At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Massimiliano Fuksas – architect

Brilliant designs illuminate cities worldwide


Massimiliano Fuksas is one of Italy's foremost architects of the modern era
Massimiliano Fuksas is one of Italy's foremost
architects of the modern era
The international architect Massimiliano Fuksas, whose work has influenced the urban landscape in more than a dozen countries across the globe, was born on this day in 1944 in Rome.

The winner of multiple awards, Fuksas sits alongside Antonio Citterio and Renzo Piano as the most important figures in contemporary Italian architectural design.

His Fuksas Design company, which has its headquarters in a Renaissance palace near Piazza Navona in Rome, also has offices in Paris and in Shenzen, China, employing 140 staff.

Among more than 600 projects completed by the company in 40 years, those that stand out include Terminal Three at the Shenzen Bao’an International Airport in China, the New National Archives of France at Pierrefitte sur Seine-Saint Denis, the Peres Peace House in Tel Aviv,  the Zenith Music Hall in Strasbourg, the Armani Ginza Tower in Tokyo, the Italian Space Agency headquarters in Rome and the FieraMilano Trade Fair complex on the outskirts of Milan.

Ongoing projects include the new EUR Hotel and Conference Centre in Rome, the Duomo metro station in Naples, the Australia Forum centre in Canberra, Australia and the Rhike Park music theatre and museum complex in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Fuksas, who had a Lithuanian father and an Italian mother of Austrian heritage, wanted to be an artist and in the early 1960s would work in the studio of the painter Giorgio de Chirico, who had been the founder of the Scuola Metafisica in Italian art in the early part of the century, which had similarities with the Surrealism movement that emerged in Paris at around the same time.  

Fuksas's Zenith Music Hall in Strasbourg resembles a giant paper lantern
Fuksas's Zenith Music Hall in Strasbourg resembles
a giant paper lantern 
He spent time in London with Archigram, a group of avant-garde architects, and also visited Copenhagen before returning to Rome to enrol at Sapienza University, where he graduated in architecture in 1969.

Setting up a studio with his first wife, Anna Maria Sacconi, in the 1970s he worked on many public sector projects in Lazio, particularly in the towns of Anagni and Paliano.

Fuksas’s reputation began to grow after a leading architecture magazine in France ran a feature about his municipal gymnasium project in Paliano, famous for a façade that appears to have become detached from the main building and leans at a seemingly precarious angle.  It led him to be invited to exhibit at the Paris Biennial of 1982.

Since 1985 he has shared a professional as well as personal relationship with Doriana Mandrelli, a designer from Rome who graduated from Sapienza University in 1979. She became his second wife and is the mother of his three daughters, Elisa, Lavinia and Priscilla.

The FieraMilano site is notable for its undulating mesh roof
The FieraMilano site is notable for its
undulating mesh roof
By the 1990s, major international projects were keeping Fuksas continuously busy, including the Twin Tower office and residential development in Vienna, the Europark retail complex in Salzburg and the modernisation of the PalaLottomatica sports venue in Rome’s EUR district.

In 2004, the new headquarters and research centre for Ferrari at Maranello in Emilia-Romagna and the Nardini Research Centre at Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto were completed, followed the following year by the FieraMilano site between the suburbs of Rho and Pero.

With Doriana running the business, a lucrative deal was struck with Armani to revamp some stores and construct new ones, among the most eye-catching being the Armani Ginza Tower in Tokyo.

Although he has moved away from the bizarre and surrealistic, into which category the façade of the Paliano gymnasium fell, Fuksas still wanted his buildings to have a bold visual impact and would use conventional materials to create unusual effects.

For example, he wanted the roof of the FieraMilano to resemble draped cloth and achieved this with an undulating mesh of steel and glass.  With the circular Zenith Music Hall in Strasbourg, the use of an irregular steel frame covered with a translucent textile membrane creates the impression, especially at night, of a giant lantern.

The terminal Fuksas designed for Shenzen Bao'an International airport in China
The terminal Fuksas designed for Shenzen Bao'an
International airport in China
The airport terminal in Shenzen, which Fuksas designed after winning a competition from a field that included the British architectural star Sir Norman – now Lord – Foster, itself resembles the frame of an aeroplane.

Fuksas and his family divide their time between homes in Rome, where they have a substantial apartment overlooking Castel Sant’Angelo, and in Paris, where their residence is on the fashionable Place de Vogues in the Marais neighbourhood.

Unlike some architects obsessed with modernity, Fuksas is respectful of history.  In fact, he says he would do nothing with the traditional historic centres of Italian cities except turn them into clean and airy pedestrian zones, empty of traffic except for metro trains and non-polluting buses and trams, beginning with Rome and Naples.

Fuksas's design for the facade of a gymnasium complex in the town of Paliano was bizarre but drew attention
Fuksas's design for the facade of a gymnasium complex
in the town of Paliano was bizarre but drew attention
Travel tip:

The medieval hill town of Anagni, full of steep, narrow streets offering shade from the summer sun, used to be popular with Roman emperors as a cooler, fresher place to which to retreat from the oppressive heat of the summer.  It also produced four popes, all from the Conti family.  Paliano is among the smaller, neighbouring towns and villages.

Rome's cylindrical Castel Sant' Angelo seen across the  bridge over the Tiber river
Rome's cylindrical Castel Sant' Angelo seen across the
bridge over the Tiber river
Travel tip:

Once the tallest building in Rome, the distinctively cylindrical Castel Sant’Angelo was originally commissioned by the Emperor Hadrian to be built on the right bank of the Tiber as a mausoleum for him and his family, although it was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle.  An urn containing Hadrian's ashes was placed there a year after his death in 138, together with those of his wife Sabina, and his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius. The remains of subsequent emperors were also placed there, the last recorded deposition being Caracalla in 217, although after the building’s conversion to military use it became a target for Visigoth looters in the fifth century and most of the urns were destroyed and their contents randomly scattered.


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