Gio Latis Studio

Passion for architecture is in her DNA: Vito and Gustavo Latis, before her, were prominent figures in the cultural debate of the twentieth century. Authors of important private, public and industrial building projects, dealing with urban planning and industrial design too. Maria Vittoria Capitanucci tells their value in “Fragments of the city” published by Skira; then came Silvia Latis, co-director of the magazine Abitare with Italo Lupi and still an icon in the architecture storytelling. Waiting to meet her at the webinar scheduled by Viscom Italia 2021, we were told about this new adventure.
Apartament building via Lanzone 6 Milan

Vito and Gustavo Latis, 1949/52

What prompted you to open your own studio?
When I finished studying, I had the very strong feeling that I still had a lot to learn and, although I had breathed architecture from my birth, I wanted to acquire an international dimension aimed at the future. This is why I went to Paris to work for Mario Cucinella, who had been detached from Renzo Piano's firm a few years ago. Back in Italy, I entered Michele De Lucchi's studio, which at the time was a forge of ideas and design transversality. After almost twenty years, in 2018, I felt ready to test myself firsthand and experience the freedom that is the prerogative of "freelance" with all the difficulties and satisfactions that follow. 

I wanted to express myself in my own language, the fruit of tradition and the teachings and synthesis of my time. As team director at the aMDL studio, I had the opportunity to follow very interesting and stimulating projects: often large-scale and abroad. This experience made me understand, that the ingredients of a project are many and it is essential not to settle for, nor to fall in love with, the first idea. Sometimes the issues of feasibility and opportunity, in the good sense of the term, become fundamental and help to drive choices towards paths that turn out to be more correct. With Gio Latis Studio I found that human and planning dimension of continuity between decision, process and realisation, which I was missing in a hierarchical reality like aMDL Circle. I am very happy with the choice and confirmations have not been lacking. Being selected to redesign one of the dressing rooms at the Arcimboldi theater was a wonderful experience, also with a worthy purpose: the entertainment world was one of the most affected by this pandemic and contributing to the recovery of this sector was exciting.
Residenze Litta

u003ch6u003eResidenze Litta, Milanou003c/h6u003e

The Arcimboldi in recent months and shortly before the office building in via Pirelli in Milan. 

Does it often happen to you to refit existing environments? 

Yes definitely. In Italy, then, there is more propensity to save and recover than to demolish and rebuild and this is positive. In my profession, it has happened to me several times, to intervene on the existing and, of course, when dealing with historic buildings with a strong symbolic value it is even more fascinating. Bringing back the original beauty is a challenging and very exciting experience. I was lucky enough to work in beautiful contexts such as the Franco Parenti Theatre and the Mysterious Baths, the Litta Residences in Milan and the Cini Foundation in Venice. All incredible opportunities to decline contemporary needs with structures, volumes and aesthetics, which are the heritage of our past and our future. .

And when there is no historical value? 

Always in favour of saving rather than demolishing? 

With due distinctions, I would say yes. In everything, if you look carefully, you can find good, but it also takes the courage to highlight it by eliminating the many useless layers that often cover it. Recently, for example, we had to intervene in the atrium of a large 18-floors office building, where the reception on the ground floor was horribly caged in a very heavy glass and metal structure and the floor in huge slabs of calacatta marble covered with carpet. 

The furniture parts were decorated with fake leather, perhaps a legacy of the late 1980s and the whole thing was so overloaded that the temptation to demolish everything, I confess, came to me. The urgency imposed by the Covid emergency, and the allocated budget, however, did not suggest a massive restyling, but rather required a quick refitting, easily implemented and so it was decided to evaluate a series of small targeted, almost surgical interventions, to give space back to right aesthetic and functional value. 

We started by removing everything that was no longer needed. Very often, over the years, interventions with different purposes overlap, also implemented by different professionals, with different styles and approaches, so in reality, like the archaeologists who carefully remove the sand and bring to light priceless treasures, we too must often remove these superfluous layers, trying to find an original identity or in any case to create a new, valid and clearly understandable one.


u003ch6u003ePalazzo Uffici via Pirelli, Milanou003c/h6u003e

In this case, in particular, there was an underlying problem with black aluminum frames, which were really too obvious and overwhelming. I knew already the wrapping technique applied to architecture, even though I had never experienced it. It seemed like the perfect opportunity and so, I chose a bronzed brass to refine the black frames. Among the glazed parts there were several smoked glasses, decidedly out of time, which were masked with a sandblasting film and for the furniture parts, which made up the reception, I chose a wood finish that combined with some existing genuine wood frames, becomes totally camouflage . 

The ductility of these solutions has also made it possible to intervene on parts that I did not initially consider, such as handles and electrical panels, too intrusive presences in a space intended to accommodate. We thus camouflaged them, decorating them with the same bronzed finish as the frames, incredibly improving their visual impact. After the restyling of the more "hardware" parts, we began to think about how this space should communicate with all its inhabitants, who would cross the lobby every day to reach the offices. Among other things, Covid prescriptions were an important part of this communication and so we tried to transform this communicative need into an opportunity for visual communication, giving a new and useful identity to the space and adding delicate and discreet signage made on measure.   

How did you propose this refitting approach, all in all innovative, to the client? 

To tell the truth, one of the aspects I love most in my work and in the relationship I have with my clients, is the relationship of mutual trust that is created and which must be nurtured every day. Proposing "tailor-made" solutions, not only for the customer, but also for his needs of the moment is a sign of sensitivity that pays in the long run. I am not one of those architects who want to impose their own style at all costs, rather I like to decline my proposal - which obviously has a stylistic trace and common threads -adapting it to the expressed and unexpressed characteristics and needs of those who ask for my design support. 

In this specific case, the alternative to refitting would have been a much heavier and more expensive intervention but it was an impossible way, with unreasonable costs and timing. We had no other solutions and this was certainly a decisive lever in trying to use films. However, I myself did not imagine that the result would be so convincing. As with many of my colleagues, the idea of ​​using "fake" materials appears to be a culture-free approach. After twenty years with Michele De Lucchi, then, a real act of insubordination! But on closer consideration I assessed that the test was necessary: ​​the final balance between costs, times and results could not have been obtained in any other better way. 

These solutions mark a very fine border line between something "fake" and something absolutely innovative, where the issue of sustainability must be evaluated in a broader sense and not only with reference to the material itself. What is the difference between painting an aluminum profile with a glossy epoxy enamel or decorating it with a wood-effect film? However, the substance of aluminum remains that of a men-made material. 

What I am interested in communicating is that these solutions, used consciously, bring with them an intrinsic sustainability: it is true that PVC films are used, but thanks to these finishes, many things are given new life (structures, curtain walls and furnishings) that otherwise they would have to be disassembled, disposed of and replaced with other elements that must be produced, transported with all that derives from them. In the end, if the organisation of the space is already functional, the fact of radically changing its personality simply by working on the finish, on site, is completely revolutionary.

Will you use these solutions on other occasions? Certainly yes, and indeed today I am more aware of how the surface of the film can be approached and "confused" with real materials, in a mix between real and fake that at the same time increases the quality, duration and expressive capabilities of the product. I think it is very important today to try to think in terms of entropy, to reduce the impact of the construction site as much as possible: confusion, production, waste ... these light interventions, almost make-up, can solve solutions that have a short-time expectation and which for this reason would not justify a more important and costly intervention. 

The restyling of this hall and its reception took about a week and due to its quiet and clean construction method, it did not interfere with the people who still had to access the offices. We had an urgent need to intervene well and quickly and it did. Indeed, the installation was so fast, that paradoxically the design phase lasted longer than the executive one.