Architecture is the Planet’s accomplice

10 Nov 2015

8 min

Architecture can provide answers to protect the environment, can make our way of life and of eating more informed. Architect and designer Mario Cucinella, with his particular interest in the themes of sustainable design, tell us how. Because “sustainability is not made of talk, but of actions.”

Expo Milano 2015 is the first Universal Exposition that provides Participants with information in terms of environmental sustainability. Along with Green Building Futures, the organization which you founded, and Fondazione Lombardia per l’Ambiente, you have drafted the guidelines for the adoption of sustainable solutions in the design, construction, disposal and reuse of the Participants temporary Pavilions (Self-built Exhibition Space): which aspects did you focus on most when you wrote them? « Let me start by saying that we are talking about guidelines of a technical nature, for exploration, not for the most creative part of the design. They are based purely on aspects of a purely methodological nature. The architect who sets about creating a Pavilion – beyond creative, formal or philosophical aspects – must have very solid principles. The Guidelines are a set of questions that include the themes of energy, materials, site and water. They stem from the principle of great practicability and usability for an architect and I think by having a simple, but very precise, a guide on actions and results has been an important undertaking, which made together with Expo 2015 S.p.A. has resulted in a useful tool».

How can designers from abroad observe the instructions for construction without knowing the Italian working environment? «The great innovation of this report with Expo 2015 S.p.A. is that the guidelines are made by professionals for professionals. Often guidelines are a little too theoretical or academic, but these have been made with the language of architects, with useful tips on managing design work that really care about the sustainability of buildings. They are very precise guidelines: they cater to the needs of designers whether they are Malay, Indian, Japanese or American. To speak of energy for an Indian and an American is the same for me being Italian or anyone else. The guidelines are not going to say “you have to do things like this”, but present an ambition that speaks to designers – whatever their background, nationality or way of working – “use these as an orientation tool for your work.” Obviously, foreign designers should be briefed on the particular climate, as Expo 2015 will take place in spring and summer, so you have to address the questions of cooling and heating. The purpose of the guide is that buildings are as passive as possible from an energy point of view. The idea, which is very much linked to the theme of Expo Milano 2015, is that even a building, an architecture, space, must be contextualized with the environment, as one of complicity, not of antagonism. A well-designed building basically needs little technology to work: this is the question we need to focus on most».

We know that the path of sustainability suggested by Expo Milano 2015 for the design and construction of the Participants’ Pavilions has provoked much interest: the main Pavilions have satisfied the parameters. In your profession did you find these paths also at other major events in the world? «The fact that a large number of people visiting Milan has decided to look at the question of sustainability in its totality is a signal that in recent years the issue is increasingly at the center of national policies. This seems to be the thermometer of Expo Milano 2015. Certainly, the London 2012 Olympics were a testing ground. Then I remember the Expo in Seville in 1992, when at times there was, with the involvement of universities, an interest in doing experiments on passive cooling and evaporative systems. There has always been a common thread, but perhaps there has never been a systematic approach, which instead is becoming one of the hallmarks of the work of Expo Milano 2015. It is perhaps truly one of the first times that an organizer has decided to give life to a guide for building in a sustainable way; before, architectural choices and capabilities were always in the hands of each Country. Expo will become an educational platform in this regard: we must make a real check of what will be built and, after the event, of what will be reused and recycled. Sustainability is not made of talk, but of actions. To be able to conduct a post hoc analysis helps to understand how a tool has been useful, how many choices were made and this I find a form of education, a learning curve because it brings together vision, project and reality. Since we are all still in a learning phase and we are still a long way off from what should be a way of working every day, Expo Milano 2015 has to be an experience that puts the issues on the table and provides answers. It is very important to understand how the answer was given, to start a cognitive, and certainly not a punitive process, but rather a growing awareness and a collective understanding».

As Expo is also an educational event, do you think that architecture can offer insights on major issues, such as Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life? «The purpose of the Expo should be an opportunity for reflecting on issues of a global nature. The theme of energy, whether it is food or electricity or heat, at the moment is looking at the needs of all Countries. It is perhaps the first time since the Industrial Revolution that there has been something that brings us together on questions of how to produce food for all without compromising the Planet’s resources. Answers are articulated through a lens that is climatic, cultural and connected to innovation in all areas, so there is no magic formula. Architecture is responsible for more than 50 percent of the energy consumption of the Planet and more than 40 percent of its CO2 emissions, so not only will it have to give answers, but it will probably be the segment where there can be a greater impact on these themes, so its contribution is very important».

How can building accommodate food management? «The way in which a building takes on the functions of food, the way in which space is organized is very much related to the type of activity. New systems of food distribution, the way in which hospitality processes have now been revised, the great squares that host several catering establishments imply an organization of space that is different from what went on before. From this point of view, the relationship between food production and the consumer in recent years has changed a lot. Just think of Eataly, from the point of view of its space which is no longer organized like a supermarket or a restaurant, but as a place of food culture».

Can the evolution of space change the way people eat? «Absolutely! Nowadays you do not go to places just to eat. Food now feeds our mind. We are talking about food culture, awareness, and people now want to know what to eat. On the theme of food a great debate is also moving around consciousness of environmental issues. All these elements change places, so that they are not only places to do something, but places where we can learn something».

With your Studio MC A you will handle the exhibition space for Granarolo within the Italian Pavilion: can you gives details of the choices you made in the developing the concept and the structural aspects? Did the forms of food inspire the shaping of the space? «The Granarolo space was created to communicate the “milk experience”. Granarolo deals with a food, milk, which is basic and fundamental for growth. It has many different expressions and the most interesting part of its production is that it is good when there is good agriculture. The theme that you want to communicate is not just about the product or its derivatives, but the entire milk chain, how animal feed, cereals, soybeans and all the other steps are made leading up to our kitchen table. When this chain does not work dramatic situations occur: Milk is a thermometer of the environmental quality of the Planet. The Pavilion tells the story of the importance of supply chains and therefore the upstream quality of a product. The shape of the building is a sort of flower whose petals are made of a translucent, very light material, from which light emanates, aiming to express the idea of dematerialized space. In these petals there are various themes, including one related to art – the Madonna del Latte of the sixteenth century – which shows that milk culture milk was already present in Renaissance art. It was very important to weave into this story the worlds of agriculture, production, art and play. In the space there is a screen with three faces that was designed by the architect Tarpini on which there is a video story of this chain».

Through your work you have visited many places around the world: Milan Expo 2015 will host many Countries, and a visit to the Exhibition Site will be a journey through shapes, tastes and knowledge. Which flavors will you want to try out? «Rather than trying out a particular flavor I would like to explore the theme of the supply chains at Expo Milano 2015; that is, understand where things come from and what is behind the system of the food we eat. I want to visit the Clusters and understand which sectors correspond to different territories, peoples and cultures. I believe that the spirit of the Expo is also bound to show us what arrives on our table comes from a strong relationship with the land and the environment. Behind the world of food, there is nature, there is the climate, there are people».

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