Interview with the architect Marco Casamonti – Archea Associati
By Andrea Carloni & Carlotta Ferrati
Here is the interview wi thMarco Casamonti, founder of Archea Associati, one of the most important Italian architecture firms. In a way, talking with him is like having the possibility to dialogue with four different people at the same time. He is the founder of a famous Italian architecture studio and full professor of the Faculty of Architecture, in Genoa. He was director of important magazines and writer of architectural books.
The first question is almost obvious: how can you do so many activities?
The answer is simple: making many sacrifices!
I have spent a lot of time life working.
Even though my activities might seem distant from each other, they actually come from the same source and are intended to understand and talk about architecture. His alphabet is the space. I approach the project as a narrative activity.
In Italy we have great examples of architecture approach similar to mine. I am thinking in particular of Gio Ponti who is at the same time a designer and the founder of Domus Magazine. Later he became a full professor of the Faculty of Architecture at Milan Polytechnic.
Can social networks, which every day share hundreds of thousands design and architecture’s images, really help us to getting to know these subjects?
I don’t think so.
For example, if you go to the supermarket you can see a large amount of food. If you want to understand how they are born and where they come from, you need to be patient and spend more time researching.
So the solution is to get out of the supermarket and go to the countryside. Knowledge must have time to mature and the reader have to be aware. Today knowledge is much more widespread but less profound. We have very powerful computers and numerically controlled machines that can do great things. The ancients instead did extraordinary things thanks to the manual ability and the amazing ideas that supported it. The project is, in any case, a project, regardless of the tool I use to make it happen.
In your opinion, what are the essential characteristics that an architecture student must have when leaving university?
A great passion!
Inside his projects he has to put passion. Talent can be nurture.
Ours is a very hard work and only if supported by a great passion we can practice it. The architect’s profession must be considered a noncanonical work because “architecture is art”. If we don’t understand this, architecture becomes a profession.
I “horrify” when I hear some of our colleagues who call themselves technicians. Technique is a means not an end. Architecture must be practiced with feeling, its purpose is not to stack bricks!
In Italy, and not only, the law allows those who are not architects to practice our profession; this is a very serious mistake.
Architecture through “the art of building” can change and modify the appearance of the earth’s crust. This great responsibility should be given only to people who really have such professionalism and awareness of the importance of their work.
Could you give a judgment on the quality of our architecture universities within the global panorama?
Our universities being the worst, are the best!
Let me explain better. Unfortunately often the teaching is of low quality and if a student wants to obtain results he must learn to study and deepen the things self-taught. To do this you need passion, determination and the ability to make decisions independently. This situation makes our universities very selective and this type of training even if “unusual” allows you to have high quality graduates, only those with considerable skills can finish their studies.
Another important things is the context, a student who studies in an Italian university when he walks around the streets of the city is surrounded by masterpieces of art and architecture. His formative journey also continues outside the university books because he lives in the first person in a place shaped by art.
And now let’s talk to the designer. Archea is one of the most important architecture studios in Italy and carries out projects all over the world, in the most varied scales and themes. For example, among the latest projects we can find the renovation of a private home until you get to the Cantina Antinori. This has a value of several tens of millions and then moves on to the completion of a stadium. How do you get this great flexibility?
Gropius used to say that architects design “from the spoon to the city”.
The problem of dimensional scaling is not so important. Different scales correspond to different weights to balance, but we always talk about design. We like working at different scales. We are currently working on a masterplan project to expand a part of Moscow and at the same time we are also involved in the production of design products.
In dealing with a project, regardless of the scale, we have to make a deep research work. Ideas must be supported by the study, which is upstream. To give an example, in 2004 together with Vincenzo Pavan I wrote a book on the cellars’ architecture. This work was an important resource when I later addressed the Cantine Antinori project.
Archea has an architectural style that greatly reflects the contemporary. I mean that looking at your project we can understand what the “cultural humus” of the period in which it was made. Archea is like a plant that feeds on the present. This has allowed you to remain detached from any formalism. This could be a right interpretation?
For architecture this is an extraordinary period because we live in a full era of styles and often they are more or less valid. Within this cultural situation in dealing with a project we can release ourselves from the appearance and concentrate on the contents. What is basic for me is to set up a working methodology.
Our projects start from places. Different contexts matching to different architectures.
The style has to do with calligraphy while for us the contents are more important.
As already mentioned, for me, architecture is art. What matters is the relationship between context and text, the style with which I express myself is obviously important, but it is only supportive of the meaning I want to express. The form as a consequence of the content.
How does a project in Archea start? Could you describe your approach to this one in general?
First of all, we have to carefully understand the needs of the client in the round. Then, we have to experience the “spirit of the place”. Once we have acquired the necessary information from numerous sources, we pass on to elaboration of project idea and then to give it an interpretation.
As Aldo Rossi said “the architect is like a director” because his work stems from the ability to amalgamate and direct the work of many trades.
Last question. In recent decades are emerging new construction methods and uses of increasingly advanced materials, also in private housing sector. I refer to wooden or steel constructions with dry methodology. In the future, could these methods become commonplace?
I would say yes.
I like to compare dry technology with the meaning of permanence. If I think of Roman architecture, the theme of permanence was central. An architecture like dry construction is not going to last and can be completely recycled. I would like to ask you a question: do you prefer a recycled plastic bottle or a glass bottle?
In this present fact of relative and transitory certainties, perhaps I would like at least the architecture to continue to be something permanent.