A conversation with the duo of Turin architects: interior design plans the rites of existence by embracing every cultural aspect

The Turin architects Andrea Marcante and Adelaide Testa in conversation with Interni on the contemporary themes of Italian interior design.

A reflection for two on what it really means today to design a place where the cultural reasons for living converge. It is clear that thinking about a house means thinking about its symbolic meaning, to condense the rites that order the time of existence in an everyday place.

It is done with an ethical orientation to the project, with a sensitivity for the elusive and intimate parts of human life. And above all with the intention of not assembling an ephemeral series of decorative gestures.

What is your concept of contemporary living space?

Adelaide Testa: "I believe that the home is becoming an increasingly individual theme. Each project is a unique journey even if actually the most recurring design topic concerns the management of spatial elements and the rational and intelligent of functions.

We note an apparent lack of interest in architectural experiments, as if there was a sort of conservatism in housing models.

There is a certain resistance to change, to consideration for social evolution: a family today can be many things. Or for the climate crisis. But people still seem far from accepting that we are experiencing an epochal change that requires modifying both behaviors and spaces."

Andrea Marcante: "In interior projects we always try to avoid demolition interventions opting instead for a work of revitalization that gives value to what exists, even if it is not particularly valuable or significant.

The commitment to sustainability belongs to us, is foundational, and is expressed in the rational use of what exists. Updating, avoiding destroying and throwing away are strategies that also bring benefits in terms of cost: an obviously heartfelt and winning argument that supports our design attitude.

This approach is reflected on various levels, including in the choice of materials which must be lasting not only in terms of resistance, but also from a perceptive and symbolic point of view".

Adelaide Testa: “We operate in a context in which the house is considered a definitive asset. We rarely intervene in temporary contexts such as shops or installations. Our perspective is therefore very clear: to maintain a relationship of trust with our customers above all through rational and creative solutions. The floor plan drawings are unequivocally the starting point of any design work for an interior architect."

Andrea Marcante: “Our first work concerns the plan and the section. We respond to needs and enhance the space as much as possible. The connection with the place, be it a city or a non-urban context, guides the project, taking into consideration the geographical, cultural and social context".

What are your cultural and design references?

Adelaide Testa: “They are as varied as possible: everything that is visual art represents a continuous enrichment. You have to surround yourself with culture to do this job.

I trained by looking at architecture magazines that published floor plan drawings, analyzing the technical solutions before making aesthetic choices.

Culture, experience and processing are fundamental. My reference figures continue to be Umberto Riva for his talent in adding contemporary complexity to projects.

And Toni Cordero, from Turin like us, who cultivated an approach linked to craftsmanship and manual skill. None of them tried to imitate Gio Ponti or Tobia Scarpa. Their references were older and reworked, they did not follow fashions. Today is different, obviously. The project seems to overlap with the communicative content, it submits to it."

Andrea Marcante: “Perfect Days, Wim Wenders' latest film, made me reflect a lot on the rituality of the home. It is a film in which space is designed to amplify the possibilities of ritual repetition.

There is a simple shelf next to the bed where the books are kept and every evening the protagonist finds that particular ritual of reading. There is a small room for bonsai, which is a space for daily, patient and continuous care of nature. And there is another place, outside the home, where the beautiful ritual of body care takes place.

Protecting and promoting domestic rituals is crucial. With the advent of digital, the perception of the home as a world separate from the outside has changed, and the idea of intimacy has disappeared. Therefore it is necessary to build further levels of protection that amplify the idea of refuge and personal space".

How does the living space dialogue with the contemporary, considering sustainability, resources, materials and the concept of the future?

Andrea Marcante: “The term 'environment' is central. It is what surrounds us and it is a starting point. Psycho-emotional comfort starts from the idea of home and then expands into the concept of living on the entire planet".

Adelaide Testa: “I believe that the house will increasingly become a space of retreat from the exasperated conditions that we will find ourselves living in from here on out. Cities are emptying of people and jobs, of industry, of institutions.

It seems paradoxical, but urban vitality is strongly connected to conception and production and, when these two activities are fragmented in space, in the time of working at home, in the digital management of many activities, architecture must find new operational models. While interior design will be increasingly central to redefining our way of living at home".

In 2023 you co-designed CampoBase, an exhibition in which four interior studios staged the word intimacy. Do you feel the need to fuel the debate on interior architecture?

Andrea Testa: “There is a complexity in our work that seems to be ignored by the conversation about contemporary design. The image, when it becomes the main means of communication, deteriorates the understanding of the process of analysis and conceptual construction that inevitably involves the design of the interior of a house.

It seems that everything is resolved in the search for aesthetic balance, but the cultural and anthropological roots are deeper and deserve to be revisited backwards so that they are understood and, in effect, debated".

How do you recognize a good interior architecture project?

Adelaide Testa: “Trivially, from the details. Looking at the skirting board in the Benetton factory designed by Afra and Tobia Scarpa, one understands how each part of the process has a reason for being.

Quality is consequential, intelligent, capable of manifesting itself in every element, even the smallest one, and extends to all scales of the project.

And, finally, a good project never neglects the functional parts to ensure that every ordinary and daily gesture finds an intelligent form of support".

What does an Italian house designed in 2024 look like? What are the most common anthropological signs of your projects?

Adelaide Testa: “A good example is our project for a renovation in Cavalermaggiore, near Turin. It dates back to some time ago, but we still consider it current for its conservative approach, for its commitment to preserving minimal memories, perhaps even not very significant from an aesthetic or historical point of view, to respect a relationship of emotional continuity which inevitably is the great theme of an old family home.

A chance meeting with the owner led to a dialogue on how to match the architect's point of view with that of the inhabitant, maintaining the memory but reinterpreting it in a contemporary key.

The plant interventions were limited, maintaining wallpapers and materials, playing with the overlapping of layers and interventions in different historical periods. The idea was not to impose a new point of view, but to leave a further mark that integrates with the others."

Andrea Marcante: “The opposite is the case for a project we are working on for a house in Citylife, a space with no past. Neutral, total white environments, where references are difficult to identify and, above all, we have to deal with a series of architectural choices that favor the stylistic gesture to the detriment of the rationality of the space.

Plans and sections that make the dialogue with the interior project truly challenging. In addition to the concrete difficulty of finding possible solutions for coverings when no environment is in square and there are very few 90° angles, there is a psycho-emotional theme which here clashes with a lack of traditional spatial references".

Adelaide Testa: “We have overcome this problem by using unconventional materials, to create significant connections with the past.

It would have been simple to cover the floors with resin, for example. Instead we opted for linoleum, a material that is not so polluting, of natural origin and, from a mnemonic and cultural point of view, humble."

Andrea Testa: “We avoid, where possible, underestimating the symbolic aspects. A practice that opens up to continuous comparison with voices different from those of architecture and design. Recently I often think back to the interest that the psychoanalyst and writer James Hillman had for living space. He argued that living in an aesthetically neglected or poorly designed environment leads human beings to an underlying emotional malaise, in which dignity is damaged by the absence of an appropriate project.

I would like the conversation on interior architecture to expand to social, educational and anthropological themes. It is culture, in every aspect. The design of institutional or collective spaces has a fundamental importance on the very reasons for these places and is the realization of an idea of civilization and care that has nothing to do with the economic resources of a country".