Beautiful losers

by ma0now

These last two years have been quite catastrophic in terms of success in architectural competitions, we have to admit. Despite the time that the pandemic has given us, the number of submissions we were able to make, none of the projects had recognition of any sort. It happens: success in competitions depends on the alignment of many factors, sometimes you can blame the jury or the crowd of competitors and always these failures are an opportunity to understand how to do better and where to address the next shot – because not all of your creatures are the best you can do, and they are nothing but a ordinary stumble in a path that can nevertheless lead to glory.

Some of them, despite their failure, stands in our story as beautiful experiences, projects that we surely (will) refer to in the future, thanks to the ideas that have solicited us or the way we represented them. Ogni scarrafone è bello a mamma sua (every cockroach is beautiful to his mother) we say in Italy, and it’s true that it always very hard to gain netruality towards our own creations, but in the three following cases we believe that there is something special that we have to bring along in other projects… Let’s start from the most recent one:

Sanctuaire – Reception facilities for the Etang de la Gruère parc, Canton du Jura, Switzerland 2021

What we like: the way the reinterpretation of an archetypal volume – the roof – establishes a gentle and appropriate dialogue with the topography and the landscape, opening the tourists’ center to the surrounding lawns, becoming part of the processional path to the entrance to the parc; we like also very much the repurposing of the elements all made of wood, in planks or in piled trunks, coming from another beloved (and losing) previous project.

What they didn’t (supposedly) like: well, the awarded with the first prize a project proposing to completely remove the car parking from the area (one of the requirements of the competition brief, and one of the reasons for the competition itself)… our Toblerone like roof was for sure too impacting. We felt completely cheated, you can’t win just by removing a goal of the competition. But this is the type of shit that happens in competitions…

Carousel Europa – Piazza Transcalpina / TRG Europe competition in Gorizia/Nova Gorica 2020

What we like: the lightness of a festive architecture that, while interpreting the genius loci, resonates with many different precedents; the complementarity of open and closed spaces (one the background of the other), and the simple but effective devices of interaction integrated in the outdoor and indoor spaces; a narrative suspended bewteen reality and imagination, that makes use of different narrative codes, from the detournement of images, to diagrams and mixed media renderings.

What they didn’t (supposedly) like: they wanted a monument and we proposed instead a carousel and a tent that opens up along the border, we really got it all wrong!

Epicenters – Art Platform in Suncheon, Korea 2016

What we like: similarly to the previous project, we love the lightness of a building made of canopies evoking the Korean shrines, completely merged with the public space – here too, figure and ground, built and unbuilt, volume and surface come to form together. And, of course, we love the graphic suspended between drawing and rendering, something that in our heads was an allusion to a certaing graphic heritage of the region.

What they didn’t like: nothing, the package arrived too late, nobody ever judged this project, and this probably worse than a bad reception! But it is one more reason to keep it as a refernce for further investigations…

YAKARI! – Bois-de-la-Batie park, Geneva 2013

What we like: this project for a park it’s 100% a playground, and it’s all made of one module – we have an obsession for simple modules, the best elements to play with to build anything possible. Here the module responds perfectly to the site – everything runs along the border between the forest and clear, merge and blend with the landscape thanks to the sampling and repetition of a characteristic element of the rural and mountanin landscape: wood, piled in stacks on the edge of forests, or close to dwellings.

What they didn’t like: what we liked most, the densification of all the elements along one line, following strict geometrical patterns – was an approach far away from the winning one by Joao Nunes, much more organic and soft. That’s the problem when architects want to be landscape designers…

Passo Carrabile – Viale Aventino, 2001

What we like: it’s been 20 years so far, and we feel a little bit ashamed to be linked still to this early and naif project of ours. Though, long before the elaboration of the “streetfight” culture, and birth of concepts such as “tactical urbanism”, this proposal was fully aware that to make a discourse on public space we have to start from the redesign of the horizontal surfaces of the city. This awareness has nurtured many project afterwards, and we’re happy to share it today with a much wider community of designer and administrators.

What they didn’t like: we had the brilliant idea to make renderings doubling the vertical dimensions of the paving, because the light articulation (max 40 cm) of the different levels wasn’t visibile enough, causing a great misunderstanding on the project: as we heard later on, the jury understood that we wanted to excavate the road, which is impossibile, given the presence of the subway underneath. This was a great teaching on the problems in communicating something that is not volumetric, but is just made of gently articulated surfaces such as the public space, and that’s why afterwards we remade the perspective views in the graphic style you see in this post (on the website the original ones). Also, we have to mention that the winning project wasn’t questioning at all the street in its entirety, limiting the intervention to the sidewalks, with a very defensive solution…

Sometimes you get awarded for questioning the competition program (like in the first project of this list) sometimes you can’t …