TAMassociati exists on a completely different plane from starchitecture. The Venice firm first caught the world’s attention in 2016, when it curated the Italian pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. Under the theme of Taking Care, it launched a crowdfunding campaign to design and build a series of mobile facilities, including a not-for-profit medical clinic and a library. Now the studio – whose portfolio also includes Indian director Mira Nair’s Maisha film school in Kampala, Uganda and a car-free co-housing development in Treviso, Italy – is garnering praise for its pro bono projects with Italian NGO Emergency. It has created permanent hospitals and surgery centres in places such as Sudan and Afghanistan and is completing a hospital in Uganda with Renzo Piano Building Workshop. Earlier this year, principal Simone Sfriso shared a number of the firm’s foundational tenets.
From the very beginning, we wanted to work for pro bono associations. But an architect cannot choose his client – it’s the client who chooses the architect. What an architect can do is to be in the place where he wants to be chosen. In 2005, Emergency was looking for a building site engineer; that’s not really our job but we wanted to work with them, so we applied and travelled with them to Sudan. Then they asked us to develop a preliminary design for the Salam Cardiac Surgery Hospital in Khartoum.
We later developed a series of clinics in countries bordering Sudan – including the Central African Republic – because Emergency wanted to set up a dialogue among these countries, some of which didn’t have diplomatic relations. So it’s a health care project, but at the same time it’s a peace project.
With Renzo Piano Building Workshop, we’re doing a 78-bed hospital near Kampala. The walls are pisé, which is the local tradition of rammed earth, and the big metal roof is topped with 2,600 solar panels. Because of this, we can guarantee that the hospital will have really low running costs. Also, working with renewable energies is especially important now.
We try to take on zero-kilometre projects: When possible, we work with local craftspeople and builders, adapting a project with what we can find, in terms of materials and skills, on site. At the same time, we want to bring innovation. One of the masters of tropical modernism, Charles Correa, always said that it is correct to work with tradition but at the same time you have to bring something new – it is a form of communicating respect.
With the Treviso co-housing project, we asked the families: Is it more important to build a house for eight cars or to build a house for another family? Slowly, we were able in this participatory process to change people’s attitudes to recognize that they can have more quality by doing something a bit different from a normal residential project. They chose to realize houses of 90 or 100 square metres; the biggest one is a common house for events and workshops – and for babysitting all their kids under one roof.
The Venice-based architecture firm is completing some of the most socially and ecologically conscious projects in the world.