Italian design and architecture firm ArchiPlan Studio craft their work around careful observation, focused research, and developing a plurality between existing condition and contemporary intervention that results in a cohesive finished product. The studio was established in 1997, and has since cultivated a diverse portfolio of work that spans architecture, interiors, landscape architecture, furniture, and product design.
They’ve made a name for themselves navigating today’s design landscape by paying attention to the underlying story – a story as told by their process with a clear beginning, middle, and conclusion.
I caught up with lead architects Diego Cici and Jacopo Rettondini to speak about how they approach the design process and how starting with existing historic structures in Italy has helped shape their work.
What have been your major influences in developing your design sensibilities?
It is very important to establish the relationship with the context of the existing conditions. We work with mostly historical buildings, so it is very important we look for the imperfections that we find in our research, and also to focus on the ambiguity and how those things can be resolved with our work.
Our main goal is to keep together the imperfection and the ambiguity, and try to maintain everything we find within them. Our way of thinking isn’t violent or direct, but to keep together the things we find in our initial research. This translates to a growing plurality between existing and new. The intent is not to divide this plurality, but work to keep them as one throughout the process.
How does your approach change based on the project type?
In Italy, most of our work is done in existing, historical structures, so the approach to how we design around those doesn’t change whether it’s an apartment, private residence, or public facility. Because of the economic crisis in Italy, it is more important to make the most of existing spaces, so maintaining our focus on the plurality of restoration and preservation is key.
When looking for new work, is there something specific you look for in those opportunities?
We don’t search for work that shows our capability to work within our approach, but we do take projects that come in with a commitment to do something new, and we are willing to modify up our approach to fit those different challenges.
We are always looking for peculiarities in historical structures that might be interesting for us to explore. If it is something we’ve never worked on before, we might be more inclined to see how our approach can solve those problems differently.
In Italy, our work tends to be a bit more radical when it comes to contemporary design sensibilities, so we must always be careful to research the historical context of each new project to make sure we respect those peculiarities and interfere accordingly.
Are there specifics you look for when surveying the context of a project in establishing the plurality between contemporary and historic?
When we first survey a building, we are always framing the existing conditions within these pluralities. We don’t create a hierarchy between these pluralities, but work with them all in equal to create a cohesive whole with the design. We don’t like to cover certain things up just to highlight another, but to bring each plurality together.
We believe all that can be found in an existing building is a part of the historical period in which it was built. All historical periods for us are interesting, so it is important for us to maintain every instance and every peculiarity in the final design.
What is the most important aspect of the design you focus on throughout your work?
For us something that is very important is the control of the light. We think about artificial lighting because it is very important to create atmosphere and a sense of space, and exploring the differences between day and night. We use light to establish a hierarchy of uses within a single space or a plurality of spaces.
Artificial and natural light are used to focus the experience on what we think are the important aspects of the project. For us, this means highlighting materiality, historical context, or, as I mentioned, the division of uses within a space.
How do you study lighting conditions throughout the design process?
Of course, we prefer to use physical models to study light as much as possible. However, they are expensive and not always appropriate. In all projects, we have technicians that give us 3D models, images, and renderings, that give us feedback about the lighting design and how to make it better.
To wrap things up, could you speak a bit about the future of the firm and how your work might evolve with new projects?
We think our way of working always starts from a small path, but it is not always the same path. It has different shapes. No two projects are the same, so we will continue to focus on the pluralities we identify and to create self-contained projects that can’t be related to other projects or other paths we might create.
We try to give every project is a new story with a start and a close, but always told with the same method and the same approach. When we start a new project it is like writing a new story, and the result will always be different because the initial path is never the same.
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I’d like to thank Diego and Jacopo for taking the time to let me dig into their design process and learn a bit more about how they work. For more on ArchiPlan Studio and their portfolio, please visit their website.