Interview with Architect Giovanni Vaccarini

Author: Niclas Ohlemann

In this Interview our Publisher Andreas Thiele talks with Italian Architect Giovanni Vaccarini about his background and love for architecture, reminisces about old methods, discusses how Covid-19 has affected his office and gets into detail about a very special project. Giovanni Vaccarini is an Italian architect, who graduated with honours in Architecture from the “G. D’Annunzio” University of Pescara in 1993. In 1994 he participated in a post-graduate specialisation course in landscape architecture at Waterloo University, Environmental Studies, School of Architecture Ontario - Canada. In addition to that he has a PhD in architectural composition. He was adjunct professor in Architectural Composition at the School of Architecture and the “Gabriele D’Annunzio” University of Pescara. His office, Giovanni Vaccarini Architetti, was founded in 1993.

ATH: Thank you for taking the time. How are you doing considering these troubling times?

GV: Pretty good, considering the circumstances. We have to be careful, but it slowly seems to be getting better in Italy. We currently have 2 construction sites that had to be closed down. Now they slowly start up again. We are already 2 months behind, but the companies are accommodating and understanding of the situation. It is also very possible that we will be affected by a possible economic crisis. We work for people, they like to buy offices and houses, but with the uncertainty looming over us they say “maybe let’s wait a bit”.


ATH: Yes, I must agree that the architecture business was and will be heavily affected by the current crisis.

Apart from my professional work as an architect, I founded the Architectural Tribune, a continuous education platform for architects. This is also the reason we are having this interview today: apart from online education we want to showcase interesting projects and architects, so thank you for agreeing to this interview. First I would like to get to know a little bit more about you and your work.

Why did you become an architect?

GV: Imagining the future has always fascinated me. At some point in my life, I can’t say exactly when, it seemed clear to me that I had to be an architect. To answer why, because “throwing forward” (projecting) is part of me. Designing means organizing spaces, but above all working with ideas and sensations. Now I cannot imagine a life without architecture. Even in my spare time, I watch the construction of buildings and admire the architecture. It is not just a job to me, Architecture has become a way of life for me.


ATH: Having this mind set, are there architects that have significantly influenced you or your work as an architect during your education or your early professional life with his or her work?

GV: During my university education, a meeting with Aldo Aymonino, the son of Carlo Aymonino, was very crucial to me. I studied in his course and in the graduation seminar. That was probably the first time the fire of architecture ignited in me. I also collaborated with his office in Rome.

Looking back, many things influenced me professionally, but I can say the meeting was the first big influence.

Graduating at the beginning of the digital era, rapid changes took place everywhere, even in architecture. It was the beginning of a tumultuous exchange of information, which represented a continuous flow of knowledge (collective intelligence).

There are also two more things that had a big influence on me. Firstly my one year grant in Canada and North America from the University of Waterloo. Secondly the architecture of Borromini and post-war Italian architecture by Luigi Moretti for example.

I was very interested in Moretti’s work. I was interested in the post-war Moretti, the Moretti working on the project for the “Girasole” building and on the building for the Astrea cooperative. He was a different Moretti than the Moretti of “empire square”: a Moretti in “god was dead” in which the architect worked with the “ugly, dirty and bad”. He worked with the contemporary hybrid city and the formal result was deformed, sometimes even literally, to answer all instances of the project; often conflicting requests, real oxymorons.
Our Project „ex arena braga“ is an tribute to Moretti.


ATH: Having experienced the same changes as you have, how has the digitalization changed your work as an architect?

 GV: For instance, when I started there were only a few architecture outlets, like Domus. Youhad to buy a magazine to look at new architecture. Now you can revisit architecture all over the world with just a few clicks. In addition to that, when I was in university and I was designing, I had to draw by hand, I had to use a pen.


ATH: As did I. I recently found an old “Mayline” in the cellar of my studio.

GV: Ah yes, I remember those. Not only the exchange of information has sped up rapidly, but also the improvement of certain technology. The new computer programs allow you to imagine architecture in a new way.


ATH: Having talked about your education, lets talk about your professional life. When did you found your office, and what was the occasion?

GV: I founded the office 25 years ago. The office started with working on architecture competitions. At the beginning I started working with other colleagues, such as Aldo Aymonino. I had various colleagues who have alternated over the years. The first project my office ever realized was built around a study that took a cellular form, which then grew to become the building of the Racotek Laboratories in Teramo, Abruzzo. Racotek Laboratories in Teramo, Abruzzo was the first project that was realized, the first germ around which our office then grew and developed.


ATH: After 25 years, is there something you always focus on in your work?

GV: I would say the main focus are ideas. I am convinced that our work is primarily an art of listening and an art of transposition. Listening to the city, listening to the requests of the project and our client, listening to the environment in which the architecture is born and will settle. I say an art of transposition because all this information must be translated into spaces. This operation is never a linear operation, but it is always the result of a complex mix between our sensitivity, our cultural belonging and all the technical, economic and social issues with which the project is confronted.


ATH: Do you have a philosophy that represents you – which you work with continuously?

GV: What I have described in the last question is also the philosophy of our work. Architectureis born from ideas and not from figures. This simple reaffirmation of the centrality of thought on the figure implies putting language in the background in favor of space, the relationships of space and forms with the city or the landscape, in extreme synthesis with man and the environment. Obviously we produce forms, but not forms for the sake of forms, but forms for mankind.


ATH: Having heard about your education and other professional work, let´s talk about one of your latest projects “The Powerbarn”.
How did you acquire it? Was it through a competition?

GV: It was a private competition. Because of the regulation of the European Union, the production of sugar in Italy was reduced. Eridania, a big Italian sugar company, held a private competition for a few sites to reconvert them. It was an interesting project, because it was not only a design challenge, but also an economical challenge. It was important that the workers from the old site would have jobs at the new site as well. It was a very big and slow project as the process started more than 10 years ago. It actually took place over such a long time span that the owner of the project changed multiple times.
There were many challenges, for instance we not only had to consider the architectural design, but also the landscape design and how we would fuse the design language of the agricultural business with the design language of an industrial business. We also had to compromise between the wishes of the people that live there and the project manager who has to make a budget work.
It was a very interesting and fun project.


ATH: Were there any requirements for monument protection or preservation of the cultural heritage to be considered?

GV: As you can imagine in Italy the weight of the story and the memories is always very strong. I think that the project, as part of the art of listening, must always be measured against the historical context and existing memories.
The project can have different gradients, going from rigorous respect in the presence of monuments to a closer and more critical comparison in other cases, cases in which for example the historical project is incomplete or has no significant value or peculiarity.


ATH: With that in mind, did you have a lot of experience with planning around existing buildings and creating new buildings within those boundaries?

GV: Our studio currently has twenty five years of experience, but mostly in new architecture.


ATH: Tell us about the design approach for this unusual project.

GV: As mentioned before, we work with ideas not shape. If you just work with shape the project tends to become weak. To explain that, when you start saying we do this because we expect that or because of this condition we have to do that, the project will become very strong. For instance the whole Façade originated from a dialog with the Supervisor of Cultural Environment. They were afraid of this big building, but after a few discussions we started to work with the design principle of Razzle Dazzle. A principle used to camouflage big ships, to alter the appearance of the height and view of the ship. A lot of artists worked with this principle as well, for instance Picasso. With this approach we created the shape through an idea we first had.


ATH: Which aspects of this design approach or these design approaches can be transferred to other projects or other construction tasks?

GV: Our approach and our sensitivity are always the same, in this and in other projects. What changes from one project to another is the context and the various instances and characteristics of the individual projects. This leads to a different result every time, but always with a common matrix.
In the design of an object you undergo the part of optimization, so you use this object and youwill understand where you are wrong. The same goes for architecture: your client will tell you what he or she needs and what works. After that there is a transposition of all this information and shape. This process involves your culture, your studies and your sensibility. It is not a linear process, it moves in a zick-zack line, sometimes it is even irrational and intuitive.

For us, this is the best way to work.


ATH: What are the reactions of the experts in Italy and the local population – the formal language of the architecture of this project is very contemporary, almost fashionable?

GV: The reactions have been manifold, but I believe that the biggest result was to demonstrate that it is possible to make architecture even with apparently residual themes and relegated to purely engineering or merely technical aspects.


ATH: How would you rate your building – timeless or a contemporary witness?

GV: We always hope that our architecture can be of our time, not a fashion exercise, a work on ideas, on space, on the synapses that bind man, environment and artifice. In this sense, we always hope that it can be timeless architecture.


ATH: Circling back to the beginning where we briefly talked about that, how are you personally doing in this extraordinary time of the Covid-19 pandemic?

GV: Fortunately we are all well at the moment. I believe that this pandemic will accelerate a series of dynamics of change which are already underway, but which, due to laziness and force of inertia, were struggling to develop before. For example, the theme of resilient cities or that of living and working- both are topics that can be described as a newfound relationship between man and the living environment.


ATH: How is your office doing during this time?

GV: Our work and our study is being transformed. We have reopened the “physical” study for about ten days now. Previously we worked remotely. Having to work remotely is a great lesson for us, because it reminds us that we work for mankind and the community. In a period like this, where the economy is not the strongest, we have to rely on the community and the connections we made.


ATH: Thank you very much for your time and your reflections. Take care.


Find out more about his work here.



Bild: Giovanni Vaccarini
Herausgeber: Dipl.-Ing. Architekt BDA Andreas Thiele