Casa International Magazine, 2002

Italo Rota is one of the most interesting contemporary Italian architects for the variety and richness of his activities and the originality of his design.  Born in Milan in 1953, he studied architecture at the Polytechnic Institute. He collaborated with Franco Albini, Gregotti Associati and the editorial board of the magazine “Lotus International”. During the ‘80s, after having been awarded the first prize in the competition for the Musée d’Orsay (with Gae Aulenti and Piero Castiglioni), he moved to Paris where remained for a decade. In France his activity has been very intense, among the most important projects we can remember the renovations of the Cour Carré at the Louvre Museum and the Museum of Modern Art at Centre Pompidou in Paris, the urban renewal of the city centre of Nantes and of some blocks in the area around the Grande Bibliotèque in Paris. In the same period his activity included many designs for temporary exhibitions and stage designs, in which his linguistic research and spatial experimentation got more freedom. Since 1979 he started also to work, side by side with his design activity, also as curator of exhibitions about most various subjects, from design to urbanity through painting, sculpture, photography and history of music. In all these disparate activities it’s possible to recognise the mark of the same attitude which some critic compared to Kurt Schwitters art of collage. All this demonstrates the importance of theoretical research not per se, but as an instrument for the quality of architecture. Rota’s book collection about modern art and architecture is so rich that has been the subject of an exhibition in 1991.

Among the most important exhibitions he curated we can remember “L’lmage des Mots” at Centre Pompidou in 1985, “La Métropole lmaginaire. Un Atlas de Paris” also in Paris in 1989 and “Amate città” , Milan Triennial in 1993. In 1993 he came back to Italy to work to new designs for various Italian cities: the Museum of the Rocca Paolina in Perugia, the Gallery of Modern Art in Genova, the new offices for Deutsche Bank in Milan. For a short period (1995-1996) he was also politically engaged as Councillor for Urban Quality of the Municipality of Milan. In 2002 he won the competition for the Arengario Museo del Novecento (museum of the 20th century) in Milan, in the same city he was recently in the final stage of the competition for Garibaldi-Repubblica area and is actually involved in one of the five finalist groups for the redesign of the international fair area, one of the more vast urban transformations of Milan since 50 years.

In the tradition of casino design there are two kind of models, on one side there is the classical Central European luxury tradition, made of red velvet, gilt stucco decorations and cut glass chandeliers, of which Venice casino can be taken as an example, on the other side there are the bigness and extravagance of Las Vegas gambling “industry”, with its hotels that take the dimensions and the aspect of theme-parks, real temples of American pop culture.

The project for the Casino of Lugano, a little Town in the Alps not far from Milan, tries to find a third way mixing a sophisticate research on the iconographic apparatus and a careful consideration of the characteristic of the program.

A casino in fact is a very particular kind of architectonic subject, because the quite simple substance of its activities (gambling facilities, bars and restaurants) has to be declined between a complex of  extremely sophisticated technological needs and the necessity to use architectonic and also psychological tricks to influence customers’ attitude and behaviour: a perfect and oiled machine for amusement and for money bustle. This means for example large use of mirrors for space widening and multiplying the animation, a wise game of colours, materials and artificial lights to subtly push people to risk their money, no visible natural light (and of course absolutely no clocks) to cancel the perception of time passing, etc.

The building was already existing and has been reorganized to work as a multi storey department-store, where each level is dedicated to a different mix of gambling activities (machines, cards, dices, roulettes, etc.), with its peculiar atmosphere to fulfil the exigencies of the game, but also satisfy the expectations of the players in terms of image, luxury, exclusiveness. Each floor has its own identity and is independent from the others, a continuous stair-well connects all the levels and it’s one of the few places where natural light is allowed to enter from the top of the building, even if always mixed with artificial light.

At ground floor slot machines are located in a dark space, where you cannot avoid to loose yourself floating in game lights and electronic sounds, sometimes broken by the amplified crash of a waterfall of coins when someone is “kissed by fortune”. Moving to upper levels the light becomes stronger and also the

The research on decoration is not new in Rota’s work, who has always shown a big interest in drawing and graphic design, since one of his first activity has been the one of graphic editor for architecture magazines. Working on decoration for him is an occasion to reflect on its symbolic content but also its meaning in relation to popular culture, that means a very important element to create a positive interaction between space and the people who inhabit it. This is a field of research completely ignored by the avant-gardes, which influence is elsewhere very evident in all Rota’s architecture, even if more as a special attitude and feeling towards juxtaposition and montage techniques, than in a stylistic sense.  In the Casino of Lugano colours and decorations occupy all the surfaces and, together with furniture and most part of lighting system, have been originally designed by Rota’s office. So red and black card suits are inlaid in marble slabs, rich flower decorations on the walls are combined with hundreds of LED lights, precious roman travertine are the background for backlit semitransparent plastic sheets.  The research on iconography, on light design, on the qualities of new materials and the innovative use of traditional ones gave shape to an environment capable to embrace completely the players, also creating an innovative kind of image for gambling spaces, an image more near to the world of cinema than to Venice or Las Vegas. The possibility to have a huge budget, compared to the relatively small dimensions of the building, allowed to collaborate with Rome based firms, specialized in scene building for Cinecittà (the most important complex of film production studios in Europe) to build extraordinary pieces of furniture that can be considered also as sculptures (the big blue fibreglass fountain alone cost more than 1 million US$).