If you’re looking for a prediction, I would say that among the top ten Italian practices over the next twenty years, in amount and quality of output, there will be Corvino and Multari. For at least three reasons. The first is that as a twosome they capture the High Touch approach which makes Italian architecture speak to a broad public. The search for elegance and sophistication, cautiously experimental but with an eye for tradition and context, pragmatic in choice of technology and hence geared to a building industry that is prudent, if not conservative, but ready to invest in the forms of innovation that the “in” public appreciate: today, for example, sustainability and energy saving.
The second reason is that Corvino and Multari are banking on expanding their practice. Witness their decision to open a branch in Milan in addition to their Naples base so that they have feelers in the south, where the firm began, and in the north, where quality building, at least, is thriving. They have invested a lot of energy in competitions, getting some substantial commissions in return, and taken great care of marketing to the point of producing a DVD entitled Vesuvius, produced in concert with artist Lello Esposito.
The third reason is that this tandem works more in sync than other design teams around. Their own design work, business organization and image promotion benefit accordingly.
Corvino and Multari trained in Naples in the late Eighties. Corvino graduated in 1990, Multari in 1991. In 1995 they won the competition to upgrade Piazza dei Bruzi in Cosenza: the work hinges on a few touches of the utmost purity, including a prismatic pool in jet black marble, crowned by a Mimmo Palladino sculpture. Another competition brought them the commission of an integrated upgrade programme in Cosenza. Their plans stand out for a certain dryness and essential elegance of form. Quite the reverse of the dozens of instances of design overkill we’ve seen elsewhere over the same period in projects larded with quotations and still tied to post-modernism. The same quest for sobriety can be seen in two later operations in Milan: Piazza Gabrio Rosa where they reconstructed a town park opposite the church of Santa Rita making use of the established trees; and Piazza Ohm where they sorted out an intricate five-road junction in a minimum of moves.
Decorum, clean lines and careful choice of materials again distinguish their recent full-scale overhaul of Piazza Molino. This private upgrade to a key central area where Cosenza overspills northwards comprised two buildings at right-angles to one another with a groundfloor destined for shops and commerce, the first floor for offices, professional and otherwise, and the upper floor for living accommodation. The overall volume above ground is roughly 42,000 cb m. The aim here is to create a viable characterful centre point serving a broad area dotted with public and institutional buildings but on the whole anonymous and lacking variety. An alternative to muddle, in short, and a touch of modernity relieving the banality of typical amorphous southern-town development with its row after row of rendered buildings. This they achieved by the choice of a two-storey-high stone-clad base course, toughened glass parapets on balconies and verandas, and a roof of black titanium zinc.
We said there were three reasons why Corvino and Multari have been a success. There is actually a fourth: the sense not to go over the top. This is a winning card when listed buildings and historical sites are involved. One such case was the restoration job on the Gio Ponti tower in Milan, which is definitely what has brought the firm most publicity.
The story is quite well-known. On 18th April 2002 a tourist aircraft crashed into the “Pirellone”, as this Milanese landmark is called - for years the headquarters of the Lombardia Region. It gouged into the façade over a three storey span. Coming on top of the New York Twin Towers, it was first thought to be a terrorist job by Muslim fundamentalists. Fortunately this was discovered not to be the case: it was a simple accident. There arose the problem of putting the building to rights. A patch job was out of the question. Modernise all the window casements? That, too, was ruled out since Ponti’s brainchild deserved better than that kind of travesty. And then, whom to appoint? In the end the project was handed to the Corvino-Multari duo who had already been working in the building since 1999 refurbishing the auditorium and putting in a new entrance-hall on Piazzale Duca D’Aosta; they would join up with Renato Sarno who had himself been working on the belvedere on the 31st floor of the Pirellone. The team set to work scrupulously restoring. Rash substitutions or face-lifts were eschewed for fear the building might become a parody of itself. They dug out the original plans, found the dies for the extrudates, and stuck to Ponti’s chosen technique of anodizing and brush plating. A step back in time - though where need be they didn’t hesitate to modernise and inject new functionality: in the internal arrangement of space, in re-calibrating the entranceway and, obviously, in the auditorium they were already employed on. The result is a success, all the more evident for being discreet.
Further proof of professional reliability came later with Corvino and Multari’s housing project at L’Aquila, their buildings standing on seismically insulated plates - part of the C.A.S.E. project got up by Civil Protection in the aftermath of the earthquake. Though not distinguished by any particular formal novelty, this was a serious response to the emergency. Unlike other less well thought-out operations from scratch, it showed that one can design a qualitatively acceptable habitat by new building and not just refurbishing. Convinced realists though always with an eye to modernity, when their hands are less tied Corvino & Multari will boldly try out more complex spatial arrangements. Like many a present-day practice, they are here quite eclectic in their approach. For the urban upgrade to Parma’s erstwhile Salamini site, which they won against international competition, they used ‘bloboid’ geometry to give appropriate character to what is to become an entertainment town. For the Food Citadel at Parco Ducale in Parma they designed a soft-tech structure, all slender jutting metal overhangs and broad swaths of glass cladding.
Their renovation of the Reggio Emilia indoor market combines preservation of historical building styles with modern communications technology - for instance, turning walls into multimedia projection screens.
Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi