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Workshop interview with Luca Nichetto: “I want to show that you have to take care of your house.”

Photo: Andreas Körner, Koelnmesse

Luca Nichetto, whose choice of location well away from the Milan scene is not entirely coincidental, shows us his designs for “Das Haus – Interiors on Stage” at his studio in Venice’s port district of Marghera. The large-scale installation of an artificial living situation is to be erected at the next imm cologne. In the studio beneath the roof of a renovated old commercial building, there are stacks of models and prototypes; every wall is full of drawings, photos and plans. Luca Nichetto doesn’t leave anything to chance. With obvious passion and animated gestures, he talks of his idea for a form of living in which the coexistence of man and nature enriches people’s lives.

Luca Nichetto speaks about modernity and wellness in architecture
Ultimately, I prefer a really clean space. That’s why the basic idea for my imm cologne “Haus” is also quite simple: It consists of two volumes that are created like a cross with the living room located in the centre, and with a kind of skin around it which encloses the adjoining rooms in the corners of the cross. But I also wanted to be able to see the green outside through every big window. This creates the atmosphere of a connection to nature while fostering a sense of intimacy at the same time. I want to live in a modern home, but I also want to feel at home.

… about the combination of super clean and super decorative
The intrinsic character first becomes apparent with the furniture, the accessories and the personal objects. For example, I have asked my friend Jaime Hayon to provide me with some of his objects for “Das Haus”. I like this combination of super clean and super decorative.

… about his dream of living in “Das Haus”
Of course I would like to live in my imm cologne house. That would be fantastic! I even hope that someday I really will have such a house. At the moment, things are going quite well. Many people think that architects and designers are superstars who live in homes like in Hollywood. But that’s not true; we live a very normal life.

… about his invitation as Guest of Honour from the imm cologne.
I am very proud that the imm cologne asked me to do this project for two reasons: first, because I’m the first Italian designer (laughs), and second, because the fair gives me the opportunity to experiment with and develop my approach to interior design. It’s not just about designing an interior – it’s about doing a real architectural project. And it’s not so easy to find an opportunity like this. So I’m really very happy to be able to do “Das Haus”.

Photo: Andreas Körner, Koelnmesse

… about his plans with regard to interior design
Interior design is exactly the direction I want to take. I’m very interested in how the products I design can work together. That’s something I can evaluate in Cologne. My “Das Haus” needs to be neutral, because I think that it’s the furniture which should determine its character. After all, I’m not an architect, I’m an industrial designer. I don’t want to design a house that’s an object. I prefer the clean architecture of the Japanese masters or of John Pawson. For me, “Das Haus” is a kind of experiment in which I want to demonstrate that you can understand the personality of the people who live in a house by the way they decorate and furnish it. This is certainly also the idea behind “Das Haus”.

… about his goals in this project
I want to learn from this project. And I want to show that you have to take care of your house. Many people believe that to have a nice house, all you need to do is spend enough money to build it and put expensive things in it and you’re done. This is not true. I think if you live together with nature – in and around your house – then it changes your basic perception of the house.

… about a vision of a slow food house
I like the idea of having vegetables and herbs growing right in front of your kitchen. That’s why I have so many planters hanging from my kitchen window. You might even say that “Das Haus” is a manifestation of the slow food concept. We live in a global world. If you go to the supermarket, you can get tomatoes from Spain, Holland or Germany, but it’s hard to find the ones from Sicily, for which Italy is so famous – in comparison to those from Holland they’re just too expensive. It is so strange. I like the idea of living on what you grow at home. Plants give us the opportunity to take care of our house and, at the same time, to realize that nature is something really important. Not only for your house, of course, but for the rest of the world. I think that “Das Haus” is a kind of educational house.

… about sustainability as a topic and a motivation
Maybe it is because I come from Italy, where the idea of taking care of the environment was ignored for a long time. I first realized this in Scandinavia. That was the first time a company decided to kill one of my projects because the transportation itself – aside from the costs – would have had too much of an impact on the environment. You can’t really say anything bad about that, you can just accept it and learn from it. That was my first project for Offecct. At the end of the process I had the Robo chair. At the beginning it is certainly somewhat difficult to rethink your views, but it’s worth it!

… about the interaction between inside and outside and transparent walls
I think it is wrong to act as if nature stops at the borders of our cities and doesn’t concern us any more beyond them. And beside that: When we consciously integrate nature within our own four walls, it can be more than just a decoration. “Das Haus” will be able to demonstrate this. It deliberately plays with the transition between inside and outside. The construction of the rooms themselves in “Das Haus”, with two axes which intersect and with large windows on the end walls, was selected so that from every point in the home there is at least one view outside. Even the walls of “Das Haus” aren’t hermetic but rather allow, depending on your vantage point, a perspective of the outside. They have a double-walled construction, with vertically fanned elements offset diagonally – like horizontally-mounted venetian blinds. This is how transparency is simulated. For the spaces in between, I could imagine partially filling them with glass panels or shelves which would be more or less populated with things like books, ceramics or plants. It depends on how much of an inside and outside view the inhabitants want to allow in that area.

Photo: Andreas Körner, Koelnmesse

… about better living with plants
“Das Haus” is full of plants. But the placement is not random. Each plant has a special function which improves our quality of life. It’s like a symbiosis. There are plants which absorb noise, plants which absorb the smell of ammonia, and others which have a calming effect, etc. A long time ago, people believed that it was impossible to have plants in the bedroom, although there are plants which can clean the air at night. It’s not just about their corrective use, though. Plants improve the quality of life. Perhaps not everyone can make such a large platform in their living room as in the imm cologne “Haus” or like the home of Ray and Charles Eames, which I had in mind while I was creating my design; but even a small living room with a lot of plants would make a big improvement in the quality of life. I really don’t know why we nearly lost this part of our culture. It’s time to rediscover it.

… about the work on “Das Haus” and his sources of inspiration
Actually, I prefer to work with a clear briefing, which is why the work was unusual and more difficult for me. But in the end that was an advantage, because I could incorporate a lot of things which are important to me: Carlos Scarpa’s houses, for example, and the modern architecture of the 1950’s in California. The Japanese masters superbly understood how to create very functional, simple architecture in which the borders between inside and outside become blurred. You can see the influence from Scandinavia and from my homeland in the “Haus”. I tried to pick the characteristic elements of these and put them together. One example is the entry of light through the double-walled construction, which creates fantastic shadows on the inside, similar to the Japanese approach to working with light and nature. An important element which nature contributes to the architecture as a design element is a reference to the Scandinavian pavilion at the Biennale in Venice: the windows in the roof with large plants beneath them. The principle of the floor plan is more modern, with two volumes which basically intersect each other in the middle.

… about materials and colours that have a history
Basically we looked for materials which show respect for nature, which is why we have a typical Scandinavian colour scheme in “Das Haus” – bright, natural, neutral. But also the materials that were often used in Venice, such as wood greyed through aging and washing, so-called “Briccole” wood, and white stone which reminds you of Venetian palaces and church facades.

… about “Das Haus” as a metaphor for the lifeline of the earth
The architectural structure in and of itself is a reference to the environment, a picture which intrinsically suggests the changed perception of nature. The separation of inside and outside, of modified space and natural surroundings is, of course, conventional. When we see ourselves as a part of nature and the earth as an overall structure in which forests are as important for the vitality of the planet as the heart is for an organism, then it seems reasonable that a house also has a centre which fills the home with life. As such, “Das Haus” is not just a suggestion of how one can live, but also a metaphor. The point where the two axes intersect is the life hub of the house – a central living area which seamlessly merges with the terrace through a large glass window and creates a single visual entity. All other rooms are connected to the central living area. It is the heart of the house, surrounded by nature.

… about open living and traditional forms of living
Of course, most people hold onto the traditional forms of living, but there is a group that doesn’t want this at all. I don’t see it like that. “Das Haus” isn’t a loft, because the structure does offer a matrix for differentiated rooms or at least room functions, but it doesn’t specify a conventional pattern like “3 rooms, kitchen, hall and bath”. I’ve tried to mix these two types of living areas: There are classic, separated living areas like the living room, bedroom, kitchen, bath and garden terrace, but they don’t necessarily require walls to separate them. For one thing, plants change the perception of a room, and the furniture, of course, shows you what area of the house you’re in. I like the idea that the furniture gives the space its function.

Photo: Andreas Körner, Koelnmesse

… about relaxation and media consumption
This was done quite deliberately – I simply didn’t want to have a television in “Das Haus”. I think it is important to be active in your home, even while relaxing. That’s why there’s a terrace for relaxing with a table and chairs and even a lounge chair, and for the indoor relaxation area there’s a library, but no television. As an Italian, I know how dangerous too much TV consumption is for a society.

… about an open bathroom and intimacy
I put the shower outside on the terrace, because you can only use it for a short time during the year. Inside it is much more ecological to have a bath than a shower because the water consumption is less, which is why there’s only a bathtub indoors. I prefer not to have the bathroom completely in the open. The way I see it, it’s the game of what you see and what you don’t see that makes the intimacy between a couple so alluring rather than blatant nakedness.

… about variable areas in “Das Haus”
I see “Das Haus” as a flexible space, the parts of which have no specific functions. They can be exchanged at any time, depending on how the needs change – for example, if you need an office instead of an extra relaxation area, or a children’s room instead of a changing room or a second bath, and so on. But the living room will always remain at the heart of the house.

… about the living situation and architectural challenges of the future
I think that you will be very lucky to have a house with 200 m² of living area in the future. Places to live will become smaller and smaller, especially in the city. This is for two reasons: first, the cost of energy, and second, the available space in the city. The division of the rooms is something completely different. Why are bedrooms so big when we could make better use of the space in the kitchen, bath or children’s room? Today it is not possible to change rooms easily when you want to, due to the location of the utility shafts and all the connections for water, gas and electricity. This is something which needs to be changed in the future. Houses need to be built in a way that you can do what you want.