My free space

Spaces on a human scale. Easy to live in, ecological. This is the mantra of the architect Mario Cucinella, who in his home in Bologna has applied his personal formula of life and work. A matter of empathy


Project Mario cucinella architects
Photos David Zanardi – Article Laura Ragazzola


We paid a visit to the architect’s home in Bologna, a loft where he welcomes friends, students and clients, all on equal terms. Because Mario Cucinella is open, informal, ready to put people at ease. In a word: he has empathy. Just like his architecture. His mantra: to make the places of living more human.

How did you find this space?
I saw an advertisement in a newspaper. I was immediately intrigued by the location – the Bolognina district – and the typology, namely a loft. Before moving here, I had always lived in traditional apartments, though in all cases I tried to find ways to open up their spaces. In the end, I realized my dream was to live in an open space like this one.

What was the place’s original purpose?
It was a mechanical workshop of Bugamelli, a place to work with metal, to make parts for motors. But the space hasn’t changed: there are still the exposed brick, the high ceiling vaults, the ribbon windows along the walls…
In short, everything reveals the industrial past, its memory. The renovation addressed the physical plant systems: climate control built into the floors, 200 square meters of solar panels to create a constant energy surplus.

And the studio?
I added it a few years after I had already moved in. A big conditioner warehouse bordering on my property had become available. I immediately thought it would be a good idea to move my studio there. I travel a lot and now I have the big advantage that when I work in the studio I am already at home, so I don’t have to make more trips. Without mentioning the fact that I have finally made a dream come true.

What dream is that?
To finally live in a house without walls… everything is open, transparent. From the bedroom that has glass instead of a wall, to the kitchen that faces the living room with a sort of bar-counter. In short, there is none of the formality that makes a house too structured, too rigid…

You often talk about empathy in relation to your idea of architecture. How does your home reflect this approach?
Empathy means understanding, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, having a real, direct relationship with people. So the house has to establish this type of relationship with its inhabitants. I have always thought that the home tells the story of its inhabitants, something like what happens here. The fact that there is not a precise style, that the objects and furnishings are heterogeneous, all this expresses my way of feeling, of seeing, very well…

What are the advantages?
Ideas can flow freely, they can establish relations, ripen, change. In a professional setting like an architecture studio where the work involves creativity, the fact that the paths are open, fluid, shared by many people, becomes very strategic: everyone knows what the others are doing, and can share in it. Empathy means sharing, above all.

How do projects get started?
We work on different scales. The first is that of the studio community, everyone working together. Then there are the ‘local teams’ composed of about 5 to 10 people, coordinated by a project manager; finally, there is individual work. You can understand that with this type of organization, where communication and interaction have to be constant, being in an open space is a real, indispensable priority. Of course this is not the only way of working, it might not even be the best… but it works very well for us.

How many people are working in your studio?
Today there are 70, plus 15 recent graduates attending the SOS – School of Sustainability. This is a post-graduate program to train future professionals with an eye on the new environmental and ecological challenges.

So there is also a school inside your studio? How do you think the professional figure of the architect should be revised?
The job of the architect will inevitably change: there is a growing complexity of the world today, and the architect has to be able to interpret the times and the changes in progress. The school was created with a very simple goal: to respond to the demand of young people on increasingly urgent environmental themes.
Because to give a full meaning to the idea of sustainability, it is necessary not only to seek high-performance technical solutions, but also to act so that designers take on a new awareness of social responsibilities. And a school that develops inside a studio can help in this direction, triggering a relationship with education that is different from the academic context.
Here the young architects can work in the field, on real projects, in direct contact with clients. In other words, the idea is to cope with environmental challenges not just from a technical standpoint…

In short, what is needed?
Creativity, empathy and courage. But what do you say… shall have some lunch?