Luca Molinari on why writing and reading about design and architecture is important (and he curated the program for the Mantua Festival, from 6 to 10 September)

The attention that the Mantua Literature Festival (from 6 to 10 September 2023) says that yes, writing books still makes sense.

Luca Molinari is also certain of this, who, since the first edition, has been in charge of curating the meetings dedicated to design and architecture (here, the programme).

“There is a very long list of authors among my friends,” he says. “Inviting them to Mantua, to an informal event like the Literature Festival means getting them to talk about their way of acting and thinking, about their world. They don't talk specifically about their work: it's an opportunity to involve anyone in an open discourse on design".

According to Molinari, the Mantua Literature Festival knows how to use its tools well and is open to unusual practices in a beautiful and welcoming city.

“My latest books started from two off-the-cuff lessons I did in Mantua during the Festival: it's a way to test new topics and see the audience's reactions.

Let's talk about books that talk about design. How do you write about projects today?

Luca Molinari: “In recent years there has been a strange black moon over publishing. The public, the students, the architects themselves no longer read much. Once it was important to have a library, not anymore.

There is a plethora of texts, books, booklets published against a few hundred copies sold. On the other hand, there is the mania of architects and designers to self-publish. A habit that removes responsibility from publishers”.

But his books sell: The houses we are (Nottetempo, 2016) is in its twelfth edition…

Luca Molinari: “Because in reality it doesn't talk about architecture. It is a book that fascinates easily, which deals with contemporary topics with a non-academic or specialized slant.

The monographs on the work of architects seem to be made by press offices, a practice which is fine, but which greatly increases the filters and the risk of making self-referential publications that speak only to themselves.

On the other hand, there is a theme of lack of aesthetic education , an absence of narration: we do not see the beauty that we produce and sell abroad, we are unable to systematize it around us. But Mantova proves that a true author always has something to tell, he has a thought. So it is right to focus attention on quality”.

Designers and architects have often written a lot and well. What books are useful for those who do design today?

Luca Molinari: “The writings of Sottsass published by Adelphi. Spazio di Luigi Moretti, published by Marinotti: it is the extraordinary collection of his editorial writings. And Scientific autobiography by Aldo Rossi, which is a book of crisis, an almost sentimental account of his relationship with architecture.

These three are already a good example of beautiful writing. I am thinking of the Italian literature of those years: it was a system, a quality in the use of language that was poured into the projects. The impoverishment of vocabulary is translating into a low level of thought and, therefore, of design".

How do you make a book on design today?

Luca Molinari: “There is a technical dimension that hardly reaches the general public. However, if we talk about space, dimensions, light and matter, everyone understands. To enhance the qualities of a project you need to have a universal gaze, link it to other stories, be it cinema, photography, novels.

It's nice to bring the narrative of the project into the human, physical, emotional dimension. And then clarity is needed: when we talk about sustainability, we need to explain what it is.

We are a little too accustomed to the words of the press offices (against which I have nothing to say), more humanity is needed".

Reading is not fashionable, writing is. What is your goal when writing?

Luca Molinari: “I have always written because I wanted to and each book was born out of a personal need. A book is an intellectual effort that once printed belongs to the world, not a self-portrait.

It serves to perceive the urgency of a theme that still tells things that we have not yet understood well. And that we don't know how they will be useful for the future.

A good design book could even look at something very old and read it with a contemporary eye. However, quality implies the effort to really look because architecture has a very strong poetic reaction capacity. And then I have a physiological need to write, it helps me and reassures me, it is an existential center of gravity”.

What is your program at the Literature Festival?

Luca Molinari: “There will finally be Mario Cucinella, an architect who manages to talk about sustainability with an eye always pragmatically turned to pre-industrial societies and vernacular culture.

We will talk about the city and mobility with Federico Ferrazza, director of Wired, who has the point of view of a man of science, and not that of an architect or urban planner, and has studied very the theme.

Finally, for the Città/Mondo review, this year we are talking about Paris with Umberto Napolitano, co-founder of LAN Architecture”.