Spotlight: Emilio Ambasz

Spotlight: Emilio Ambasz

As early as the 1970s, Emilio Ambasz (born 13 June 1943) initiated a discussion on sustainability through his work with green spaces and buildings which is arguably more important today than ever, and contributed to theoretical and design discourse outside of architecture through his wide variety of interest and career pursuits. Ambasz’s work has crossed several disciplines; he has been a curator, a professor, an industrial designer, and an architect, and is highly regarded in all of these varied pursuits.

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Born in Chaco, Argentina, Ambasz knew from an early age that he wanted to be an architect. According to a 2009 article in Architect Magazine, so great was his determination that at age 16 he worked for an architecture firm during the day while attending high school during the night. [1] Ambasz also had an appetite for education graduating from Princeton with a Bachelors degree and then a Master of Fine Arts in Architecture just a year later. His jump through the ranks of architectural academia led him to a brief career as a professor, but his work quickly brought the attention of scholars and professionals alike, and by age 25 Ambasz was working as the Curator of the Department of Architecture and Design for The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City.

Banca dell’Occhio (2008). Image Courtesy of Emilio Ambasz

While at MoMA, Ambasz curated several critically acclaimed exhibitions, including “Italy: The New Domestic Landscape,” and “Universitas.” Curatorial duties provided Ambasz with an opportunity to investigate broad societal questions in a very public setting; in “Universitas,” Ambasz organized a collection of work which asked how universities should address nature from an educational perspective. Seemingly energized by the fields he was researching, Ambasz left MoMA in 1976 to establish himself as an industrial designer.

Banca dell’Occhio (2008). Image Courtesy of Emilio Ambasz

As an independent designer, Ambasz had even greater success; the Vertebra chair, which he developed with Giancarlo Piretti, was one of the first office furniture to emphasize ergonomics over aesthetics. Ambasz’s architectural projects take a distinctive approach to design: within his works, nature must interact with the structure in a way he calls “green over the gray.” [2] In many of his projects, this idea manifests itself through green roofs and gardens built into the projects. His projects, such as the Cordoba House (1975) the Lucile Halsell Conservatory (1988), and the Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall (1994) combine nature with a sensitive response to clients’ needs and the architect’s desire to create compelling images. More recent works, such as the Banca dell’Occhio (2008) and Museum of Modern Art and Cinema (2010), continue this trend. By using this approach and executing it with ecologically friendly design elements, Ambasz demonstrated that sustainability could produce architecturally compelling buildings.

Cordoba House (1975). Image © Michele Alassio

Unifying the many occupations Ambasz has held during his life is a deep love of creativity. Ambasz offers poignant insight into his career in a quote to Architect Magazine:

“Many years ago, Alessandro Mendini, who at the time was the editor of Domus, asked me how I would define myself professionally. And I said I would define myself as an inventor. To me, architecture is an act of the imagination. Industrial design is an act of the imagination.” [1]

Lucile Halsell Conservatory at the San Antonio Botanical Garden (1988). Image © Flickr user joevare licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

See Emilio Ambasz's works featured on ArchDaily via the thumbnails below, and further coverage of him below those:

Spotlight: Emilio Ambasz - More Images+ 3

Emilio Ambasz: "I Detest Writing Theories, I Prefer Writing Fables"


  1. Vernon Mays, “The Elusive Mr. Ambasz,” Architect Magazine, July 31, 2009, accessed June 11, 2015,
  2. “Emilio Ambasz and Associates, Inc.” N.d., accessed June 11, 2015,

About this author
Cite: Patrick Kunkel. "Spotlight: Emilio Ambasz" 13 Jun 2019. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall (1995). Image © <a href=''>Flickr user kentamabuchi</a> licensed under <a href=''>CC BY-SA 2.0</a>


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