Italian architect Luca Andrisani doesn’t like chit-chat or small talk and that is fine by us. That’s not at all to say that he is brusque—he’s charming—but he shoots straight. Like so many people we interview, he dislikes and avoids the tireless self-promotion and networking that is now apparently required if one is going to survive in today’s world. It’s interesting how many people tell us this and what a burden it is for them. And we’re just not sure that this widely-held mantra of “self-promotion-or-disappear” is wholly true. Surely a body of work is the most significant factor in any career? Perhaps this notion is naïve. Nevertheless take a moment to check out Luca’s website at www.lucaandrisaniarchitects.com to see his exceptional range of design projects and check out our interview to hear his candid views on, well, most things.
You seem to have taken a circuitous route—you’ve gone from Italy, studied in Sweden and worked in Switzerland. And now you’re here. How did that route come about?
I first studied in Rome at La Sapienza and then I did my masters in Sweden—which actually I won. There is this scholarship in Europe called the Erasmus. I didn’t choose Sweden, it just happened. You can’t choose the city.
How is Sweden different from Italy?
It’s civilized and there are rules! There’s a part of me that likes rules—I’m very un-Italian in that sense.
[Sian] It’s so funny because I was also there for graduate school and after two months I bought an airplane ticket and went to Italy—I wasn’t crazy about Sweden. I needed to be around people who display more of their emotions!
[Laughs] I like the seasons, I like the snow … [but] I hated Switzerland. It was too much. There were rules for everything. The police even stopped to me check on my bike. They walked around the bike to make sure it was insured.
If you are “un-Italian” and like things structured, then you must like some kinds of Italian design—some of it can be quite severe—and a lot of Italian gardens are very formal.
Absolutely. I think back then I was young and I was leaving home and [Sweden] was all new.
And you worked for Herzog de Meuron [in Switzerland] for two years. Was that your first real job?
Yeah, I was lucky. I used to say, if you don’t try, nothing is going to happen to you. I just sent my resumé. I think what they liked was my personality and the fact that I had traveled. Their office is so international. Everyone was a foreigner.
What was it like to work there?
It was amazing. They’re very easy-going, very humble, very charismatic. They talk to everybody.
What’s the secret to their success?
They listen. They don’t think they are the truth-holders.
How did you get to New York?
I always wanted to be here—I don’t know why. I came on vacation and I felt a high. I remember walking in Union Square and thinking, I have to live here. It was a rush … it was adrenaline.
And do feel that still?
No … I lost that [laughs]. I feel with globalization, New York has changed. It’s too much the same. I like Hell’s Kitchen because it’s still dirty. But it’s the next place to be cleaned up. You remember in Sex and the City where, what’s-her-name, the main character, used to smoke all the time? When she stopped smoking, it was the end of it. Everything has been regulated. Everything has been cleaned up. It’s like Switzerland again. Sometimes I like to smoke a cigarette just to protest. People look at me and I’m like, “I’m not killing anybody. Fuck you.”
It’s our fault—we’ve gentrified these areas. It’s like sitting in traffic and complaining about the traffic as though you weren’t part of it.
It’s true. But I find Miami so much more exciting these days in terms of creativity. Oh my God—I just came back last night … it’s feels like there’s art everywhere.
So who did you work for when you first came to New York?
Because I had such a big name on my resumé [Herzog de Meuron], I was able to get a job at Rafael Vinoly. I didn’t like working there. It was a sweatshop. I remember this beautiful warehouse office in Soho and there were little desks all next to each other, like two hundred people and I was coming from Herzog de Meuron and our little group was at big tables with models everywhere. I was like, where are the models? Where are the samples? Where are the mock-ups?
And you ended up at Peter Marino.
I loved it there … I’m talking about before he became really crazy … before the leather phase. He liked me so I was able to travel. I was working on Fendi and I was going to Paris for the mock-ups. But he is a very difficult person, very creative but very difficult.
In what way?
It’s like dog. If it smells your fear, it’s going to bite you. And I remember telling myself, I’m not afraid. I just would tell my mom and my dad, why is everybody so afraid to be fired? If he fires me, I will find another job. I was talking to him like I talked to anybody else and he loved that because everybody was so fearful.
Does it create a climate of anxiety there?
But that’s not creative, is it?
It depends how you deal with it. The clients are amazing—the best. So there is so much creativity. And his office is beautiful. He has all this art and he would rotate the art. He is a big supporter of young artists, so that for me was fascinating. I remember telling myself, that’s something I’m going to miss when I leave.
So why did you leave?
Because I always wanted to be on my own.
You’re super-confident, aren’t you! Not in a cocky way though.
Yeah? I don’t know. I have very strong determination. But I’m kind of losing it. [laughs]
Is that because you’re starting to question yourself more?
No, it’s because when you go on your own there is so much more to do to be an architect. My strength when I working in offices was that I was recognized—I was appreciated for my ideas and for my eye. But then you go on your own and you realize that there is so much more to making it.
Can you tell us what that “so much more” is?
For one thing I realized that I don’t like to chit-chat or small talk and going for cocktails and networking—it’s a word I’ve [always] hated. If I did, I would have accelerated more. The thing that I keep hearing today from other colleagues is that that is how they are making it and I realize that I don’t do that at all.
I am interested in your work in Brooklyn — the copper building [Aperture 538] in Clinton Hill. What was the neighborhood reaction to it?
It’s getting a lot of good feedback. The neighborhood is changing so there’s a lot of people who stop and just look at it. They have around the corner the Barclays Center. I just won the North America Copper in Architecture Award [for Aperture 538] two days ago.
Congratulations! That’s amazing. But I do want to say that everything I look at now is straight lines. What happened to curves?
Well, we have Frank Gehry [laughs]. But it’s funny you should mention it but that was something that was a no-no in school. The box was the perfect thing.
I want to know about growing up in Italy. Is it as fabulous as non-Italians might think?
Looking back, it is fabulous. I didn’t appreciate it … if I have kids I definitely want to have them there. I was lucky to live in Matera—it is one of the oldest cities in the world and protected by UNESCO. Life is simpler. My memories of a kid were playing with insects with my brother in the garden. But it’s true, my father was an architect, so you do come home for lunch. They closed the office [at lunchtime]. Life was gentler.
What’s high school like?
It’s not like high school here, which I saw in the movies—I was always fascinated. I remember just studying and studying, crazy hours. My only wild times were when I moved here. Teachers were like, very strict and also families are very strict.
Do you cook Italian food?
I do, yeah. The older I get, the more I go back to my mom and ask for recipes.