“Some workstations are still empty. They are the architects who have worked through the night and will arrive for one meeting or two”. Andrea Caputo speaks with burning eyes and a slow and controlled voice. “We are preparing for a busy day of work. We are defining the details of a major project in Chengdu, which we need to present on Saturday. It is a proposal in which we truly believe. This passion creates fire and anxiety at the same time”.
When the chat begins, Andrea Caputo has already answered dozens of emails, done research on the web, read articles and reviewed a lot of work. “For years now I’ve not needed my alarm – I get up without it at 4:45. Between 5 to 8:30 are my most productive hours, before starting the day in the studio, with internal meetings, meetings with customers and phone calls. In the evening I take myself off-grid go home and delve deep into a novel. Reading gives me the right balance”. Born in 1976 in Cesena, Italy, Andrea Caputo is one of the most promising architects of the next wave.
Andrea Caputo boasts two sets of education (one in Shanghai), a team of 50 people (and a continuous recruiting), a partner, Paolo Caracini, with whom he works in great harmony and over a dozen projects in progress in Italy and in the world, including a masterplan in Brianza, an 8,400 square meter nursery school in China, a multifunctional building in Seoul (where the firm is working on an innovative furniture concept together with Massimiliano Adami), and a soccer campus in France. In Milan, Spazio Maiocchi recently opened a new centre for art, design and fashion with a program of cultural events open to the city. Andrea Caputo’s is an articulated and unique path, which has always associated the practice of architecture with the investigation of urban themes, blending his projects requirements and street culture. With this mix of tribal inspirations and crew life, he took over a gallery, Plusdesign, where he carried out underground projects straddling the arts, with cross-pollination experiments between sociology, literature and photography. Rigour and determination are his key attributes, ever since Andrea Caputo was very young.
…after high school you decided to enrol at the Polytechnic University of Milan and, at the same time, at the Istituto Europeo di Design. I was a writer, obsessed with Neville Brody and his whole world. This is why I chose the graphic design course at IED. But I was also very attracted to architecture: I was impressed at the age of 18, when I accidentally visited the Kunsthal of Koolhaas, in Rotterdam. I was immediately electrified by it. So, due to post-adolescent indecision, I decided to enrol in both schools. I attended the laboratories in Bovisa and the lessons in Leonardo. It was a pretty intense year.
But then you left the Poli to move to the Faculty of Ferrara, entering the design competition for students in Novoli, in 2000, which you won an internship to an Italian studio of your choice… I decided to go to Stefano Boeri and in the end I stayed there for three years. After finishing the internship, I started to work, sitting exams and writing my thesis from a distance. My thesis was on project the studio was working on: the old Fiera di Milano, in collaboration with Oma. Then I left Italy to do other experiences abroad – in Spain – but still working for other architects, and when I returned in 2008, I had the opportunity to finish up All City Writers, a research piece that lasted years: it was my parenthesis from architecture. In 2011 I opened my first studio. There was me and a couple of trainees. It was the peak of the international economic crisis and I had decided that this would be my chance. I wanted to break the rules of those young architecture firms that due to lack of work are thrown on theory, research, competitions. I really didn’t want to depend on the banks. I set up the studio in a very pragmatic manner, having direct contact with the clients. I only spent money that we earned from our work so we managed to follow projects of different scales, from start-ups to cultural and commercial spaces, collaborating with external professionals from different fields.
There was a stop in Via Ventura, where you lived, worked and at the same time you took care of Plusdesign, a very active gallery with research projects between art, crafts and industrial design: how did you come to understand what you really wanted to accomplish over the last two years? The studio today has a well-defined structure, from the internal accounting to a model laboratory, a workshop-carpenter’s shop and a graphic department, with designers working in different offices and fields. Physically, we were divided into two “thematic” levels: one level dedicated to interiors and one for urban-scale projects, buildings or masterplans. There were no fixed stations: everyone had a login and could access the servers from any PC. Each had their own setup, and all the computers were connected to a server and a render farm that processes 3D for us. This was a way where our processes could work smoothly. It is our design philosophy: we do not have the compulsion to be and do everything, but we consider the transition between interior spaces and the externals of the building without interruption. Each contractor opens up strands of research that creates a deeper competency for our firm. For example, a new commercial space is an opportunity to investigate the future of the traditional retail system, grappling with the validation of online sales, but also the requirement to reevaluate bricks and mortar, typically trending downwards in terms of profitability and therefore use. The Chengdu project aims to reinvigorate 25,000 square meters with a program that integrates 30% of museum spaces and sports, urban and shopping activities.
To really get this right you have an internal research department. You’ve also published a magazine, Public Domain, on the contemporary city. Before, it was not sustainable, but now the research is done in a structured manner, with clear understanding of the facts. LRU organises monthly lectures during regular working hours on project themes with international guests. The aim is to inspire the staff and implement projects by making others consider our capabilities. It’s with this same principle we acquired Plusdesign.
The volatility of the scale of your projects together with the practice of research, requires planning. And also extra staff and more hours of work. If we were to only restrict ourselves to responding exactly to a client’s brief, we we would work 30% of the time and need far less architects. But the extra work to expand and innovate every job is what we do as added value. Nobody at the studio is likely to be content with adopting only pre-packaged solutions.
The meeting ends late in the afternoon and the following Saturday the project is successfully presented to the client (a Chinese tycoon who had found them on the Internet). “They want to overturn the existing nature of these urban structures and make the private public”. With burning eyes and a slow and controlled voice Andrea Caputo says with a tired and burning voice.