Marcello Bondavalli, Nicola Brenna and Carlo Alberto Tagliabue: Studio Wok

Marcello Bondavalli, Nicola Brenna and Carlo Alberto Tagliabue: Studio Wok

By Andrea Carloni e Carlotta Ferrati

November 2019

Studio Wok is a young architectural firm that in recent times, thanks to some of its work, is becoming increasingly known. Its most famous project, the renovation of a rural house near Verona, is characterised by an architecture linked to the context, designed with an aesthetic approach and contemporary construction techniques.
In their numerous redevelopments of houses, the projects’ true subjects are the inhabitants and the way in which they live within the house. To do this, Studio Wok concentrates on the study of floor plans trying to imagine new views and points of view that they define thanks to the construction of small wooden models and freehand drawings.
Studio Wok, despite being a young architectural firm, navigates very well within the digital media. The studio embraces a management style where many things are still done by hand; they are given the time they deserve for their creation.

Marcello Bondavalli, Nicola Brenna e Carlo Alberto Tagliabue: Studio wok – Photo: Federico Villa studio

What relationship do you have with the customer during the various project phases?

We could say that the first project action is to be able to find a good customer! Aside from the jokes, building a house is a long journey, full of expectations in which the client invests much time and money. A close relationship is often established with the designer and therefore the psychological factors acquire considerable weight.

Studio wok – Casa di campagna al Chievo – Photo: Simone Bossi

Do you discuss the project together?

Obviously we have our own language, but we establish a real exchange of information with the customer in order to build a home that meets their needs and reflects the way we see both.

Is it almost a tailoring job?

Yes, that’s right. The house is an expression of both. But it must also be said that if we want to achieve a first-class final result, the roles must remain distinct: the architect is the architect and the customer is the customer.

Studio wok – Casa di campagna al Chievo – Architectural model

Do you have any themes that you consider important that you often find in your projects?

We have often talked about this topic with the photographers who did the photo shoot of our works (Federico Villa and Simone Bossi). What has emerged is the importance we give to the views and outlooks that can be created within the building. On a compositional level we try to define and design the void that is created between the volumes.

Studio wok – Appartamento in Porta Venezia – Photo: Federico Villa studio

I imagine that to manage these relationships, drawing can help you …

Yes, very often plans become abstract designs where “inhabited” devices become full backgrounds; the remaining white space becomes relative to the everyday living space. To obtain this compositional result, we sometimes insert elements within the existing perimeter to define its use. Other times we imagine the project as a full volume, in which we intervene by subtracting, and digging into it. However, regardless of the technique, what we like to do is study in-depth the formal relationship between these entities, and our room for manoeuvre is the void between one and the other.

Erba (CO), 2013 – Concorso di idee. Primo premio – Team: studio wok + Ortalli & Verrier architects + Virginia Ortalli + mutability – Luca Pietro Gattoni

The people who use the spaces become fundamental in your projects. 

Man is the subject of the project and lives within what is seen as white space in the floor plans. An important concept that we would like to emphasise is the fact that the definition of spatial relationships is not so much linked to ergonomic canons, but to how they are perceived by living them.

Studio wok – Appartamento in Porta Venezia – Photo: Federico Villa studio

When you also have to design the exterior, what do you relate to?

We certainly like to know where we are and face the project in a narrative way. What we plan must tell the story of the landscape within which it fits and the inhabitants who live it. To do this we use traditional materials and technologies that we revise in a contemporary way and connect to the territory. When you create a new project, you must also bring into play the ethical aspect of your work and ask yourself what physical and social impact your work will have within the context in which it is placed.

Studio wok – Casa di campagna al Chievo – Photo: Simone Bossi

Do you have architects or authors of reference?

We assume that we are three individuals and therefore each of us would give you different names for different reasons. Certainly, we are all linked to the Portuguese school (all three of us participated in the Erasmus program in Portugal) and we have a particularly liking for many of the Swiss authors such as Peter Zumthor. In the world of art, Malevich is certainly a reference for his ability to create tension between pure geometric shapes.

Unlike many of your colleagues, you have not had the experience with the tenured professor or faced any studies that include famous foreign universities …

No, all three of us graduated from the Politecnico di Milano  in 2008 and then we gained our experience in small studios of first-class professionals in which we have had the good fortune to be able to follow projects in their entirety. We managed to find our first commissions fairly quickly and in 2012 we opened the studio.

Studio wok – Casa di campagna al Chievo – Architectural model

What is your relationship with digital media? Can it be useful in the workplace? Do you have any favourites?

Perhaps, even in a slightly unconscious way, we have tried to maintain a fairly high level of communication from the start. In recent years, we have taken a step forward and have invested in consultancy for the press and communications. We currently use Instagram and, in agreement with our consultant, we have decided on a simple, but clear and coherent editorial line. Instagram, as a simple communication vehicle regarding our approach to the project, has turned into a medium through which we can acquire new customers who contact us directly through the platform.

Is print less interesting now?

Certainly digital communication is more immediate, faster. It is very easy to create interaction and receive feedback. Everything works thanks to images and the written word has almost disappeared. This way of working, even if simple, follows strict rules, but for us it is natural to work with these tools.

Studio wok – Piccolo attico con terrazza – Photo: Federico Villa studio

Part of your work is also linked to the didactic and popularisation aspect. I’m thinking about the various workshops that you are invited to …

Our current dissemination capacity is certainly linked to the teaching activity that forced us to use very simple language, fast but capable of containing important meaning. For years we have been university assistants and for a short time contract professors. This activity over the years is less present because we are more focused on the studio work. The only thing we continue to do is participate in a few workshops or lectures by invitation. In the teaching activity, on the one hand you give, and on the other you can learn a lot.

What do you mean?

In the sense that you know yourself through the way you teach others.

Studio wok – Appartamento in Isola – Photo: Federico Villa studio

Is Milan the right place for a young architectural firm?

In Milan, there is no lack of work in small renovations, and for a young architectural firm this is the most suitable field in which to try their hand. Milan is also a fast-paced city and is the ideal place for a studio that does many installations and workshops. This second aspect is more distant from how we are because, as we design we like to enjoy the work we do and to achieve this, time moves more slowly, it expands and many phases are still achieved with an artisan approach.

Erba (CO), 2013 – Concorso di idee. Primo premio – Team: studio wok + Ortalli & Verrier architects + Virginia Ortalli + mutability – Luca Pietro Gattoni
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