For over 40 years, Studio Fuksas, led by Massimiliano and Doriana Fuksas, has denied having a style, emphasizing instead its flexibility and singular approach to each project, whether it is the one-million-square-metre Fiere (2005) in Milan, the site of Salone del Mobile; an airport terminal at Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport (2013); or a gold-accented beer glass (2017).
With offices in Rome, Paris and Shenzhen, Mr. and Mrs. Fuksas have an international presence defined by a breadth of materials and a purposeful use of contrasts. As a young man, Massimiliano Fuksas, who is now 73, wanted to be a poet. Becoming an architect, he says, was a natural extension of that desire. Ahead of attending the AZ Awards Gala as Guest of Honour, Fuksas discusses with us how personal expression informs his work (even with clients involved).
Did you have any romantic ideas about architecture when you first started?
No, no, no, I had no romantic ideas about architecture. My first feeling was to be a painter. After that, I wanted to be a poet. But as I grew up, I decided that it was not a bad idea to use architecture as my expression. Architecture can be among the best forms of expression: it can be used to explain, to give something.
Many architects hesitate to speak in terms of expression and emotion, yet you emphasize emotion as an integral part of any project. How does that figure in your work? I have to build emotions, for myself and for others. What is emotion? It’s more than geometry, more than space, more than function, more than some problem. It’s something that we feel. In this field, we need much more emotion than before.
Why now, specifically?
Because it is a way to get out from our system of consumption. This isn’t ideological or political: It’s simply that through consumption, we don’t achieve anything, only create more problems. We buy more, drink more, eat more — more is a quantity problem. I prefer quality. If you tell me that consumption is a quality system, then I’ll say, ‘okay, consummation, I love!’ But really, [architecture] is about the quality of space. The quality of space is like champagne. When you drink good champagne — perhaps Krug, Dom Perignon, Selosse, something like this — you feel good. That is the quality of space.
Before designing a building, Fuksas heads to the painting studio. Pictured is one of his works on paper of the the New Rome EUR Convention Hall, which opened last year in Rome.
Why do you begin many of your projects by creating a painting?
Sometimes I need to start with a painting to get through any tension. After that, I am free and ready to work on the project. I cannot work on a project without some ways of feeling. Painting is a way for me to translate something [between] people into different ‘words.’
Does a painting translate something that, say, an architectural rendering cannot?
Every element of architecture is something you give to others. I think architecture has to be very generous. An architect has to be generous. We have to give something, to help others through architecture. And beauty is something that can help others, always. Of course, we have to finds ways to [clarify] what is beautiful for everyone, but when we go in the direction of the beauty, it is fantastic.
How do you align your ideas of beauty and architecture with those of a client?
I have been very lucky all of my life: It’s never happened that a client chose me, but I did not choose the client. Whomever I have worked with, I have always said, ‘yes, I can work with this person on this project, on this topic, with this space, with this aesthetic,’ along with many other things.
Is there any advice you wish you’d heard at the beginning of your career?
I’ve never had a career in my life. I don’t like power. And power doesn’t like me too much. I think the only way for me is to try and convince powerful people to do something better. Sometimes, perhaps, I am successful, sometimes not. But always, I want to do this. This is my career. This is all.
When have you felt successful in this pursuit?
I tell you, sometimes after an opening, an inauguration of a huge building, a huge project, a very great work of architecture, I feel that, perhaps, we did something good. And that’s it. [Laughs.] I also believe that creation lives in the future and not in the past. You have to have more dreams for your future than about the past.
So, you value the potential of the future?
Yes, potential, that’s perfectly right. There is an understanding that we can still do a lot of things: We can be peaceful, we can be friendly with others, we can love others. Architecture can help us do this.
So what is your advice for the new generation of architects?
In every generation, there is a new generation: of new artists, creators, good people, stupid people. There is always a future, and I want to be part of the future. I don’t want to live in the past.
How do you see the future of architecture being informed or changed by new technology?
We use whatever tools we can to realize an idea, to realize an image. That’s always been part of our world. Human beings invent the wheel when they need to move some big rocks from one site to another. Not only do we still need wheels, today, but we need different tools for different problems. Technology is a friend of ours, and not anything else.
You seem to value flexibility and patience in architecture.
It’s not difficult. If you love people, if you love the landscape, and human beings, then, of course, you do this. You have to understand different people, different histories, and you have to understand their needs, you have to understand which way the traffic moves, which way people move, the way the light changes… Everything, from small stories to big histories.
You often create deliberate tension between different projects: for example, using a rigid material in one project, and a flexible material in another. Does the same apply within one project? Does one project always have conflict within it?
If you take a look at a project like The Cloud [New Rome/EUR convention Hall and Hotel, 2016], you see conflict within one project, you see something like chaos inside a box or a hangar. I try to be like Aristotle. [Laughs.] I like to see from the outside into the inside — not like Plato, from inside to outside. I like from outside to inside. The discovery is inside.
Of the many new projects you’re working on now, what particularly excites you?
The CBD Cultural Center in Beijing is under construction right now, and it’s very important for me — I love this project, really.
What about it?
There is a big garden just in front, and a very high and very long façade — 100 metres —in which you see a reflection of this garden. From inside, you look through the glass, and see the garden inside your building.
Do you believe that architecture always responds to context, or does architecture create context?
I think you have to know the context. You have to eat the context. You have to see the flow of context. But after you do that, you have to make another context. When you have everything in your mind, in your heart, then you take it to another context, and into a project. You are part of a transformation.
Does the scale of a project change your approach to it?
No, no, no. For me, it’s the same from a spoon to a city. I like to work from huge scale to very small. I’ll tell you an example: I finished the Milan Trade Fair and it was 1 million square metres. built in 26 months, completely from steel. At the same time, I was very happy when someone asked me to do a church [San Paolo Parish Complex, 2009] of only a few hundred square metres. The big project was all steel and glass. The small one was all concrete. You have to exercise everything — from big to small. Every day.
How important are your unbuilt works to you? Do they inform your built work?
This is sometimes hard, because there are so many projects I wanted to build, but could not at the time, for various reasons. All this is part of my life — it’s like a lost love. You will always have the memory of never telling someone how much you loved them. So a project I didn’t build is one to which I didn’t say ‘I love you.’
Massimiliano Fuksas is the Guest of Honour at the 2017 AZ Awards Gala, happening in Toronto on Friday, June 23. Mix and mingle with Fuksas and members of the international design community as we celebrate the winners and finalists of this year’s awards. Get your tickets.