ATOMAA featured in publication “EMERGING EUROPEAN PRACTICES” by New Generations
Alvaro Siza teaches us:
"Architects don't invent anything; they transform reality"
The first steps
We started off in university with a field trip to Brno, which led to countless beers and talks about what we'd like to be when we grow up.
Then from a basement space with ping pong tables and Casabella, after long nights of collaboration and brainstorming, we would work tirelessly on our master thesis. At some point, along came the diaspora: the 'Foz do Douro; the ancient theatre of Epidaurus the Atacama Desert; in the time left over we did some competitions too. This was followed by a number of apprenticeships: at Chipperfield Archi-tects, Onsitestudio, and time spent doing research , at the Polytechnic University of Milan. After all that, on one night, upholding a 15 years long tradition of drinking a beer together, the decision to try to do it all together was born; and so began ATOMAA.
Honouring the unexpected
In one of our projects a renovation of an old apartment, on removal of the wooden floor, a rugged yet beautiful configuration was revealed: underneath, alter decades of being hidden trom sight, was an irregular layout complete in itself, forgotten even by those who had produced it long before. The image of the original floor substructure which was laid in an apparently casual yet effective manner highlights the work of a local artisan in which the hand of a man seemed to be the only rule. We then decided to honour that forgotten gesture by bringing it back to life and representing it in the new concrete floor. The idea was immediately loved by the client and we were allowed to create a very unique floor.
Keeping calm and a healthy balance
We try to maintain a balance between our work and private lives. We try to keep the studio closed on weekends and we also encourage our colleagues and collaborators to follow a good hourly balance. We believe that the things we learn simply by living are just as useful for design as the time spent in the studio. You will never be able to design a good kitchen if you do not know how to cook a good dish. Even if the organisation of time in contemporary project processes is often frenetic, we practice the 'Resistenza': we take the time to discuss ongoing projects in a slow and calm manner and then make calculated decisions and even work by hand. We build models to study details; we use freehand sketches to help us reason and develop ideas; we use mood boards of real material samples, which is simply irreplaceable. Group discussions during what we call, 'project workshops', allow us to come together and to present ideas around a table and this has formed the essence of the ATOMAA design process.
We have just moved into a new workspace in Milan in an area called Nolo, one of the new design districts of the city. Our office, situated on the ground floor, has two display windows onto the street which connect us with the world passing by, while the back of the office opens onto an internal courtyard, a silent and lush urban oasis which blooms in spring. On the ground floor we have an operational open space with two collective work tables, a small table for on-the-go project reviews, and a relaxation area. In the lower level, under a beautiful brick vaulted ceiling, we have both a more private room suitable for the rather meditative moments as well as for daily meetings with our Edinburgh office. We also have a dedicated workshop for building models and sample processing.
The collective act of building
Of course, we too graduated with the desire to make big buildings (our 3 theses were a library, a museum, and a skyscraper). Currently we are working on domestic architecture, interior spaces and small houses. We almost always work in pre-existing contexts and ancient buildings in the centre of Milan, as well as in rural contexts in the Alps, or in central Italy. Over time, common aspects have emerged in our creative process: one of these, perhaps the main one, is an aversion to the 'tabula rasa'. We believe in the importance of buildings, rather than projecting great competition just as a study of ideas. We believe in learning by doing, respecting the people who are committed to the great collective process of building and to further enhance the materials with which we build.
Understanding our place
Design is not a purpose but rather a means which has the pursuit of happiness as its goal. At a time when this right is accepted and expressed by more and more people, a stance on the use of this gift (material and human) is unavoidable. Here is ours: we understood that the answer may not necessarily come from "invention" (for example the latest synthetic material, designed for a super performance) but rather from reinterpretation, reuse and transformation. The idea behind this mode of operation is that of reducing "waste" (which often has to do with attributing the value we give to
Thus, our research on micro-living has, at its heart, the reduction of wasted space, and it's better used where it has already been transformed i.e., the city centre in which it sits. The past instils in us a fascination equal to that of the future: it is basically a treasure chest of brilliant solutions to very practical questions once posed, in a world in which producing (and consuming) energy was less easy.
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