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Appropriate Architecture

Barreca & La Varra

To understand the architecture of Barreca & La Varra, you have to understand where they are coming from. Both graduated when Italy was in the throes of the “Tangentopoli” (Bribesville) scandals, and a stunned country learned the extent to which corruption was an
all-pervasive feature of the landscape. Wheeler-dealing was the order of the day, heedless of its self-destructive path while the intellectual elite stayed aloof, at worst picking up some of the crumbs that came their way. What strategy could there ever be to allow one to exist outside the system? Almost unconsciously, a whole new generation came to the same conclusion: be part of the system but amend it by sowing solidity, restraint and reliability. With hindsight, we can now say that their project has, at least in part, been achieved and given rise to an expressive architectural language of solidity, restraint - perhaps better expressed in architecture as “decorum” - and reliability.

Although not in blatant opposition to the previous era when Aldo Rossi’s architecture was the hallmark of Milan, the new sobriety put the accent on things given short shrift in the past: especially, the city’s outlying districts and those in-between areas, neither city nor countryside, crisscrossed by infrastructure seemingly the only feature to impart some sort of tenuously structured organization. This was at the end of the 1990s, when a group of architects on an exploratory tour discovered these outlying districts, very aptly described by Mirko Zardini as “hybrid landscapes”. It marked the discovery not only of a forgotten world crying out for hands-on intervention but also that these same districts nonetheless had a distinctive expressive dimension able to accept a new kind of architecture. This realization triggered the building in these hybrid landscapes of projects that shrugged off the urban rules so starkly apparent in Italy’s historic...

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