Architype Dialogue presents
What was the most difficult issue about working within this building type or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought in your project?
I started this project over 6 years ago. In 2004 I visited Naples for a briefing with the Mendini. They selected various famous architects to design each station. They showed me Gae Aulenti’s station design that was completed in 2002 as well as the station Atelier Mendini had designed. The stations in Naples are referred to as ‘Art Stations’. Gae Aulenti’s station has work by Michelangelo Pistoletto and Joseph Kosuth. Some stations have art from Sol Lewitt to Sandro Chia. Alessandro and Francesco Mendini were the master planners on the projects. They selected me to design the Universita station. Alessandro likes my sensibility, which was really flattering considering I aspired to his vision when I was in university and always saw him as a mentor. I always respected his language, his digipop sensibility, his experimentation, and his kaleidoscope aesthetics. So since the stations were under the auspices of art, this afforded me to rather than design a station that is somewhat conservative and ‘accent’ it with art, I just did the whole station as my digital art. So I sunk the art budget into the interior wall and spaces instead of selecting art. I always thought it was a better way to spend money. For example I visit hotels where the art selected by the hotel chain is worth more than the entire lobby (sometimes more than the entire hotel). Not to say I don’t respect art, but I respect budget first. And I designed this interior as well as many others globally on very prudish budgets. I just completed a 400 room hotel in Berlin that is as wild as this station. So I do not think too much about whether I am too avant-garde or crazy, or whether I have to convince clients. In fact, the only time I have to really convince clients and make too many compromises is with interiors in the USA. And let’s be honest I doubt stations like this would happen in the USA. These cultural / artistic passionate ventures happen in places like Italy and Germany, France, and some countries in Asia and Scandinavia where designers are very well respected and clients try to manifest the designer’s vision. When I designed the station with large ‘digital data-driven brushstrokes I did not even think about whether it is wild or not, I guess I was more naive then, and thought that they wanted my aesthetic. And they did and along the whole process from the president to the politicians to the engineering team, everyone loved my concept. The only reason it took so long was because of the tumultuous political condition that prevails in Naples.
Did this project expand or evolve your role as an architect in any way? In general, do you feel that the role of the architect is changing on current projects?
Concerning interior architecture, this project definitely evolved my own process and approach to interior design. Typically in a retail or restaurant environment, there are smaller, more subtle transitions to each space, whether it is a vestibule, entrance way, or a hall leading to the restrooms. In the case of the Universita Naples Metro Station, there are vast distances and dramatic departures from the ground level, to the long towering escalators, and to the train platforms. Designing a sensorial experience for such a journey was a challenge in itself, and afforded me the opportunity to play with the design on many levels.
What I enjoyed most was shaping a cohesive landscape, while simultaneously having multiple planes to build upon. For instance, entering into the station from the piazza the visitor will walk though a space clad with tiles, each one printed with new words created in this last century. Visitors will be impacted by the soft nature of the space, the striking palette of colors and patterns. And then a shift to the lobby, where all along the back wall lenticular icons change color and perspective providing an interesting siteline as commuters proceed to the platforms below. Intersecting the space between the head profile benches is an abstracted, SYNPOSIS sculpture reflecting the nodes of the brain and the synapses which occur within. At every level there is an element of surprise and visual pleasure.
How is your building possible today in a way that it may not have been before and how have trends in technology and society inspired new thought and solutions?
I started this project over 6 years ago. Now I would have designed the project totally differently as the design/manufacturing world has changed so much. Previously the wide use of digital printing used in the laminates, artwork, lenticular films would not have been possible. As well the use of Corian solid surfacing for the walls. Previously it had limited uses. So much of the project was produced using CNC production and CAD/CAM.
Having said that, this project was possible because we have become a truly global world. The University of Naples subway station is highly trafficked by a multi-cultural, academic community of thousands of passengers a day. For the station we designed a creative concept that communicates and embodies knowledge in the new digital age, language in the shrinking global landscape, innovation and mobility in this third technological revolution. Naples is no longer only defined by being historic southern city of Italy, but is now an integral intellectual information haven that extends itself throughout the rest of the world. This is the changing Italy and Universita station is a metaphor of this new wired global
In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and incoming young architects? In turn, how are current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?
In terms of my practice, I try to surround myself with my own objects, so as to constantly critique and improve my creations, while simultaneously avoid being influenced by outside design. My designs can be only has high tech as the manufacturing capabilities available to produce them. I seek out clients pushing the limits of production, such as Freedom of Creation. They are one of the pioneers in 3D Printed manufacturing in consumer design and industrial R&D.
Architype Review thanks Karim Rashid for his interview and for contributing to this collection of Architype Dialogue.