Author
Maria Vittoria Capitanucci
Adjunct Professor in History and Theory of Contemporary Architecture, Faculty of Architecture and Urban Studies, Milan Polytechnic (Italy)
Professor Capitanucci explores recent trends in interior design, emphasising sustainability, flexibility and the fusion of modern technologies with historical aesthetics. She also addresses the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on living spaces and discusses the importance of innovative materials and the evolving role of women in architecture.

What have been the most impactful architectural trends in interior design over the last few years? How have aesthetic choices changed and what materials are most in use today?

So many languages and threads coexist nowadays, and they differ from each other quite substantially: some of these appeared over the last 20 years, while others have been with us for longer and have never really gone away. Some threads relate to changes over the last few years, such as the introduction of new standards and increasing awareness of the importance of sustainability, a crucial topic on how we define architecture, but also interior design.
Spaces are getting smaller and are becoming more flexible, the way, after all, the Italian designer and architect Gio Ponti liked in his homes or how the mythical Archigram group had envisaged them. The minimal house by Norman Foster deployed in the event of emergencies presented at the most recent Biennale exhibition in Venice was sustainable and stunning: a reflection of research and experimental work initiated by the American architect Bukminster Fuller (or rather, with the primitive hut theorized by the German architect Gottfried Semper) to arrive at the needs originating from tragedies caused by wars and the climate.
Nowadays we also spend a fair bit of our time in communal spaces, there is an interesting repurposing of public spaces. We spend a lot of our time away from the place where we live and sleep, between work and socialising, and even more so following the pandemic…yet at the same time we work remotely, entire generations shocked and wounded by Covid-19, on the other hand, have become holed up in their homes, but using the spaces in an even more different way.
Of course, these elements are having an impact on how we redefine interiors. Then there is the expectation of a longer life, with many elderly people needing a place where they can lead a quality life, maybe by remodelling the apartments they have been living in for years but, above all, through the creation of suitable homes. So, the conception of how internal spaces are distributed is changing, the way they are exploited and utilised and, above all, the time we spend in our homes, represent just some of the elements that influence a different approach to contemporary interiors.
If we look from more of a languages and trends perspective, we could say that there is a minimalist and essential thread running parallel to what we could define as being more “pop”, one that restores that historicised modernity from the 60’s and 70’s. Then, we have also witnessed the abandonment of some visions that were positioned somewhere between extreme luxury and eclecticism. At this point the cultures and nations that had maintained a bond with these languages have redeemed themselves of certain exaggerations and rediscovered a more essential form of luxury, more refined, one that can also be rediscovered through the most extreme comfort, by bringing in the world of art, something now so frequent in every expression, or through famous designer brands, perhaps from the world of fashion, many of which now have collections dedicated to interior design.

Also worth pointing out is the use of artificial materials that recall the patterns you get with stone, marble or wood, with fantastic performance characteristics.  Then there is a naturalistic trend where we have the insertion of plants, naturalistic elements and sustainable materials and techniques in interiors.

And lastly, a trend that is developing a lot is restoring antique artefacts, which for a long time were not a part of design culture. There is an outgrowth of passion for vintage and modern (from the 30s to the 50s) and a growing awareness of the importance of historic pieces, thanks also to gatherings and large antiques exhibitions. It is an important acknowledgement of history and is part of a more general trend that focuses on reuse and passing from hand to hand, but also has to do with a general focus on art, including ancient art, and a return to the value of time, craftsmanship and the highest furnishings.

Along with hyperdigitalisation we are witnessing the return to craftsmanship, an awareness of the value of materials

You teach at Milan Polytechnic: in the third millennium, what have been the major transformations in lifestyles in this city?

Maybe because Milan is not a particularly large city, it has managed to maintain a constant balance between how housing stock, services and the manufacturing system are distributed. This balance has not been altered by gentrification or the risk of the old city centre becoming an area providing only services and luxury boutiques.
It is also interesting to see how the territory of Milan has expanded: many people with different backgrounds have moved away from the city centre, looking for greener areas, a lower cost of living and a closer relation with nature, or because they had career paths that took them to other territories. In so doing the city has become more widespread. From this perspective, Milan has maintained and extended a great variety in the way we live our territory, partly due to economic necessity and partly by choice. Unfortunately, however, at the same time the cost of living has increased, a far from insignificant problem from a politic and social perspective.
Another interesting aspect of this city is how different living styles have become mixed together, from social housing to student halls of residence, and to complex housing systems such as Cascina Merlata, where different realities from a functional and housing type perspective are mixed. In these projects designers have been able to harmoniously use different languages. Then there are other cases such as City Life and the Porta Nuova area, where the buildings are aimed at specific target groups of people. That way of living, however, has created spin-off activities and reactions around them and there has also been a positive redevelopment of the surrounding areas.
In Milan there are complex housing systems such as Cascina Merlata, where different realities are mixed together.

For 92% Italians the home is the primary form of investment and more than 70% own the home they live in: what are the consequences? Could we say they pay more attention to living spaces than in other countries?

In Italy we have always had this powerful connection with where we live, with where we were born. Certainly, the events of the war, with the terrible destruction that followed, also influenced the subsequent attachment to the physical place of ownership. There has always been this strong tradition in Italy but, in my opinion, this does not mean that we pay more attention to living spaces than other populations. 
We certainly take care of our places, we are a population that appreciates the beauty of architecture, historic sites and the landscape. This is an ancient and archetypal tradition embedded in our culture, but it is changing and will change a lot for the new generations because, unfortunately, there is no longer the possibility of buying a house like there was before. What is more, the new generations are getting used to not living in the same city all the time, of going to university and working elsewhere. Besides, remote working allows employees working from different places. Therefore, investment in housing is no longer a priority.

Let’s talk about requalifying our building stock: what themes should we work on in your opinion?

Requalifying building stock is fundamental, especially in Europe. Many developers are very sensitive and are fully aware of the value of certain buildings, perhaps designed by famous architects or that are part of a certain movement, including in the services sector, and that are representative of a certain way of life. And then we have ancient buildings: old city centres are now a widely acknowledged part of our heritage by everyone. In this context, the world of sustainability and relative standards represent two faces of the same coin which, at times, can be a hindrance, and at other times indicate how to act. It is a theme we have to work on a lot.

What influence has the availability of innovative materials had on interior design?

They have undoubtedly made an important contribution. The problem is not so much structural: we know that we can build slim structures with lots of innovative technologies in them. Glass, for example, has become an intelligent and super high-tech skin that can influence interiors. 
I am also thinking about special paints that are made for the façades of buildings and paints for interiors. And to these I would add the recovery of traditional materials, according to that double strand that moves carefully between the recovery of traditional techniques and materials and extreme experimentation, between bricks and new adhesives, one might say, between the potential of raw earth and 3D modelling. 
The interior design industry is recovering pieces of great artistry and re-proposed them using sustainable materials, a way of turning towards nature but with high technological content.
The interior design industry is recovering pieces of great artistry and re-proposed them using sustainable materials, a way of turning towards nature but with high technological content.

You worked on the theme of “Protagonists of 20th and 21st century architecture”: how would you define the presence and the role of women in the world of contemporary architecture?

I think that, since the 1800’s onwards, we women have done a lot: women can think about being whatever they want in any field. In Italy we have had a wonderful tradition and an important wave of feminism, cultured and disenchanted which, at a certain point, was almost reneged (1990’s to 2000’s), politically in particular, and also by many women, and this fact was serious and inexplicable. Everything that had been achieved through long arduous battles seemed to be taken for granted, and so surmountable, and it was at this point, in my opinion, that there seemed to be more discrimination, particularly from the higher echelons of power. A carrot and stick approach that let down and confused an entire generation of women. Everyone equal but not at the top levels, be it in the field of finance, industry or politics. 
This, in my opinion, is the most serious aspect and the one against which we still need to fight to impose each and everyone’s ability. 
I believe, however, that architecture is not one of those fields where women are more excluded or discriminated against, something which we can also see in academics and the teaching profession. 
Today we can, and must, believe we can achieve whatever we want, in any field. I find that everyone is showing an increasing level of respect for diversity, so we have gone far further than the theme of man-woman, and we need to demand respect against every type of discrimination and, above all, aspire to equality, not merely from a rhetorical perspective but as an act of civility. 
I am pretty convinced that, in architecture, the issue of women is a “false” problem and that now it is more important to try and create a connection between women: we are not always particularly good at lobbying, we find it a little difficult to do it when it is the right time, or maybe it will even no longer be necessary to do it between ourselves, but between people who are collaborative and respectful of each and every “universe”. 
In architecture, the issue of women is a “false” problem and that now it is more important to try and create a connection between women: we are not always particularly good at lobbying.
Author
Maria Vittoria Capitanucci
Adjunct Professor in History and Theory of Contemporary Architecture, Faculty of Architecture and Urban Studies, Milan Polytechnic (Italy)
Tag
#architecture
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