Tommaso and I met working for Renzo Piano in Genoa.
promoting – through architecture – the sense of community and the specific cultural identities.
I believe that our mission should be to create a new urbanity in which the staying together becomes a real rite.
Beauty and good coincide, kalòs kai agathòs.
Paolo Brescia and Tommaso Principi met when they both worked in Renzo Piano’s studio. After a few years of practice, the desire to participate in some architectural competitions was too great and so they decided to found their own firm. OBR does not prefer an architectural language or a specific construction technique because it believes that it is very important to know the culture and techniques of a place and use these as the basis of the project. The context of a project is closely linked not only to the shape and function of the building, but also to the way it is built. OBR believes it would be a mistake to use complex construction techniques if these were complicated to be used by local workers. Another aim of the OBR study is to consider design as a multidisciplinary and group work in which even if the client is private, the consequences and importance of the work are public.
How was the idea of founding OBR conceived?
OBR first of all is a group of friends. Tommaso and I met working for Renzo Piano in Genoa.
Together with other friends, we felt the unstoppable desire to take part to design competitions wherever, so we started OBR as a collective. We were all less than thirty years old and we were living on bread, design competitions and lot of adrenaline. For us Genoa was a living urban-workshop in the middle of Mediterranean, I would say full of world.
OBR works on multiple scales and in multiple places on the planet. What is it like managing such a structure?
Creating a design network among Genoa, London, Mumbai, New York and now Milano, we wanted to investigate new way of living. For this reason, we have oriented our research towards the integration artifice-nature, to create sensitive architecture in perpetual change, stimulating the interaction between man and environment. Today OBR is a group of twenty architects open to different multidisciplinary contributors and we develop our design activity promoting – through architecture – the sense of community and the specific cultural identities.
For example, in India we are working on a project for a cluster in the old city of Jaipur. In the absence of a modern construction industry, our intention is to demonstrate that it is possible to develop a real estate project with a high degree of social sustainability, through the promotion of the local workforce, contributing to the development of the territory. Working with local artisans, we are combining a parametric design with basic local construction technology. In this case, the approach is that of multiplicity, understood as the repetition (craft), and not as the multiplication (industrial). Like to say that 1+1+1+1+… is different from 1x… The goal we are pursuing in India is not a project for Jaipur, but by Jaipur.
OBR has been able to design masterplans, what common traits, in your opinion, could we find in future cities?
As Paul Virilio said, we live in a world that has become a world-city, within which information, messages, images, things and people circulate… But it is also true that the cities are more and more a city-world, with their own ethnic, cultural and social differences (in a certain sense contradicting the illusions of the world-city).
It is on this uncertain terrain, suspended between city and world, that we believe we should think to the future cities.
Designing space for contemporary man means trying to meet the needs of individuals whose means of connecting both with each other and with the environment around them has become increasingly technological due to the vast amount of information that is produced. Today’s man, in addition to living within a physical space, relates also to this second reality shaped by new technologies. Do you take these habits into consideration when planning your projects?
We live in a “social paradox”: we are all digitally connected, but we are disconnected in the reality.
As architects, I believe that our mission should be to create a new urbanity in which the staying together becomes a real rite.
Many of your buildings are of considerable dimensions, designed to accommodate and manage large numbers of people. How do you ascertain what data is necessary to incorporate the necessary requirements into the project?
Each project is unique and is the result of a collective effort. Working together, we like to involve those who know more than us on specific substances. This allows us to hybridize different knowledges acquired by different experiences. Design is not an individual matter, but a common task.
When you manage large number of people, you understand that everything you do in architecture is public. It is not like a book that you can close and not read. Architecture is there, outside, for everybody, even if it is promoted by a private client. In the private sector, this becomes the paradox of the architect: you are paid by one, but you work for many.
Architecture has never been limited to creating containers, but its intervention influences the social balance of the territory in which it is built. How do you relate to this important feature of architecture?
Interviewed by Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault said that the architect can produce some social benefits if there is the coincidence between the liberating will by the architect and the real practice of freedom by the people.
I don’t know if we can change the world, but I believe we can do something to improve it, if we take the responsibility to design for the others, keeping the people together making spaces where sharing common values. It is not different from the public responsibility you had for the ancient Polis: “I promise that I will give Athens even more beautiful “. Beauty and good coincide, kalòs kai agathòs.
Paolo Brescia, as well as being an architect, is also a university professor who has had the opportunity to lecture in many places on the planet. In your opinion, are there steps that are virtually mandatory, an architecture student should take that would provide a valid foundation in their training?
Working together in OBR, we are converging towards an idea of architecture as a collective, cooperative, evolutionary process, that you develop by crossing the borders, taking risks, even making mistakes, but still exploring the future and investigating the unknown, which then is the only place to go, if we have to go somewhere.
Architecture starts from the art of listening. We believe it is a serendipity process: you find something that you were not exactly looking for, but, being in a status of research, you discover it. If you work with the others, the results will be much more unpredictable and will exceed the initial expectations.
Architecture is poietic in the classic meaning of Téchne: knowing how to do (well). Today the technician knows how. The architect must also ask why.
My recommendations to the next generation of architects are: choose you masters, but be yourself. Listen, but not obey. Work hard, but dream large.