Can you tell us about the psychiatric centre in Bolzano?
Sandy Attia: I am enormously proud of this project. It is the first contest that we won.
Matteo Scagnol: I’ll tell you starting from another anecdote; her father is Egyptian, she lived with me in Italy as “an illegal” (laughs – editor’s note), and practically, her father said, “You took my daughter away, how does it work?”. I understood that it was necessary to make an official engagement. I wrote him a formal letter requesting permission to marry his daughter in my so-so type English. “Okay, you can marry my daughter, but the engagement party will be in Oregon.” We had just consigned our entry in the competition, which we did in Rome in a kitchenette in an apartment in Trastevere, where we lived because Sandy was teaching in American schools abroad; imagine a kitchenette and a small computer, if you saw the tables you would laugh; that’s how it came about; with the competition entry delivered we took the plane and took off to get engaged with festoons and rings. I thought “I don’t even have a shirt to my name and now I’m getting engaged?” (laugh – editor’s note). On the day of the official engagement, in the midst of millions of relatives, my father from Italy calls me to say, “You won the competition!” And this was the marriage foundation for two architects (they laugh – editor’s note). The project was incredibly lucky and shows how architecture is able to absorb changes. In 2003 we won the competition; it was built ten years later and transformed from housing for the elderly to a psychiatric centre due to resistance to our architectural idea for the project, that is, to open and expand the internal space, a kind of protected internal stomach, with connecting bridges that were used structurally to support a crazy protrusion of the factory encasement of seven and a half metres. When you are under it, it seems to collapse on you. These bridges are tie rods that hold the two blocks together; but which also work for guests who do not walk and for whom we had thought of making circular routes; in the psychiatric ward it was necessary to create outdoor spaces for smoking and feeling protected; this is a delicate and difficult world, because it intertwines with the theme of suicide, of danger. We understood from this work that suicide is never blatant, you never do it when you are in the community, but you do it blatantly in a private way. For that there was great attention given to furniture, for example to have hanging elements that could only hold a few kilos. It was a beautiful job because we carried it forward in its entirety, always confronting ourselves with the usage that was extraordinary.
Sandy Attia: … also because there was always the same doctor, the same person of reference all these years; it was an added value. When I came back, I took a guided tour with him and saw how these therapy spaces are experienced. Full of elements, of activities; he said they think this psychiatric centre is a school for life.
From our interview with Modus Architects