Ischia 24 July 2010

Saturday, the 24th of July was the closing day of the third edition of the Ischia International Architecture Prize. The gala dinner at the Hotel Regina Isabella was followed by a ceremony during which the winners were awarded their prizes. Peter Bohlin and Bernard Cywinski of the US architectural firm BCJ have been awarded the PIDA International Prize, Patricia Viel the Career Prize, Stefano Bucci the PIDA Journalism Prize and Moreno Maggi the PIDA Photography Prize. Enrica Mosciaro with her project of the Hotel Mod05 in the province of Verona won the international competition for works realized in the field of tourism. The second place was taken in by Michela Genovese with Antico Pastificio in the province of Matera, while joint third came: Vito Corte with the Hotel La Gancia in Trapani and Angelo Vecchio with the Hotel La Zagara in Santa Venerina.

The workshop on sustainable restructuring has been won by the project “PAFO – between memory and a new identity” by Chiara Arturo, Oscar Benitez, Luca Penna, Alessandro Telese and Mafalda Vaino, supervised by tutor Federico Verderosa.

A big reason of satisfaction for organizer Giovannangelo De Angelis, who this year gave the PIDA prize an international orientation and introduced new categories, among which the architecture journalism prize, which appears to be the first in Italy.

“A great result, which I would never have been able to achieve without the ongoing and indefatigable cooperation of all those who have shared with me the organization of this event” specifies Giovannangelo De Angelis. “I would like to thank them one by one for their perseverance, devotion and the tireless work carried out above all during the final week of the prize. My thanks go to Simone Verde, Daniela Marino, Lucia Regine, Marita Francescon, Elisa Vitale, Morena Miglio, Carla Tufano, Aurelio Monte, Juliana De Angelis, Gabriella Piscopo.

We are already thinking of next year’s edition. There are already institutional contacts going on in order to have the Arab Emirates as a foreign partner for the 2011 edition, and to invite to Villa Colombaia the top architecture in the tourism-accommodation field of this Arab country where, unlike what is commonly thought, building sustainability is one of the main requirements without which the realization would simply be unthinkable”.

But which message does this event convey to Ischia?

During the two days of panels at Colombaia, some themes have emerged, some considerations which – if applied to Italian architecture – would improve its quality and the users would benefit form a higher sense of wellbeing, which is an aspect often underestimated.

On Thursday 22nd of July 2010, during a highly attended conference on “Architecture, humanity and sustainability”, US architects Peter Bohlin and Bernard Cywinski of the architectural firm BCJ have expressed the philosophy behind their planning and have shown the public some works which are its concrete expression in the course of the years. Among their projects stand out the Apple store, the enlargement and re-arrangement for the residence of Bill Gates and the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia. These works bear witness of an innovative approach towards architecture which, rather than tending towards sensational and self-referential shapes, creates new and interesting relations with the urban context, with the landscape and with the people enjoying them. This is the starting point for the re-discovery of ancient technologies such as wood and stone, which are at the same time modern, as shown by the Apple stores which are entirely realized in glass with daring structural solutions. In 1994 the practice received the Architecture Firm Award from the American Institute of Architects, and in 2010 Peter Bohlin was awarded the AIA Gold medal, the most important career award assigned in the United States.

On Friday, the 23rd of July, Stefano Bucci, journalist of Corriere della Sera, PIDA Prize for Architecture Journalism 2010, Patricia Viel, PIDA Career Prize 2010, Alessandro Castagnaro, Paolo Mascilli Migliorini, Antonello Monaco, Giovanni Hoepli and Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi have exchanged views about “Architecture and happiness”.

The topic has been dealt with from different points of view seen the different cultural and professional background of the speakers, and this allowed for a detailed analysis of the topic to emerge.

Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi introduces the roundtable. “There is no unhappier person than the aesthete. The great pianist Benedetti Michelangeli, who was always looking for the perfect execution, suffered incredibly when he happened to listen to a band, while hyper-refined Luchino Visconti, owner of the villa which is hosting us, would be horrified by the restoration his former residence underwent ten years ago. An aesthete spends a life in suffering: in order to achieve a single moment of happiness he suffers all his life. For the aesthete, good architecture is a source of happiness. Happiness does not derive from the aesthetic sense of marvel but from the relationship architecture is able to create. In ugly places we often feel happy because we create a network of positive relationships which work. The highest level of happiness is obtained when a great aesthetics is combined with a functioning system of relationships. In conclusion: a great architecture provides happiness, a good architecture does not always grant happiness, a system of relationships always ensures happiness.

“What is the role of architecture in happiness?” is the question put by Alessandro Castagnaro. “Architecture is really able to make someone happy when it is the synthesis of three factors: beauty, taste and aesthetic quality. Unfortunately these factors are not measurable, they are subjective and thus difficult to judge. A good architecture, however, helps feeling better. It is necessary to face a series of related issues. Giedion used to say that architecture is the mirror of society. Until which point does society feel represented by architecture? People appreciate architecture less and less, and this is why a network of relationships is needed. Those working with architecture have to make architecture understandable by common people and increase the average quality level of architecture.”

Antonello Monaco asks himself about the question of accommodation. “Is Ischia a happy island? Is Ischia’s architecture happy? A beautiful place is often made less beautiful by the hand of man who is not able to adjust to the needs of the place. Quality has to be perceived from the place and given back through building. Hotel facilities must have very strong intrinsic qualities exactly because they are devoted to accommodate people. Accommodation is the topic to be focussed on.”

Paolo Mascilli Migliorini starts with a historical excursus to reach a final question. “American Constitution states the right of man to the pursuit of happiness. We are at the end of the XVIII century. In France, one century later the right to housing was granted to all citizens. The right to housing is a factor of happiness. In the XIX and XX century happiness is linked to the right to an urban standard and becomes a condition of the soul. Nowadays the thread linking happiness and livability in architecture has disappeared, as can be seen in neighbourhoods such as Zen in Palermo or Corviale in Rome.

In order to achieve the happiness of man, do we have to search for a correct system of relationships or is it a matter of happiness of the places?”

“I have to say – it is Stefano Bucci talking – that for me the idea of architecture and happiness is linked to some experiences as a journalist dealing with local news, when I was still a young, inexperienced man. It has top do with experience on the field rather than with philosophical or cultural ones, when e.g. I had to report about episodes neither pleasant nor educational. In these cases, I often thought that particularly suffocating places, which however were not too degraded, somehow seemed (and today I can say I was not wrong) to have provoked these events. And this meant, at least for me, in realities of the North, but also of the South or the Centre of Italy, from Milan to Rome, from Genoa to Florence. On the other side – when I began dealing with architecture on behalf of Corriere della Sera (writing about new projects or interviewing the planners), the articles and interviews I liked most where those which concerned architectures I liked and which somehow made me happy. Some examples: Niemeyer and his firm, Gehry in his practice and the Guggenheim, Eisenmann, Meier, Piano with some exceptions.

One for all, Zaha Hadid. On one side there is the MAXXI which has very much intrigued me, on the other side it’s her, whom I interviewed when she had just won the Pritzker, maybe my most difficult interview.

Thus for me between ARCHITECTURE and HAPPINESS the is an indissoluble link. In my case, however, I cannot justify this union in a literary or scientific way. I can only do it on the basis of my personal field experience. As a journalist.”

Patricia Viel contributes with her experience as an architect. “I started to deal with hotels in 2001, with the Bulgari Hotel in Milan. The concept of hospitality and accommodation is here combined with the concept of luxury hotel with a contemporary design. A minimal design is associable with an idea of comfort, of pleasure, of welcome.

What kind of feeling should be felt by someone who experiences a hotel ambience? Small moments of happiness. Happiness as such does not exist, but there are moments of happiness. The moments of life far from everyday reality must be moments of happiness. And this depends on the architects who must be less extravagant and more aware of the needs of those who are accommodated.”

The evening is rounded off by the humorous intervention of publisher Giovanni Hoepli. “The Architecture of Happiness” is the title of a book by Alain de Botton. What do architecture and happiness mean to me? I would summarize it in three points:

to create and publish architecture books,

to work in an Italian rationalism building by Figini and Pollini

to maintain a building by Figini and Pollini.

To create and publish architecture books can be split into several instants of happiness: meetings with other publishers, reprinting of architecture long-sellers, meetings with the authors, reprinting of classics.

To work in an Italian rationalist building by Figini and Pollini is for me a source of happiness. The regularity of the building, the regularity of the plant of the floor on which I work and move about all the time allows me to be happy.

To maintain a historical building by Figini and Pollini located in a place in Milan rich in narrow streets in the immediate vicinity of the Duomo consists in small-scale operations. It often means to control that the neighbours do not damage my building with their signs and works on the façade.

Happiness lies for me in the art of everyday things.”