From Realtà Mapei International n° 68 - 21/05/2018
Stefano Boeri, Milanese, born in 1956, architect. Professor of Urbanistics at the Polytechnic of Milan and Visiting Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, in Cambridge (USA). Milan City Councillor for Culture from 2011 to 2013 and, since 2015, member of the Scientific Committee of the Galleria degli Uffizi Museum, Florence. Member of Consulta Architettonica, creators of the concept plan for Expo 2015, Boeri designed the Vertical Forest, the first ever prototype of a sustainable building with facades decorated with trees and plants, which won the Best Tall Building Worldwide Award in 2015. Last January he was nominated President of La Triennale di Milano.
Let’s start with an issue of great interest: our cities’ outskirts and abandoned areas. What should the role of an architect be within the framework of a process of urban improvement and the redevelopment of entire suburbs?
I think the regeneration or redevelopment of areas of cities that have been partially abandoned or neglected is a very important issue, as in the case of the stations, goods hubs, old markets, prisons and entire areas of large-scale infrastructures at the service of Milan built at the beginning of the 20th century, which have now lost their purpose. They were often situated on the outskirts of cities and the growth of expanding urban areas has incorporated them into the city itself. A system of 7 goods hubs extending over an area of more than 1,300,000 m2 is quite an undertaking for Milan, a city that now has new available areas much closer to the centre. The project for the goods hubs also considers the creation of a large park, which would lead to an efficient improvement in the quality of the air. This would be a great challenge for the future.
When we think about parks, we generally associate them with the more privileged areas of the city, while the outskirts seem to remain on the side-lines. What needs to be done to change the state of things?
Milan already has a lot of parks, even if it would probably be better to talk about gardens. Some of those areas that are now abandoned could and should also be used to increase the amount of parkland on the outskirts of the city. For example, the area of Bovisa with the decommissioned gasometers could become a large park. To a certain extent we could also say the same about the post-Expo area, or for other abandoned areas in various parts of the city. There is no doubt that our objective must be that of being able to work both on the parkland in the centre of the city, and on a system of less centralised existing parks, as well as on the development of parkland in abandoned areas.
During a meeting held on the 28th of January in the Italian Senate, you stated that Italy has more than 4 million buildings that should be demolished and rebuilt according to the latest criteria in terms of sustainability and aesthetics. Are you still of the same opinion?
I am even more convinced of my opinion! It was based on information supplied by Ance (the Italian Association of building companies) which, in spite of being approximate figures, are a pretty good indicator of the current situation. We should be thinking about a far-reaching policy to replace our building stock. This would also be a way of using the building industry as the driving force for various economic sectors. I am talking about small and medium sized companies in the construction industry, companies operating in the service sector, technical sectors, the world of creativity, manufacturers of furniture, and much more besides. An investment that would bring enormous benefits.
There is a great deal of interest in the issue of environmental and social responsibility of our cities. What is the current situation in Italy, and in Milan in particular?
There is a great deal of interest in this particular issue, especially when the quality of the air is perceived as being bad and we are in a state of emergency. I believe that the operation the Mayor of Milan has started to work on, to extend the amount of urban woodland, is a step in the right direction. We really must be committed to the possibility of doubling the amount of plants, trees and parks in general in Milan. Apart from redeveloping 4 million buildings, I would also like to propose the creation of a ministry to promote the development of wood and forests. Woods and forests play a fundamental role in the health of our cities and in urban redevelopment in general. They are also a vital part of the economy in numerous regions of Italy and they could be managed and become part of a potential circular economy for the building and furniture industries, something we don’t currently exploit to the full.
You were recently nominated President of La Triennale di Milano. In an interview you talked about the Triennale as one of the hubs of a so-called Culture Park, along with the Piccolo Teatro and the Arena, large-scale three-year International Exhibitions and the exhibitions taking place on a daily basis, which are open to the city day and night. Have you already singled out some of the themes and events for La Triennale?
We are working on it, but I would like to talk about at least one of them. In fact, we are in the lucky position of having an historical “Culture Park” which encloses the most important institutions in Milan: the Piccolo Teatro, Castello Sforzesco, the Teatro Dal Verme, the Arena Civica, the Triennale and several others. My wish, as an institution, is that we could all sit around a table and coordinate a programme of summer events and imagine that, in July and August, with just one ticket, it would be possible to take part in a series of differentiated events all around the city. This would create the most wonderful Milanese summer and could also be part of a tourist event.
There was one issue that recently dominated critics, politicians and architects: the Museum of Design. Do you think it is necessary to choose a different destination?
I would say it is not. The Triennale is the right place to host a Museum of Design. The way the Triennale organized its various displays in other places, such as the Villa Reale in Monza, or in partnerships with other associations, was wounderful. But the heart of Milanese design is the Triennale and I don’t see any reason for moving it to other buildings. What we do need, however, is more spaces, but within the spaces of the Triennale, not outside.
You turned down the label of “Star Architect” but said you were rather a “Street Architect”. Is that still the way you feel?
Absolutely. An architect must admire the stars, but must also watch very carefully where he puts his feet. When I am involved in a project, I really like to get to the heart of the problems and I love talking to those who have to promote, construct and inhabit the project. Architecture may very well look upwards, but it must never lose touch with what is happening on the ground, in the immediate surroundings.
You are currently President of La Triennale, but for years you have been a politician, an architect, an urbanist and a professor. What do you enjoy most?
I am an architect. When I was editor of a magazine or when I was involved in politics, teaching or acting as president of an institution, I have always done it as an architect. Basically, architecture means anticipating spaces in life and that is what I have always tried to do. Even though it seems I have led a pretty eclectic life, I feel I am an architect and I have always wanted to carry out these activities while remaining one. At the end of the day I am one thing only, an architect.