"It is a lens for observing contemporary phenomena and revealing invisible frictions": with his study 2050+, Ippolito Pestellini reflects on the definition of spatial work

It's strange to talk to Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli,  architect as interested in research as he is in design.

In his early forties, partner of OMA between 2006 and 2020, he founded 2050 +, a multidisciplinary agency that favors spatial practice in ultra-contemporary fields between digital and real.

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Yet Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli has a very respectable portfolio in the field of architecture. He has many interventions on historic buildings such as La Rinascente in Piazza Fiume in Rome, a building designed in 1961 by Franco Albini and Franca Heig. Or the Multertor of San Gallo, an urban icon of the flourishing textile activities of the Swiss territory built at the end of the nineteenth century. Or even The Pillars space for the new Norwegian National Museum in Oslo. Andthe recent scenography for the Universal Flood at the Donizetti Theater in Bergamo

“But 2050+ is first and foremost an interdisciplinary agency that works at the intersection of design, technology and environmental practices and policies. Its agenda is animated by broad questions and its founding objective is research and space is the lens through which to analyze the transformation of the contemporary", specifies Pestellini.

Is there therefore a need for a new definition for the profession of architect?

Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli: “I believe that the complexity of crises, starting from the climate crisis, requires new definitions and broader questions. And that it is an opportunity for architecture to sit at multidisciplinary tables, together with entrepreneurs, politicians, engineers, scientists, to participate in discussions from which it has so far been substantially excluded.

Many of our projects start from space, but the output is not necessarily the project. It is more easily a book, a short film, an exhibition.< /span>

If anything, the architectural discipline is a means of observing phenomena and describing the development or impact of technologies in digital and real space.

We deal a lot with curating, we curate exhibitions, events, biennials, and it is an interesting research model because it forces us to negotiate with different disciplinary voices.

The theme is to change to free the project from dogmatic contents and move away from a primarily formal and aesthetic approach. I think it is more interesting to focus attention on the idea of performance.

For example: in the field of scenography how the project can be used at the end of its life, how to deal with the scarcity and saving of material. They are very specific applications of the architectural discipline".

The dialogue between the real and digital world seems to be a design focus for 2050+...

Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli: “In his book A Geology of Media, Jussi Parikka reminds us that to understand the culture of contemporary media we must look for those material realities that precede the media themselves: the history of the Earth, the geological formations, the minerals and the energy, on which the media themselves depend.

For some time I have been involved in research entitled Data Matter together with the students of the Royal College of Art in London. A study dedicated to investigating the intertwining between digital realities and the physical world, starting from the spatial anatomy of all infrastructures physical, energy flows and material supply chains that underlie our digital everyday life. And which among the practices of 2050+ has sparked interest in other areas of research, resulting in projects such as Riders not heroesin 2020 or Dancing in transit in 2022.

Riders not heroes and Dancing in transit linked to the idea of activism?

Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli: "The Spanish philosopher Paul B. Preciado writes about the new digital subjectivities that emerged during the pandemic: on the one hand, digital consumers equipped with credit cards, hidden at home behind the codes of their interfaces; on the other the invisible communities of "essential workers" at the service of the former. Both governed by an algorithmic architecture.

Any project has a political mission, one way or another. Riders Not Heroes is a project on the fringes of militant activism, but I'm more interested in bringing invisible social friction to light.

It is difficult to keep track of the problems hidden in the use of digital. Riders not heroes told the pandemic city through the food delivery drivers, in the strange knot between a digital platform and its impact on reality.

This project generated two short films that tell the story of the riders' condition in the encounterbetween technological platforms, immigration policies, and urban space in that precise historical moment. It allowed us to compare two poles of society, one privileged and the other not, connected only by the mobile phone screen.

Much of our research investigates the friction, often invisible or imaginable, that hide behind a simple "tap" on our phones. .

Analyzing the case of the riders served to systematize the thorny issues of contemporary society, because many of the networks created by digital are not visible”.

The theme of Dancing in transit instead is definitely the short circuit between digital space and physical space. Is this what it means to broaden the definition of architecture?

Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli: “The "feedback loop" between digital and physical environments produces unexplored territories in which things are lost or gained in both directions. It is a nebulous space that offers unexplored potential.

Dancing in transit is a project created during Milan Design Week 2022 focused on the world of gaming. A fundamental exercise to undermine the impalpable but present idea that games absorb many instances of the physical world itself, decontextualising and flattening the original political chargeand cultural specificity.

We have made a collection of over two hundred emotes of Fortnite. These are the dances that can be purchased on the platform and which are copied from specific cultural contexts: dance moves coming from African-American culture, or from vernacular contexts of South America, or even from the rave culture of the 90s.

We made a film of it and installed it at the Spazio Lancetti, inside the Milanese metro circuit, to reverse the process by re-contextualizing these dances in aspace specific and inviting people passing by and three communities of urban dancers to interact with the Fortnite Avatars.

An attempt to overturn the process of appropriation by the digital platform, repositioning dance in a physical place”.

2050+ is working on the new Design Digital Cultures master's degree at the Polytechnic School of Design. What is it?

Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli: “It is a path that winds through three crucial technologies and the critical approach to their use: the relationship of creative collaboration with AI, immersive cinema techniques and world building applied to gaming.

It is a master's degree born from the idea of considering the digital space as a field of environmental, political and social experimentation in which to operate with the interdisciplinary skills of spatial practice.  

As the science fiction writer Ursula K wrote. Leguin "God only knows how difficult it is to invent a universe."

I am positive about the imaginative potential of these technologies, but we must be well aware of the problems involved in their use”.

Does research materialize into an architecture in practice for 2050+?

Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli: “Architecture is a fundamental reality check, but I am convinced that all the research we do is in total osmosis with our physical projects.

We are currently working on the transformation of 10 Corso Como  Milan. An iconic and historic space that will see the three cornerstones of fashion, art and design strengthened.

Another project is the Transformation of the Palazzina dei Principi, the eighteenth-century building in front of the Reggia di Capodimonte Museum which will house the Arte Povera collection, the largest in the world, which Lia Rumma donated to the state a few years ago.

For both these projects there is a reference to a contemporary idea of a museum and cultural space that is fluid, multidisciplinary, open to the public, rapid in schedule events and exhibitions.

Our role is to work with the dynamism of these places, transforming them into small theatrical machines capable of accommodating a very broad repertoire of curatorial choices and continuations exchanges with other realities".