Massimiliano Fuksas spoke with Jeremy Melvin on Saturday 22 June 2002 about being Roman, the role of ethics in architecture and his vision of a treeless future.
A computer generation of Fuksas’s Congress Centre, Rome Credit: Studio Fuksas Association An education in ruins
Fuksas’s teachers at Rome’s wonderfully named La Sapienza university included Lodovico Quaroni and Manfredo Tafuri. Fuksas is ambiguous about their legacy. ‘Quaroni was a negative thinker, not a very good architect, though a very good teacher. He was a cynic and thought the world was really awful and architects could not do anything. Tafuri came from Quaroni. He wanted to be an architect but he could not. This was in a very dramatic period, post 1968, with the Red Brigades and people saying ‘architecture is dead, art is dead, cinema is dead’ – though they say those things every 30 years!’
‘But Tafuri, alongside Umberto Eco, was really thinking ‘this is the end of art’. He then said that architecture is a language and language must not be contaminated. For him the only way of expressing architecture was in ruins, and Gian Battista Piranesi was the best. He only built one cemetery and restored one church, but his etchings showed the ruins of society. Tafuri devised a syllogism. He said Piranesi was a great architect without designing buildings.’
Living in Rome exposed Fuksas to other influences which played a more positive role in his development as an architect.
On being Roman
Fuksas was born in Rome, his father was Lithuanian, and his Roman mother had French and German parents. ‘After two weeks of living in Rome, people are Roman. You can see this in the priests, cardinals and bishops who come from all over the world. It is simple to understand with the great Baroque architect Francesco Borromini and the painter Giorgio de Chirico. Borromini came to Rome from the Ticino; de Chirico made a big trip from Greece via Trieste, Munich, Monaco, Paris and Florence. So two personalities not born in Rome, with really different formazione, became Roman.’
‘As a student in Rome I chose Borromini rather than his contemporary Gianlorenzo Bernini. I am always aware of Borromini, not so much in shape or form, but his personality. He was always up against Bernini, who since he was 15 had always been seen well by popes and other powerful people. In contrast Borromini was not rich and worked mainly for poor organisations. But Borromini raised the importance of introducing something else into architecture, in his case something from Gothic. He was always anti-classical and worked around the triangle, though you never see the corner. There is always ambiguity in his forms, always something beyond the physical limits, always some place where you don’t understand exactly what’s happening.’
Politics and architecture, Italian style
‘I cannot be radical. I can do radical architecture but I am not radical’, says Fuksas of the notoriously polarised Italian architectural world — two poles hardened in the 1950s. At one extreme was ‘Gio Ponti [who] was completely out of politics, bourgeois and a dandy, the opposite of Ernesto Rogers [who] was a Communist, politically engaged, and edited the radical magazine Casabella which was fighting for modern architecture in Italy’.
Ponti saw architecture as an art; Rogers, following the Italian Realism movement and intellectuals like Cesare Pavese, saw architecture in relation to society. Of their two towers in Milan, the Pirelli Tower and the Torre Velasca respectively, Fuksas says ‘Rogers is a realist; the other is modern, contemporary and didn’t care about politics. And the winner for me is Gio Ponti. He loved life.’
Ethics and aesthetics
“Less Aesthetics More Ethics” was the title Fuksas chose for the Venice Biennale of 2000. He enlarges: ‘Today there is no more style. It is not like when Siegfried Giedion wrote “Space, Time and Architecture” (1941). Then everything was clear and organised. But now time is so fast and we are also losing the concept of space. If we lose these we have to have something else inside ourselves. I call this ethic, but it is not really correct. Ethic for me is the future — your vision for the future, not just the project. Architecture enables us to achieve other things.’
Ethics is also about ‘working with the relationship to a town, a place a family or whatever’, in contrast to the obsession his tutors Lodovico Quaroni and Manfredo Tafuri had with an ‘autonomous architecture’ that might become ‘contaminated’. Talking of two great Roman palazzi of the 1530s, the Farnese and the Massimi, he explains, ‘the Farnese is a model palazzo, but the Massimi shows the point where its architectural principles become impossible, and its architect Baldassare Peruzzi had to discover a new relationship with the town. Peruzzi did a very beautiful building and had to use much more imagination. This is close to what I mean by ethics, in opposition to the formulaic formalism of the Palazzo Farnese.’
Design, fashion and industry
‘We are speaking about architecture, society, economics, people, art all together. We are interested in what’s happening in all of society. The architect cannot be alone. Maybe a few like Peter Zumthor, a very great architect, can say “I have good clients, I will stay in my mountains”, but you see Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, they are always involved with something else. I prefer to be with people, like Norman and Richard, and be involved.’
‘I am working for Armani on a shop in Hong Kong and on Ferrari’s research centre at Maranello. They may be part of very big industries but Italian industry came from artisanship and, if you speak to Armani or the people at Ferrari, they are still like artisans. Armani is a very amazing man. He is called King Giorgio in Milan, and he watches everything in more than 100 shops across the world.’
‘We work in the same way. I always do my projects. Without my drawings, my sketches, my paintings we do not go on. I go through my buildings before I build them. I dream my staircase, I go in night and daytime. It is a vision.’
Visions for the future
‘We have no place or time. We do not have stability. Everything is changing. We cannot live here anymore; we cannot stop and we cannot go on. But architecture is a way of enabling you to live this way a bit longer and also to explain what’s going on.’
‘The Peace Centre in Palestine is the ultimate symbol that life goes on, that people make love and go to work. Recently the Peace Centre paid the municipality of Tel Aviv for the land. We have the land, we have foundations, we have money and approval for the project. But everybody is afraid. That’s Israel’s problem, Palestine’s problem. We need vision: without vision we always have old baggage. Politics is not enough: to think that democracy is politics is to think the old way. We need someone to say I have this vision for this place, where we can all live at high density, with the rain forest – but I am against nature. I don’t like nature. I like towns. I am a human. There is not one tree in Star Wars. You have high density macrostructures, but no trees. The future is always without nature.’