Education defines design. Few have come to know the power of learning and bringing people together like Gianpiero Venturini. As the founder of Itinerant Office and curator of the New Generations Festival, Venturini’s work is marked by a desire to build networks of collaboration and cultural exchange. Creating platforms for new ideas, he has brought together more than 300 emerging practices through workshops, round tables, exhibitions, and international festivals.
In an exclusive interview with ArchDaily, Gianpiero speaks with AD Editor Eric Baldwin about the beginnings of the New Generations Festival, the new book ATLAS of Emerging Practices, and what it means to build connections through design.
EB: New Generations began in 2014 to explore the relationship between architecture and other disciplines. Why did you start this project?
GV: Between 2000 and 2006 I completed my studies in architecture — the first three years at the Politecnico di Milano, then on the Erasmus Programme in Lisbon and approximately one year in Brazil, in the cities of Salvador de Bahia and Rio de Janeiro. After a few different working experiences in Barcelona, Amsterdam, and Tokyo, I decided to embark on an independent career path that gave life to Itinerant Office first, and a few months later, to New Generations. I would say that New Generations was the very first research project I developed in order to find some answers to very specific questions. It was a very pragmatic way to find answers to all the questions that arise when one decides to undertake any independent activity: How to get commissions? Who to collaborate with? How to invest my time?
During the various experiences in Italy and abroad, I crossed paths with people who, like me, were working towards their goal of starting an independent practice with what they learnt and taking their first steps to start their own firms. They were setting foot in the architectural world independently — from former university classmates, to friends and colleagues with whom I have had the chance to collaborate. These conversations were recorded and made into a series of rough video interviews, where thirty young architects, between 25 and 35 years old, shared their ambitions, along with the moments of success and the difficulties they encountered at the beginning of their careers.
EB: The Festival New Generations has had multiple iterations in different cities; what have you learned over time with each new festival?
GV: The Festival New Generations takes place every year in a different city: after Milan, Genoa, Florence, Rome, and Warsaw, this year took place again in Rome. Since the very beginning, the project had the main goal to build a network of young European architects to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and foster collaborations. Bringing the Festival to a new city each year is part of the story: we establish new collaborations and work with a different community of architects and experts from other fields. So far, during every Festival we had the opportunity to play with two main formats: those that we repeat in every location, such as debates, round tables, or public presentations, in order to address every time specific topics; and others, such as workshops and installations, which we curate taking in consideration the specificities of the local territory and the community that operates in it.
EB: You are also the founder of Itinerant Office. How does New Generations inform our personal practice and the projects you do?
GV: New Generations has a strong relation with the activities I develop through Itinerant Office. I would say that New Generations feeds Itinerant Office and the other way around. Itinerant Office explores architecture as a collaborative practice: we curate events, exhibitions, publications, we basically do research on certain topics we are interested in investigating, and translate the result through different formats. The Festival and the activities we developed through New Generations, such as video-interviews, or workshops, are fundamental in order to collect ideas which many times translate into more specific projects.
Recently, for instance, I curated the project “Past, Present, Future” - which involves 24 internationally renowned architects, within a research path based on a video-interview format. The video-interview series was designed with a double objective: firstly, to open a research path based on the analysis of these successful practices, with the aim of understanding their working methods, themes and approaches, in order to learn – through a comparative method – what it means to be an architect in the 21st century. Secondly, ‘Past, Present, Future’ was conceived to be a source of inspiration for the new generations of architects and architecture students, who are currently facing the job market, or who have recently started their working career. And here comes the relation with the activities we developed through New Generations.
In a certain way, New Generations and its Festival set the basis to build a very wide network which becomes crucial in order to develop more specific projects such as these two I have just mentioned.
EB: You’ve worked around the world, including in the Netherlands, Japan, Brazil, and Spain. How has this global context shaped your work with both IO and New Generations?
GV: I am originally from Italy, and since 2002, during the third year of my university career I have been living abroad: first in Lisbon for one year, and then Brazil, the Netherlands, Spain, UK, Japan. It was definitely a series of crucial training experiences, defined by a certain nomadism, a condition dictated by the economic crisis at the time and therefore the new-found need to be flexible, constantly ready to move from one place to another.
This had, and still has a strong influence in the way we work: the willingness to develop a multi-disciplinary and collaborative platform comes from that experience for sure, and brought to the project New Generations. As I mentioned before, it was during my experience abroad that I met many inspiring people. On the other hand, this way of working also translates into the work of Itinerant Office, which often develops in different territorial contexts. We are a small studio but we develop projects in several parts of the world: beside Italy, where I came from, and Madrid, where we are based at the moment, we often develop projects in the Netherlands, last year we have exhibited “Past, Present, Future” in Beijing, and we are very open and flexible to collaborate in different geographical context, which I believe is always challenging and exciting at the same time.
EB: As the work has centered in Europe, have you considered extending the festival to other parts of the world?
GV: At the beginning the project New Generations was focusing only on the European context for different reasons: the economic crisis, which had a very strong effect on the profession of the architect in the European context forced the new generations of professionals and new graduates to look for alternative ways to practice the profession, which brought to a diverse ecosystem of emerging groups, ideas, and projects. In addition, the number of architects per country: imagine, just in Italy there are about 150 thousand architects, which represent about 25% of the total in Europe. In the US, there are about 110 thousand architects, almost 40 thousand less than Italy.
Now that the New Generations’ network has been growing, I would be very interested to extend the Festival to other territorial contexts such as the US or South America, where the activity of the new generations of architects is also very interesting.
EB: As a curator, what is one of your major goals or aspirations for the ATLAS of emerging practices?
GV: ATLAS of emerging practices gathers the work of a selection of 95 emerging practices in Europe, with the aim of providing useful tools and insight for architecture students, new graduates, and emerging practices in the early stages of their careers. Besides focusing on the research itself, ATLAS has been imagined to be useful for those who are studying architecture.
When I think of the period in which I studied architecture, I believe that such research would have helped me to face the world of work more consciously. The world of academia is often disconnected from the working reality, and I believe that a tool like ATLAS can be of great help both for those who are concluding their training path, and for those who have recently started their professional career.
In terms of future activities, we are now developing different spinofsf of ATLAS: a series of workshops based on the outcome of the research, and we are now working on an exhibition proposal in order to translate the research in an exhibition including extra contents.
EB: Can you talk a little bit about the ATLAS of emerging practices; what was the driver for the project, and what have you learned from it?
GV: During the first five years, New Generations has been able to identify and involve some of the most interesting emerging studios in the European scene during its activities. The network’s activities range from the festival workshops, debates, and public presentations, to publications such as “Re-Act: Tools for Urban Re-Activation”, “Time for Impact” , and the video-documentary “Past, Present, Future: about being an architect yesterday, today and beyond”. The sum of these experiences are the basis for the results presented in the book, focusing on a series of issues that are often overshadowed by the highly-specialized architectural discussions at industry events.
The reality is that the new generation of architects seek concrete answers to very pragmatic aspects of the profession, encountered in its initial phases: What are the first steps to kick-start an activity or project? How should we position our practice within the contemporary labor market? How do we get our first clients and commissions? These are just some of the questions ATLAS tries to answer, building a reference ATLAS for those practices in the field experimenting with new tools to carve out their own space within the contemporary architectural debate.
The results of this investigation were collected in two phases: initially, the aim was to define and isolate a set of common themes; and then, an investigation into some of these issues through an online questionnaire that involved the participation of 95 selected groups from 22 countries. The online survey was based on the four main themes: "Organization", "Business", "Media", and "Projects" - laid out in this order in the publication. The 'Organization' section analyses different organizational structures, with diagrams and data highlighting the huge variety of configurations that reflect the array of different approaches used by the various firms. The section 'Business' highlights various types of commissions —public, private, and unsolicited— ranging in budgets, scale, and program. 'Media' introduces the potential of digital tools, not only for the online communication of the office’s activities, but also for the development of projects such as encouraging participation through social media, or managing the organizational aspects of the studio. The section 'Projects' collects a selection of the most significant interventions by some of the participants of the ATLAS.
EB: What have you learned about the continuity between past, present and future in practice? What can design firms of today give to future generations, and how is this shaped by emerging practices?
GV: During the research I was very interested to focus on the organization of the architecture practice. The section “organization” of ATLAS introduces some of the aspects that characterize the configuration of the practices such as the number of partners and employees, the division of roles, the configuration of the practice, the external collaborators, and the reasons for starting an independent career. One of the questions of the on-line survey asked each participant to use one term to define his/her practice: from their answers I found out a great variety of terms such as “office”, “atelier”, “workshop”, “studio”, “collective”, etc. representing the large degree of heterogeneity of all the practices in ATLAS.
Emerging practices are experimenting with a new, more flexible and open way of working, which is open to new possibilities such as new forms of collaborations. The “business” section analyzed different types of budgets, highlighting many self-initiated projects which started without the traditional client. In the section “Media” I wanted to focus on the potential of new media tools in order to highlight the possibilities offered by these digital tools and exploring the potential of media when doing research, designing, innovating, raising awareness on a specific issue, gathering a larger audience, building communication campaigns, creating new narratives, and more.
The analysis of the data collected through ATLAS highlights the diversity of practices involved in the project New Generations. This diversity translates into multiple organizational forms, often supported by experimental economic models, and new forms of narration. This complexity translates into a new professional figure, or at least, the revisiting of the classical figure of the architect as we have understood it until today. This research process raised a series of questions I tried to answer throughout the publication —answers that can become highly useful tools to start a more conscious, strategic professional path.
So, considering the establishment of an architectural practice as the first real project of any emerging independent office, it is necessary to encourage this kind of approach. The new generation of architects who were part of this ATLAS had no other solution than to deal with new conditions, testing much-needed solutions first-hand —from which we must start to rebuild a new class of conscious architects and prepare the field for the generations to come.
Itinerant Office is offering a 20% discount code on the purchase of 'ATLAS of Emerging Practices' for ArchDaily's readers in their online shop. The discount code is ATLASARCHDAILY
ATLAS of Emerging Practices is a publication that provides an overview of the state of the architect's profession, analyzing themes, trends, projects, and methods that characterize the professional practices, and understanding this discipline through the research carried out with a selection of emerging architects in the European territory.