Busiri Vici is an ancient family whose origins date back to the second half of Seventeenth century and includes many important architects in their genealogical tree. Among them, Michele and Clemente stand out at the beginning of twentieth century for their significant works of architecture and city planning. This particular passion for architecture has been going on until today by several of their heirs.
How many Busiri Vici architects are still operating today?
Eight, if I remember well. Hopefully I don’t leave anyone out... My father Giancarlo, and his cousins Saverio and Patrizio as well as my cousins Leonardo, Clemente, Antonella, Alessandro are all architects!
You left Italy at the age of thirty, right? And you moved here to NYC like your forefather Michele, who received the honorary citizenship of NYC thanks to his project on the Italian Pavilion at the Universal Expo in 1939. Why did you take this decision?
I need to be honest on this: it was never a set decision. In fact I came to the US in 1990 or around that time for a 1-month architectural trip. I wanted to see and study most of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture. During the trip I also came to NY for the Guggenheim Museum and fell in love with the city. I promised myself I would go back and try living here for a while, which I did when I graduated in 1995 at La Sapienza. I was supposed to stay only 3 months and then go back to Rome, but then decided I would stay one year. I’m still here. It’s 17 years now. I guess the opportunity I found here, the fast pace of working, the rare opportunity of seeing things I designed materializing in less than a year, the respect I get as a professional from clients and contractors alike made me stay..
Let's talk about today: you founded “Space4architecture” with Guelfo Carpegna and Ulderico Micara. How did that happen?
We were all working together for a NY firm at the time. After 4 years we were at a crossroad: either move on and go work for a different firm or open our own office. This second option was not easy; in fact we didn’t have enough contacts. Basically we had been working here for 4 years but always for other architects. And, apart from Guelfo (who is half American half Italian and studied at RIDS, Rhode Island School of Design) we also hadn’t studied here. So basically we had no network of contacts available. I went for an interview at Peter Marino Architects. Was hired. Was supposed to start after 1 month. During that month I received 2 important phonecalls : one from a friend of mine who wanted me to renovate his 1 bedroom apartment..(!?) and the other from an important client I knew through my previous office experience who wanted me to help with their new store in the US. I therefore decided I would take the risk and open my own office.
You are specialized in the renovation of lofts and townhouses in New York: how did you get into this?
I would say it was pure luck at the beginning. I mean, another friend asked us to design his loft. It was a success. Coming from Europe we really liked the loft typology, which at that time wasn’t very much established in Italy but more associated with NY living. Therefore we respected the true “soul” of the loft space, which is the lack of boundaries between spaces; a big space that, even when divided into different functions, still reads as one space. Our client/friend was quite known in NY. People saw his loft and liked it. The townhouses came later mainly because our clients, who were pretty much all of our age, started to have kids and needed a less “open” space for living.
What is the weight of bureaucracy in the architectural profession in NYC?
Very little. Meaning, you need to respect the rules of course. You submit your project to the Building department of NYC. You get the project approved in approx 6-8 weeks and you can start construction. There are several ways of getting a project approved. The shortest way to get a project approved is called “self certifications”. Basically the city trusts that, as a professional architect, anything you are showing on the drawings is correct and by the Code rules. They give you the permit to build the minute you submit the drawings, without reviewing them. It’s based on trust, like most of the things in the US. If further along, they audit the project and while reviewing it they find things that are not permitted, they issue a “stop work order” and the nightmare begins..
How about the relationship between art-design and architectural planning in your work?
Not much, and I regret it. In fact I was never given the opportunity to collaborate with an artist on a project. And I have to say that given the urgency and the pace of our work it’s extremely difficult to involve an artist on it. My dream though is to find a client who’ll give us all the time in the world to design. In which case I would definitely call one of my artist friends and collaborate. Artists who take on architecture are always illuminating; it’s easier for them to think out of the box. Whereas for us the design decisions tend to always be instructed by the use of the space.
An important Italian photographer, Beatrice Pediconi, takes many pictures of your built projects...
Yes, she is a great friend and her pictures are very much not architectural. And that’s what we like about her. She has a different view of our work, an artist view, a view completely out of the box like I said. In some of her pictures we discovered angles of our work that we never saw before.
Which was your first assignment in NYC?
A bathroom renovation…The 1 bedroom apartment I mentioned before for my friend followed.
Have you ever thought of going back to Italy and open a brand new activity?
Yes, I tried. And I’m still trying. It’s not easy. Despite the fact that we live in a global society and architects nowadays can design things by being anywhere in the world, while traveling, or relaxing on a beach, clients still want you to be present. So they keep telling me “ yes, but if you open the office, and we give you work, you need to be physically here..” why? I don’t understand. Of course I’ll be there much more often, but why should I move back? Trust us, trust the fact that the project will be our project and we’ll follow it our way, by being always present, be it in NY or in Reggio Calabria. Anyway, this is the way it is now. I hope things will change. In fact I am sure our office experience could be extremely beneficial for projects in Italy, being they residential or commercial.