A major exhibition on Emerging Ecologies opens at MoMA NY on 17 September: Emilio Ambasz explained to us what they are

Emilio Ambasz, who curated the celebrated MoMA exhibition The New Domestic Landscape on Italian design in 1972 , supports with a donation the Emerging Ecologies (from 17 September to 20 January 2024 at the New York museum). Because, he explains, "architecture and nature have never gotten along, but now we have to turn the page".

"I divide architects into three categories", says Ambasz. "There are the artist architects, who create new models and create culture. Then there are the good architects, who they do not invent anything but they move in an excellent way within the canons of their colleagues in the first group. And finally there are the architects of stereotypes, who replicate the work of the first and second I'm obviously interested in architect-artists, they're the ones who create culture".

At 80, Emilio Ambasz keeps alive and lucid that critical attitude to grasp, interpret and distinguish which, fifty-one years ago, made the fortune of Italian design in the world.

In 1972, curating the Italy, the new domestic landscape exhibition at the MoMA, Ambasz relaunched the image of a country and its creativity all over the planet, which has risen to an advanced point of reference for a modern design method .

On 17 September Ambasz returns to the MoMA, an institution with which he has always had a special relationship, and he does so for the first time as a patron.

In 2020, a generous donation from the Legacy Emilio Ambasz Foundation gave birth, within the New York museum, to the Institute named after the master and dedicated "to the joint study of the built and natural environment".

Three years later, the first exhibition supported by the Institute arrives, with a title that is already a programme, Emerging Ecologies.

The retrospective is dedicated to one hundred and fifty works, realized and not, which have "anticipated, inspired, faced, developed environmental and ecological issues in the United States from the 1930s to the 1990s", as the press release explains. Of this exhibition, Ambasz is obviously not the curator, a role that the MoMA has entrusted to Carson Chan: "Those who finance a cultural event must then keep their distance from the contents: I created the fund and left the museum free to organize the exhibition as it thought appropriate".

How did the idea of Emerging Ecologies come about?

Emilio Ambasz: “We are experiencing an unprecedented environmental emergency. Each building is an intrusion into the plant kingdom and is a challenge to nature: we must devise an architecture that is the embodiment of a reconciliation pact between nature and construction, designing buildings so intrinsically connected to the surrounding environment that they are unable to extricate themselves from each other.

I believe that to convey these themes and this sensitivity, spot events are not enough, those that in English are called fruit of the week, initiatives that leave the time they find.

Thus, three years ago I thought it was right to make a donation which in turn would support well-crafted exhibitions with a deep meaning.

I have no children, the legacy to the MoMa was the right thing for me to do. This exhibition was born after four years of discussions with the museum and is the first real retrospective on architecture and the environment created for an audience not only of architects and insiders, as it should be, because a museum, especially an international and prestigious one like the MoMa, has the duty to monitor reality and to share the results of its assessment of that monitoring with the public”.

On display are works by Frank Lloyd Wright, James Wines, Richard Buckminster Fuller, Beverly Willis and also by Emilio Ambasz.

Emilio Ambasz: “My works are the only contents of the exhibition that I know and that have been communicated to me, given that, as I said, I did not interfere with the curatorship.

There are three completed projects and one left on paper. I am very fond of the latter: it is the proposal for the renovation of the Eni building at the Eur in Rome: twenty-five years ago, I proposed to transform the facades of the skyscraper, which needed to change the old climatically non-functional facade for a new one, in green walls: the plants, with their flowering cycle, would have been a powerful ecological narrative with which ENI declares an ecological hope, while another wall, in glass, halfway between the body of the building and the green wall, would have ensured better climate regulation inside.

Also on display are better-known projects such as the Casa de Retiro Spiritual in Seville, the Acros center in Fukuoka and the San Antonio Botanical Garden in Texas: all projects in which architecture protects against, mitigates and regulates the climate, not makes him suffer. Projects in harmony with the landscape”.

Is there an exact moment when architecture started to become alien to nature?

Emilio Ambasz: “I would turn the question around. It is not that at a certain point a fracture is created between architecture and nature: the Western vision has always led the project to consider nature as something to be overcome and overcome. By tradition, architecture is an artificial garden that does not get along with the natural one. There is no exact moment to which this break can be traced back because there has never been unity”.

Many architects today do not like to talk about sustainability, assuming that good architecture is ecological. What do you think?

Emilio Ambasz: “I divide architects into three categories. There are the architect-artists who create new models and create culture. Then there are the good architects, who don't invent anything but move excellently within the canons invented by their colleagues in the first group.

And finally there are the architects of stereotypes, who replicate the work of the former and the latter.

I'm obviously interested in architect-artists, those who create new culture: Tadao Ando, Renzo Piano, Jean Nouvel, who are also authors of ecological architecture".

What do you think of the Bosco Verticale, considered by many to be an international standard of green architecture?

Emilio Ambasz: “I am happy that there is a building with plants on the balconies”.

Does ecological architecture come from the repertoire of new eco materials or is it much more?

Emilio Ambasz: “Neomaterials are undoubtedly an important support, but in sustainable architecture it is something else that makes the difference.

There are centuries-old buildings where people live well in summer and winter without air conditioning and heating, even in very hot or very cold areas. In any case, even before good architects, you need more to have sustainable architecture”.


Emilio Ambasz: “A system of social values that is reflected in the fiscal one. If we want an ecological architecture, we have to provide a system of reductions and benefits for those who choose the virtuous path.

Tax laws are the mirror in which the values of a company are reflected: I can say that I have the noblest objectives in terms of the environment, but if I don't help the designers and the public to achieve them, those objectives remain abstract".

Is there an Italian scene of sustainable design like the new domestic landscape was fifty years ago?

Emilio Ambasz: “I hope it exists. Italian architects are good, great talents are poorly supported”.