INTERVIEW ABOUT THE CITY AND ARCHITECTURE

Milan, february 2014

Alina Pshenichnikova: Do you agree with statement by Rem Koolhaas, saying that nowadays megalopolises exist as “Generic cities”, which apply a universal solutions?

Andrea Balestrero: It depends on the distance you keep from the object (city) you are describing. Being a kind of self-appointed architectonic “Maître à penser”, Koolhaas’ statements are also rhetorical and functional to his poetic. What is true is that globalization and uniformity are affecting also design, architecture and people’s tastes. But I think that specificities are surviving and are going to regain substance in the future.

AP: How will cities look like after 50 years? What is your prediction?

AB: We are likely at the end of a cycle (historical, social, political, economical, etc.). Many things are going to change and we are not yet ready to give a right interpretation to this. I think the “old world” will loose weight and richness, urban life being affected by this…

In Italy for example many people will probably move in search of places where life is more affordable,  big cities will shrink, aging of population will be a main issue, private transportation will probably change a bit. From an architectonic point of view it is difficult to say, maybe they are not going to radically change that much.

AP:How should, an ideal, city be developed? Should architects preserve the old quarters or how to practice a modern architecture? Is context important?

AB: Tough question!

Contemporary culture is too complex and too relativistic to believe in the possibility of an ideal city like the ones of the Renaissance or of the Modern Movement. That is to say able to accommodate the life of a new kind of humanity, solving all its problems. Ideals cities nowadays are a possibility, as exercises of criticism on specific aspects of urban reality.

Historically speaking, Modern Architecture ended maybe in 1936, in any case it didn’t survive the 60’s of past century. Practicing it now would sound like a kind of hipster’s diversion.

The dialogue between historical pre-existences and new buildings was central in italian postwar architectonic debate. Today “modern” architectures are, in this sense, part of our historical heritage, while urban planning is tending to preserve natural and cultivated land and to avoid new expansions of the city in favor of the reuse and transformation of already built environment.

So yes it’s impossible not to deal with the context!

AP: Is it important to define the appearance of the city and make it different from others? What is the main feature of Milan?

AB: It is  inevitable. Cities are the outcome of citizenries, out of architects’ possibility to control.

Coming to Milan, compared to other european cities its identity is maybe less obvious more subtile. It has to do with its history, with the fact of being flat, of being a dynamic place, a point of exchange and commerce, with its specific relation between private and public spaces, whit its peculiar relation with water that was fundamental, even if there’s no such a big body of water like a lake, the sea, a river. It’s a city where, if you don’t know it, it’s harder to find your orientation at first glance.

AP: Milan is the city with rich history. Is it possible to combine the care of architectural heritage with modern architecture and modern standard in urban planning and don’t fall under the anathema of UNESCO?

AB: Yes it is possible, that’s why architects have to be more cultured and aware of the history of the place where they are working.

AP: Whether there is a tendency that a industrial districts, once attached to the factories lose their meaning? How to improve a post-industrial areas such as zone Via Tortona in Milan? Is there a solution to arrange well and change the atmosphere to modern? Is it necessary?

AB: This question seems unclear to me. What’s wrong with the atmosphere of Via Tortona? Again you tend to use the term “modern” improperly…

If the question is how to deal with the fact that the money for aperitivos, fashion and design shows (around which the transformation of industrial districts like Via Tortona was conceived) is finished, and we need to find new functions for those spaces well… I don’t know exactly. Thinking that new technologies will lead to a new era of scattered, small, more similar to pre-industrial productions could be an interesting hypothesis.

AP: How do you think, how big the role of citizens in the formation of architectural space or is it a task for a professional group of architects?

AB: I don’t believe that the direct “participation” of citizens in the design process is worth something. If that’s what you mean. This kind of strategies tend to be no more than consensus building schemes, most of the time used to gild the pill of property speculation interests.

From this point of view I believe that politics should take their responsibility to address urban transformation with more conviction on the basis of collective interest. Their decision being submitted to a democratic process, they will suffer the consequences of their actions.

:DDDDDDDD this is nice!!!!

On the other side I’m convinced that citizens are strongly conditioning the transformation of architectural space every time that this is the result of a self organized processes of small transformations. There are interesting examples of this all around the world. Sometimes collective intelligence is more effective than architects’ intelligence…

AP: Do you have a favorite city based on formation of urban area?

AB: I think I tend to love cities where the combination of geographic features and historical stratification are more complex and evident, like Rome or Istanbul…

AP: To what extend modern technology and software is affecting in the development process of architecture?

AB: As a first step computers and CAD softwares changed a lot the way in which workflows are organized… together with advances in building technologies they tended to transform also the design process into a fordist assembly-line. It’s not a case that architecture offices are growing bigger and bigger. The design activity has become too complex to be managed by small firms that are being cut away from main building industry. But as always there are exceptions…

From another point of view the way in which information (especially visual information) are circulating through the internet have changed everything in creative works. It is a combination of: everything is more at one’s hand, everything is a little bit random (or better conditioned by google’s search engine algorithms), and everything stops at the surface of things… but here is not possible to analyze this deeply.

New generations of designers and architects will probably approach the discipline in a significantly different way…