Within the studio with Tobia Scarpa: ‘Structure simply fell on me, I used to be not quick sufficient to maneuver away’

by Editors Staff

Years in the past, the architect and designer Tobia Scarpa was requested what he goals about. He replied, ‘One in every of my goals can be to have my very own little boat subsequent to my home, or a ship large enough to carry me for a lifetime and drift away.’ Now 87, Scarpa’s boat-owning days are over, although his ardour for boatbuilding stays undimmed. The picture of water, in addition to the sense of sunlit solitude that one associates with crusing, continues to be current in his work.

The son of main modernist architect Carlo Scarpa (1906-1978), Tobia Scarpa was born in Venice in 1935, and has at all times had a privileged relationship with water. Fittingly, his present studio in Treviso is positioned close to the Sile river, which was as soon as used to move items to and from Venice. Water imposes a way of isolation and privateness, and Scarpa doesn’t yearn for the highlight. He has by no means been related to a faculty of structure or design, as a substitute detaching himself from the mainstream so he can create freely. ‘The key to the very best high quality is to move unnoticed; if you work in direction of magnificence, you don’t have to point out it off,’ he says. 

Scarpa’s well-known final title comes with a sure burden – his father Carlo was an distinctive expertise, who had the distinctive distinction of educating structure on the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice whereas not being formally an architect, having refused to sit down for the certification exams that grew to become compulsory in Italy after the Second World Battle. After I ask Tobia about his first encounter with structure, he solutions with a smile: ‘There was not a primary time. Structure simply fell on me all of sudden, and I used to be not quick sufficient to maneuver away. I felt obliged to say sure.’

Tobia Scarpa’s collaboration with Afra Bianchin

Afra and Tobia Scarpa’s 1959 ‘Pigreco’ chair, reissued by Tacchini in 2021. Images: James Mollison

As Scarpa drinks his morning espresso in entrance of a pencil drawing, he tells me that he was by no means one for tutorial examine. ‘I used to be a dyslexic baby, so I had some issues in school. I by no means appreciated colleges, nor did I like guidelines. I needed to discover my very own method. I consider that’s what makes a person – the pleasure of his personal satisfaction. I additionally had an issue to unravel: I couldn’t turn into a competitor of my father.’ To differentiate himself, he determined to dedicate his creativity to the manufacturing of objects, relatively than buildings. 

Scarpa met his associate in work and life, Afra Bianchin (1937-2011), between the desks of the IUAV College of Venice – they’d graduate on the identical day in 1957, and collaborate on all their tasks for greater than 5 many years, throughout structure, restoration, exhibition design, graphics and educating. Whatever the subject, Scarpa has at all times approached design by growing a detailed relationship to things, exploring their secrets and techniques and interrogating their particulars. His old flame was glass. Venini, the famend Murano glass producer that had labored along with his father, supplied Scarpa many commissions and gave him the prospect to experiment with kind and color within the nice Venetian custom. 

Scarpa at all times produces many sketches when working in his studio. The sketches he deems probably the most inspiring are displayed within the workroom, in a continually altering composition. Images: James Mollison

The spark between Afra and Tobia Scarpa ignited in 1959 with the ‘Pigreco’ chair, their first challenge collectively, conceived for an ornamental arts course taught by Franco Albini on the IUAV. A 12 months later, they opened their design studio in Montebelluna, Afra’s hometown. They lived in close by Trevignano, in a house with the wildest backyard.

Within the late Fifties, the studio grew to become a number one participant on the commercial design scene, due to collaborations with a number of pioneering furnishings manufacturers, together with Molteni & C and UniFor. The Molteni household additionally commissioned Tobia to design Casa Molteni, their dwelling close to Carimate – he was constructing many personal homes on the time.

In 1970, Afra and Tobia gained the Compasso d’Oro award for the ‘Soriana’ armchair, produced by Cassina the earlier 12 months. Born of experiments in expanded polyurethane, the ‘Soriana’ (additionally obtainable as a settee) supplied unprecedented ranges of consolation and has turn into an icon of Twentieth-century furnishings. It has since been reissued in additional sustainable supplies, and a latest limited-edition comes upholstered in Japanese denim, consistent with the design’s unconventional spirit.

Instruments within the studio. Images: James Mollison

Within the tumultuous Sixties, the Scarpas participated within the institution of lighting model Flos, which shortly achieved worldwide success. They designed most of the model’s signature items – together with the outstanding ‘Fantasma’ flooring lamp (1961), comprising a polyester cocoon stretched over a metallic body; the aquiline ‘Biagio’ desk lamp (1968), carved from a single block of Carrara marble; and the slender ‘Papillona’ flooring lamp (1970), with an inverted pyramidal lampshade of prismatic glass. 

For B&B Italia, they designed the ‘Coronado’ assortment of armchairs and sofas (1966), pioneering using chilly polyurethane filling, which is elastic, versatile, allergen-free, and permits for shorter manufacturing occasions; whereas for Stildomus, they made the ‘Torcello’ bookcase (early Sixties), whose wood panels have been joined by a metallic profile. Their shopper record additional included Knoll, Fabbian and Veas. At the moment, a lot of their creations have achieved traditional standing, and seem within the everlasting collections of the world’s most prestigious museums. 

Between the Sixties and Seventies, a time of great change in Italy, Afra and Tobia conceived their tasks consistent with evolving methods of dwelling however according to their imaginative and prescient: comfy, elegantly useful, and indifferent from unstable tendencies. As he as soon as informed design critic Cristina Morozzi: ‘I’ve devoted my information and talent to corporations. I make issues as I understand how, and I attempt to be easy, with out vanity.’ Coming from an structure background, Tobia checked out design as a limitless playground, an area to have enjoyable and experiment. 

Structure and spirituality

The third-floor convention room of Ca’ Scarpa, within the former Church of Santa Maria Nova in Treviso. Images: James Mollison

In a 2018 interview with Elle Decor Italia, Scarpa stated, ‘My life aim was to be an architect. I’ve witnessed {many professional} deaths, and this expertise modified my understanding of my function. I finally realised that the mental awe that arises from the artistic dialogue results in boundless dimensions of the soul. One who accepts this awe has the chance to develop spiritually.’ Like his design, his structure is ascetic, rigorous, and with a devotional honesty.

Scarpa has at all times been a wine lover. For a number of years in the course of the Nineteen Nineties, he made his personal wine on a 2,000 sq m plot that was as soon as woodland. Wanting on the wine cellar he created in 2010 for the Tenuta delle Ripalte vineyard, on the Tuscan island of Elba, one can really grasp this ‘religious development’ he talked about. A monolithic block, set on a slope with a view of the ocean, Tenuta delle Ripalte is a bridge to infinity that springs from the center of the rock. It’s a secluded but boundless house, concurrently delicate and robust, with intelligent hidden mechanisms that transport barrels throughout the degrees. 

A wood mannequin of a 1997 auditorium challenge for the Beguinage of Hasselt in Belgium, based mostly on a spiral shell, image of the Golden Part. Images: James Mollison

Properly earlier than the Ripalte, the union between performance and spirituality characterised the partnership between Scarpa and Treviso-based vogue behemoth Benetton, which started in 1964. The household empire gave him his first architectural fee, its HQ in Paderno di Ponzano, Veneto. Thus started a protracted story of mutual esteem and collaboration with ‘il Signor Luciano’, because the architect calls the model’s visionary co-founder Luciano Benetton. They proceeded to work collectively on new constructions, renovations of historic buildings and conversions of latest buildings, all demonstrating aesthetic and useful analysis of the very best high quality and adhering to Scarpa’s design signature.

Amongst Scarpa’s latest tasks are the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, which was completed final 12 months after a decade of development, and the previous Church of San Teonisto in Treviso, remodeled into an auditorium and exhibition house full with a movable row of seats – a fee funded by Luciano Benetton in gratitude for his or her decades-long collaboration. Additionally within the centre of Treviso, proper in entrance of the Duomo, is the Galleria delle Prigioni. This imposing Nineteenth-century Habsburg jail has been reborn as a public gallery, whereas preserving historic options such because the signage and a lot of authentic jail cells. In a dramatic gesture, Scarpa dug a tunnel throughout the cells, opening up the house and completely shifting the customer’s notion. ‘I can modify issues, as future put me on this place, however I don’t need to erase what got here earlier than me,’ he explains.

Scarpa’s studio in Treviso options cabinets filled with prototypes, samples and wood instruments. Images: James Mollison

Seeking to the long run, Ca’ Scarpa, within the centre of Treviso, is pricey to the architect. As soon as the Church of Santa Maria Nova, the constructing is now devoted to the examine of Carlo Scarpa’s structure, ‘a present from Signor Luciano’ and a part of the cultural circuit of the Benetton Basis. Directed by the Italian-Japanese researcher and architect Mauro Pierconti, it’s not conceived as a museum however relatively a spot for analysis, and can comprise each father and son’s personal libraries. The open house, marked and punctuated by iron columns, concrete flooring and a modular set up system, nods to the legacy of the Scarpa household. 

From the top of the Fifties, by the prolific Seventies, to the 2000s, when he saved a decrease profile, Tobia Scarpa has devoted his life to design and structure. He has imagined, researched and created a useful, poetic world for which we’re in debt. Non secular but sensible, involved in new strategies and in using supplies, this drive of nature – who resists being known as ‘maestro’ – has remodeled lamps into sculptures, armchairs into timeless locations of relaxation, buildings into visionary bridges between performance and wonder. Maybe the last word signal of his humility is his insistence that his success will be attributed to his final title and household legacy. As he quipped whereas receiving his Compasso d’Oro for lifetime achievement in 2008, ‘anybody can turn into a baker, however you possibly can solely be a natural-born architect’. §

A yellow arrow ‘borrowed’ from the set of a TV programme that interviewed Scarpa. Images: James Mollison

Supply: Wallpaper

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