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CLUBHOUSE PEOPLE
Andrea Maffei — Architect, Andrea Maffei Architects

The elegance of courage and creativity.

A close encounter with Andrea Maffei, a leading figure in contemporary Italian architecture

Courage is the word he uses to describe himself. The interview has only just begun, and he’s already quoting movies:

“Talent is a matter of luck. The important thing in life is courage”

says Woody Allen in Manhattan. Andrea Maffei, 47, architect with Andrea Maffei Architects.
We meet Andrea in his studio in Via Brera, Milan. What strikes us about the studio is the dominance of white and the linear design of the spaces. And it becomes clear right away that they reflect his personality: “White is very interesting; it’s like a void: it leaves room for the imagination, for creativity”, he explains later on. Though his look is black, topped off with a tailored jacket.

Maffei talks about how his typical day runs, its rhythm marked by the hands of his clocks, in which he admires the design component interpreting the concept of time, by his morning coffee, which he takes long, American-style, and by news updates coming in from all over the world. He likes to read them on Facebook, a very interesting channel providing information on a lot of different topics, as demonstrated by the growing presence and activity of the publishing houses on Zuckerberg’s social network. He relaxes by listening to music, primarily classical music and film soundtracks, particularly those by Bernard Hermann and Riz Ortolani.

 

When we ask how he reconciles his personal and professional life, Maffei says he sees no difference between the two: inspiration and creativity cannot be confined to specific places and times. His profession is an art, and it’s with him all the time. It comes as no surprise that he should be particularly fond of Alfred Hitchcock, “a great artist, whose elegance I also admire, who looked at the way people live and also included architectural contributions in his work”. He’s referring to “Rear window”, a timeless masterpiece that addresses the city lifestyle, the concept of overlapping cells that live in the big city in different ways, and explores the depths of human identity, beginning with the ecosystem of the building across the way, a “human stratification”. And then of course there is the great master’s irony, ever-present in his works. There is a very interesting parallel with architecture here, for the architect becomes a part of the project he creates by interpreting the story – of the building, of the place, of architecture itself – according to his or her personality.

Born in Modena, Maffei studied in Florence before moving to Tokyo, his favourite city, where he lived for 7 years and was the only Italian partner in Arata Isozaki’s studio. He chose to settle in Milan: “The right compromise between Renaissance Florence and modern Tokyo, managing to combine a forward-looking attitude with history.”

“There are a lot of differences between Japan and Italy, but the two countries also have a lot of things in common. Precise, organised and hard-working are the adjectives that best describe the Japanese, but both cultures share a focus on detail, on quality work, and on the value of hand craftsmanship. Time passes a lot faster in Japan, and I confess it can be very alienating to live there, although it is truly stimulating and enriching to work with different cultural systems and confront new circumstances: you are continually putting yourself on the line.”

Japan still plays an important role in Maffei’s live, as demonstrated by his partnership with Isozaki in the design of the Allianz Tower, part of the Citylife project which is changing the skyline of Milan.

 

“We found it interesting to work around the idea of a skyscraper without end, a sort of endless tower that rose above a modular structure and could potentially be infinitely repeated,” explains the architect. “We are creating a new centre for Milan, a new pole contributing to the creation of a polycentric contemporary city in which Piazza Tre Torri will constitute a new landmark, along with the cathedral square, Piazza Gae Aulenti and other key centres in the city. This is making Milan different from other Italian cities, which have grown and developed around their original centres, making it more like other world-class cities. Though what architecture needs to do today is shorten the distances between the outskirts and the city centre, redevelop, and create new centres of economic, commercial, and cultural interest outside of the city centre. Our major project for transformation of Bologna Centrale railway station aims to do this.”

Interview by: Francesca Zuffi