Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas has created many landmark projects, including Terminal 3 at the Shenzhen Bao’an International Airport. In a conversation with Perspective, he draws his inspirations (literally) and explains how buildings can be works of art and how the design process can be emotional
Massimiliano Fuksas can't stop drawing. His opening talk for last year's Business of Design Week in Hong Kong, entitled Love Will Save the World, was illustrated with curvilinear, abstract sketches that look more like the plans for surrealist sculptures than architectural blueprints. During a recent conversation with Perspective, he filled stray pieces of paper with more sketches, illustrating the connections between architecture and landscape, product design and interior design. "Buildings can be works of art," the 74-year-old architect declares, "and the city needs art."
This sentiment was expressed literally when he showed a video of a light installation shimmering its way over the sloping roof and outer walls of the BLOB entrance building and shopping centre at the September 18 Square in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, as part of the Dutch light and colour show Glow Festival 2017. As he pulled up more images of his work, plenty of the structures were filled with performers – ballet dancers, aerial artists. It's no surprise that before Fuksas delved into the world of architecture – earning his degree from the La Sapienza University in Rome and setting up his first office, GRANMA, in the 1960s – he aspired to be an artist, originally working for Italian surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico.
Indeed, his approach to architecture contains much more of the inspired touch of a painter than the stereotypical cool, logical eye of an engineer. "I ask young designers to show me creations that can give me an emotion," he says. "Design is an emotion." His distinctive style has won him high-profile projects across the globe, from China's Shenzhen Bao'an International Airport – which crouches amid the runways like a kind of massive, extraterrestrial insect – to the criss-crossed French National Archives in Paris. He's created headquarters for renowned luxury brands such as Armani and Ferrari, but also public spaces like the Zenith Music Hall in Strasbourg, France, and the San Paolo Church in Foligno, Italy.
I ask young designers to show me creations that can give me an emotion… Design is an emotion
The only thing that might be more important to him than the artistry of spaces is creating structures that enrich people's lives, and that can be used by everyone. His designs are light-filled, often conceived to exist in harmony with the nature surrounding them. "This was my dream, to see people using one of my buildings in different ways," he says during his talk, gesturing to a photo of people lying comfortably on the grass surrounding Shenzhen airport. "For me, my final client is humanity – human beings," he elaborates, saying he considers every space to be public to some extent. "The only real private space is your bathroom," he chuckles.
Fuksas is the first to admit that he's not much of a man for business strategy. "I've done some stupid things," he says. "Strategy is good for work, but not for creativity. It's good for others, but it's not good for me." A number of his ambitious projects racked up intimidating costs, almost resulting in them not getting made, if it weren't for ingenious construction solutions – the winding, dreamlike white staircase that dominates Armani Fifth Avenue, for instance. But when you're as big a name as Fuksas you can afford to pick and choose. "I decide on my clients," he says. "You can take five years to create a building. If your client cannot be a friend, it would be a disaster."
Since 1985, he has created his various projects together with his wife Doriana at the re-named Studio Fuksas, which went on to open offices in Paris, Frankfurt, Vienna and – most recently – Shenzhen. He speaks of his wife and business partner with obvious affection. "I love how she thinks," he says with a smile. "Sometimes, she might not know [about a particular topic], but she has such good taste, she's never wrong." The couple's creativity carries on in their two daughters, one of whom is a filmmaker while the other is doing a master's in fashion having graduated from Parson's School of Design.
Fuksas isn't preoccupied by what the next generation of designers might bring. "There are thousands of younger designers," he says, having interacted directly with his share of industry hopefuls during his time as a visiting professor at various universities in Europe and the United States. "Don't worry. They will come. Us old ones pass, and the new ones come." But what's next for him? "My dream, now, is to start some concept of a city," he says. "I want to do a city where you can live better." And if anyone can do it, Fuksas – with his overarching visions – should definitely be able to.