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Massimiliano Fuksas




Massimiliano Fuksas Architecture 

Rome, Italy


Interviewed by Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi

Geometric lamp design is reminiscent of fractal geometry. © Luca Casonato
Architect Massimiliano Fuksas
Massimiliano Fuksas, one of the most respected international architects, uses light as a design tool. Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi went to his study in downtown Rome, near to Piazza Farnese, to learn more.

What does light mean to you?

I strongly believe light is one of architecture’s certainties. Without light there would be no colours, but only darkness. Light is the prime resource you think of when you are designing.

Are you referring to natural light?

Especially to natural light. The more you can capture, the better. Of course there is artificial light as well, but if it were possible I would want natural daylight 24 hours a day.

What about artificial light?

It’s very important, but it should come from within buildings. As a matter of fact, I’ve never used a light to illuminate a building from the outside. Light should be encased by the structure, not vice versa, otherwise you run the risk of falling into rhetorical special effects. The worst monuments always have an external light that thrusts them out of the surrounding reality in the worst way.

In short, buildings are lamps…

Exactly, they should be at night. Look for example at the photos of Shenzhen Airport, in China [the architect points to a big panel hanging on the wall with various photographs of the airport under construction]: simply through the shape of the object you can perceive the lamp effect.

If I am not mistaken, the church in Foligno is a work in which light plays an important role.

Yes. In that project I have tried to bring light inside through channels, much like Le Corbusier’s “light cannons”. These glowing elements are part of the structure, they sustain the church’s internal volume. It’s a light we can define as “structural”.


You must know that I hate skin and façade: the idea that there can be an outer skin that simply conceals. An organism is a whole, there mustn’t be a rigid distinction between interior and exterior. This is the new role for light: connecting the inside and the outside. Even in Beijing, with a recent project for the Central District, we are trying to carry out this theme. 

Speaking of which: what great energy there is in China now! The project was developed in 2013 and will start in 2014. It’s a sloped tube with one face overlooking the park, thus absorbing its reflection and, consequently, light. At the centre there is a 600m-high tower, which will be built by BIAD.

A third kind?

Yes, it’s the magical light that shines miraculously through a window opening that shouldn’t have been there or through a corner. Without this magical light, a building would not be architecture, intended as a poetic work.

Do you work with lighting design consultants?

Not always, normally we work on it ourselves. sometimes I collaborate with the London and scottish firm Speirs + Major. The new partner of the firm, Keith Bradshaw, is great. We’ve worked on many buildings together, among which are our projects for Armani in New York and a 300m tall skyscraper in China.
Chenzhen Bao’an International Airport, Guangdong, China © Archivio Fuksas_Shenzhen 

Tell me about Shenzhen Airport…

Shenzhen is a project which has been built quickly and successfully, after three years of construction and one year of design. In that way it is similar to the “Fiera di Milano” project, which was designed in six months and built in 26 months.

So light is the airport’s appeal…

I agree and as you see [he points again to the panel with the pictures] it was that way even one year before it was completed, because the structure has been thought of in relation to light.

Rather than a building, it is a landscape that recalls my passion for dunes and lakes.

Some say it is shaped like an aeroplane…

No, it isn’t: it’s inspired by a fish, the manta ray [he unfolds a sheet of tracing paper and he draws the outline of a manta]. It’s a sinuous mark that morphs into something else: a building. It is a transformation from an organic form to a more geometrically precise shape [with another pen he defines the lines he has just drawn] and I believe that this is one reason for its success. It’s been in many publications, all over the world.

Maybe because it appeals to a universal taste?

Yes, maybe because it involves feelings. On the day of the inauguration, it was very exciting for me to see that most of the people who had entered to take the first flights, were pulling out their cell phones to take pictures of the interior, as if they wanted to make it theirs.

What do you think are today’s tendencies in the field of lighting?

I believe the issue today is that we often have ugly light sources and we therefore try to conceal them. It’s rare to encounter lamps as beautiful as Castiglioni’s or as those designed in the fifties and sixties. What’s more, designing a lamp is hard. By simply existing, a lamp goes against two concepts: the minimalist one to create objects that are almost non-existent and the baroque one for which the object is never decorative enough.

Are you designing luminaires?

Yes, Doriana and I are designing two of them, one for Venini and the other for Iguzzini. Venini is one of the last great artisans. He is able to give his products that magic that, as I was saying, contributes to make lights’ fortune. Actually, hold on [he goes into the next room to get a book]: I am giving you this book, “Object”, which showcases the firm’s work on object design. We have never been specifically involved in this activity, but we’ve discovered that over the course of time we have designed many products.

Which is the luminaire you’re most fond of?

A while ago we designed a luminaire for the Fiera di Milano, made of combinable polyhedrons that could create huge aggregations. Perhaps in the future I would like to design a luminaire that grows organically. the only caution is that a good structure, even if made from single parts, mustn’t appear to be just the sum of those parts, but rather as a whole, much like fractals: a module with no unity has no appeal.

Do you use Philips lamps?

Yes, I’ve used them often, especially for projects in France and Germany. I’ve also built in Eindhoven, next to the Philips headquarters. It’s an organic shape, a blob that plays with lights’ reflection.
Interview published in Luminous Magazine 13/2014

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