The Estúdio Campana became known by the furniture design and the creation of intriguing objects. Today, its work volume increased, developing into various universes and is directed to different audiences. Fernando and Humberto are contacted by art institutions and companies and, since their beginning, they have been establishing partnerships with Brazilian craftsmanship producing communities. This fluid dialog among the projects of distinct natures and dimensions is one of the keys to understand the Campana brothers’ creations. The designers’ skills in understanding the essence of a brand, the ease in playing with its origins – as well as the undeniable sense of adventure – had as effect that the Campanas are being requested to reinvent global brands identity. In interior design, they have already deconstructed and reinvented the Camper stores in Berlin (2006), Barcelona (2007), Florence (2008), London (2008), New York (2010) and Zaragoza (2007). They are currently redesigning the D’Orsay Museum´s Café Hauteurs, in Paris, due to open on 2011 and exploring new solutions for the ambiance of the former “Olympic Hotel”, in Athens. It will be the first project of a hotel signed by the Campanas. In Brazil, the São Paulo Municipal Theater café bar renovation is just waiting sponsorship and residential and landscaping projects are being developed in the capital of the state of São Paulo.
Laura Andreini: The next issue of area will be entirely dedicated to the city of São Paulo. Could you describe how the city and its multiethnic culture influence your activity?
Fernando Campana: All our work is the product, the synthesis of the city of São Paulo, a paradoxical place, with an aesthetics deprived of aesthetics. I have travelled all over the world, but in comparison to the many cities I have seen, in Europe or in Asia, São Paulo has a capacity of self-management and self-destruction that is incredible, because it has an own life. Cities like New York and Paris are regularly cared for, the trees are pruned, urban rearrangement works are planned, while São Paulo proceeds on its own, it lives an own essence, that may be ugly but that still vaunts a unique beauty; as Caetano Veloso said in his song Sampa, it is “o avesso do avesso do avesso do avesso”, or in other words the opposite of the opposite of the opposite of the opposite. It is an incredible place, where there are many dead and dilapidated areas that suddenly enjoy a rebirth, to destroy themselves once again within a period of six months, without any self-esteem. But it is a live city. Anyone who comes to São Paulo appreciates its great vitality, the force of a city that exists in its own right; it does not need fashion, industries, it is completely deprived of poetry; it is not like Rio de Janeiro, Rome or Naples which are cities for poets, for musicians. In Rio one may for instance lie down on the beach and everything is already there, around you, while in São Paulo you have to look in every corner, because it lacks every kind of aesthetics. Also the tissue of the city, the urban network, is horrible, it is a mixture of São Paulo and Caracas without streets and spaces, only buildings glued onto one another. São Paulo makes you understand, and it is incomprehensible, in a kind of constant antagonism. The story of São Paulo and of all Brazil influences 100% of the work done by me and Humberto. Our culture is a “dirty” one, which has not received its due recognition. São Paulo is a synthesis of the many cultures comprising Brazil, which are reinforced thanks to the influences wielded by immigrants from Europe, from Asia and from other areas of Brazil. I believe the first person to see Brazil as an accumulation of different races was Lina Bo, who founded the Museu de Arte together with her husband Pietro Maria Bardi. If we think of the cities of Latin America, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, we find a univocal urban type, that they share at least to some extent, while São Paulo cannot be defined as either an Eastern city or a Western one. There are large numbers of Lebanese, Japanese, Palestinians who live together with Jews. The problem in Brazil has never been religion, but the economic and social inequality. Religious beliefs, the fact of being Catholic, Protestant or Jewish is not important because people mix, they get “dirty” in the positive sense of this term.
What we try to do is to portray this situation, taking what Lina Bo Bardi saw: a mixture of Indians, Africans, Portuguese and Brazilian farmers, as an example. We have always sought, in our work, to recover simple objects, that are also used in the countryside, transforming them and ennobling them to make the Indo or Afro culture, which has too often been motive of shame to Brazilians, known. Brazil has for many years been completely subjected to the requirements of the United States, “what is good for the USA is also good for Brazil”, this was the motto of the military dictatorship of the Sixties. It is thanks to personalities as Lina Bo Bardi that Brazilians have learned about Brazil, that they have learnt not to desire to appear as Germans or French, and I believe this way to approach things has caught the attention of Italian companies as Edra or Alessi. The difficulty lies in overcoming the limit of the nationalist cliché without running the risk of becoming regionalist or kitsch. To work with a poor material, giving it a second, ennobled life, an operation which has been begun by Lina Bo Bardi in the Museum of Modern Art where she exhibited both Scandinavian design objects and anonymous items, everyday tools taken from the street.
L.A.: How do you manage to reconcile the Brazilian crafts tradition which characterizes your work with the international requirements of the industrial world?
F.C.: When we began to appear in Italian magazines I remember that Marco Romanelli of Domus said that our objects had a very strong soul, but that it had to be transferred to an industrial production. I believe that we have managed to make this transition with manual skill; for instance with Vermelha, the chair produced by Edra, which is an industrialized object but which is still made one by one, no chair is alike and each is made from about 450/500 metres of rope. In this case we have convinced Massimo Morozzi of Edra to apply the same procedure used for wicker chairs, but with the freedom and spontaneity of a popular material like rope. In Brazil, which is a country of craftsmen, nobody wanted to produce Vermelha; in Italy, on the contrary, we immediately found a company willing to realize the project; everything depends on the curiosity, the willingness to run some risks and above all on being able to anticipate the novelties.
L.A.: Humberto’s previous activity in a crafts workshop has influenced the future of both of you. Even if he was a law graduate…
F.C.: I have a degree in architecture while Humberto (who is 8 years older than me) chose the law faculty because being an architect or an artist during the years of the military dictatorship (1964-1985) was considered again the regime. Niemeyer was a communist, Lina Bo Bardi was a communist. When Humberto had to choose a university faculty between 1968 and 1978, he chose law precisely because the short list of possible professions was limited to physician, military, lawyer, teacher of religion but certainly not of philosophy, a subject considered too communist.
The censorship effected in Brazil in those years was really very funny; I have for instance seen two movie masterpieces as “Salò” by Pasolini and “Clockwork Orange” by Kubrick with black strips over the nude scenes. We were born in the country, near a town with 10,000 inhabitants, on a farm where we played with the objects we came across and I believe many of our projects are inspired by that place; for instance the storage unit Cabana (a metal structure covered by long strips of rafia), or the chair Favela can be retraced to our games in the courtyard of our home.
We did not have television then, but we often went to the movies where I have seen all the Italian neorealist films, “2001 a space Odyssey”; when I got back home, I ran into the courtyard to try to reconstruct the spaceships and the helms by using wood and bamboo; Humberto on the contrary built houses on the trees and tried to make chicken fences to create a zoo. Later we moved to São Paulo to study at university, but we have never forgotten our roots, the bond with the countryside, with the earth, with the inheritance of our father who was an agronomist. Our grandparents had come from Italy to grow coffee and we had a farm that was almost as big as a state. Also when I am in Italy I always try to go to places far from the big cities, in Versilia for instance, to Torre del Lago, to Pietrasanta. I am often in Tuscany, where we have designed the Camper shop, in Florence, not far from Ponte Vecchio. I am very fond of this region, which reminds me of my town with its panoramas of countryside and hills, which inspire me and which I feel close to my imagery. I am not particularly fond of the sea; contrary to what one may believe, it gives me a feeling of restriction; when I visit Rio de Janeiro, for instance, I only stay as long as it is absolutely necessary.
L.A.: When you think of a new design object, do you work more on the abstract idea or on its function?
F.C.: The first inspiration always comes from the material; it is followed by the form, and finally the function. This goes against all the other rules. Functionality is mathematics, which one may learn throughout one’s lifetime, but the idea is based on poetry and aesthetics, and must always be frozen in the form of a prototype. We do not make sketches or technical drawings; these are realized at a later stage to provide a detailed description of the project. But the material is the most important aspect. The materials suggest what an object will become: a chair,
a table, etc. What happens is a kind of sensorial experience that consists of trying the materials, touching them, getting to know their limits, their potentials, and choosing whether to respect their DNA or to change it. A watering hose can become a chair, but it is a matter of a change of use, and there is a risk that it may turn out kitsch.
L.A.: How is the idea of an object born? Is it the result of a confrontation between you and your collaborators?
F.C.: Humberto is the most intuitive, he manages to convince himself of an idea in a completely spontaneous manner, he has always had this gift. My education as an architect has, on the contrary, created some deformation. In 1987 I worked for the Architecture Biennial of São Paulo, and I have lived through a period of great cultural activity: the transavantgarde, postmodernism. This is not to say that Humberto has not had an education, but as he has not been subjected to these cultural influences, he has preserved a completely pure viewpoint. His ideas come in
a flash, they are not conditioned, while I make a kind of lapidation of his brainwaves. There is no rule, or defined methodical path, but in 80% of the cases it is Humberto who has the intuitions, often in his dreams. We have always had a very intense relationship, both on a professional and on a human level, we have the same friends, we go on vacation together, we share almost everything. It is therefore impossible to assert that a project is 100% mine or Humberto’s, because it is always the result of a mutual exchange. Only at a later stage do our collaborators put our ideas into practice; both the architects and the craftsmen who work with us have a very high sensibility and they have by now assimilated the canons of our aesthetics, an element that is fundamental in our work. We have been so fortunate as to create a team of 12 persons who have the talent necessary to understand us and interpret our projects.
L.A.: Your firm also designs interiors of homes and shops.
F.C.: No less than 32 years after graduating in architecture, I have begun to design homes and interiors, because I had previously only focused on furniture, a completely different design scale. In the years immediately after the degree I have perceived a great brutality in the city of São Paulo, a sensation that prevented me from dealing with architecture in the sense of permanent and immobile element, in a perpetual conflict with objects, which on the contrary vaunted the great potential of being able to undergo constant modifications and alterations. Now that I am more familiar with the city, I am ready to design anything for São Paulo. In this period, with Humberto, we have begun to design gardens; this represents a kind of rebirth, of return to the origins to us.
We are currently working on gardens, especially in combination with the architectural projects entrusted to us. At the moment we are designing a villa in São Paulo for an Italian client,
managing director of the advertising agency JWT (J. Walter Thompson), and we are also realizing the gardens of the company’s headquarters downtown.
L.A.: These projects are not very well known in Italy.
F.C.: No, the most famous ones are the “Olympic Hotel” in Athens, the Camper shops and the Café de l’Holoroge at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The Camper Together project, realized with Hella Jongerius, has been recreated by Camper in five different shops.
L.A.: Also the design of these shops clearly show your particular appreciation for poor, natural, recycled materials.
F.C.: We try to render the characteristics of our furniture in architecture, by reusing materials that have been produced for a different use, or by working directly with recycled materials.
L.A.: Is ideating a product for the Brazilian market different than designing one for the international market, as for instance for a European company?
F.C.: Unfortunately, there is not yet a large market for our products in Brazil. It may seem incredible, but our works are more diffused in Italy. If Brazilians are to choose between a Campana made in Brazil and one made in Italy, they buy the latter, perhaps because it has been presented at the Furniture Salon. Today it is a bit different, but until two years ago nobody trusted our work in Brazil, because we were considered artists, not designers or architects.
L.A.: Are you working on new projects, for instance for the Furniture Salon?
F.C.: We are working on projects for the next Furniture Salon for a number of Italian companies, but at the moment I cannot anticipate anything. We begin by carrying out design tests by building prototypes in our study, and then we use them for Alessi, for Edra, for the shops. In other cases we visit the company for a week, working on production techniques and work methods of that characterize that particular company. We have learnt a lot by working in Italy, where a very precise methodological approach prevails, and where there is a care and attention to details that you cannot find in any other country.
L.A.: Has your experience made other young designers follow in your footsteps?
F.C.: A young designer I admire a lot is Rodrigo Almeida who among other things has been a student of mine, a very humble person who is trying to find an own language, free from references to the products of the Campana brothers. Just as we have once learnt a lot from Lina Bo Bardi, now it is us who are teaching other Brazilians to promote the artistic potentials of our country.