Laura Andreini: On the basis of your experience as architect and designer, in what does the added value which a project may benefit from by the fact that every part of it is managed by a company which stipulates an agreement we may define a contract consist?
Antonio Citterio: There are different kinds of work that come within the contract category, the more traditional ones being related to the hotel sector: in this case the company supplies all works associated with interior decoration in the form of a turnkey project, they sometimes even take care of the supply of all materials, surface treatments and furniture. This is a quite frequent practice: I have had various experiences in these years with companies which specialize in this kind of service. The category also comprises products which are not necessarily contract products, that is to say products which have been designed for a certain setting, but are products intended for contract use in the sense that they vaunt characteristics, as durability, fire-prevention regulations and performance which are required for contracts. In the sector of office interiors, for instance, all products belong to the contract category; our work for the Dubai airport, for which I am designing the interiors, belongs to an ampler category of contract work: in other words, as we have to cover large interior areas with a very vast series of products, we collaborate with true service companies. Contract projects are therefore absolutely all-inclusive: the Japanese, for instance, are very capable in this field and redesign everything they have to produce. Their companies are usually responsible for every aspect of the management and realization of the products, and not only certain sectors of supply.
L.A.: A great many companies only focus on some sectors; only a few are able to manage every aspect of an order.
A.C.: Certainly, those who specialize in contract work, apart from being experienced in the field of industrial production, must also possess considerable know-how on project management. It is a matter of engineering companies that used to dedicate themselves to buildings, and which today on the contrary specialize in contracts. To do so, they must be able to produce construction drawings, offers, they must take care of logistics, assembly, regulations…
L.A.: One usually speaks in general and quantitative terms, but considering your extensive experience as an architect, which are the best companies you have worked with, and that you have found to manage orders in a satisfactory manner?
A.C.: I have had the opportunity to work with B&B Contract, with Cassina Contract and also with Japanese companies. In all these three cases the collaboration has been very fruitful, because these companies specialize in the management of every aspect of the design, and are assume the responsibility for a turnkey supply. It is very important, for an architect, to be able to count on someone who assumes responsibility for the coordination, especially of works done abroad.
L.A.: Historically, in the Twentieth century and especially in the Twenties-Thirties and in the Fifties-Sixties, there are many examples of projects or objects which have been designed for particular situations but have then been mass produced (for instance the armchair designed by Mies for the Barcelona pavilion, the Castiglioni’s lamp created for the Splugen Brau beerhouse in Milan or the beer glass by Alessi). Does this still happen today, in your opinion?
A.C.: We open the new Triennale Museum in Milan on 20 March, with an exhibition titled “Serie e Fuori Serie” (mass produced and one-off pieces NdT) which will feature objects created specifically for certain projects. The architectural project suggests a direction of product innovation: when the requirements of a certain project have to be met, certain mechanisms are always triggered, and the design is conceived to meet very specific requirements. This leads to a kind of osmosis between architectural plan and design products, an osmosis which has always existed, and always will. But it is important to remember that the time allowed for a project used to be much longer in the past, and made it easier to create specific products: today, especially due to the industrial investments which come into play, the schedules are much tighter. The problems are very different from those faced in the Twenties, it is first and foremost necessary to consider how the components used in architecture have changed; not to mention the problem of certification, which is much more complex than in the past.
L.A.: Don’t you find that an experience with contracts for a company offers an extraordinary opportunity to carry out research and experimentation?
A.C.: It is true, we experiment with new materials, new surface treatments, and the design process remains, in certain aspects, very craftsmanship-oriented, as every detail is carefully studied. The true problem is the organization. The great value of contract projects lies in the management expertise: the furniture design sector did not have this ability to produce an one-off item on a large scale. In the final analysis, this is the essence of contract work: it is a none-off item produced on a large scale, with difficulties in terms of control, also of the costs. Companies which operate in the contract sector today are undergoing great changes, making a transition from an industrial experience to a service experience.
L.A.: Is the project as a whole developed together with the designers of the companies in charge of the actual realization?
A.C.: Yes, partially, we supply the definitive and executive drawings, then the company in its turn produces the construction drawings, as well as the product engineering, also because every company has different manufacturing processes. Our responsibilities include a verification of the construction drawings, to make sure that the product is realized in the way we have conceived it. The company and the design studio of the architect therefore work closely together.
L.A.: What are your latest projects?
A.C.: We have just completed the Barvikha Hotel in Moscow with Cassina, and a hotel in New York with B&B Italia, while the Dubai airport is still in the design phase. Contracts have really become a very important part of our work in recent years.
L.A.: Does the architect suggest the suppliers of the different components to the general contractor?
A.C.: We usually choose the materials, orient the selection, but we prefer that the company which wins the tender makes the most important decisions, while we focus on maintaining artistic control on the quality and the execution of the works.
Nel 1999 Antonio Citterio fonda con Patricia Viel “Antonio Citterio and Partners”, studio multidisciplinare di progettazione architettonica, disegno industriale e grafica. Dal 2006 è professore all’Accademia di Architettura dell’Università della Svizzera Italiana di Mendrisio e dal 2007 è membro dell’Italian Design Council. www.antoniocitterioandpartners.it In 1999 Antonio Citterio founded with Patricia Viel “Antonio Citterio and Partners”, a multidisciplinary practice for architectural design, industrial design and graphics. From 2006, Antonio Citterio is professor at the Accademia di Architettura dell’Università della Svizzera Italiana in Mendrisio and from 2007 he is member of the Italian Design Council.