Features

Interview: Massimiliano Fuksas

March 31, 2011

Ahead of his talk at DesignEX this April, Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas discusses ethics, Utzon and his hope to one day build in Australia.

Maitiú Ward: Your Venice Biennale of 2000 was called ‘Less Aesthetics, More Ethics’. Could you explain for us what you meant by ‘ethics’ here?
Massimiliano Fuksas: I think the question of ethics after the Biennale became something very important in many, many different fields, financial, political… Why? Because ethics is something that is not at all about morality; it’s a way to think about our human ‘being’ – what we want, what is our proposal, what is our scope of work in life. It’s not enough to be a successful architect; it’s good, but it’s not enough. To do a fantastic project is good, but it’s not enough. Ethics is to discover the sense of life.

MW It’s an existential question, in that instance.
MF Yes. I think that ethics is when you see in your world that to be a good architect is not enough. At that time it was 1999/2000, I was doing the idea for the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, in Tel Aviv, joining together the cause of Israel and the cause of the Palestinians. It was not a question of ethics, but was very close to the concept. You ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this project?’ I try to ask myself this with the Biennale, to say ‘Can we do something more?’

MW So, your hopes and objectives with the Center for Peace, do you feel satisfied that you accomplished everything you hoped to accomplish there?
MF I am happy about this space that we give to Arabs and Israeli people to work around the concept of peace, cooperation. This is really a small area if you think all around it there is war, conflict and so on, but we must try to do something positive in our life as architects.

MW You could say then that The Peres Center is a symbol of the hope that one day there will be peace in that region. In the last 10 years, we’ve seen the rise of architecture as an image or as an icon, which is a different kind of symbol.
MF An icon is something that you cannot build; an icon is decided by the people. I remember Jørn Utzon, when he started the construction of the Sydney Opera House, he was not thinking to do an iconic building; he was thinking to do a good building! Not, ‘I want to do an iconic building that could be very important for the image of Sydney or its role in the world,’ no, no. He was thinking to do a good building for good music, a good place where human beings could meet each other.

MW You must get asked for iconic buildings all of the time by your clients…
MF They ask me a lot. They have no common sense, but you say, ‘Okay, we’ll do this,’ and after you try to do a good project.

MW You trained as a painter under De Chirico before you trained as an architect, and I’m curious to know whether painting still plays a role in your practice today?
MF I do start 80 times, 100 times with the painting of my project, 20 times we start with the model. The model is always like a starter – that is, like a painting. I think that is the way to measure different relationships between emotion and intention. What we have to do, finally, we have to give more emotion, good emotion, positive emotion, to the people, to human beings.

MW What role do digital design tools play in your practice in that regard? Do you think it’s possible for them to translate emotion?
MF We use a lot of 3D. We start with 3D, with the model, with painting. For me, the 3D model and painting are exactly the same thing; I am not afraid, I am not a fanatic for 3D, I am not a fanatic for models or sculpture, drawings or for paintings. I think that everything is part of our process. I don’t think there is exclusively one tool for the expression of ideas.

MW Looking back over the body of your work there is huge diversity in terms of typology, but also in terms of aesthetics. On the one hand, you have the Fiera Milano, and the De Blob project at the September 18 Square in the Netherlands. These are very clearly the product of parametric or digital design tools. And then, on the other hand, we have projects like San Paolo Parish Church at Foligno and of course the Peres Center. These are reposeful, quiet buildings. They’re much more traditional architectural forms.
MF I think in my life, I think of ways A and B, and my idea was to work with A and B together. I am not a fanatic for A, not a fanatic for B. It means I am not a fanatic for modernism or for rationalism or for classicism. I am not a fanatic for baroque, for expressionism, and so on. I try to combine two elements: A and B. And this is perhaps the difference between my distinguished colleagues and me. They try to fight for A, the others try to fight for B. I am not interested in this war; I am more interested in the dialectic and the synthesis between A and B – expression and classicism perhaps, or modern architecture.

MW Aaron Betsky has identified that you have this approach to materiality whereby, and I’ll quote Betsky here, “Fuksas chooses materials that, while classic, are rediscovered, used differently and rendered unconventional in his hands.” Do you believe that certain materials are best fit for certain purposes, like Louis Kahn, for example, with his brick?
MF I am not afraid of concrete, bricks, stones – you can use everything. You have to not be afraid. What is important is that you have to do it according to the contents, according to the expression of your work, the culture, the context, with emotions.

MW I have one last question for you. You have this incredible breadth of work at the moment, a huge number of projects on by the sounds of it. Is there any one project, in particular, that’s all consuming for you?
MF I don’t want to be a prisoner to very huge projects. I want to have the freedom to do even very small projects, or design a teacup or a knife or fork, because I want to be free to live my life as I did for 67 years, with a lot of freedom, and not be a prisoner of the office or the money. I want to do my project. This is what I love in my life. I want to be in my building site, and I want to have time to speak with friends. I want time to read a book, to watch a movie, to see a good painter, to visit my friend in Paris. I want to be as free as possible.
I think my next project will be in Australia. I have no client, I have no project, but I am sure that I want to do a project in Australia! I tried to do a project there many years ago, in Brisbane, the Gallery of Modern Art. I was not successful, but I am still thinking Australia could be my best place. When I was a student, I spent one year in the office of Jørn Utzon. That was ’65 or early ’66, when it was the worst moment for Jørn Utzon and the government in Sydney. But I learned a lot at that time, and I said I want to build in Australia. From ’65/’66, I am dreaming to be in your country.

Massimiliano Fuksas will be presenting at DesignEX 2011, Wednesday 13 April – Friday 15 April at the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre. For more information go to www.designex.info

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