Mario Cucinella, the visionary founder of MCA Architects, shares insights into the transformative journey of refurbishing a 19th-century building in Milan that delves into the delicate balance between aesthetics and functionality, the integration of sustainable approaches, and the challenges encountered during the completion of a groundbreaking project.
Could you elaborate on the project you presented at the WAF?
The historical significance of a building is paramount, reflecting its stratifications over time, modifications, and architecture, providing insights into the culture and life of its past inhabitants. MCA undertook an architectural renovation project in the heart of Milan for a 19th-century building, expanding and annexing additional areas for museum purposes. Studio MCA was entrusted with the interior design, museum displays, and overall art direction.
What sustainable approaches were incorporated into this project?
Renovating an existing structure is more fulfilling than constructing a new one, particularly in a city setting with potential complexities. Upgrades include enhanced technical equipment and improved thermal performance. Adherence to international standards ensures air quality, eliminating the need for extensive air conditioning. Utilising the existing structure qualifies for various certifications in high-powered refurbishment, making it a noteworthy and insightful endeavour.
What challenges did you face during project completion?
Managing vibrations and construction from underground to the first floor posed technological engineering challenges in the city centre, surrounded by existing buildings and metro lines. While centralising the Milan Archaeological and Contemporary Museum enhanced the city’s living standards, it presented logistical challenges.
How did you balance aesthetics and functionality in the museum?
My approach prioritised the interior and invisible aspects of the underground museum, drawing inspiration from ground architecture observed in the Deccan Stepwell in Rajasthan and Ahmedabad. Emphasising beauty and invisibility achieved a harmonious blend of aesthetics and functionality. Like the overall architecture, the exhibition design meticulously considered elements to integrate seamlessly into the narrative. This approach aimed to generate an immersive experience, blending history, archaeology, design, architecture, and digital technologies. The exhibition layout allows visitors to freely explore beneath the three domes, where artefacts are displayed in glass cases symbolising fragments of history, or venture into the ellipsoidal space, discovering new narratives in various rooms. Custom-designed glass cases eliminate reflection effects, and bespoke lighting integrates cleanly with the exhibition elements.
What are your views on achieving Net Zero construction?
Building construction is a necessity driven by basic human needs for housing, infrastructure, and cultural spaces. Rethinking building methods, prioritising eco-friendly materials, and addressing societal needs can pave the way for sustainable practices. The challenge lies in reconciling sustainability with affordability and advocating for political attention to these critical issues.
What are your thoughts on India’s responsibility and techniques in construction practices?
Given India’s rapid expansion and surpassing China’s population, addressing growth and sustainability may take time and effort. However, Indians, historically adaptive to various climates, demonstrate cultural responsibility. The younger generation of architects recognises the imperative to protect the environment for human survival. With over 30 years in the industry, I focus on environmental sustainability and aesthetics as foundational aspects of architecture. Balancing these elements is crucial when the ecological toll is escalating. Architects strive to design buildings that contribute to a better society.
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