For those that don’t know – you work across a number of studios and organisations, how would you describe yourself and what you do?
I studied Architecture at Milan’s Polytechnic University where I’m currently teaching, and I’m running the Future City Lab at Tongji University in Shanghai. In 1999 I founded Boeri Studio (now Stefano Boeri Architetti) which is prised of three offices based in Milan, Shanghai and Tirana. Alongside this, I have recently been appointed Chairman of La Triennale, in Milan.
What is the best thing about being an architect and urban planner?
Having always the ability to anticipate the future. Being an architect means finding a balance between opening your mind and keeping it closed. I say, open your mind in reference to endless possibilities of ideas and materials. But also to equally close your capabilities; you have to imagine a unique future defined by a unique physical configuration.
How does this impact the possibility of challenges in being an architect?
The difficulty of finding a middle ground between an open and closed mind. I truly believe there is no sequence between knowledge and design: it’s about assessing the simultaneity between knowledge and design. Designing the future means having to look at the wider picture and I think even the best of us are schizophrenic in this effort to combine the maximum of inclusion and the maximum of selection.
As a local - what are your favourite places in Milan?
Milan is a small and hyper dense metropolitan environment. There is a large contrast between physical and social landscapes and I like the continuous change of the city’s landscapes. For example, as you head south of Milan, you reach a completely different cultural landscape that you don’t see elsewhere in the city.
In terms of places I like the most – I like to spent time in Isola and Porta Nuova; areas where the current development situation is rapidly growing. Further central, there’s the impressive Torre Velasca that meets Corso Italia. Or Ca’Granda, now home of the Università degli Studi, a building that always catches my eye. This establishment was once a hospital for the poor and for me it truly conserves the soul of Milan. Milan, is a city full of generosity and innovation, and if you have those two factors you can thrive.
What do you most like seeing in young architects?
Risk takers. To be a great architect you have to be brave – between choosing where to live, travelling and spending time abroad. It’s important to connect with locals, explore as much as possible to understand where your territory is on this Planet. Each of us has one city that represents their soul and character, mine is Milan. No matter where in the world I am working, whether its Sao Paulo, Shanghai or Beijing; I will always look to Milan for inspiration.
Tell us a little about your latest project ’The Future of Living’ - Is this something inspired by your creation with Bosco Verticale?
Much like the creation of the Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest), the Urban Forestry is a project that I’ve been fortunate enough to do in other parts of the world. My plan is to push a larger campaign around the world about the relation between climate change and an urban lifestyle. The 75% of CO2 is produced by cities but forests and woodlands are absorbing the 40% of that CO2. Our goal is to urgently enlarge the canopy and green surfaces in our urban environment. If we will not be able to reverse climate change and its effects on rising up of the level of oceans (which could create flooding in many coastal cities like Los Angeles, Tokyo, Shanghai, Miami..), we should consider the need to cover cities with domes for people to live comfortably or even to migrate to another planet...‘The Future of Living’, is a provocation and the dystopian scenario (2118) of a series of green colonies, like green seeds, on the Mars surface.
100 years is a long time, how can we be sure this would work?
It is a long time, but if we don’t act now on climate change, who knows how we’ll deal with the consequences. We need to act immediately.
With this in mind how do you feel the architecture world is changing - what would you like to change about it or like to see in the future?
In architecture and Urban Planning we have nowadays to consider two main factors: poverty and climate change. Designing, trying to reverse the risk of climate change and trying to develop cities able to answer to the needs of those less fortunate, can be a real challenge.
I’m extremely happy to have designed the first Vertical Forest in social housing in Eindhoven. The construction cost of the building will be approximately 1300 euro/sqm and this will allow the Vertical Forest to be available for young couples; a project that could really help our future. Another project we’re working on is with Slow Food China in collaboration with the Chinese Government aims to improve the quality of 100 farming villages. In doing so, we’ve put in place schools, museums and a library for the development of their social life.
Stefano Boeri’s latest work with Slow Food China will be showcased at Venice’s Biennale between 26 May – 25 November
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