Rocco Borromini between contemporaneity and tradition
By Andrea Carloni & Carlotta Ferrati
Rocco Borromini is an Italian architect graduated from the Politecnico di Milano. In his works he combines contemporary design with the use of traditional materials strongly linked to the territory. He founded his studio in Sondrio, in the middle of Valtellina.
Why did you decide to become an architect?
I don’t know why. I can say that I have always wanted to. In the family we had many connections with the world of art and furniture. Above all my mother who taught me to appreciate beauty as “philosophical beauty”.
If I think of S.V. House or A.P. House I read contemporary lines, but the materials you use are strongly linked to the context. Could it be a right interpretation?
It’s a very right interpretation. They are two very different houses but the principle that led me is always the same.
To understand it better I would like to tell you an anecdote. I recently completed houses in Tuscany near Arezzo; before tackling the project I wanted to understand the tradition and the construction techniques of their territory. One day, at almost the end of the works, the owner of the construction company exclaimed “it seems we haven’t even touched them”! Please note that these two buildings were almost destroyed and receiving this comment made me realize that I had achieved my goal. In this project we used only recycled materials and where possible I rebuilt the collapsed parts. We have to respect the territory around us.
How do you deal with a new project? What are the main features?
In part I have already answered. One thing that I consider essential is to understand client’s expectations and realize them with the project I will make for him. What I really want is a better world and I think one of the pieces to reach it, it is also the quality of housing.
Most of your projects are private homes; in your opinion what are the essential needs that an architect has to satisfy when designing a house?
I believe that the fundamental premise is to understand that to live well, few things are needed and that many, apparently complex, aspects of the contemporary are actually simpler than they seem. If I find myself in the mountains and I am in front of the fire with a glass of wine, this situation sometimes creates an atmosphere of exceptional conviviality. I think everyone likes this situation as well as others, because from some point of view we all look for the same things.
As the decades pass, do you think that the way of living the house changed?
It changed a lot. However, high values remained, such as the pleasure of warming up in front of the home fireplace.
If the way of living the house has really changed, perhaps also architects have changed the way to design it?
Well I could say that the way of living the house has changed because architects have changed the way to design it! But today, too often, the housing project doesn’t help the fact that people don’t wish to live their homes. Instead, living your home is essential.
Now, a question that I will ask also to some other studios. Why do you think in the Northern part of Italy, at the borders with Austria and Switzerland, it is easier to find a high-quality architecture?
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.
Do you think there is still an Italian style?
An architectural style? I would say no. At some point it is like everything has been blocked. In the 60s, the quantity was spreading, but quality started to lack. To give you an example that has impressed me, all the courts of the squares were made with stones of the area, but in the 60s’ they have all been covered in concrete. This event, like so many others even more striking, in large part happened not because the people of the past had lost their heads, but because all that was tradition remembered the past and therefore poverty. Now, instead, there is a search for lost traditions and materials.
In your projects there is a strong search for tradition even if inserted into contemporary living. What is your relationship with the most technological aspects?
The living comfort is now defined by the law, so some choices I make are required by the legislation.
I think it’s very important to pay attention to the environment, but at the same time I don’t think the problems of the world are solved by installing fixtures with 10 layers of glass! The excessive amount of guidelines to be respected risks to distort the project. I believe that an architect has to manage the space and that he can make a beautiful construction even if all the rooms of the house don’t have 35 ° degrees in winter!
I think one of the problems is the fact that many people today don’t know what they want from life, so they often look for the strangest things, not realizing that what they need is right next to them. I think that sleeping under a quilt with the room cold, it is much more fascinating than sleeping in a warm one. It is something ancestral, a primordial pleasure, feeling warm in a cool place.