The ‘Anthropocene Style’ of the Swiss architect: the return of carpets, tapestries and decorations against minimalism that has extinguished the interiors and made them energy inefficient

Starting with a carpet to redesign the house. Looking at the wall palette not as a simple style tool, but as the key to sustainable design. There is a world of unexpected solutions, sometimes surprising and always capable of overturning stereotypes, in what the Swiss architect Philippe Rahm defines as the Anthropocene Style. An approach that requires us to go back in time, at least to the beginning of the twentieth century, when decorative art was considered not a part of architecture, but architecture itself, perhaps the most important form of building. Gottfried Semper, in 1851, had traced the origin of the project not so much to the structure, but to the cladding: the oldest house had been, according to the German architect and theorist, an enclosure of intertwined poles and branches and then covered with carpets.

It is from this image, and therefore from the design strength of the decoration, that Rahm starts to define his Anthropocene Style, that is an approach to architecture that looks to the past for the planning of the future. Or, rather, of the present, given that, according to Rahm, interior design can be a formidable ally of the environment.

To follow Rahm's thread, we need to go back to the fracture between architecture and decoration caused by minimalism in the last century. “The decoration, made of drapes, curtains, veils, boiserie and tapestries, parquet or inlays, carpets, wallpapers, screens, baseboards and moldings, chandeliers and mirrors, was disqualified at the beginning of the twentieth century, branded as overloaded and superfluous in favor of minimal, neutral and white furnishings, reduced to the essentials. The word decoration itself has taken on a superficial connotation, if not downright pejorative and frivolous, gratuitous and futile”. 

After some time – a long time – we have finally discovered that decoration is also a function, and can even be so in terms of energy efficiency and sustainability. Explains Rahm, who illustrated his vision in a recent lecture for the students of the Quasar Institute For Advanced Design in Rome: “Worldwide, 39 percent of emissions are generated by construction. Fighting against global warming means countering these inefficiencies, therefore designing buildings that are thermally insulated and sealed”. And this is where interior design can become a strategic ally. From the targeted palette of the walls to the use of traditional insulating materials, the range of choices available to the designer is wide, provided that he wants to start again from the neglected universe of decoration that the era of functionalism ended up banning.

Here the choice of a color, red or blue, becomes strategic depending on whether or not you want to absorb heat in a house. Even a tapestry in a traditional material such as wool or an aluminum rug represent strategic choices. “There is a wide range of targeted solutions available to the designer, provided that he can heal that wound with the decoration opened last century”, explains architect and Quasar professor Cecilia Anselmi, who wanted Rahm for his first lecture Italian.

The Swiss architect explains again: “Global warming must push us to reintroduce new interior design elements, generating a sort of revival of a decorative interior language. Minimalism is no longer a functional language for solving contemporary climate problems, we must reconcile architecture and interior design to respect new energy constraints such as those brought, for example, by the application of energy reduction measures set by practices such as Minergie or Passivhaus”.

Today it seems normal for Rahm to reach these conclusions, but his style is not so obvious, if we look at decades of functionalism. “Yet” he says “there is nothing more normal for an architect than bringing shade and refreshment where it is hot or the other way around”. Easy, right?