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Design critics

Intervista a SET Architects e Studio WOK

An architectural journey between Rome and Milan

We wanted to compare two design studies that are close to our heart, for sympathy as well as for great professionalism. We really like their approach to the project and we follow with admi-ration all their achievements.

Both are two very young studios that already have many quality achievements in the interior world, but also prizes for stands and first places in public competitions. Let’s talk about Set Architects and Studio Wok!

We willingly compared them but to highlight their affinities: starting from their assortment, they are both a group of three boys in their thirties! And then there are many similarities in terms of design: simple and refined projects characterized by the use of refined materials, the use of pure volumes and shapes, compositional elegance and color.

Set Architects is the trio of Lorenzo Catena, Onorato di Manno and Andrea Tanci based in Rome.

Studio Wok with Marcello Bondavalli, Nicola Brenna and Carlo Alberto Tagliabue based in Milan. We have submitted them to a brief interview, let’s hear them!

What do you mean about the quality of living? And what element is essential to define a “quality” interior?

WOK: For us, the concept of habitat refers to the quality of living: thinking, drawing and con-structing positive environmental conditions is our goal. And this design research constantly permeates our work, it is developed on a residential scale but also into the urban scale. The word habitat, in fact, derives from the Latin verb habeo that indicated to have, but also to live. Abitare also means creating habits: and habits are created by interacting with the context and allowing us to inhabit reality. There is therefore a close relationship between us men, the nature of the places and the way in which we live them: the inhabited space is like a dress that instead of being worn, it is lived. Furthermore, we generally like thinking of the spaces we design as a scene of the spectacle of everyday life.

SET: For quality of living we mean a space capable of responding to the different needs of those who live it. We also believe that the quality of an interior environment is recognized above all by attention and attention to detail.

What is your methodological approach with the project and with the client?

WOK: Our methodological and design approach is artisanal. For the development of our work, we carefully note the physical characteristics of the design site: the landscape, the materials that characterize the territory of reference, the light, the atmosphere. The relationship with the client is primarily based on an understanding of his needs. Then begins a dialogue that, espe-cially when it is intense and profitable, leads to the realization of successful works both from the architectural point of view and from the point of view of those who live there.

SET: Our design approach is based on a critical reading of space in order to identify its essence through subtraction and simplification operations. We are looking for an architecture in which space is the main protagonist thanks to the use of pure forms, the contrasts of light and shad-ow and the refined use of materials. Our approach with the client is to open, to listen to and compare with. We always try to understand what the needs are and then translate them into a project filtered through our lens.

 What is your method for pre-existing ones? Masking it, neutralizing it, enhancing it, coexisting with…?

WOK: We are passionate about working with the history of buildings. However, each project is different: first of all it is fundamental to read and understand the landscape or the building within in which we attend to. Then you can understand whether to start a dialogue or compari-son with the existing ones: sometimes they can be valued, sometimes integrated, sometimes even demolished when they have no value. In this regard, moreover, we prefer the use of “natural” materials, capable of evolving over time and able to mature in step with the architec-tural structure that accommodates them.

SET: Each of our projects comes from a careful reading of the context. In the specific case of the interiors, the pre-existences is not a constraint but the starting point on which the whole project is set. According to the type of pre-existence on which we find ourselves intervening we decide how to relate to each other. It is always our choice, what is of interest to us is always the spatiality and clarity of the intervention.

Each project is an “act of responsibility”. Is there a different responsibility towards a public project, especially if it is a school? Do you think that good architecture is a tool to improve learning?

WOK: Every public building must rediscover its value as an institutional representation. At the same time it must be a building capable of reverberating its presence in the surrounding context by relating to the city and the surrounding public space. In addition, a school must find a topic of dialogue with the children, so that they can easily recognize their school: the building can become an icon easily reproducible in drawings, creating fantastic imaginations that will remain in their memories. In a school building, architecture participates in the educational program, becoming itself an educational tool. The possibility of perceiving the flow of time and the seasons as well as the multiplicity of materials and textures offer opportunities for learning and experimentation, capturing the interest and curiosity of the child and thus fostering the construction of knowledge.

SET: We believe that the architect’s task is to design spaces capable of improving people’s quality of life. Good architecture can have a strong social value and create welcoming places to be bequeathed to future generations. Every time we face a project, especially if it is public, we do it with a great sense of responsibility towards who will live it. In the case of the school pro-ject of L’Aquila the commitment was even stronger because in addition to planning a space for the training of the citizens of tomorrow we had the task of giving back to the citizens the school areas that were destroyed after the earthquake of 2009.

What do you think about Set Architects/ Studio Wok?

WOK: They are very good, we really like their work and we always follow it with great interest. They are able to carry on with consistency an architectural research that finds practical appli-cations in projects at different scales. They have developed a recognizable architectural lan-guage that is able to change in relation to the local and cultural context. We find that there are many similarities, from the type of design research, to the scale of projects.

SET: We appreciate and value the work of Studio Wok a lot. In their projects we find an ex-treme refinement and careful research in design solutions.

Favorite dish? (for us Romans is fundamental, more than the zodiac sign!)

WOK: Pizza!

SET: Well we are in Rome and the dish that puts everyone in agreement is certainly the pasta all’amatriciana that Lorenzo often prepares us for lunch!

There is not so much difference between Rome and Milan, it is clear that good architecture is universal and has no boundaries. A well done project is … a well done project! Thank you guys, we continue following you, good work and see you soon!