"Perfect technical solutions are embedded in the Swiss DNA"

Interview with Maria Alessandra Segantini



Foto: Matteo Benigna


Italian architect Maria Alessandra Segantini and the kitchen @home designed by her firm c+s architects play a central role in Hawa's latest corporate movie. Furthermore, c+s is currently exhibiting the "eduCARE" structure at the Biennale in Venice.


Ms Segantini, this year is the second time your firm has been invited to participate in the Biennale in Venice. Is that just an honor or also a burden?

The last time we were a part of the exhibition in the Italian pavilion. This time, however, we are exhibiting our work within the framework of the main exhibition. It is a great honor for us and also an opportunity to reflect critically on our creative work.


Your eduCARE exhibit in Venice is a floating gangway in the shape of a helix. What is the idea behind it?

15 years ago, we ascertained that school buildings in Italy were in a miserable state: they looked like boxes built by engineers or architects who stubbornly followed standard specifications. There was no room for proper architecture. We were able to initiate a rethinking process through our involvement. We have turned schools back into important meeting places within the expanding towns and cities, where they now contribute towards communal life. Our exhibition at the Biennale reflects this process and the floating gangway symbolizes a knot that has come undone – that also makes it a metaphor for our schools.


Foto: C+S Architects


Many exhibits are disposed of after the Biennale. What will become of eduCARE?

We want to sell the structure for the highest possible price and use the proceeds to realize a school project in Tanzania or Kenya. That would turn a piece of art into a piece of reality. Is the Biennale simply an architectural exhibition to you or were you able to take some input home with you? We received a lot of input in Venice. Especially as we were able to talk with other architects during the installation phase and share our ideas and concerns with them.


Which exhibit at the current Biennale has impressed you most of all?

I have seen many interesting structures. What I liked most of all is that all exhibitors are fighting architectural mediocrity. The presentation by Zhang Ke or the swimming school by Kunlé Adeyemi are prime examples. I was also impressed by Canadian professor Jan van Pelt, whose work deals with the subject of the holocaust.


Two years ago, you designed a very unconventional kitchen for Italian manufacturer Elmar in the form of the @home concept. Hardware from Hawa was used in the design. How did you become aware of the products and what convinced you to use them?

Sometimes we architects are missing a small but crucial element to realize our ideas. The hardware from Hawa was exactly the crucial puzzle piece that was missing from the @home concept. When we designed the kitchen, we imagined a cabinet that becomes a part of the room when it is open. However, that meant that the doors would have to disappear – and that is exactly what the folding/sliding hardware from Hawa made possible. In my opinion, only Swiss companies like Hawa are capable of creating such perfect technical solutions. It seems to be embedded in the Swiss DNA – just look at all the sophisticated watches!


The kitchen @home.


What ideas influenced you when you were designing @home?

Two things: the idea of a table that forms the center of the living room, and memories of my childhood. Instead of a conventional kitchen island that is too high to be used as a table, we designed a hybrid-use table top that is a cooking area, work space and meeting point rolled into one. My grandmother's kitchen from the time of my childhood was the source of inspiration for the kitchen cabinet. It had open shelves and the items on them were covered with colorful paper to protect them. We took this image and the colorful surfaces and implemented them in the cabinet's interior. When you open the doors, you are therefore seeing one of my childhood memories; when the doors are closed, the cabinet becomes a part of the living room furniture.


Have you used any other hardware from Hawa since you designed the kitchen?

Not yet, but I think that our design ideas and the technical solutions from Hawa are a perfect match. Who knows what the future holds…


You and @home play a role in the Hawa's latest corporate movie – is that a premiere for you?

Yes, it was my first ever film role and a very exciting experience.


Outtake Hawa Corporate Movie more


Our world and our society are currently in a state of change. What challenges does that bring with it for architects?

Living space is currently a big problem; all the more so as many people from different regions are coming to us. In some areas, we are confronted by situations that are reminiscent of the 19th century when many people moved away from rural regions into the cities. As a result, some families today are living under poor conditions in homes that are much too small. This is where we architects need to find solutions. However, we can only do that if our customers are willing to invest in good housing projects. It is also important not to simply build houses but to create areas where people enjoy living together and are part of the community.


What role do flexibly usable rooms and folding or sliding elements play in this context?

Small living units in which nearly everything can be moved or folded will in future be very important. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for instance, is currently working intensely on the topic. I think that small rooms with versatile uses are a traditional possibility of creating high-quality living space. I live in Venice and the many boats here are a good example: they are not very spacious and the available room is used for many functions such as cooking, eating and sleeping. This is made possible by foldable tables and beds, for instance. From this viewpoint, boats are small yet extremely versatile buildings – and it is this quality that we architects should use as an orientation aid in order to react to new challenges. Plainly speaking, what it also means is this: the time of modern architecture with its single-use rooms is over!



Maria Alessandra Segantini (49) was born in Treviso (I) and gained a master's degree in architecture from the University of Venice. She and Carlo Cappai jointly founded the firm c+s architects based in Treviso/Venice in 1994. In addition to working for her own company, she is also a visiting professor at the MIT (Cambridge, USA) and a Reader at the School of Architecture at the UEL University of East London (UK).


 Text: Reto Westermann

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