Davide Macullo: when architecture approaches art

June 2019


Davide Macullo Architects


Interview by Andrea Carloni and Carlotta Ferrati


Davide Macullo Website

Davide Macullo was born in Giornico, Switzerland in 1965. Living in Rossa, he works in Lugano. He studied art, architecture and interior architecture in various schools in Switzerland and in the United States. In 1990 he began his career in the studio of Mario Botta where for 20 years he was responsible for international projects.

Davide Macullo – photo: Adria Nabekle

With such a diversified and rich training and work experience, what are the influences in your design method?

I had a rather unusual learning process, always driven by a hunger for knowledge and curiosity. During adolescence and until the end of my studies, conceptual art was my passion as it is today. Architecture interested me as a means of learning to read three-dimensional space and its influences on human beings.
I can say that I learned the profession of architect working at Mario Botta’s. Within his studio I was mainly following international projects, which led me to travel, to learn about the world and to work on different levels. At the same time I started taking care of my first works and I opened my architecture studio. After 20 years at Mario Botta I decided to dedicate completely to my projects.

How does your project start? What are the basic steps?

The first important point, which is also an end, refers to a sentence by Bruno Munari: “Civilized people live in the midst of their art” *
It is a great teaching, architecture being a public good becomes the means to make everyone enjoy the goals achieved by the community. Let us remember that buildings survive, we build for generations to come.
Ecology of the earth and human ecology are two other major themes we take care of when designing. These two aspects are strongly linked because every time that I act on the territory I am going to influence the social structure of that place. For each new project the first simple but fundamental question we ask ourselves is: “why do I have to build in this place?”.
The concrete parameters that allow me to know the context are not only physical: (climate, geography, geology, …), but also social, like history, traditions, social relations, economics, politics, etc.
Reading a territory also means understanding its ambitions, and good architecture helps to achieve them. The ultimate goal is to give to every individual the opportunity to cultivate his being constantly improved.

*Bruno Munari, Codice Ovvio, Einaudi 1971

Davide Macullo – WAP art Space; Seoul, South Korea 2013-2017 – photo: Yousub Song – Studio Worlderful

It seems to me that for you the ability of architecture to act on the social habits is very important.

We build for people. Architects often forget that the spaces they design are made for living. The beauty of our work is that it is a way to feed people. The architect’s work has changed over the years. While in the past he could take care of everything, today this is no longer possible. I believe that in the future he will play an increasingly humanistic and differently related role in the technical field of the trade.
Technology has surpassed the assimilation capacity of a single individual, making the act of building an increasingly interdisciplinary subject. And it’s good that designer manages to direct the orchestra by focusing on emotions of sounds that feed the audience.

Could we say that the architect’s work today is similar to that of the director?

Cinema is certainly a complete art. Regards to cinema, we are currently witnessing a general phenomenon that leads people to experience spaces constructed in an increasingly two-dimensional way. We are in a phase of pre-virtuality where we spend much of our time in front of screens in two dimensions. This also affects our way of perceiving space.

Is technology changing the way we experience space?

The world from the 60s onwards has had a distortion of social habits linked to the everyday and this goes beyond the computer age.
Living the spaces has become much more sterile. Let’s take the industrialization of the food chain as an example. We use robots where something more or less ready is inserted and, after the production process, we get something more or less edible. The equivalent, in the case of construction, is something more or less habitable in a crescendo that follows the development of the newly formed artificial intelligence.
A while ago the kitchen was full of smells, we had to constantly clean it and there was a fireplace. This rite that was a necessity in the past is now becoming a status of luxury.
I imagine a future, even not too far away, where we’ll produce buildings in the laboratory and they will be ordered on the web with the help of configurators. A market of this kind could, at best, require a humanistic education of the architect as a specialization within an interdisciplinary work where the technique is based on chemical and physical sciences.

Davide Macullo – Swiss House XXII – photo: Alexandre Zveiger

Do you think would it be positive or negative to be able to order your home on Amazon?

This happened at the advent of any technological change. If you think that there were those who wanted to prohibit the use of the car because it would have been better to keep riding!
It’s not a question of positive or negative, it’s just that. The same is true for artificial intelligence, it exists and we can’t stop it.
The duty of architects is to take care of emotions. I believe that all changes bring with them extraordinary opportunities.

Do you think the architecture of the 1990s is different from what it is today?

I’ve never been too attracted by the “isms”, I was born beside a Romanesque basilica and for me it’s like a contemporary building. When we raise the Buildings to works of art, they don’t have time.
The 90s, like those that preceded them, are the mirror of a period marked by a lot of ideology in architecture.
There was also a disproportionate ego of the architects who necessarily tried to give a different input than what had been done in the past. I think it is much deeper to get rid of all the prejudices towards the recent past and concentrate on trying to solve people’s needs.

Davide Macullo – Swiss House XXXII – photo: Alexandre Zveiger

Thinking about the Swisshouse XXXII project and the Wap Art Space, what is your relationship with art?

Art is essential to ask ourselves about the values of life in a broad sense. I believe it can be the means for a collective opening of the senses towards existence and the world, it is one of the most important human expressions.
Architecture, understood in correct terms, is a total artistic expression, a mirror of the world that can suggest future roads.
The aim of Swisshouse XXXII is to bring contemporary art out of museums to make it a living space. It is a work of integration between art and architecture, an habitable sculpture; an architecture that completes itself with art, also from the profile of its primary function, meaning protecting man from the bad weather.

Architecture, however, compared to art, has the obligation to respect multiple constraints. 

For example the fact that it must have a function and respect technical requirements, such as a roof in a building, it is needed to not get wet.

Architecture has a purpose and this is very intriguing. The limits make the work complex and at the same time interesting, a challenge that continues to search better solutions.
Architecture has a great advantage over art; you don’t look at it going to a museum but you live it and experience it every day.
For the design of Swisshouse XXXII’s roof structure we collaborated with engineer and with a conceptual artist in order to overturn the roles. The conceptual art that actually protects the living space!

Davide Macullo – Swiss House XXXII – photo: Alexandre Zveiger

Talking to you, I understand that the center of your architecture is the mankind.

No doubt! We don’t build to follow an ideology or to show that a building is beautiful or intelligent, the main actor is the man who lives there.

A very simple question, what does being an architect in Switzerland mean?

Switzerland is a very particular geographical reality. It’s a democracy that has existed for a thousand years and has always been far from gluttony of the monarchies. So, it developed a particular system of shared economy that allows a certain redistribution of wealth. That of Switzerland is a model that could be salvation for the world. A sort of consumerism-communism.

So, are you saying that thanks to its redistribution of wealth, in Switzerland quality architecture is easier to find?

You are putting it too simple.
Here the territory often presents inaccessible and steep areas so by tradition we build with precision to avoid maintenance problems. This is where the precision and rationalization of work is born, which is then found in other activities.
Today in Switzerland, in many fields, new jobs have been created despite the high cost of labor, thanks to the ability to rationalize the work that allows Switzerland to be very competitive compared to countries with very low labor costs.
As I said before, in my opinion this dedication to precision is partly a consequence of a territorial condition.
The factors we mentioned, lead Switzerland to be the first country in the world that makes of energy saving not only a law but also a virtue and a moral sense.

So Switzerland is very careful about ecology.

Switzerland without many rivals ranks first in energy savings with regard to CO2 emissions in private buildings. However, there is not only a physical ecology, which is that of the territory, but also a human ecology, sociology.

Davide Macullo – WAP art Space; Seoul, South Korea 2013-2017 – photo: Yousub Song – Studio Worlderful

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