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Odile Decq, Le rouge et le noir

LB
Black, Red White. These three colours seem to be a constant feature of your designs. Does this mean something for you?
OD
I started using black for the first time in the design for Rome (the Macro Museum inaugurated in 2010 ndr), then I started using it more often with architecture since it was already in constant use with clothes. Red has always helped me for highlighting certain details in presenting projects – by including it in realizations or models, I discovered that it provided a vital contrast with black. As far as white is concerned, it’s never been chosen as a colour per se, rather to determine floors and surfaces within a space.

LB
We asked you to appear on the cover as a tribute to your personality and the consistency that we see in your work as an architect and designer. What does the word consistency mean for you?
OD
I believe that there is always a good deal of consistency in the work of an architect. It is something that is inevitable. An architectural project lasts a long time, it involves a lot of people and has to deal with a lot of difficulties. If there is no conviction in pursuing the goal then the project is lost and because of this, consistency is necessary throughout the whole process. I think that this tendency is a characteristic of all architects and that it doesn’t apply just to my personal approach to work.

LB
You worked together with Benoit Cornette as the ODBC studio for a long time and now you’re on your own…
OD
He was the person with whom I shared my life, he wasn’t just my partner at work, and I miss him (he died in an accident in 1998 ndr)

LB
How did your partnership start?
OD
I had met him before when I was studying art before moving on to architecture, and so then we went on to share our professional career in this sector, creating a great deal of projects together.

LB
How did your work change afterwards?
OD
I had to reorganize my work and the design studio. Before I used to teach, I did that for ten years. After I revolutionized my working methods into a sort of constant workshop. Now there are a great many young people who move on quickly because they need to develop their own way and I make sure that there is a tremendous amount of willingness to accept this constant change. It’s going well. It’s not easy managing an architectural studio, especially if you are a woman.

LB
Being both a woman and an architect, that can’t be easy…
OD
It’s very difficult, it’s still a man’s job. There is still a great deal of machismo, of chauvinism. There are a lot of young women who start their studies but then when faced with the profession they disappear.
It’s a profession where you have to struggle a lot, where you have to fight hard to get a result. Women find it difficult to do this, and ultimately it’s also a problem of education; we are not educated to do this. For a woman to enter and then succeed in the profession it is very difficult but when this happens they are better than men because they have been forced to be and to become stronger to achieve the same result.
The men in the business are not happy with this. First of all you have to learn to relate to a world that is dominated by men: the customers are men, the engineers at construction sites are men as well as the workers and also real estate developers, and they are not used to dealing with a woman on site. They are not used to ”equality” yet.

LB
Have things changed in the last few years perhaps?
OD
Things have changed for me because I’ve achieved a level of popularity. It’s simpler now but in general I don’t think that things have changed all that much.

LB
Does a woman still struggle to be recognised as an architect?
OD
Yes, definitely. If I’m sitting at a business meeting next to other people, my colleague will be addressed as “Architect” but they’ll call me “Madame”.

LB
Being an architect and being a designer, do you see a difference?
OD
The design process is the same. The way of thinking about and looking at the context, the way of setting about the problems is the same. However, the process of creating an object is much faster, there are fewer elements to be considered and it takes less time. A piece of architecture is a more complex product that takes more time, it’s more difficult to keep under control. Time and complexity; these are the differences.

LB
Do you think that there is an element of French character in your way of creating architecture?
OD
I don’t know. I’m French and more specifically I come from Brittany. Some outsiders talk about a French element when they talk about me but frankly I don’t know what that means. Today we deal with each other on an international level and face challenges in different countries so we have to have a vision capable of interpreting different needs. In any case I am French so that is bound to have a bearing on my way of being and working.

LB
You have worked with Italian businesses and business people. What do you think of Italian design?
OD
I think it’s terrific! Italian companies are willing to listen and will make every effort to create the project that is presented to them. This is rare. There is a tremendous intelligence in these companies and I really hope that this attitude doesn’t disappear. However, I fear that this may happen because in recent years, with so many acquisitions by financial companies, the risk is that this wealth of knowledge and sensitivity will get lost along the way.

LB
Is this a question of generational change, economic choices or managerial skills?
OD
I believe it’s more a question of culture rather than generational changes. These new companies do not always maintain their corporate identity and I can see that for some businesses dealing with these changes will be very delicate.

LB
Going back to architecture, who, if any, were the great teachers for you?
OD
No, no teachers. I don’t go along with that idea. My education took place before 1968 and after the conquests of that period, this concept no longer made sense. Even when I taught I never tried to become a teacher for those people who learned from me. I do not think it is right to follow this way of transferring knowledge.
I think that one should teach people to express themselves. A reference point should serve to indicate that you can achieve results. For me, architects like Claude Parent and Peter Cook were key figures, but rather as examples of character, as individuals who demonstrated their ability to resist the system.

LB
Which other architects, contemporary designers or products do you particularly like?
OD
I love objects, architectures, or individuals, but not necessarily the relationship between them. I can admire an architect as a person and maybe not his or her architecture, or admire a product and not the person who designed it.
I am constantly in motion and even the things that I like are constantly changing. I’m curious, I’m interested in the surprise of discovering new things.

LB
You enjoy the moment… Among your projects is there one you particularly like?
OD
The next one, obviously

LB
What is your next project?
OD
It’s a tower block of luxury apartments that I’m building in Barcelona, but I also really like a property that I’ve just finished in Paris.

LB
Is there anything else that we haven’t said that sums you up or is typical of you as a person?
OD
I travel a lot, I love meeting new people. I particularly like discovering other countries’ cuisine. I find that eating with people I don’t know helps to understand their culture and creates a moment of sharing. I find that this contact is very satisfying, it serves to nourish the body and spirit and helps us understand other people’s way of life.

LB
This theme of “feeding the planet” has been particularly relevant in Italy during recent months thanks to Expo…
OD
That’s true, and it’s a fundamental experience for really getting to know people and places.

LB
Then let’s hope we get the chance to have lunch together soon.

Interview . Luisa Bocchietto
Photo . Piero Martinello

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