Labics: the Architectural Studio as a Research Laboratory

By Andrea Carloni e Carlotta Ferrati

September 2019

Labics was founded in 2002 in Rome by Maria Claudia Clemente and Francesco Isidori. It is certainly one of the most interesting architectural studios on the Italian scene. I say this not so much because of the size of the building sites it manages, which is a fundamental factor in architecture but cannot be used as a quality parameter, but rather in their way of creating an architectural effect that considers design one of the fundamental steps in building. I want to emphasise this concept because what, in my opinion, should be obvious, isn’t any more, and too often we see architecture derived the “fashion” of the moment. In the case of Labics, on the other hand, the design starts from conceptual bases developed within the studio where each individual project is pondered and studied in depth.

Maria Claudia Clemente and Francesco Isidori

How was Labics conceived?

Labics grew from the desire to experiment and conduct research in architecture just like in a scientific laboratory. For this reason, we did not name the studio after the founding members but decided on an abbreviation that refers to the laboratory idea. Labics is therefore a place where research is not linked to the individual but to a series of theoretical themes that are debated and shared with the priors.

Labics, Mast, 2006-2013, Bologna – Photo: Christian Richters

Inside the “search” section of your website there is a list of 11 words that refer to images. Could you tell us about it?

They are words and images that represent, in a different way, the studio’s research; they are both goals and strategies. As you can see, they are not just architectural images, in fact in most cases they are not. We could say that they represent a horizon of meaning to which an aesthetic horizon is obviously connected. To quote a wonderful work by Gerard Richter, these images represent our reference Atlas. Most of them – circulation, frames, geometry, public spaces, context, territories – also represent structures, in the broad sense that we give to this term.

Labics, Città del Sole, Studio di Progetto

Thinking also about your installation called “Structures”, what is the role of the structure in architecture, in your opinion?

First of all we should define the term structure, which refers essentially to “the set of internal relations and rules in a system, be it material or immaterial, in which the individual components do not exist alone, but only in relation to each other and to the totality within which they are situated “. The term structure expresses the relationship between things and not of things themselves. Conceiving an architecture as a structure therefore implies considering it not as an autonomous object, but as a system composed of different elements held together by a unitary logic. In fact, designing a structure means putting all the components that come together in the project in a system – into a single entity. For this reason, the meanings that the term structure can take on are many, depending on the project, the place, the scale. We can talk about load-bearing structures (tectonics), formal structures (geometry), programmatic structures (functionality), organisational structures (circulation) or territorial structures (the context). Within our first monograph “Structures”, recently published with Park books, we addressed four of these structures – geometry, public space, circulation and load-bearing structures – within four theoretical essays.

Labics, STRUCTURES, 2014-2015

Today we are witnessing the formation of ever larger cities that are home to millions of people. Within these immense areas we often see a series of problems linked to the inability to communication between cultures and people with different social statuses who live almost in two distinct worlds. What role can architecture play in all this?

Architecture can do a lot; it can put the project of the city in the centre of its agenda, or rather the relationship between architecture and city, overcoming the self-celebrating tendency that has prevailed in recent decades to return to contribute to shaping the city and especially the public space. A generous, hospitable architecture, capable of giving shape to the space in which people meet to share experiences.

Labics, Città del Sole, 2007-2016, Roma – Photo: Fernando Guerra, Marco Cappelletti

You are strengthening your position on projects of various scales. What changes with a change in size?

Nothing changes in the method and purpose. The tools, the contexts and the people change.

Labics, Pantheon House, 2015-2016, Roma – Photo: Alessandra Chemollo

During your career you have been able to participate in many competitions. What do you think is the best type of call for tenders for quality architecture?

The best competition is generally the two-stage competition: the first one is open, where anyone can participate, the second is by invitation with a reimbursement of expenses.

Labics, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Ferrara – Winner Project

Is there anything you would change at the administrative level to improve how architecture is done in Italy?

Yes, there would be plenty to do! First of all we consider it necessary to separate the architectural project and the related competitions from the current Procurement Code within which they are inserted. It would then be necessary to draft a specific framework law on architecture that first and foremost defines the project activity as an ingenious work and not as a service (as it is today defined in the Code). It is a cultural revolution even before it is operational. But only through this conceptual shift is it possible to protect and enhance contemporary architecture. On this topic a couple of years ago we, together with friends and colleagues, wrote a manifest addressed to the Minister of Culture, and this year together with MAXXI we were among the promoters during four days dedicated precisely to the contents of a possible law. We are organising the contributions that will be published in a MAXXI exercise book in the autumn.

Labics, Jacarandà kindergarten, 2017-2018, Milano – Photo: Marco Cappelletti
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