Text Adelaide Striano
Interview with archistar Stefano Boeri, the curator of the Milan Arch Week.
His work ranges from urban visionary projects to designing architecture and open spaces with a special focus on the geo-political and environmental implications of urban living.
Vertically conceived greenery. Do you think this is enough to solve the problem of fast urbanization? Is it merely a palliative solution or could it be the go-to strategy of the future?
«In order to have a significant impact on the major question of climate change it is necessary to increase the amount of vegetation surface in urban areas. Trees and greenery, generally speaking, have the exceptional ability to absorb carbon dioxide. About 70% of the greenhouse gases dispersed in the atmosphere is carbon dioxide caused by cities and it is the main cause of climate change. Whereas, the world’s large forests, which register an annual loss rate of about 5% due to a gradual process of soil erosion, can absorb between 35% and 40%. The intent over the next few years is to bring greenery, trees and forests inside our cities.
I also think that another topic of discussion for the future is cities growing vertically. Green areas should not be conceived horizontally only with parks, gardens, hills and lawns. It is our duty to design architectural projects that envision and include greenery as one of the key components. It is no longer about adding some green as a decorative element to facades but to use it as architectural element contributing to the growing of nature.
Milan’s Vertical Forest hosts twenty one thousand plants and eight hundred trees, which is equivalent to two hectares of woods (or twenty thousand square meters). If we add shrubs, the total is about three hectares, which on a soil surface of two thousand square meters is equivalent to thirty thousand square meters of woods.
Having vertical green architectures means bringing into the city large surfaces of forest, hence making a positive contribution to reversing climate change. Trees, greenery and leaves produce oxygen, absorb CO2 and particulate matter caused by traffic emissions, which is the biggest source of pollution».
What was your first major public project?
«A geothermal power station I designed for Enel (a publicly owned Italian electricity company) in Bagnore, near Mount Amiata. The project sought to transform a power plant into an architecture with the least visual impact on the surroundings whilst trying to confer it architectural dignity and improve its presence on the Tuscan landscape».
The Italian words for ‘city’ (città) and ‘civilization’ (civiltà) come from the same Latin root civis – citizen. The word for ‘politics’ (politica) also shares the same root, meaning ‘of, for or relating to citizens’. Can you take us through the political side of your job?
«Both architecture and politics are about changing the surrounding space. They are both disciplines dealing with changing living spaces; hence, in this respect the two share many affinities. There is an intrinsic political dimension to architecture since it concerns itself with the common good and with working on spaces inhabited by a whole community. Equally, in politics there is an architectural direction given that even the most abstract policies pertaining to land-use planning, the budget or architecture ultimately determine changes that affect the physical landscape in which we live».
Vasco Errani, the Special Commissioner in charge of overseeing post-quake reconstruction has entrusted you with the very important task of helping repopulate a town like Amatrice, which has virtually disappeared. Do you think that the town’s outskirts should be rebuilt as they were or following a new method in which new and old coexist?
«Mine is only a consultation. The priority, as well as the biggest challenge, remains security. If, in order to achieve it, we will deem it necessary to build from scratch or simply add contemporary elements, it does not matter. Special attention will undoubtedly be paid to the position of those artistic monuments that stand as symbols for and within the community».
As an architect, where does the inspiration come from? And how about your passion for nature and greenery?
«My mother is a designer-architect. I never worked with her but I learnt everything I know from her – from her life, her relations and her work. My experience of architecture is that of a wave that drew – and continues to draw me – towards her. The passion for nature and greenery comes from childhood memories, the books that I’ve read, for instance, as The Baron in the Trees, the work proposed by Joseph Beuys for documenta 7 in 1982, Celentano’s song ‘Un Albero di trenta piani’ and from the love for forests and frescoes».
How about the Milan Arch Week: how did it come about and what are its goals?
«On one hand, it seeks to portray how Milan has become one of the world’s capitals for architecture. Many important projects have taken place here in recent years and it is no coincidence that nowadays some of the world’s most exciting architects work in Milan. On the other hand, it is also a way of bringing architecture and design studios as well as architects and designers to Milan».