Images: Gianluca Normanno
How receptive do you feel that the architecture world is to non-extractive methods?
I think that there’s a huge amount of interest in the idea of resetting some core architectural principles, and thinking about it at a macroscopic, really a planetary scale. But it’s something that’s going to require a lot of patience. In a way, the real goal of this project is to bring the people working on these ideas together, to allow them to have a greater level of influence. It is to enact a shift from a generation of architects whose primary concern was the appearance of the building, something we care about marginally, to a generation who understands the importance for beauty, but who are willing to take into consideration a much more expansive set of requirements.
From workshops and exhibitions at planetariums, to documentary films and structures at Terraforma festival, your projects have taken many forms. What is specifically interesting about the festival space that lets you do something different than say, a biennale?
Terraforma is very special because they have this keen awareness about some of the values that are important to us: design, a relationship with the environment, the importance of architecture, and creating a human experience that’s rewarding. We were very motivated to work with them and this wouldn’t have been possible with many other festivals. That being said, in this moment where there’s a rule that dictates everything – every possible application, especially in the architectural space – the temporary nature of festivals allow you to suspend that a little. They’re good testing sites, both in terms of design and aesthetics, but also in terms of these ideas of paying a lot of attention to supply chains and sourcing raw materials. The Biennale of course is important, but I think sometimes biennales tend to speak to a crowd that’s too specifically architectural. The great thing about the festival is that it welcomes people from all sorts of different backgrounds.
How was the Vaia Stage designed and constructed?
The structure is a celebration of Milanese design – the hexagonal form at the front is derived from one of the most iconic buildings in Milan, the Pirelli Tower by Gio Ponte. The trusses are the second homage to Milan, inspired by Enzo Mari’s Autoprogettazione? project. We wanted it to be an exemplary project of a simple building in which we know everything there is to know about it, so it is a single material structure made out of pinewood. The only other material we used is laser cut steel for structural support. We wanted to enter into a dialogue with the origin place of this material, so we worked with local consortiums dealing with the enormous amount of wood left over from storm Vaia in 2018, which felled hundreds of thousands of trees, leaving them to rot on the side of a mountain. As architects, we want to engage with the production process and understand how the materials work, so we turned it into a workshop, collaborating with a number of volunteers including people from Terraforma as well as our own staff. It was a wonderful process. Part of the idea of non-extractive architecture is that money isn’t the only thing that one can get out of one’s work. There are also forms of conviviality, of human exchange that are just as important.
What are your thoughts on architecture’s traditional obsession with permanence?
We think it is a very problematic one, but there’s a lot of misunderstandings around the value of permanence. The idea that buildings are not adaptive is very dangerous, because it leads to a lot of needless consumption of materials and energy, in continually demolishing and rebuilding. If we could think of our cities and buildings more as frameworks, like in the way bees inhabit a hive, where they’re continually adapting it to the needs and the conditions onsite, that would be much more appropriate. So not to think about permanence versus impermanence as a dichotomy, but to think about adaptation and evolution.