The era of leading roles in architecture is over, now it's time to get back together, to find solutions to ecological problems and listen to the community. This is the manifesto of Open Project, in an interview with Francesco Conserva, partner and vice president of the architecture and engineering firm based in Bologna.
If it is true that each era elaborates its own cultural models and elevates specific human and professional typologies to heroes, it is equally true that the end of an era inevitably also involves the overcoming and the fall of those idols.
This is what is happening today with the concept of archistar, a figure of renowned architect, at the center of public attention, considered the sole architect of the work, who confirms that attention by creating projects denoted by a certain flashiness, recognizable in the their characteristics as if they were paintings bearing the author’s signature. Thus a society in which every phenomenon is spectacular has created new protagonists to put on the plate of showbusiness, architects dedicated more to their image than to the quality of the project itself.
This era seems to be heading towards the end, albeit with a lot of resistance, since architects today are asked to ask themselves urgent questions about environmental sustainability and to propose feasible solutions, to carefully evaluate the context and the community in which a project is created, in short, to listen rather than to impose oneself.
We talk about it with Francesco Conserva, 42, partner together with Maurizio Piolanti and vice president of the architecture and engineering firm Open Project.
Founded in Bologna in 1984, the Open Project architecture and engineering studio has numerous projects for large national and multinational companies, with different building types, which include residential, hospitality, student housing, cultural, commercial, workspaces and offices. A path of continuous growth that has led Open Project to settle, for some time, among the most important architectural firms in Italy. Thanks to particular attention to the aspect of environmental sustainability and continuous research in favor of technological innovation and high standards, including through digitization processes, Open Project has achieved numerous awards with international certifications.
An excellence with Italian roots but projected into the world, to which even the great foreign entrepreneurs, such as the Austrian real estate giant Value One, for which Open Project is building the Porta Mascarella hotel in Bologna, look with interest.
And yet there is no protagonism on the part of the architect Conserva, who prefers an ethical approach to the project and teamwork to the self-reported logics of the archistars.
How does Open Project deal with the idea of an archistar, which is still difficult to unhinge today?
Open Project is an alternative to a strictly authorial vision of design. We aim, through a lateral look, at a process in which relationships between people produce creativity, vision and quality responses. The single and monolithic point of view of a project does not belong to us and does not interest us. We like to think of our studio as an articulated organism, which brings together multiple perspectives, multiple visions of reality, which identifies strategies, interprets the needs of our clients and creates answers, then transforming them into projects. The strength of Open Project lies precisely in the choral work, in the ability to release individual energies, channeling them in a continuous flow that touches the whole team. Our motto is “We imagine, we design, we create” precisely because these are the three fundamental phases of integrated design according to our vision and all require collective work.
We are an elastic structure, which does not want to impose itself in a forced and egregious way but which, on the contrary, is capable of offering an alternative vision of the world of design and construction management. Open Project wants to be a “garden of talents” that through research, innovation, creativity and method brings together in a multidisciplinary team different professionals, who work side by side without competition and protagonism, for a common goal, to share a project transversal and integrated. We are very far from the idea of an archistar which imposes a unipersonal vision at all costs; if we really want to give ourselves a definition, a tailor-made approach to the project belongs to Open Project, we are like a “Savile Row” in which the customer finds his tailor-made suit.
In the practice of everyday Open Project activity, what does it mean to work in a team?
For us it means listening, never imposition. Much of our time is dedicated to consciously listening to customers and their needs, in a continuous dialogue on both sides, trying to intercept even the unspoken. This aspect is very important for Open Project, in which a varied and young team works, with an average age under 40 and full gender equality; fifty highly skilled professionals, who understand the client’s needs, who put their creativity and respect for people at the service of the project, without competition. Everyone is given the opportunity to develop their skills, talents and ideas to the maximum, which thus become shared by everyone. This is only possible thanks to respect and balance, in our studio there is a great desire to do better and aim higher but always with great respect for others.
You recently set up a research center on sustainability, what does it consist of?
We have decided to invest further in research and create the Open Project Sustainability Hub, a study center animated by many different skills and figures, which aims to develop solutions and network to address the main problems related to sustainability, both in terms of environmental impact, which has a social and financial weight. To give an example, we are now engaged in “measuring” urban regeneration strategies, through the calculation of the LCA, the Life Cycle Assessment, of our buildings, and we are evaluating different possibilities to achieve a greater reduction in carbon dioxide. We are also working on dictating guidelines for the design of the first buildings that meet the objectives of the European taxonomy, as tools for obtaining green funding and the requirements for calls financed by the PNRR.
For us it is important to restore value to the community, just as it is essential that our projects constitute a positive response to the environment, we want to develop virtuous behaviors and encourage other players in research, entrepreneurship, design, technology and of art, to give an articulated response to the complex challenges that this era poses to us.
From university professor to majority shareholder of one of the largest architectural firms in Italy, your professional career is atypical compared to the paths we usually hear about in our country, how did this transition happen?
Being able to achieve this type of synthesis between research and design practice has always been what interests me and what fascinates me most about this work, I would like to be able to identify an alternative method in the world of design. My research path at university, during the years of my doctorate and contract teaching at the University of Bologna, were essential to lay the foundations of a design method, which today we apply in Open Project, a fertile ground from which we start all our work.
It is true that in Italy there sometimes seems to be a complete disconnect between the university and research world and that of professional practice, in architecture as in many other fields; in fact, my own experience can confirm that only a vision that brings the two approaches together, without prejudice, can create a true “open project”. From the university world, I took and made my own, bringing it to Open Project, the typical way of proceeding in research, cultivating skills, dynamic visions, listening and trust in the opinion of others. In this way, we do not work to nurture a single talent but everyone works to better express and grow their skills. The energies multiply and the connections too.