise a suitable frame for the apparatuses and then parasitize a condom on it: green, blue, red… The external (so, the outside) is perceived as a danger. Therefore, the “good”, “ecological” and “sustainable” systems, those that characterize the buildings of contemporary society, are devised. Unfortunately, they represent the danger of the excessive trivialization of contemporary culture.
2 – Do you think that there has been a specific historical phenomenon that has decreed the change in the act of designing in Architecture?
In recent decades, there has been a pervasion of an unbridled trust in technological innovation and in its whatever virtual or real applications. Society is enchanted by sophisticated software and by performances of the most powerful hardware. Until few years ago, these exceptional tools allowed us to elaborate unbelievable calculations and to amazingly visualize and manipulate the matter, the surfaces and the space. At the same time, all of this also had the downside by shifting the perception of the discipline of architecture and by making it excessively lean towards a playful and spectacular conception: the one of architecture as entertainment. Architecture is neither entertainment, nor dizziness (as Vittorio Gregotti, in a very critical tone, also speaks of it referring to Zaha Hadid… as the “joke” …). The problem is that the representation and the realization of this kind of architecture require a sophisticated elaboration and management of the production processes. An architecture for the few, very expensive, almost elitist, totemic buildings, unique forms generating isolation, the solitude of architecture. Instead, I am convinced that architecture, even that excellent one, can be achieved with less technological efforts and with less means and resources. That architecture offered us by mass media, even if global, is a niche of the industrial production. There are many people and cultures in the world that build wonderful architectures that are unknown and perhaps will ever be but that, similarly, achieve excellent results, even with less technological and industrial support. These experiences are unknown because the media and the social networks are mainly focused on few architects and their works, as results of homologation.
3 – Making a comparison with the last Century, do you believe that it is still possible to talk about styles or trends?
I would not say it is possible to talk about style. There are fashions, just sudden and passing infatuations. It is no longer an ideological question, not even of language or architectural syntax. Fashion must satisfy the product of the industry, once one strand is exhausted, another one is sought. A bit like smartphone models that suddenly change, it is the market that runs.
4 – At present, what are the values to pursue to practice Architecture?
We must be generous. Besides, our life is a summation of defeats, of lost competitions, of clients, of commissions, of jurors of institutions that perhaps do not understand us or that are just interested in something else, of lobbies of all kinds that make their interests. Professionals do a lot of design research that is often not understood, that is underestimated or poorly paid. The practice of architecture has become like a passion, sometimes the profession itself is not enough to subsist. And, especially, if you do not pursue commercial interests or if you are looking for some values of consistency, as of a patient research. So, mostly people do it for themselves, hoping that others will appreciate or understand, at least. People do it for themselves because, in some cases, it is like breathing, it comes naturally, they cannot live without it. It is a way to affect society, landscape, earth with our existence. Professionals must be generous with others and with themselves, they should not surrender to constant adversities. It is necessary to persist, not to achieve success, but to be able to express the right to existence, and perhaps to freedom as well. I mean, being free and, contemporarily, trying not to lose the bet against the intemperate trivialization of contemporaneity.
5 – What is your critical opinion towards the architecture that is produced today?
Occasionally, it is excessively characterized by clichés, slogans and marketing that convey sustainable beauty, “sweet” architecture, good architecture, low-impact, friendly architecture, Km0 architecture, Robin Hood architecture are used. Other times, architecture is traced back to the fulfillment of essential energy requirements. Everything is focused on reducing CO2 production and on the application of tested protocols. Indeed, all of this is made to discover that a considerable source of air pollution and groundwater, a large consumption of drinking water, is caused by intensive livestock breeding. In some cases, in order to reduce energy loss, the need is of using particularly complex and expensive materials, systems that are inherently unsustainable. “Sustainable” and “resilient” have become abused adjectives, they are passe-partout for those who try to “mask” the remarkable building program behind the slogan. For others, these adjectives are irreplaceable “crutches”, a kind of credit card of the new architecture. In Italy, during the post-war reconstruction of the Second World War, it has been possible to witness an extraordinary synthesis between the craftsmanship, that are still present in the production process of goods and services, and the newly reconstructed industry; it can be noticed from the high quality of the architecture and of design. A sort of industrial craft, where man was still at the center. The typology of intervention will be one of the biggest problems during the reconstruction of Notre Dame. Will it be the reconstruction of the large structural forest of wooden beams? Or will it deal the creation of a work that is an expression of the architectural culture and industrial processes of the time? Which will be the artisan culture? It is one of those heritages that we are in danger of losing. To bring back the man to the center and do not reestablish the production cycle and rhythms, resistance should be put to massification, to dictatorship of the globalizing industrial product to revive niches in which the culture of building can be reborn, with man at the center and its semi-craftsmanship.
To achieve this, it will be necessary to deal with the themes and norms of perfection and precision, of some building protocols such as BIM. This is becoming one of the biggest problems of contemporary architecture. The software applied to the industrial process have allowed to produce architectures characterized by topological geometries that will require the same precise pieces made to measure in maintenance and/or transformations forever. Architecture is a machine. Instead, works that can be contaminated should be preferred, so to find forms of persistence over time, of greater resistance. Architecture should not be preordained, like many industrial products, such as cars. It must survive longer, building requires the use of great energies, not only the economic ones but those that our planet makes available. The machine building to live in model no longer works. It is not possible to afford the luxury of changing it as if it were an appliance. The sacredness of construction and work of man should be rediscovered.
6 – At the current time, is it possible to carry out any architectural research? If yes, do you prefer one?
In my opinion, the tectonic construction, the place, the material and the light are the best tools of architecture of all time. They are those instruments that represent the founding themes of Egyptian and Greek matrix, those values that persist in our culture. Buildings under the action of time and of environmental events become changeable. Due to the light and the play of shadows, the material seems to constantly change and transform itself. I prefer buildings that sleep during the night and part of the day and that then wake up and show what they are, how they were made, who made them, thanks to a favorable light condition. Just a ray of light makes all this possible. Sometimes, it can also reveal the “defects” of assembly, the cut of some materials. I love certain small errors; for some people they are “defects”, but they are the result of humanization. The building acquires the beauty of complexity. Men are wrong and, therefore, such limits can also be found in buildings. Those buildings that contain within themselves that marvelous figure of humanity. Precisely, it is on these that reconstructions, second thoughts, changes, stratifications will be added up to.
Absolute integrity does not belong to the world of architecture, yet it is a constant obsession. Contamination is a form of enrichment and exclusivity, sometimes of impoverishment; it leads to selection and faster extinction. Contamination allows people to mix, to hybridize, and it enables multiple parts of the architecture to interact. The perfection industry does not authorize all this. It is sterile.
7 – When, how and why did you decide that architecture would have been your way?
There is an episode, an environment or a special situation in life where people, for some strange reason, feel infected, from a place, a building, a trip, a person or a conference. Consequently, the passion is born; it is like getting sick, and it is not possible to make a reason for it, because it becomes a dependence, someone cannot do without it. I remember the moment. It was 1988, during winter, I was a student of the IUAV University in the fourth year of the course and by chance I attended a conference of the “forties”, the young promises of Italian architecture. I was there by chance. Up to that moment, I had repeatedly witnessed the IUAV at the disputes, the internal disputes between “Gregottians” and “Rossians”.
Among the five or six invited speakers, Francesco Venezia enlightened me with his thirty-minutes description of the project of restoration of the remains of the Palazzo di Lorenzo in Gibellina. It was a cold and misty venetian winter day. The slides illustrating the modulations of the sun, the play of shadows of the hot Sicilian sun captured me. Until then, no one had talked about the sensuality of light, its expressive power, the beauty of matter and its variations. As soon as I got back to the student house, I changed the tax on the bed, until then it had its back to the high building opposite, a few meters from the window, it was similar to a barrier, a wall. Until the day before, I had perceived it as a privation, I did not understand its value. From that moment on, the wall became the universe of shadows, lights and space, suspensions. For hours I was lying on the bed contemplating the game of changing the faint winter lights and the venetian shadows, the roughness of the plaster, its materiality. That prison wall became a universe. The day after I casually met Francesco Venezia; he was waiting in front of the entrance of Scarpa’s portal to the Tolentini and it was almost natural for me to ask him to act as supervisor of my thesis degree. At the time, I had already identified an archaeological area in Syracuse, from there the journey started. After twenty-five years I managed to build the pavilion to access the excavations of the Artemision in Ortigia.
8 – To date, what is your definition of Architecture?
Architecture is all the necessary and it is also “superfluous” to most people, to the construction of buildings and to human life. The construction, shelter, protection, over the millennia, have been necessary abstract and symbolic expression of the culture and organization of many human activities. In the same way, what many perceive as unnecessary, others interpret it as an essential expression of Architecture. The world of shadows is needed to determine the poetics of the declination of light in Architecture; without this, it is not Architecture. Sometimes you fall in love with a cut generated by the shadow on a wall, for some superfluous. For some, the poetics that generates deep images and that evokes imagery may not be essential, but without this, Architecture would not be realized.
Sometimes, the passion lavished on the minuteness of detail is not minimally understood, yet it is an indissoluble value of Architecture.
9 – What advice would you give to future architects?
My advice is to be GLOCAL, global and local simultaneously. Being local in capturing and representing the culture of the territory and at the same time being global in looking beyond, with firm feet on the earth and with your head beyond the clouds.
This can allow professionals not to get lost behind sudden fashions and instead have their head free to look beyond the contingent. In fact, the web allows to know a lot, but the excess of information also leads you to a form of blindness, of cultural flattening.
Instead, patient and obstinate research leads to a more selective and critical behavior, to knowing things in their depths and deepest parts.
Look less at the sector magazines, listen less to some critics and solons. Sometimes they do it for personal gain. Young architects must travel, experience places also with their imagination.
Building one’s own autonomous cultural background, feeling emotions but not being overwhelmed by them. Architecture must be felt, digested, settled, requires slow times. Getting used to defeats and disappointments, because our path is one of the most impervious, is among the most fascinating. You must never lose your foolishness.
Translated into English by Elisa Goi.