Cino Zucchi : Freedom and Determinism
Cino Zucchi
Freedom and Determinism
Floornature + G.T., July 4, 2011
The Interview

G.T. questionned Cino Zucchi, Professor of Architectural and Urban Composition at Milan Polytechnic.

The interview addresses a number of themes in contemporary architecture: from the architect’s education to the concept of quality; 
from the materials of architecture to sustainability; from residential architecture 
to Expo 2015.

G.T.: The first question regards your multi-faceted career as architect, professional, and critic: why? Are you going back to the great masters out of necessity, anxiety about production and design, or because you need them to come up with ideas in other areas too, such as teaching?

Cino Zucchi: I must say my biography is rather unusual, for I proceeded in rather a funny way; at 18 I followed a girl to America and I ended up at MIT. I had a very scientific education: mathematics, artificial intelligence. Then I went back to Italy, at a time of great philological erudition. I am the terror of the studio because every once in a while I talk about vectorial calculus, reduction oxidation reactions, and the day after I’m talking about Scamozzi or academic literature. This might be the funniest thing about my education, or even my personality: a mixture of scientific education and erudition. Having said this, I have developed a strong curiosity in both directions, a certain scientific rigour and also a rather transverse sentiment. Gombrich says something great about the border guards who supervise the scientific sectors, the disciplines, the universities.
I have always acted like a border guard.

Cino Zucchi/social housing, junghans area, giudecca, venice, 1997-2002
Cino Zucchi/social housing, junghans area, giudecca, venice, 1997-2002
G.T.: Gombrich talked about the patina on paintings in a positive way... in architecture, might we speak of a patina of history?

C.Z.: I think we might say that historical culture... Tafuri said that historical culture, history, was of use because of its great uselessness. At one time I was very interested in these things, and it was of use to me above all to get over a bit of a complex I had about history. But this doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that today, a "zero degree" obsession... the other day I was teaching in Zurich, where they are obsessed by the idea that everything is in the clouds, in the rocks; it’s the Calvinist idea that you are always naked in front of nature. In Milan they used to call them the “balabjot”, the people who got up at 5 AM and had a shower to strengthen their morals. Perhaps an excessively erudite generation, almost as if oppressed by its references, has been replaced by a generation that believes it is the first generation ever to have done something. I might say I would like to be able to go through both these attitudes: the attitude of empirical innocence that has perhaps drawn on American experimentalism while at the same time understanding that certain themes always come back, like a plane that passes over the same ground at different altitudes. In the long term we understand that certain themes come back, though not in the same way.

Cino Zucchi/Biblioteca San Donato Milanese
Cino Zucchi/Biblioteca San Donato Milanese
G.T.: When talking about you and your work, the first word that comes to mind is quality: can you define it, in architectural design, in design in general?

C.Z.: I thought of a sonnet as you were speaking... it’s the lovers’ faithfulness, like the phoenix: everyone says it exists, but no-one knows where it is...If we replace the word quality for lovers’ faithfulness... we talk about quality a lot, but it is hard to define it in totality. In any art or profession, quality is a relationship between things. If we take a film, we don’t known if it’s the soundtrack, the actors or the location, but all these things come together... we might say that in art, quality lies in the relationships. Architecture is not an art proper, but neither is it not an art. Architecture has always been embarrassed by this weight it has, but it doesn’t want to be purely a matter of technique. Perhaps we need to redefine the word quality every time we use it, depending on the circumstances. Speaking of quality, if we want to make prefabricated housing in East Germany, well that’s different from making a Venini vase. 
Maybe today the issue is redefining the concept of quality within the limits of every occasion, where you attempt to take these limits as far as they will go, but if you break them you become foolish, you become the one who wants to do something but cannot. And so we might say that the definition of quality is different for a Swatch and a Rolex, and the invention of the Swatch, which is not a piece of rubbish... Benetton and Swatch understand that economical quality is no substitute for wealthy quality. 

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