Legends in their native Italy, Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas have arrived in the U.S.
Jay Pridmore -- Interior Design, 6/1/2011 4:50:00 PM
From a 16th-century palazzo near the Tiber River in Rome come some of the highest-profile contemporary designs in Europe and Asia. That's because the palazzo houses the firm that Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas have operated jointly since 1985. Studio Fuksas-now with outposts in Paris and Shenzhen, China-has completed everything from stainless-steel cutlery for Alessi to major urban plans, such as a 1994 one for Shanghai. Almost a city in itself is the Fiera Milano complex, with its undulating glass canopy. Lately, the firm has also been visible at home in Rome, where the Nuovo Centro Congressi, the so-called Nuvola, for cloud, is under construction: a translucent glass giant with an organically shaped auditorium inside. The husband-wife team had no projects in the U.S., however, before the Armani Group flagship opened in New York, occupying four levels of a 1950's building unified by a spiraling staircase that has been loosely compared to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum just up Fifth Avenue.
Noted for believing that architecture should be an expression of democracy, the couple offer their take on what makes Italian design unique.
Is it a challenge to design both buildings and interiors?
MF: For me, it's a question of discipline. You have to organize your mind to do the very small and the very large. There aren't many architects who can design everything from a spoon to a city, as Ernesto Rogers once said. A small scale is more human. A large scale keeps you in touch with God. Or at least closer.
DF: An interior is as important as an exterior. And interiors are very difficult. For the Armani store, we designed everything but the dresses on the racks. An interior is a way to wear a building-an act of love toward a building. Today in Europe, more clients are asking their architects to design interiors as well.
How did the Armani interior evolve?
DF: The main thing Armani said when we started was that he needed elevators, escalators, and stairs. In our first scheme, that's what we did, but there was too much going up and down. So we removed the escalators, then strung all the stairs together like a ribbon.
Staircases are always a great opportunity for expression.
MF: The Armani stairway is a sculpture. It's also a place where people can walk and talk and meet friends. When you go up or down, you have a relationship with the entire interior, and people love it. Nobody uses the elevators.
DF: We weren't allowed to take up too much space with the stairs, though. That's why we chose very light, thin materials, such as polished metal and plastic.
Can you identify what makes the interior of your church in Umbria particularly dynamic and beautiful?
MF: Inside the concrete box of the exterior, another concrete box is suspended over the rows of pews. And the sunlight is always changing. The way it changes over the course of a day defines the space.
Tell us about your recent furniture designs.
DF: Our Mumbai desk and cabinets, manufactured by Castelli for Haworth, aren't just for the office. You can have them at home, too. If something is nice enough, it works in both settings.
Who are your architectural heroes?
DF: Baroque architect Francesco Borromini's spacial solutions are perfect, forever. And the proportions of La Miniatura, Frank Lloyd Wright's textile-block house in Pasadena, California, make me happy. You feel that Wright himself was happy in the design, like it was so easy for him. It works.
What do Italians in particular contribute to contemporary design?
MF: We don't enjoy doing the same thing twice. The French and Americans want to do 3,000 franchises. The Italians want to do one single store. Our creativity is in the artisanal character of our work.
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