“Can you use images to construct sentences, conversations and thoughts, taking the monopoly of knowledge away from words?”
In April 2007, Esperanto, the latest edition of Domus edited by Stefano Boeri and consisting only of images, opened with this provocative question. It was the beginning of a revolution for the world of communication related, though not exclusively, to architecture and design.
Architect Stefano Boeri has left an important mark in architecture and interiors with projects that have toured the world, projects with a distinctive personality, combining his profession with his cultural and personal commitment, giving concrete form to his thoughts and desires and harmonizing his own ideals with the market.
IFDM met Stefano Boeri for a conversation about his current vision of architecture and interiors, about what is happening in a still very distant world (not only geographically) like China, with an inevitable discussion of Made in Italy. Starting from that April in 2007.
Following on from the opening words of Esperanto, what has changed over the last ten years?
Many things have changed. In terms of images, we have seen the advent of social media and especially Instagram. Instagram goes beyond social media: it is a real communication platform that does not require translation, negating all linguistic differences. Instagram is more universal than Esperanto. In the world of printed paper, the 2007 proposal is still open – no one has tried to make it their own by transforming it into a real publishing project.
Throughout your career you have often touched on the theme of hospitality, linked to the hotel industry, in the broadest sense: have you encountered some particular merits in this sector not found in other fields?
The theme of hospitality is crucial because it means designing and building spaces that focus on our relationship with the other, which in the contemporary world is an essential condition for quality of life and the culture of our cities.
Hospitality is the very essence of this encounter, a condition that allows people to read themselves in the eyes of others, a test of their own identity.
What does Mountain Forest Hotel represent and in what direction is China moving with regard to architecture and the environment?
Mountain Forest Hotel is a new hospitality project for Chinese culture. I do not believe that its approach to sustainability is an isolated case: the Chinese have realized that they cannot continue to deal with the urban migration of 14 million new residents each year by building new suburbs (the Beijing area is a megalopolis of 109 million residents).
Today, China’s design request is to imagine new small cities that are very dense and place emphasis on a green environment. Until recently there were no building regulations, but now the Chinese government has decided to reverse the trend of urban hospitality projects.
In Nanghing, we have a site that is already operational for the construction of two Vertical Forest towers, one of which will be a hotel. In this case, there is also a demand for hospitality that is in tune with nature.
Similarly, Mountain Forest was established as an entrance to a natural part in one of the most beautiful, astounding areas in the world, which contains tree-covered hills and plains with villages.
Mountain Forest is still unfinished and, even though the project was begun earlier, it is still behind when compared to the two towers of Nanching for example. The speed of construction in China often holds some unexpected surprises.
What is your relationship like with Made in Italy? Is there strong demand for it in the main countries where you work?
Absolutely, yes. In Beijing, in collaboration with a large company called Easy Home, we are designing the Italian Design Center, a building entirely devoted to Italian design: it is an enormous showroom that will also host 5 designers who will be given complete autonomy to furnish a space. The interesting thing about Easy Home is that their project consists of bringing Italian designers to China and promoting them, while not interfering with their background and independence as designers.
It is a project that will be developed in very short time – we are hoping to start construction in April and to make the building operational in 2018.
We have proposed many Italian companies for Mountain Forest and the assessment is still ongoing.
What is your appraisal of Italian companies abroad?
Until 5 or 6 years ago, it was often the case that Italian companies came to China (though not exclusively – this also happened in the Middle East) with a certain amount of arrogance: companies expected to receive requests from local buyers almost automatically, without having the humility to approach the new market by studying the culture and its customs. This approach was not just limited to design – the fashion world also paid a price in this regard. When it comes to the fashion world, an incredibly positive model of company foreign policy was Zegna: it began to explore China in the ’80s, by attempting to study the country and understand it. This humility and attentiveness paid off and now Zegna has a strong, organized presence in China.
Now I think that the lesson has been internalized. For both design companies and finishing companies connected to construction, what we were talking about at the beginning of the conversation has happened: an awareness of the importance of the culture of the other. This is the secret of successful hospitality.