GE­NIUS OF THE PLACE

FROM A SPOON TO A CITY, THERE IS NOTH­ING OUT­SIDE THE SCOPE OF POLYMATH AR­CHI­TECT-DE­SIGN­ERS CARL PICKERING AND CLAU­DIO LAZZARINI – AN AUS­TRALIAN-ITAL­IAN PART­NER­SHIP THAT MAR­RIES CUL­TURAL AND HIS­TOR­I­CAL DEPTH WITH A LOVE OF LIGHT AND NA­TURE.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - AIA AWARDS 2017 - STORY MARIA SHOL­LEN­BARGER

In his airy, light-suf­fused stu­dio on the Via delle Man­tel­late in Traste­vere, the ar­chi­tect Carl Pickering – trans­posed Syd­neysider, ex­pat of 37 years – is pon­der­ing my ques­tion: af­ter all this time spent liv­ing in Rome, does he con­sider him­self, and his work, more Aus­tralian, or Ital­ian? “That at­tach­ment to the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment – tread­ing lightly – that’s all def­i­nitely Aus­tralia,” he says, fi­nally. “That, and the great love of nat­u­ral light. But see­ing the com­plex­ity of things, find­ing ar­chi­tec­tural and de­sign or­der in myr­iad ma­te­ri­als and colours ... have of­ten thought the com­plex­ity in our work is the in­flu­ence of Rome, that palimpsest of his­tory and styles that is Rome.

“That said, I like that I feel Aus­tralian when I’m in Aus­tralia, and Ital­ian when I’m in Italy.” He laughs. “I think I’m happy in no man’s land.”

“No man’s land” may be how he views it. But among the many ad­mir­ers of Lazzarini Pickering Ar­chitetti, the architecture and de­sign firm he founded 35 years ago with part­ner Clau­dio Lazzarini – th­ese in­clude the late Carla Fendi, Ste­fano Gab­bana, the Niar­chos and Fer­rero fam­i­lies, and the edi­tors of de­sign bibles World of In­te­ri­ors and Abitare – the pre­vail­ing view is that he and Lazzarini be­long quite ef­fort­lessly to many worlds.

From glass-and-steel pavil­ions to be­spoke light­ing col­lec­tions, from a chalet in St Moritz to Bondi’s iconic Ice­bergs Din­ing Room, the spa­ces and ob­jects that Pickering and Lazzarini cre­ate har­ness myr­iad in­flu­ences and ref­er­ences, but al­ways in the name of an en­tirely orig­i­nal vi­sion. They have de­signed a spa in Beirut, fit­ted out a pizze­ria in Bali, col­lab­o­rated with the great Paolo Pe­jrone on land­scape de­signs in south­ern Tus­cany, fash­ioned a state-of-the-art re­doubt in Ox­ford­shire, Eng­land (which re­cently won a Dedalo Mi­nosse in­ter­na­tional architecture award), and cre­ated al­most 80 bou­tiques around the world for Fendi. Cur­rent projects in­clude a lux­ury coastal master plan in Mon­tene­gro con­sist­ing of a re­sort, restau­rants, vil­las, and apart­ments; a Ba­li­nese beach club; the con­ver­sion of an Um­brian borgo into an ul­tra-ex­clu­sive re­sort; and the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and ex­pan­sion of a land­mark-listed 1830s NSW es­tate with a vast strat­i­fied gar­den.

“That pride in the mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary as­pect of architecture and de­sign is very much part of this of­fice,” says Pickering. “It’s that thing of [em­i­nent 20th-cen­tury Ital­ian ar­chi­tect] Ernesto Rogers’s, dal cuc­chi­aio alla città” – from the spoon to the city – “the idea of be­ing de­sign strate­gists on a very broad plane. We be­lieve in that mul­ti­tude of scales that one can work within, and in do­ing ex­haus­tive re­search even for in the most hum­ble projects, be­cause we never want to re­peat our­selves.”

“We like be­ing from a dif­fer­ent field to the one we are work­ing in, or for; it al­lows us to see things afresh.” adds Lazzarini. “It’s re­lated a bit to that out­sider-ness Carl spoke of. We have for in­stance de­signed quite rev­o­lu­tion­ary yachts, though we’re not sailors.” In­deed, boat de­sign is where Lazzarini Pickering has made one of its most con­spic­u­ous and uni­ver­sally ad­mired marks, hav­ing col­lab­o­rated with Ital­ian yacht mak­ers Wally, Benetti, and Nau­tor’s Swan (among oth­ers) on award­win­ning be­spoke com­mis­sions, de­spite hav­ing no for­mal train­ing in nau­ti­cal de­sign.

Then there is the col­lab­o­ra­tion with the late Pi­etro Fer­rero, which be­gan when the scion of the Fer­reroRocher fam­ily, who had ad­mired their work for Fendi, asked them to help re­launch his brand. “‘I re­ally like the way you think,’ he told us at the time,” re­calls Lazzarini. “‘But we’re ar­chi­tects, not mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als,’ we told him, ‘and we don’t es­pe­cially like or care about choco­late.’ He said, ‘Good. Then you’re ex­actly the right peo­ple.’” They ended up de­sign­ing a St Moritz chalet for him. “When you see some­thing through vir­gin eyes, if you like, so­lu­tions come out that aren’t im­me­di­ately main­stream, or about a cer­tain style,” Pickering says. “Louis Kahn said it very well: ‘What the thing wants to be’, rather than what a style wants it to.”

In­deed, it’s hard to de­fine the Lazzarini Pickering style. Ex­trav­a­gance and aus­ter­ity have both found their way into pri­vate res­i­den­tial com­mis­sions; some in­te­ri­ors sing with colour, oth­ers play in a sub­tle spec­trum of neu­trals. They are cul­tural poly­maths: in the week­end we spent to­gether, ref­er­ences as var­ied as Korean cal­lig­ra­phy and cheap green­house plas­tics, Lu­cio Fon­tana and Thomas Chip­pen­dale pep­pered their con­ver­sa­tion. “We’re quite eclec­tic in our in­ter­ests,” af­firms Lazzarini. “We’re art col­lec­tors; we have friends who are film di­rec­tors and physi­cists and an­ti­quar­i­ans – but not ar­chi­tects, re­ally. Very few of those.” Italo Lupi, the ar­chi­tect/graphic de­signer/ed­i­tor emer­i­tus of the sem­i­nal Ital­ian de­sign mag­a­zine Abitare, which has pub­lished “a vast com­plex­ity of projects” by LPA, re­calls that across their work “the one con­stant is a noble in­for­mal­ity ... a cul­tured way of work­ing, con­scious of his­tory, of in­ter­ven­ing in a rad­i­cal new way.”

One of the LPA com­mis­sions that best ex­presses this cul­tured work­ing style is the hol­i­day villa in Posi­tano they cre­ated for a Mel­bourne-based fam­ily in 2004. Orig­i­nally an 18th-cen­tury monastery, the multi-level space and its soar­ing vol­umes show­case a col­lec­tion of an­tique hand-painted maiolica tiles from Vi­etri – col­lected pas­sion­ately by the own­ers, they are the theme around which the en­tire villa plays out. Sus­pended bal­conies are clad in them, top and bot­tom; beds are raised on plat­forms cov­ered in vi­brant pat­terns. The pièce de ré­sis­tance is a band of tile-clad raised steel that tra­verses the main liv­ing and din­ing ar­eas, un­in­ter­rupted but trans­form­ing from cof­fee ta­ble to path­way to din­ing room ta­ble as it moves through the bi-level spa­ces, be­fore as­cend­ing the wall to the ceil­ing, sup­port­ing a se­ries of hang­ing lights.

“We some­times call res­i­dences ‘site-spe­cific por­traits’ of our clients,” says Pickering. “The house has to re­flect the ge­nius loci of the place, but also the client.” Thus the villa in Posi­tano nods to the for­mer mar­itime repub­lic’s rich ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory – not least through those tiles, which were brought to Italy from the Arab world in the 8th cen­tury. There is bril­liant in­ter­play be­tween func­tion and or­na­ment. But some sur­pris­ingly quo­tid­ian, prac­ti­cal ex­i­gen­cies are met, too: “In this case, be­cause it’s a hol­i­day house, the client wanted art that couldn’t be stolen. That desider­a­tum, and their love of maiolica, cre­ated this project in great part.”

Pickering’s abil­ity to com­mute be­tween aes­thetic and cul­tural worlds dates back to his child­hood in Syd­ney’s eastern sub­urbs, where he at­tended Syd­ney Boys’ High School. At 18, he did the un­ex­pected by mov­ing to Venice to take an architecture de­gree, study­ing un­der Mas­simo Sco­lari and Pe­ter Eisen­man (one of the New York Five, along with Richard Meier and Charles Gwath­mey). He met Lazzarini, who had com­pleted his stud­ies at Rome’s La Sapienza univer­sity, dur­ing his fresh­man year; the two in­stantly part­nered, with Pickering com­mut­ing down to Rome for 10 years be­fore re­lo­cat­ing. “We’d fallen in love, but also re­alised we could work well to­gether,” says Lazzarini.

Their work­ing process is ar­cane, thor­oughly or­ganic, their de­scrip­tions of it evok­ing im­ages of par­al­lel but never iden­ti­cal trains of thought, like a twist of DNA. “Un­like with other ar­chi­tects, our con­cept­ing tends to hap­pen with dis­cus­sion, not sketch­ing,” he says. “At the be­gin­ning, the words might be mud­dled or hes­i­tant, or mis­un­der­stood – which can lead to some­thing good, ac­tu­ally. But we’re look­ing for the pri­mary idea of a project. Ba­si­cally, if you can even­tu­ally ex­plain it in a sim­ple, co­her­ent sen­tence, then it’s a project that works. For us it tends to orig­i­nate from dis­course, not draw­ing.”

With longer-stand­ing clients, this process is more fluid – and re­ward­ing. Which brings us back to Ice­bergs Din­ing Room and Bar, and its op­er­a­tor Mau­rice Terzini, with whom LPA have col­lab­o­rated on nu­mer­ous projects in Syd­ney, Mel­bourne and Bali, start­ing with the fa­mous Bondi site in 2000-01. Terzini is “bril­liant”, Pickering says: “He’s taught us most of what we know about hospitality.” For the restau­ra­teur, Lazzarini says, “it’s the fi­nal de­tail that’s the thing. For six, seven months, Mau­rice walks through a space over and over in his head. There’s so much fine-tun­ing that hap­pens in the de­sign phase. He wants a ma­chine that feels ef­fort­less – which is very sim­i­lar to our ap­proach, in that the fi­nal re­sult has to feel like the nat­u­ral, log­i­cal thing to do in a cer­tain space.”

In Mel­bourne’s (now-re­named) Giuseppe Ar­naldo & Sons, which Terzini opened with for­mer busi­ness part­ner Robert Marchetti in 2008, the idea was to cap­ture the sin­gu­lar at­mos­phere of a typ­i­cal cosy Ro­man trat­to­ria – but in a huge open space. LPA re­sponded by di­vid­ing it into al­coves of just a few tables or ban­quettes, each al­cove with its own Si­cil­ian ce­ramic tile de­sign, thereby im­part­ing a sense of many sep­a­rate, in­ti­mate restau­rants, at the cen­tre of which was a se­ries of more the­atri­cal spa­ces where chefs and staff were on dis­play. At Ice­bergs, the idea was in­stead to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment that show­cased the inim­itable view by day, but also ef­fec­tively stood in for it by night; some­thing oceanic, calm­ing, mir­ror­ing the aque­ous blues and greens and faded drift­wood tones of Bondi Beach.

“I met Carl af­ter a de­sign con­fer­ence; he was a guest speaker,” Terzini re­calls. “I knew about LPA’s work, and it was the Aus­tralian-Ital­ian con­nec­tion that in­spired me – I wanted the de­sign­ers to un­der­stand Bondi, but also un­der­stand my Ital­ian her­itage. They, like me, are ac­tu­ally more con­cerned about func­tion and ef­fi­ciency prior to the de­sign; and they also, like me, value one good

“Ba­si­cally, if you can even­tu­ally ex­plain it in a sim­ple, co­her­ent sen­tence, then it’s a project that works.”

idea over a thou­sand [oth­ers]. It’s easy to work with some­one when they have sim­i­lar val­ues and, im­por­tantly, when they un­der­stand the prod­uct – and en­joy it.”

At Da Maria in Seminyak, Terzini’s re­mit was to evoke the Amalfi Coast in Bali: some­thing “clean, fresh, a very graphic restau­rant-bar-club that would most im­por­tantly be a fun venue”, Terzini says. The ex­u­ber­ant space that re­sulted is a de­light. The pal­ette is white, Tyrrhe­nian blue and a bold or­angey yel­low, con­fig­ured in var­i­ous graphic com­bi­na­tions that pay sub­tle homage to Gio Ponti’s iconic Parco dei Prin­cipi ho­tel in Sor­rento. The ma­te­ri­als hark back to the Amalfi of the dolce vita years: tufted vinyl ban­quettes, white­washed wrought-iron chairs, plas­tic plants (“a big thing in 1960s Italy”, says Pickering), and a per­mu­ta­tion of a sig­na­ture LPA chan­de­lier de­sign com­bin­ing the look of back-gar­den fes­toon light­ing with the lo-fi charm of bare bulbs. “The idea here was ba­si­cally a 1960s Capri court­yard,” says Pickering. “In Bali you need air­con­di­tion­ing, so it’s en­closed, but it feels like an out­door space,” thanks to sky­lights and ceil­ing con­fig­u­ra­tions, and a back gar­den that al­lows nat­u­ral light to flood in.

The Seminyak beach club project is yet an­other LPA-Terzini col­lab­o­ra­tion, slated to open late next year. It will be in­flu­enced by beach clubs on Capri, Mykonos and Ibiza, with a smat­ter­ing of Palm Springs and Aca­pulco thrown in – “the Pla­tonic ideal of a non-Asian beach club”, Pickering says with a smile.

Such fruit­ful longevity is a hall­mark of many of LPA’s work­ing re­la­tion­ships, from hum­ble ma­te­ri­als sup­pli­ers to Forbes 500 clients. At a villa on the Monte Ar­gen­tario Penin­sula, north of Rome, they have col­lab­o­rated with the owner for more than 15 years, adding bold con­tem­po­rary pavil­ions and sen­si­tive land­scap­ing across 33 hectares. “He is so clever, so ge­nial and also in­tu­itive,” says Lazzarini of his client, for whom LPA has also de­signed apart­ments in Monaco and Rome (in a listed 15th-cen­tury palazzo on the pa­tri­cian Via Gi­u­lia), and a stun­ning 18m Mag­num mo­tor yacht; the Um­bria project, in which Lazzarini and Pickering are restor­ing a me­dieval vil­lage and con­struct­ing a se­ries of vil­las at its perime­ter, is also his.

In the Monte Ar­gen­tario villa, there are now, in ad­di­tion to the main house (an 18th-cen­tury hunt­ing lodge), three guest pavil­ions, staff quar­ters, and six hectares of land­scaped gar­den. “It was about how to cre­ate a lan­guage that ex­presses that par­tic­u­lar patina of Tus­cany, with­out it be­ing a car­i­ca­ture,” says Pickering, who re­lied on what he calls – ad­mir­ingly – “poor” ma­te­ri­als to con­vey the aes­thetic: wax-rusted steel, dry­laid stone, and walls and walls of glass, which cre­ate seam­less panora­mas through rooms to for­est be­yond.

The Monte Ar­gen­tario villa is the apoth­e­o­sis of what Lazzarini Pickering Ar­chitetti do. There is the el­e­men­tal beauty of nat­u­ral light, and the light foot­print in na­ture. There are cul­ture, re­fine­ment and in­tu­ition in equal mea­sure. And fi­nally, there is a por­trait – ren­dered in glass and tim­ber, stone and steel – of a per­son in a place, seen through the eyes of ar­chi­tects who are at home in his world, and many oth­ers.

The re­mit was to evoke the Amalfi Coast in Bali; the ex­u­ber­ant space that re­sulted is a de­light.

Fendi’s Paris bou­tique; the St Moritz chalet; the spa in Beirut

The yacht de­signed for Ital­ian maker Wally; the in­tri­cately tiled Posi­tano hol­i­day villa; Mau­rice Terzini’s Da Maria in Seminyak, Bali

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