Lessons from an architect

Published
17 Dec 2018

Reading
3 min


by Danilo Maniscalco and Giulia Argiroffi

Mr. Cucinella, are design competitions really the solution? He stops for a moment, looks at me, and replies “Of course! Do you know any other?”

Mario Cucinella is the architect who uses a high degree of creative empathy to meet urban needs with sustainable solutions that improve people’s quality of life. But behind his amazing work is a world of personal stories that the greatest exponent of bio-architecture loves to tell […] A river constantly fed by references, evocations, but also concreteness.

“Because ours is a wonderful job” – he continues – “it’s tough and full of anxiety, especially when you have to deal with bureaucracy and construction regulations. It’s a very demanding job because it transforms something that exists only in your imagination into something tangible and real. Ours is a humanistic discipline that must go hand-in-hand with state-of-the-art technical knowledge and skills. It’s important to focus more on technical physics.”
Cucinella cites Hemingway’s crossroads – in which you have to get used to the lack of road signs – and those where you have to experiment and take your research further. He also stresses the importance of living in beautiful, child-friendly buildings from a young age. Because architecture and beauty educate even before pedagogy does, and you take those memories with you for the rest of your life. Architecture “doesn’t move. It travels through memories.”[…]

Fixing the suburbs, degradation that’s becoming contagious, red tape, green spaces to create the microclimate that improves urban livability, making energy-efficient buildings and equipment more pleasing to the eye: these are only some of the key issues he focuses on. There are no secret recipes, only the in-depth analysis of the territory and small urban mending interventions that will allow people to cross the road, sit on a bench, plant a tree and affect the microclimate, or create a walkway. All this while creating ethical beauty and shifting away from the city planning that has failed, especially in the suburbs.

In addition to the essential impulse of the good practices of sustainable architecture (materials, construction approach, active and passive systems, recycling, energy self-sufficiency, costs, sun shading, vision), what makes the difference between a good technician and someone who changes the world […] is the awareness of the social and humanistic scope of improving the policies of architectural competitions. And the only way to do so is by creating a truly high-quality panel of judges that interacts with local universities. Rewarding the merit of the best designers is how you can ensure top-quality results and boost research because “healthy competitiveness motivates and rewards the best, but even those who don’t win will learn and gain experience that will help them in the next step.”

But if you try to tell him that something is changing, Cucinella will tell you that “you don’t need 4! You need at least 150 competitions a year, which must be run smoothly without useless, time-wasting disputes. Even the definition of a flowerbed should be subject to a competition!”
Yes, because greenery and landscape are two topics that are dear to Cucinella, who has opened a school in Bologna where every year he teaches his approach to sustainable architecture to 20 young architects. Cucinella encourages everyone to see sustainable architecture as the way to build a future with common sense. This profession can cause some anxiety, but it’s a wonderful profession that allows us to create beauty and to keep writing the history of this incredible country.

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