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April 21, 2014

In Residence: Italo Rota

The Uncompromising Milanese Architect Discusses His Designs For Living

“As an Italian, I have always found the Renaissance period an unbearable bottleneck,” says Milanese designer Italo Rota. “I think what blocked the modernity of the 20th century has been this kind of thinking." Renowned for his use of light and strong gestures—from the restoration of Milan’s Piazza del Duomo to Roberto Cavalli’s phosphorescent Florence residence—Rota is an advocate for the evolution of contemporary architecture over heritage conservation. “The danger that Italian design was in has been elegantly overcome with great intelligence, allowing people all over the planet to play the game,” he says. “Today, most Italian design is designed by non-Italians. It is an inclusive system.” His progressive attitude extends to the development of the next generation of designers in his role as the unconventional Scientific Director of NABA and the Domus Academy. “My advice to a young architect is that all buildings are just one of the many clothes worn by that particularly capricious emperor we love to call architecture,” says Rota. “The gap between the ages of teachers, students and mentors should be reduced. I think the future is all about finding an equilibrium.”

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Spotlight

Ron Arad: Metal Maestro

The Forward-Thinking Designer Returns to the Israeli Museum He Built

Digitally deconstructed renderings of imploding Fiat 500s form the base of this short film, showing alongside lustrous steel chair frames, high-tech 3D printing and raw copper molds at Ron Arad’s latest show, In Reverse, hosted by the Design Museum Holon, Israel. Arad designed the museum in 2010 with the aim of turning the city into a design hub for the Middle East and triggering worldwide interest in the creative output of the area. One of the trailblazers of modern design, Arad has been working with metal for over three decades to create a comprehensive series of works that transcend art, architecture, design and installation. He first rose to fame in the 1980s and has since headed the Design Products Department at London’s prestigious Royal College of Art, as well as working with such big-name brands as Alessi, Vitra, Kenzo and Yohji Yamamoto. In Reverse takes Arad’s work a step further into the realm of digital, as he explores how the shape and form of the Italian automobile reacts under different strains. “I was in the middle of squashing a huge sculpture, and had this Fiat 500 gathering rust outside my studio.” explains the designer. “One day I said to myself ‘Let me squash that, too!’” I practiced with model cars, then graduated to real-size ones. It’s not a complex idea, but I talked about the car with the museums who got very excited by it, so there we are!”

How does it feel to be coming home, as it were?
Ron Arad: It took me until now to agree to do a show at the museum, mainly because I think of it as my piece, so I don’t want to use it for my own work as well! This show was so successful though—I’ve been at the Pompidou, MoMA, the Barbican, and so I was excited to end the journey here. I know the museum so well, so it made it easier to plan. And now it’s pretty thrilling to see people enjoying the show and the building

What interests you about working with metal?
RA: When I first started work, metal was a forgiving material: I could work with it without being a craftsman. I can cut it, weld it, sharpen it, polish it and make it an extension of sketching. There’s no blueprint. 

Is this your first venture into digital simulation?
RA: When I first bashed metal, I had people around me who were obviously much better then me—they were better at polishing or sculpting. But with digital technology, anything is possible and I can be as good at creating something as I like. I still draw everything in some way, but the digital in this case enhances it. 

And the squashing of cars?
RA: It’s funny, because out of the six cars, not one is the favorite: everyone chooses a different one so it’s a hung parliament, as it were. It’s interesting to see something so full of shape and recognizable instantly take on a new form.

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Spotlight

Composing Space

Architectural Photographer Hélène Binet Illuminates Leading Contemporary Design

Harsh concrete lines and shards of light dissect Swiss French photographer Hélène Binet’s serene architectural images. Since befriending accomplished architects including Daniel Libeskind and her now-husband Raoul Bunschoten in the 1980s, the Rome-raised, London-based lenswoman has portrayed some of the world’s most innovatively designed buildings. “It was not about entering a profession, but an investigation,” recalls Binet. “Becoming an architectural photographer was about using the camera to understand what these architects were doing.” Working with a large-format camera, Binet has shot buildings by celebrated contemporary architects such as Zaha Hadid, Peter Zumthor and Caruso St John, as well as those of modern masters from Alvar Aalto and Andrea Palladio to Le Corbusier. The resulting works have been showcased at exhibitions across the globe and in 2007 Binet was celebrated with an appointment to Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Here she sits down with NOWNESS to talk images and edifices, ahead of the release of her upcoming monograph Composing Space: The Photographs of Hélène Binet, to be published by Phaidon this month. 

How much of your work with living architects is collaborative?
There’s no one methodology. The more I know about the architect and his dream, his concern, his early work where he was really investigating, the better my access to the building to get something very sensual. 

How do you choose what to photograph?
I have to really look at the architect and then I make some kind of program. With Zaha, I will not look so much at the materiality, the light or the texture but at the overall energy, the sense of being endless, the force that comes from nature—how the ice has been created, how the world has been created with magma. 

Whose work do you find especially satisfying to shoot?
Peter Zumthor has such an amazing attention to detail, that if you bring the camera very close you’re always discovering something new. The energy he puts into something you don’t even see is unbelievable. 

What’s it like travelling the world with a large format camera?
There’s always the feeling that people are taking you seriously and that you’re not stealing an image. You have a blanket and the tripod is big. I feel more at peace with what’s happening around me, because I’m definitely there—I’m not trying to hide.

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