Over the last two decades, the idea that architecture and its protagonists should happily pay the price for the noisy image of a deus-ex-machina which, alone but understood, could offer amazing images and sensational ideas for an increasingly omnivorous market eager for special effects, has gradually taken hold.
The more time passes, however, the more I am convinced that all this deafening noise is nothing more than the proof of a profound crisis in the reading of the world and its desires and deep-seated fears, and of the inability of architecture to seriously express a spirit of the times that increasingly escapes and becomes tragically enigmatic. However, not all the authors of our contemporary design culture join this parody train. Some of them silently construct and obstinately defend a space for design and intimate, secret, private thought that sparingly nourishes ongoing research on the challenges that should be relaunched to save us from inertia. It is an intergenerational, intercultural attitude that goes beyond languages and fashions, and represents a personal, often character-based choice and a reaction to the frenzied consumption of images, materials and forms. This past year had the power to make us confront this condition, demonstrating that getting worked up could not overcome that sense of disorientation and loneliness in which we all have been caught up. Instead, we should sense every moment as unique and precious.
Architecture, like all disciplines that rest on the world and deform it, will be called upon to change and progressively rethink its design and conceptual tools to respond to a time that is undergoing a profound metamorphosis. Our projects should find within them a sense of sensual and elementary domesticity; the materials used should be weighed up with vision and knowledge; places and their inhabitants should be listened with greater attention and respected, while every gesture should get more radical and profound in its consequences. In recent years there have been a series of authors who, individually and without any pretension, are trying to follow this path and offering an alternative much more Franciscan than the bloodless minimalism of recent years, expressive without being noisy, cultured and aware without being academic. One of these authors is undoubtedly Francesca Torzo, Italian, born in 1975, who seems to respond stubbornly and silently to this condition with a level of coherence that is impressive for its maturity. She made headlines thanks to the invitation to the last International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale, and was already known to the most discerning critics thanks to a series of small, sophisticated residential projects in some of Italy’s historic centres and a series of international competitions she won. She was strengthened in her public consecration thanks to the final results of the extension of the Z33 museum in Hasselt, Belgium, and a small but valuable exhibition at the Milan Triennale in 2019. Torzo is striking for the internal clarity of her work, which sees vision, design, construction site and completed work tenaciously linked by an almost obsessive action of thought and body that has few equals on the national scene. Meeting Francesca Torzo is always unsettling. Restless eyes full of thoughts running through her head, words dosed as if she were afraid to use the wrong tone and terms, constant tension about the work. The results must be accompanied by a sharp and necessary obsession, annoyance at what is superfluous and distracting in the world, a constant and happily childish love for a sign of light, a detail in a flower, in a work by a beloved master or simply something found on the street and immediately fixed in a picture.
There is an absolute love for architecture in Torzo’s way of working, supported by a sense of measure and realism towards the complexities of the world in which we operate that never makes her choices arrogant or forced. This is one of the design qualities that most impresses me about his work: the ability to appear absolute and radical but, at the same time, demonstrate a willingness to understand the place and the limits necessary to realize a project. In spite of her training, which includes choosing fundamentalist masters such as Peter Zumthor, or her initial frequentation of the Genoese milieu revolving around Baukuh and a generational climate that prefers affirmative forms of design thinking, Torzo has built her own path, which also includes fragility, albeit contained and mediated by an almost obsessive use of the design of the architectural body, with conscious attention to detail.
This is an interesting gap seeking a common path between Aldo Rossi’s ideological project and the elegant physicality of Scarpa and Albini, resolved through a dry, essential imagery of easily recognizable forms and geometries with the careful, cultured attention to a few, balanced details that make architecture resonate. Drawing again and again becomes the tool to control, test and regulate the flow of thoughts and images to be sent into production, which remains the ultimate goal of Francesca’s work: the constructed, real, physical work to be inhabited and then modified over time. Even her drawings, which formally enter into an Italian vein of stylistic beauty and precision aligned with the research of Mario Ridolfi, Danilo Guerri, Carlo Scarpa and Umberto Riva, are used not as a conceptual and aestheticizing production, but as a tool to enter the building site and realize. Drawing is an aesthetic tool that raises technical knowledge to the level of image, defining a gap between meaning and essential content, but at the same time it is an operational tool so that the work is controlled and possible.
Looking at the strokes and works that gradually emerge from her workshop in Genoa, we cannot but understand the author’s need for silence and solitude, because any noise could distract from a thought focused on the maximum quality required of thework in progress. It is not a sacred, snobbish isolation, but a request for peace in order to do things better, thinking that work should always be ennobled, and that architecture has a very high social and environmental responsibility, which does not contemplate vulgar errors. I would not want you to imagine Torzo as a cloistered nun devoted solely to her work, because that is not how she is, separated between her work and her university teaching in Mendrisio, but that the search for silence is one of the necessary conditions for producing work that can be loved and can then afford to be built and inhabited. This, I believe, is one of Francesca Torzo’s most authentically private challenges and one of the conditions that justify the increasing quality of her work.
Captions and Photo credit (from top to bottom) – PH. Julia Nahmani – Z33 entrance and facade towards Bonnenfantenstraat, photo by Gion von Albertini – Z33 watercolour by Francesca Torzo – Paolo low chair drawings by Francesca Torzo for Maniera – Ottomano sofa drawings by Francesca Torzo for Maniera – Éclaboussures, ink drawings by Francesca Torzo – Chaosmos, solo exhibition at Palazzo dell’Arte by Giovanni Muzio, Triennale in Milano, photo by Julia Nahmani – Chaosmos, solo exhibition at Palazzo dell’Arte by Giovanni Muzio, Triennale in Milano, plan pencil drawings by Francesca Torzo – Z33 handrail detail, photo by Gion von Albertini – Pencil and watercolour drawing by Francesca Torzo