Interview prepared with Agata Siemionow as part of the Illinois Institute of Technology Dean's Lecture Series. Photography Credits: Illinois Institute of Technology
Grou Serra Let’s talk a little bit about Anti-city. You describe it as “writing the differences between center and suburb off, and fragmenting the urban society”. How do you see architects operating in this paradigm? Do you think this is a condition we should be resisting?
Stefano Boeri It’s a good question. I think we have to. I think it’s not easy, I think it’s also not easy to define the ingredients of Anti-city. Because in a very generic way Anti-city is the fact that you are putting together a variety of space with a kind of modernity of social behaviors, no? But this has to be declinated in every country in every context in relation with the history - with the local history, no? So it depends. Proximity and contiguity are two ingredients, but without variety of cultures or languages, they don’t work. That’s more or less the point.
Grou Serra There is a famous Koolhaas quote, that says “People can inhabit anything. And they can be miserable in anything and ecstatic in anything. More and more I think that architecture has nothing to do with it. Of course, that’s both liberating and alarming.” Do you agree with this statement?
Vedran Mimica This is typical Rem provocation.
Stefano Boeri Yes.
Vedran Mimica It’s not a statement. This is how Rem provokes everyone. But Stefano is a good friend.
Stefano Boeri No, no, I think that I can read this sentence in - let me say - the general condition of architecture which often is not really capable to produce excess, or to produce extreme conditions. Basically condemned to produce mediocrity or mediocre conditions instead of excesses. And if we observe the professional standard or architects, probably Rem is right. It’s always what’s happening. It’s in a certain way much more interesting to watch and follow what’s happening in the social life instead of observing what is happening in the spaces where the architects are producing, no? And that’s the reason we are going to study Tehran or Belgrade. Because we can extract from that niches of reality informations and details and clues that are more richer than the one that we can extract from a list of architectural “well done” proposals. That’s absolutely eminent. That was another of the starting points of the Multiplicity, where the new is not inside architecture necessarily. Sometimes the new is much in self-organized processes that are changing the space, that’s the reason of observing that one instead of another. That’s an interpretation of Rem, I don’t know.
Grou Serra So the next one is about Pier Vittorio Aureli. He proclaims, or argues that “Less is Enough” and you seem to proclaim that we should produce more with less, and it seems that this is what neoliberalism tends to promote. Can you comment on this?
Stefano Boeri That’s a rhetorical thing. It’s following his line. What I was saying was completely different. I started my book “Fare di più con meno” with an example of - well it’s a very famous example in Europe, you probably know it - there are brothers in Italy, called Fratelli Castiglioni, you know them, maestri of furniture design they are all over the world.
Vedran Mimica Achille.
Stefano Boeri Achille was the most famous, but there were three at the beginning.
Vedran Mimica Yes.
Stefano Boeri And they were, after the second world war, working different fields. But basically they were using objects, tools that were absolutely banal, a little bit what Duchamp was doing in the art field.
Vedran Mimica Objets trouvés.
Stefano Boeri Objets trouvés. And at a certain moment they were thinking to a new way to live space. And they put together a piece of marble, a car lamp, and an aluminium pipe, okay? And putting these things together they created probably the most innovative lamp they have ever done. It was called Arco. It was not simply a formal invention, it was an invention of light coming from the top, but you can move it, so it’s not fixed to the roof, so think to that. This is the do more with less, no? That was interesting for me, it has nothing to do with this obsession for liberalism and communism that Vittorio has. But I really respect him, and I really like him, he’s a very nice person - he’s a serious man, but he has his world.
Grou Serra You have been the editor of Domus and Abitare Magazine, where architecture is always represented at its best, but you introduced an alternative representation of architecture and its failure. Can you describe the impact of this provocation?
Stefano Boeri I don’t see any impact. That’s the reason I will try to talk about this also in a few minutes. It’s crazy, but normally we are not used to talk about failures, flops, collapses, nothing. Our lectures are always a sequence of victories, and that’s unbelievably stupid. We are not used to use mistakes to improve the quality of our work, not using failures as materials to straighten our capacity to change the reality. But that’s very specific of architecture, just think to other disciplines. Normally when you can show how you’re doing failures, or flops, and how you are using them in order to improve, that’s considerate. So that’s a serious point. Though I don’t see any impact. So it’s a failure in a failure, I’m failing also in this.
Grou Serra You clearly have a strong personality and political opinions, and your family is now almost known for that, between your mother and two brothers, this is a very interesting situation. Can you comment on this?
Stefano Boeri [Laughs] I don’t know. My mother, well she’s an architect. She’s now 92, she still works. And for sure, well, it’s a presence who has always been very important in my life. Although I never really collaborated with her.We had only one experience. We designed together a small house in Switzerland in 1985-86, but it was a disaster because she is, and she was, so strong, and I did my best to - let me say - to be part of the design solution. At the final it was like a frankenstein. It was not really a synthesis but more a superimposition of two different approaches. This is one part. But I don’t know. My father was a neurologist and I have learned a lot from him. I think the point is not if you have a father or a mother who’s an architect, then you can absorb more in that field - it’s not about that. So I have understood in term of relation between psychology and physiology was much more helpful for me when I have to talk about the relation between social behavior and spaces, physical spaces. Then what I’ve learned from my mother who was basically a designer, she did also two or three amazing houses, but basically she was acting as a furniture designer. And then I have a son who is starting architecture now, but he’s completely - he doesn’t want to have any contact with me. He’s redoing the same thing I did with my mother, no? You know that the room is there, and the door is open. But, nothing more. It’s important.