Please describe about the architecture philosophy of waltritsch a+u?
waltritsch a+u aims to research new spatial solutions for contemporary life within the delicate context of the European culture. We combine research and professional knowledge, capable to respond to complexity at the different scales we are normally asked to participate in, from small interiors to complex master plan design. We think that architecture should definitely influence, question and improve the context, intended as a product of culture as well as of nature or topography. It means that the project, being a building, an interior design or a master plan, should stimulate the user towards conciouseness of the qualities of the context, through the physical experience, and towards an individual reaction to it. Architecture also aims to examine the built and natural landscape that surround us, what happens in it, in order to respond to it and make it work. This is the unrealised ambition of Modernism, a chapter that is not yet closed. For the end it alone deals whit what architecture is about: to make reality work.

To you, what are the most important elements that enrich the design?
First of all, we love to design. We want to give to things a meaning and to make them beautiful. We believe that our projects are like “forms of transit”, which means that besides their functional fulfilment, they can communicate with the client, but they can also question the values and aspirations of the society as a whole. Architecture as a reflective practice does not necessary mean to be boring or heavy. It means to reflect on the context that surround us, and to help society to think about what is doing at present, and where does want to go. Then we are architects and we aim to do things well. We believe in details, simple and efficient in their technical as well as in their communicative role. That’s the reason why we spend much time in the development of the design process, and why we try to have the technical control on our projects. So that we can work from design to detail, and supervise the construction on site. Most of the times this is fundamental, as the whole process of realisation, from a design product to a master plan, is very fragile. 

As both an architect and teacher, what do you think about the local architecture education?
Architecture education is today very different form the past, even from a generation ago. Students are exposed to a very high number of stimulations, and most of the times are not able to control them, or simply don’t know what to do with them. If you carefully read through architectural history, you will see that a student at age of 22 in 1910 was already “architecturally” adult, while in 2010 is still “architecturally” a baby. That’s why in my Design class at the Trieste Faculty of Architecture, we try to load students with responsibility, to try to make them think on what they are doing, and about their future. We are currently designing an incubator building facility for start up offices and companies, so that students can imagine themselves to be the future occupier of the building they are designing, and develop a positive attitude towards their near future. Moreover, if society gives them this fantastic opportunity, they are asked to help the community to better focus on the future needs of the city. So they must integrate the given programme with 1/3 extra. And this should be what they think is missing in the city, or could make the city better. Then, being in Italy, there is the confrontation with the past. Our project grows far up on top of some existing building more than 100 years old that they must preserve. The students are therefore forced to think about the relation with the huge heritage of this country, but they are not squeezed under the weight of history. As you see there is a lot of focus on programme and economy, which does not mean that we are not interested in architecture as a discipline. But I don’t want students to design according to my preferences in style, but rather to develop as grown up persons and architects, and start to give shape to their own language with coherence.

Italy inherits grandeur architecture and rich architectural culture. How do you realise metamorphosis from the tradition, while keeping the regional and local characteristics?
If you carefully look at the past of the Italian history of town, you will see that there never was such a fear of the future as today. It might be because of the uncertainties of the economics, but it has become more difficult to simply accept contemporary buildings in the historical context which in this country is really huge, as part of the natural process of the growth of the city. This is true not only for Italy, but for most European countries I will say. Most people in our countries evaluate the past without a solid knowledge. Most Italian cities, in the past centuries, have undergone major urban renovation and have been enriched by exemplary buildings from different ages. In Venice you can find different styles one next to the other. The particularity is that, as at certain point there was no space anymore, they are all from the past. But look at Rome or any other city and you will see that the city as an organism is alive only if accepts positive injections from the present. Even today it’s a privilege to work in such a layered context, because the history of the existing city helps you in many ways, without asking for mimic. The successful architecture of today, as the successful architecture of the past, is unprejudicedly consequent to its time. Even when, as an architect, you are working abroad, you unconsciously but happily remain linked to the deepest layer of the tradition of your region, without the necessity of embracing the heritage of the tradition in a dogmatic and orthodox way. In this sense, beside the massive development of major urban operations, it seems to me that there are some interesting projects in contemporary Chinese architecture as well.

Please tell us about the current industrial atmosphere of architecture and space design in Italy.
Italy has a big tradition in architecture that goes back in centuries, and a very solid tradition in product design too, developed after WWII. This heritage is certainly written in the genetic code of all contemporary designers. At the same, this is the country of big contradictions. You might find top global quality services and products, next to paradoxical gaps. The way out is to invest much more in the future, and give more opportunities to contemporary expressions. And nobody should worry about tradition and history, as they are so present and strong, that they will certainly keep alive any way.

Interview by Coco Kor appeared on SPAN MAGAZINE n. 3, May 2010, p. 106-113. Sandu Editions, Beijing (China)