Nicola Lunardi, together with Veronica Rusca and Lorenzo Trompetto, is one of the partners of the Genoese studio gosplan. The practice believes in architecture as a tool of mass communication. As such, architecture is the product of forms and/or the narration of space. Like any medium, it is not based on the message it occasionally conveys, instead on the connections it establishes. Among all, relationships between forms, then between concepts, finally between people. An architecture aware of its role as a medium is an architecture that knows how to measure its impact on the world, since at the ends of the medium there are always two realities.
1 – How will we live together? This year Hashim Sarkis chose a theme of relevant importance in architecture for the Venice Biennale. The title of this event represents a question that every architect should ask himself before approaching a project. How do you and your studio interface with this issue?
The issue of coexistence is a fundamental question. The architect, beyond what concerns aesthetics and communication of concepts, mainly has a social role addressing the managing of the topic of “conflict” in some way. This happens since space is inevitably characterized by conflict, indeed by acting forces that very often do not go in the same direction. There can be different people, various social classes, distinct authorities, many entities, etc. … This theme was explored in an event organized a few years ago together with other Genoese friends. The purpose was to consider the role of the architect that, both when working in the public and the private spheres, on the one hand has to manage the client’s requests and on the other he must make them coherent with a public design. Therefore, we immediately try to filter the customer’s needs to avoid the greatest and further ones. Let us take as an example the square of the Seagram Building of Mies. Owning a lot does not always mean enclosing it and making it private: sometimes the right project is the one that returns a part of the city to the community.
© gosplan architects, Aeschyli, photo by Andrea Bosi, Genoa, 2017.
2 – In this period, the experience of the contemporaneity is almost surreal. The freedom, that was taken for granted, fell short within a few days. The change was from a situation of constant movement to a circumstance of stasis in which society and architecture have had to reinvent themselves. What do you think of this peculiar actual moment?
It is certainly a period that has led us to reconsider many topics. A time that pushed us, not so much to change our minds, as to give a different value to something that we might have taken for granted. There are two issues at stake. The first concerns the experience of confinement in one’s own indoor homes. This has somehow forced us to re-evaluate the importance of drafting these spaces. Be careful: designing an interior taking it into account as a task to be carried out is different from thinking of it as the starting point of a landscape and of an imaginary strongly interconnected with the personality of the people who live it. Instead, the other issue is given by the fact that perhaps we have started to look at the myth of congestion with different eyes. Koolhaas’ discourse on congestion, and the fact that it can produce incredible architectural concepts, is still valid; however, there is no doubt that such a theme is seen as negative and/or as an enemy at this time. Nevertheless, on the contrary, the point of view of the Modern, such as the one of Le Corbusier who wanted to thin out Paris, has become topical once again. The relationship between architecture and medicine, which from Vitruvius up to modernity has always had a relevant meaning and which has been lost in the contemporaneity, is reborn. It might be better to conceive a medical response in some way. In addition, the modern has a lot to do with a scientific approach, the same that perhaps has been a bit left aside in recent times.
© gosplan architects, Into the woods, photo by Anna Positano, Genoa, 2017.
3 – In this period, due to the global situation of quarantine, people spend most of the time inside the house. This has led to an inevitable rediscovery of domestic environments and to a radical change in how these spaces are experienced. What do you think of this phenomenon?
As I previously said, many things are seen with different eyes. From this point of view, of course architects feel quite confirmed for certain convictions. I believe that many, during this period of domestic confinement, have understood that the home should not only be a functional response to basic needs, but something more. Not to stop at extreme necessity would be important. Surely, the fact of having to be restricted to the domestic environment for so long leads people to mull over the evidence that the house is also the mirror in which they reflect themselves, liking it or not. When there is no comparison with the outside, the home becomes that universe with which you compare yourself to understand who you and your deep needs are. A house without quality can be a nightmare in a period like the current one, because it is precisely the dialogues that you manage to have with the house and with what it contains (books, memories, habits, behaviors) that makes the difference.
In our interior design, we always give a lot of relevance to the fact that the house has a relationship with the passing of time. We try to design a place that allows the perception of the light moving together with the sun and the changing city: a house that keeps those who live it alive at different times of the day. Hence, this is also important: the relationship with the light and the outside are by no means secondary.
© gosplan architects, Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition, Helsinki, 2014.
4 – Recently Fuksas and Archea sent a letter to the President Mattarella making proposals for phase X, the post Covid19 one, for which architecture will have to modify itself starting from domestic spaces up to public buildings. What do you think about it?
Regarding some of the points submitted in the letter, I believe that endowment proposals are more needed than architectural suggestions. It might be useful to have an oxygen dispenser at home, but the architectural project would not change. Instead, the discourse of spaces of coexistence is a more interesting theme, which has been much investigated in the past as well. It reminds me of all the work done, for example, by the Russian avant-gardes on workers’ clubs, a hitherto unknown typology as mass society had never existed before. The issue of the common spaces is strongly linked to modernity. Just think of Le Corbusier or Niemeyer: in their architectures, common spaces were often entrusted with all the rhetorical power of the project, as in the case of the roof garden and the “rue intérieure “ of the Unité d’habitation. In recent years, the thought was that all these spaces were not required by law, but that they should be generated through the flexibility of the spaces, according to a logic of appropriation “from below”. To me, this kind of approach seems to have produced some good results, but it is evidently difficult to ensure that they effectively work. There is no right recipe, there is no rule. As an example, Gregotti built two similar projects in Venice and Palermo. The one in Palermo has become the symbol of bad architecture that generates discomfort; instead, the one in Venice is quietly lived. Obviously, the socio-economic context makes the difference. The truth is that architecture does not solve problems: at most it can give them “shape”, describe them and/or make them visible. If a disadvantaged neighborhood is assigned to a great architect, the product will be a disadvantaged designed neighborhood.
Unfortunately, a good project is not the guarantee of a good result: I would like to say that the ideal architect, the really professional one, should not simply be a good designer, but more a sort of alchemist who manages to find the right solution in the right place at the right time.
© gosplan architects, A-frame for life | E14, Oulu, 2014.
5 – Concerning the issue of the house, I would like to talk about the projects you develop with your studio. Looking at them, I always see a certain recurring language, even if it might sound trivial. I feel like being in a Wes Anderson setting. You develop spaces that almost detach themselves from reality and that perhaps get closer to imagination.
In many of your works I have noticed a sort of exaltation of the scale inside the rooms. Hence, I would like to ask you what role this element plays for you and what is your way of approaching the project.
You have mentioned several themes that are very dear to us. The first one, regarding the introduction of an element of diversity, relates to the fact that making architecture always means imagining a reality different from the existing one. This does not mean doing strange things, but trying to generate that moment defined as “estrangement”, the same when you see reality with a different eye. It might be compared to a little epiphany.
Certainly, we are very fond of the staircase issue. By imagining the home environment as a landscape, the staircase easily becomes the main architectural theme of movement within the space, and therefore it embraces the perception of the facets of the surroundings. Obviously, when the project requires a staircase, it is our pleasure to design it and to define it as the real protagonist. Because if it would be closed in a corner, the movement generated by it would be of little significance within the environment. The house, like every architecture (and every medium), is also a mirror: anyone who dresses it must be able to see anything of himself in its features, something that speaks to him of his past, of the places he has visited and of the experiences he has lived, hence matters of his personality. For this reason, as a gosplan studio, we never try to project our “figure” on tasks, instead we try to make it arise from the relationship with the client, with the place, with an enlarged material and immaterial context. Similarly, when we design a public space, we try to shape it as much as possible according to our interpretation of a vision that is shared by the public we work for, in order to create a space in which the community can recognize itself. Architectures must speak and, when lived, it should never make people feel alone. For example, as easy as reading a book, through architecture we travel and get to know others. The importance of this aspect is even more relevant today, after the experience of sanitary isolation.
© gosplan architects, Molo House, photo by Anna Positano, Genoa, 2018.
6 – When, how and why did you decide that Architecture would have been your way?
In fact, at the beginning I wanted to be an archaeologist; in high school archeology was my passion. Then, one day a superintendent of archaeological heritage had a lecture; when I asked him “which studies do I have to undertake to become an archaeologist?” he replied “you are an architect, then, if you want, you can pursue a career as an archaeologist”.
So, I decided to enroll in the Faculty of Architecture, soon realizing that what I was passionate about was not so much cataloging shards or violating tombs, but it was more reconstructing spaces, architectures and cities with imagination, that no longer existed. Hence, I realized that what attracted me was architecture.
7 – To date, what is your definition of architecture?
I do not have a precise one. Using the gosplan motto, I could say that architecture is a tool of communication that works with space. Then, as previously mentioned, architecture is a strange alchemy between material interests, political management skills and intellectual dreams. It is the ability to manage the story that aims to generate the meeting of ideas.
© gosplan architects, Centro Civico, Milan, 2014.
8 – What advice would you give to future architects and forthcoming professors?
I do not know if this is a real advice, but I would like to tell them that architecture is not (only) a profession. If you are looking for a job, do not be an architect, do something else. The figure of the architect is something that goes beyond the “profession” and that requires an essential intellectual component. The diseconomy of this role is overcome by a passion or a will. If you do not have this kind of love, you will end up being a professional designer, so doing a very respectable activity that, however, is another thing. The advice for young architects could be the following one: understand immediately if you are willing to fight for architecture or not.
Translated into English by Elisa Goi.