We asked the same question to some architectural firms:
Why do you think in the Northern part of Italy, at the borders with Austria and Switzerland, as in the region of Trentino Alto Adige, it is easier to find high-quality architecture studios than in the rest of the country?
here are the answers.
Upbringing and education might be the motives.
I think that in the faculties of architecture in Vienna or the ETH in Zurich or in Germany the educational level is much higher than in Italy. These universities affect the architecture of the present. In the west part of Austria or in Switzerland, together with international studies, we can find also small but high-quality institutions. I think this is in part a consequence of the universities where the designers studied.
Italian universities should be more international. Only few universities in Italy can be considered international, I am referring to the “Polytechnic of Milan” or “La Sapienza” in Rome. The others are focusing too much on the past and just a little on the future, they are too close to art and history. Real architects who make real architecture should go back to universities and teach. For example, in the ’70s and’ 80s the center of the architectural world was in London and very important architects studied at the AA School.
Here in Trentino-Alto Adige we have the great advantage that we are all bilingual or trilingual. This already allows us to work without problems on a territory that goes from southern Italy to northern Germany.
In our case, in particular at the age of 30, a client entrusted us with 3.5 million euros to build a hotel. This opportunity allowed us to have a salary for several months and set up a studio. From here we also started making contests. I am saying all this to say that in Trentino-Alto Adige there is a lot of confidence in young people and you don’t have to be 50 to start managing the first important jobs.
This happens in particular in Trentino Alto Adige. I think politic that facilitates this situation is partly responsible, while in the rest of Italy it is becoming difficult to do anything. In addition they still have a line of architectural thinking that has disappeared elsewhere. Last simple thing but essential: they have more economic availability than other areas.
For several years the Alto Adige has been developing a widespread fabric of quality that has transformed a region with an agricultural-pastoral vocation into a tourism-oriented vocation. We have repeatedly asked ourselves about the reasons for this development. We believe that here there isn’t a school but a meeting point where architects operating in this area are influenced by both the Italian, the Austrian and the Swiss worlds. What these architects have in common is the terrain in which they operate. The South Tyrolean landscape is in fact characterised by its own baukultur or building culture. This concept refers to the link that, as the word itself says, exists between culture and construction. In other words, for baukultur we mean the architecture in a specific context, the alpine one, which is distinguished by a strong sensitivity regarding the distinctive features of the land. To this we add the great craftsmanship that exists in these territories which is an essential tool to move traditional architecture towards the contemporary.
I would say that there are both economical and cultural reasons.
From the economical point of view, the alpine territory thanks to the boom of mountain tourism and their enogastronomic products, mix with a great entrepreneurial spirit of the local population that was able to take advantage of this new interest. It has been transformed from a land that fifty years ago was very poor in a region rich in opportunities and jobs where the construction industry is increasing much more than in other areas of Italy.
From the cultural point of view, in the Alps the importance of land preservation has always been present. Our territory is not made by large urban areas, but rather by small towns and villages surrounded by nature. This creates in the population a strong sense of ownership for their land and this has surely a positive influence on the quality of the architectural production of the region.
At the same time, in the Alps there are beautiful villages and castle but surely there isn’t the rich and complex architecture tradition present in most of Italy. This situation is often an advantage rather than a disadvantage because makes us more free to experiment and at the same time more motivated to create beauty with a new architecture.
The reason is that quality generates quality.
For example, when we started, our valley was very conservative and it was not allowed to have a flat roof. The first house we made was mine; it was a no-roof house and it was on everyone’s lip. Few people noticed the great quality of the building and others started to dream about having it.
People start wanting quality when they see quality. This is the criteria.
One reason is certainly the tradition of public competitions, stronger in Trentino Alto Adige, in fact it has already more than twenty years. Public competitions for schools, museums, kindergartens, municipalities, fire stations. The province makes open or invited competitions to build these structures. The system of competitions has also expanded to the private sector. This structure of competitions, even if small, allows to widen the architectural variety. Instead of calling the architect I know I invite various studies. This is important to create more competition but also a higher quality. In the competitions that take place in South Tyrol, both German and/or Swiss studios are also invited, which is why there is a more international influence that would otherwise not exist.
These public works created a new and international modern architecture. Also smaller companies make competitions to find the best project. Many other make private competitions. Even the private who wants to build a villa invests more on the project and he invites several studies. There is an expense reimbursement. The client can choose the one that best suits his needs. One of our first projects, that of the Roto Blaas Company, was an invitation-only competition; we won the competition and we started designing the project. We were still students at the university, we stopped our studies for two years to build the structure.