Vudafieri-Saverino Partners is a creative atelier whose work ranges from architecture and interior design to retail. The firm is run by partners Claudio Saverino and Tiziano Vudafieri and has a workforce of forty collaborators. Based in Milan and Shanghai, in its twenty-year career has developed projects in almost every country and continent, always adopting an attentive approach to face the major issues of contemporary culture, city, landscape and society. Every space designed expresses the close relationship between the values of the client and those of the context, creating a composition of forms and functions, signs and details. The result is a design method that combines the identity of places with a specific “storytelling strategy”.
1 – The problems of the historical period in which we live, accentuated by the Covid, lead us to rethink the conditions of living together. “How will we live together?” is the theme chosen by Hashim Sarkis for the Venice Biennale 2021, it investigates the need to conceive space in architecture in a different way. Based on your role as architects, but also as interior designers, what is your opinion on this new need?
C.S. The problem of dwelling is not a fact that concerns only architects, but it is also a political and economic fact, which must reshape the spaces of living. This pandemic is changing us and allows us to think about various levels of thought: how cities have been structured, if it is right that cities are increasingly dense, how new ones must be built, how we live. So, we must change the way we live together in cities, we will live less inside and more outside, the streets will become social spaces, more interesting than before, with fewer cars. There will be many interventions of this kind on the side of tactical urbanism, including one of our plate projects that we are completing in order to standardize this process.
T.V. From the street/city to the house. This experience will lead to free up the spaces of the house, to distribute them in common areas, thus giving more space to other activities. Different places to stay will be found also in small houses, the functions of houses will become hybrid, a fluid house, which has no hierarchies.
© Vudafieri-Saverino Partners, Landscape Project, via Melzo, Milan, 2020.
2 – This period has made us more aware of the shortcomings and possibilities, not only of our domestic environments, but also of the proximity and what the city offers us. Therefore, we must rethink the spaces not in an end in itself, but relating them to the needs of the individual, and especially of the collective. What answers can architecture give?
C.S. Architecture is a consequence of previous or parallel political and cultural choices, it is not the architect who can solve these issues alone. I understand the deep meaning of the city in 15 minutes, but if it is applied it means having an unstructured city. The idea underlies a profound thought of the lack of large parts of our cities and suburbs, to which, in any case, we must give immediate answers and strategies. I’m not sure that applying the model as a slogan is common sense and straightforward.
T.V. It is certainly necessary to establish hierarchies between what is the center and what are the satellites around. Both Claudio and I live in two neighborhoods that are very lucky in terms of basic services, Porta Venezia and Isola. Neighborhood stores are disappearing because of political decisions in favor of large retailers. There are spaces, but they are being eaten by wrong political decisions.
3 – I read in an interview how, in your opinion, the fundamental part of the work is the relationship with the client, the “design relationships” that tell the story that is behind each of them. What struck me the most was how your projects are designed for the place and with the place, in fact, you were the first to conceive the concept of the stores through a common DNA that will subsequently develop according to the city and the context in which they will be placed. So, is the place setting the rules and shaping the space?
T.V. This question of Genius Loci has many facets. We had projects, for example the two Dry restaurants in Milan, of which we are also partners and founders, where the work was practically finished and then an occasion, an event during the construction site, made us change the work done. The place already said everything we wanted to tell, we took a step back, to let the place speak. Then there are projects, like the Delvaux boutiques, in which the matrix is the same, but the store in Milan dialogues with Milan in a profound way, that of Paris with Paris, that of New York with New York… They are homages to the city, to its culture, it is interesting because it is very easy to understand what are the codes that are repeated, but it is also very easy to understand and read what is the “local” part. These are stories that we claim and tell through the shops.
C.S. The place is a potential actor, but more than on the place it is interesting to focus on the narrative. We have in fact applied the idea of concept, of a red thread that tells a unique story, a narration of the place, of the customer and of our poetics.
© Vudafieri-Saverino Partners, Headquarter Project, Appiano, 2016-on going.
4 – With regard to the previous question, I would like to quote a sentence you gave in another interview: “To be Milanese you have to understand the BBPR studio and the Torre Velasca”, architecture very close to your concepts, that dialogues with the historic buildings of the city while remaining an architecture for its shape and size defined modern. Ernesto Nathan Rogers, in those very busy years of architectural debate introduces new notions such as “pre-existence”, “environment” and “continuity”; terms that in the situation in which we find ourselves today are very current. According to your thinking, do you think architecture and Milan still stand in these terms?
T.V. Torre Velasca has an absolutely perfect condensation of Genius Loci, it is a modern/contemporary architecture, but it also has a deep respect for the pre-existence and symbols of Milan. We are certainly in favor of the two interventions that have changed the face of the city of Milan, which are Porta Nuova and City Life, somewhat internationalist architectures. I quote a sentence by Gustav Mahler “tradition is to guard the fire, not to worship the ashes”. Tradition can be a living thing, probably with City Life and Porta Nuova you missed the opportunity to think in contemporary terms about this story. In our small way, we enjoy doing it in our interior works, such as in the Berton restaurant or Peck City Life, which want to be in continuity with this story.
C.S. We do not want to declare ourselves passersby with these statements, it is not a criticism of the two interventions, I find that the urban plan of Porta Nuova is an extraordinary intervention, has moved the center of the city and has created a new center. To be a little academics, they could make a more local effort of thought, as regards the architectural language, trying to be less International Style and more with an Italic language. We tried to do so in the building we made on the edge of Porta Nuova, in via Volturno, a difficult operation from many points of view, where we tried to revisit and reread a rationalist language of the 50’-60’ making it become contemporary.
© Vudafieri-Saverino Partners, photo by Nathalie Krag, Dry Milan, Milan, 2013.
5 – Many magazines define you as interior designers because of your many projects and concepts in shops and restaurants. Do you agree with this sectorization of the profession?
C.S. We are architects and the first work we do is a work on space, which therefore remains deeply architectural. You can’t think about the architecture of the interior without thinking about the outside, they’re one thing. Obviously, the most of our professional activity is mainly made of interior architecture, we are known for retail, restaurants, but we remain deeply architects. We can also say that when we make architecture, we are a bit interior designers, we pay particular attention to the content, because it is within that we must live. Specialization is dangerous because it implies the fact that it becomes a profession, while the strength of our cultural tradition is polytechnic, where the profession of an architect is to the same extent a humanistic, technological, cultural and social profession. The social value in our profession is often lost, especially at an international level I perceive in our clients a non-relevance of this aspect. The social and public role of the architect’s profession is somewhat diminishing in favor of a hyper specialization of small sectors of crafts, that make the general lose sight of it.
T.V. To return to Ernesto Nathan Rogers “from the spoon to the city”, we are deeply Milanese as an attitude, we do not do product design or urban planning, although our latest project of the outdoor terraces is a project of tactical urban planning. We are therefore against this specialization, working around the world we find it very difficult to explain this thing, especially to the Anglo-Saxon world, but also to the Chinese one.
© Vudafieri-Saverino Partners, photo by Santi Caleca, Delvaux, Milan, 2018.
6 – As you have stated, while living in a context greatly influenced by the great masters of the past, your projects are inspired by the experiences you experience firsthand in your life. In addition to the matter and light that shape space, can we therefore say that time is also an important factor in your projects?
C.S. Matter changes, spaces change, they have to adapt and they change. Only the monuments remain the same, the houses and the you live in change all the time. The project must therefore take the transformation into account to some extent.
T.V. We like projects and places that change over time, that get old. Ceramic is more ethical than marble, because it takes ten million years to rebuild a block of marble, but ceramic does not ruined, that’s the problem. My house has been published six or seven times and is always different, we revolutionize it completely, it is always in transformation. Another thing that is making us reflect on the time that generates and influences the design of architecture, is a project of a luxury hotel that is a historic symbol, on which we are working right now. It is as if it were an intersection between two axes, opening the hotel to the outside, connecting it with the city and making it permeable, and then inside inventing a scan that becomes architecture, that marks time. There are situations that encourage you to slow down and stop giving quality to different spaces. Time is drawing this architecture and with time we are also playing to rediscover the stratigraphies of its past.
© Vudafieri-Saverino Partners, photo by Santi Caleca, Restaurant Berton, Milan, 2013.
7 – What is your definition of Architecture today?
T.V. It is a collaborative process, not only with the client and the place, but also with other designers. We are multifaceted architects, but there are other professionals who intervene very actively. The design of the hotel mentioned before is also interesting in the collaboration of the design group, which dialogues, listens and helps others to do what they want, speak the words of others. It’s a collaborative process to design spaces, to transform social transformations, ways of living into something physical.
C.S. I want to try to explain what architecture is, trying to define what our profession is. I had in the past a friendly quarrel with a colleague and friend because I called the architect a director and not an author. I say that on these two positions there is a somewhat dualistic way of seeing, architecture as an authorial gesture, is a complex and multidisciplinary discipline, in which the architect is a director who tries to govern a complexity; while the authorial vision, It’s a somewhat old-fashioned view of our profession, a hedonistic view.
© Vudafieri-Saverino Partners, photo by Paolo Valentini, Model of the skyscraper Volturno 33, Milan, 2012.
8 – What advice do you feel to give to those who today undertake the profession of architect?
C.S. Never forget that architectures are made to be inhabited and cities to be lived. Another thing I would like to quote is a sentence by Magistretti “remember that houses must be sold, if they are not sold, it means that there is something wrong”, this does not mean turning the house into a product, but it means that if a house is not bought, does not work, not in a functionalist way, but because it is not lived. My advice to you is never to forget the social value.
T.V. I would advise him to be curious, the architectural discipline will be taught him at school, he must therefore be interested in other disciplines; understand the art as best as possible, then the contemporary art, because it is the most difficult ever, Art has always been contemporary and has always been understood by few at that time. Understand also what happens in our world, understand the kitchen, the ways of being at the table and being together; be curious about other disciplines.