How did Lombardini22 come about?
Lombardini22 was founded at the end of 2006 by a group of six professionals, coming from different disciplines, sharing the desire to grow and fulfil their human and professional potential. I, myself, worked for Renzo Piano for three years which was a big influence on me. Lombardini22 was named after its address to give the first sign that this company was to become the professional home to a diverse group of people. Not a signature architect venture, but a multi-authorial group of gifted architects, sound economists and expert engineers.
Innovation in relations with the client, service orientation, design thinking, trust and candour, obliquity, value creation: these words have been important in our evolution and still resonate with us. We have found a niche in the market that was not fully served. Clients want to be reassured by professional groups of a certain size and solidity, especially if their projects run for multiple years.
Clients also need professionals that work together well, in one company or in different companies, and are able to connect and build successful (for the client) relationships. Clients want professionals, who are able to listen and understand their desires and objectives, before challenging them with fresh and innovative ideas and approaches. In 2009 Lombardini22 acquired and integrated the Italian branch of DEGW, the famous workplace consultancy firm, founded by Frank Duffy with Eley, Giffone and Worthington.
Thanks to this acquisition and successful integration, the company grew rapidly and is now ranked number four in the list of Italian Architect Firms in terms of turnover. We focus our activities on retail, hospitality and office buildings with a special focus on workplace consultancy for primary international tenants.
Our range of clients include most Italian real-estate developers and investors and international groups like CBRE Global Investors, Invesco, Blackstone, DEKA, Multi, Neinver, Sonae Sierra, Allianz, Deutsche Bank, Nestle, Alcatel Lucent. Our turnover mainly comes from Italy with 25% from abroad, mainly in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
At the end of 2014 Lombardini decided to enter the physical branding business by acquiring FUD Brand Making Factory, a consultancy boutique dedicated to branding and marketing activities.
How important is lighting to your designs?
We see Architecture as an experience. Lombardini has launched a programme called Empathy of Space, in order to understand how the new frontiers of neuroscience can help understand how to design better buildings. We have been focusing on architecture as a kind of embodiment, a sensation you feel with all of your senses. And light is obviously crucial in this respect.
Obviously, it is an extremely important aspect of our work and we can never find enough time to devote to what is such a fundamental aspect of space and how it is perceived and experienced. Most significantly, it is important for a company like ours, which handles such miscellaneous projects as offices, retail spaces and hospitality, to adopt various different approaches to lighting, according to the type of project we are working on.
For example, offices call for a technical, ergonomic and extremely normative approach in terms of laws (dazzle, the amount of lux on desktops, health at the workplace etc.). The conventional approach is rather standard: the setting is a man-made functional box in which the perception of time tends to be gauged to the idea of a regular pattern of work with no distractions caused by light.
In actual fact, it is possible to play around with different degrees and accents of light within confined spaces, even in settings like this, or introduce spotlighting or customised lighting at workstations, which is the direction in which we are now moving. It is a very different matter when it comes to retail spaces, where fewer rules and regulations leaves more room to manoeuvre: here there is a different purpose and the real aim is to create stimulating atmospheres suitable for communal spaces, such as a town square or inner-city shopping street etc.
We also try to reproduce the specific spirit of a place (even though shopping malls are believed to be the ultimate non-places). For example, in a successful project like Palermo Forum, plenty of attention was focused on conveying natural light down towards the mall plazas from up above, filtering it through architectural patterns capable of toning it down, like the man-made or natural screens found in Palermo’s old-fashioned markets (the Flee Market, which is sheltered beneath the foliage of trees, alleyways covered by tarpaulins, undulating features evoking the sea).
The hospitality industry is a different matter and here the values to be conveyed by means of light include: luxury, comfort and a certain kind of modernity. In this case the lighting and lighting appliances have more obvious decorative features and the overall project is designed rather like a home environment.
We are constantly moving between these two extremes: the indirect and shadow-less neutrality of a workplace and the spotlighting and carefully focused lighting of retail facilities (and everything that lies in-between).
How do you contribute to the role lighting plays in the light of the city?
Again architecture is an invitation to move, to act. Lighting is key in attracting and defining where to go and what to look at. Light is an important choice. In this case the architecture needs to be interpreted in a nocturnal key and it is actually possible to work in terms of similarities or contrasts: i.e. either turning the architecture into something else or asserting its design through the light illuminating it.
In any case, it becomes a monument interacting with the city and no longer serves merely internal purposes. It is more representational, so in the case of a tower block for offices, for instance, it turns into a kind of urban totem. Alternatively it might act as a landmark for its surroundings. We pay very careful attention to the communicational side in the redevelopment projects for shopping malls we often work on or in the patterns of illuminated windows and ground-floor shops we often design for civil buildings in old city centres (this is the case in the Brera district of Milan).
How do you approach lighting a building through architecture?
If I have understood the question properly, then it is a matter of treating architecture as a structure that conveys and controls the natural light inside it (in the same way air circulates without forced ventilation), and it is actually defined by how the light strikes it in a certain location. So our approach starts with the location, the micro-climate that the light belongs to. The place itself is important because designing in a brightly lit place like a Mediterranean country, where even a minor protrusion on the facade can cast an extremely powerful shadow is quite different from working with the diffused light found in a Scandinavian country. So designing an entrance canopy, aligning the windows inside or outside a facade, carefully arranging structures with their spaces and solid sections, are all design features that do not merely serve utilitarian purposes but are also connected with the light, which determines the particular structural design you wish to give a building.
What is the importance of shadows and the balance of darkness and light in your work?
Let’s work on the assumption that, in our culture, there is a very powerful hygiene-related paradigm: light is valuable in itself, it is synonymous with health and affects the value of real estate. There is no need to mention Tanizaki’s ‘In Praise of Shadows’ in order to point out that light can also violate space (and the people inhabiting it). That is why we never adopt a standardised approach to light in our projects, but always try to play around with its intensity, varying from a minimum to a maximum and everything in-between. This allows different depths of lighting to be incorporated, enhancing how designed premises are perceived and experienced.
Our offices epitomise this approach: we have an open-space area pleasantly flooded with natural light, while the meeting rooms alongside them are much more intimate. There is also a black room when real concentration is required, more softly-lit administration offices, a terrace with a pergola that looks like a Mediterranean garden, an under-roof area in the half-light that we use for bigger meetings etc. Where possible, in all our projects we try and replicate the kind of variety characterising our everyday work. It is also worth pointing out that, in order to achieve this, we draw on the specific aid of lighting designers, who, in our opinion, are extremely high profile independent professionals, whose expertise is irreplaceable. Just like any other experts (and we have lots of them in our company), we believe that the complexity of our work as architects derives from coordinating a combination of different skills, helping them interact constantly in order to achieve the very best results possible.
What are the best and worst illuminated spaces you have visited?
Bearing in mind that it never rains but it pours, let’s ignore the worst. On the other hand, we would like to mention a number of very different examples that are emblematic of how to use both artificial and natural light. One might be Dubai Mall, a very recent and fashionable construction, and then, of course, there is definitely Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London: perhaps the very beginning of modernity in the broadest meaning of the word, with all its skylights and dotted slabs allowing light to rain down from above and shine across the walls, mirrors dissolving in the corners, suspended planes and interplay of compressed and dilated space (and hence also light) on the inside. It is a constant source of inspiration.