Stefano Boeri is an architect based in Milan

stefano-boeri-17_3_2014_11_16_18_0001-e1475586986531Stefano Boeri is an architect and urban planner based in Milan, Italy. He directed the architecture and design magazines Domus and Abitare. He is also Professor of Urban Design at the Polytechnic University of Milan.
He founded the research agency Multiplicity whose studies are focused on territorial transformations. A project by Multiplicity regarding the flows of illegal immigration in the Mediterranean Sea was presented at Documenta XI, Kassel (Germany), in 2002. Between 2011 and 2012 he was Councillor for the city of Milan and in charge of Culture, Fashion, Design and the upcoming EXPO 2015. In the course of this conversation, Boeri talks about the meeting he had on Saturday March 1st in Berlin with José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel. He also refers to his latest book, Fare di più con meno (Doing More with Less) published in 2013.
Barroso and Merkel gathered around 250 personalities from the cultural, intellectual and scientific worlds to discuss a “new narrative for Europe”. This project was launched recently in Brussels to embrace the challenges facing Europe nowadays and to strengthen the contours of European unity (more info can be found at http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/president/news/archives/2014/02/20140221_1_en.htm). Stefano Boeri proposed to start looking at Europe as a big mega-city, inter-connected by means of transport and communication.


A conversation with Stefano Boeri about his view of Europe as a unique city and his book “Fare di più con meno”

Conversation transcription below


  • Part 1 of 2

  • Part 2 of 2

Tiziana Casapietra: I would like you to tell us something about the meeting you had in Berlin with Barroso and Merkel and about your proposal.
Stefano Boeri: This project started some months ago. In 2012, the European parliament in Strasbourg issued a declaration in which President Barroso was asked to promote a round table on a new narrative for Europe. The idea is to bring together a group of thinkers, scientists, artists, writers, and ask them to imagine how it is possible, nowadays, to promote a new narrative for contemporary Europe. This is not simply a brand, but the idea is to propose a structural concept for the future of Europe.
I was part of this group of thinkers and we had a sequence of meetings, the first one was in Warsaw in July, the second one was in Milan in December, and the last one was in Berlin more or less one month ago. On this occasion, I proposed a vision of Europe related to a project I did with Multiplicity in 2000 – 2001. Within our research on urban mutation, we had the idea of looking at Europe as one unique city. This is basically what I proposed to Barroso: why don’t we start to see Europe as a unique city? We know very well that this is a metaphor and sometimes metaphors are cruel. Metaphors normally reduce complexity, kill the heterogeneity of phenomenology. In this case, this metaphor of Europe, seen as a unique city, is extremely fertile. Indeed, this metaphor forces us to imagine – from a different prospective – how Europe could be governed, how Europe could be a cultural device capable of involving new population groups, new traditions, new cultures. At the same time, this is already confirmed by the evidence: if you have a satellite night-time view of Europe, you immediately understand that our continent is a unique metropolitan environment with a very strong population density concentrated in inhabited areas. More than 60% of the European population live within an urban environment.The second evidence is that this city is composed of thousands of small and middle-sized cities. This is something which is absolutely specific to Europe. This huge urban environment is, in reality, a polycentric environment which has, within itself, many middle-sized and small-sized cities. Only two megalopolis, Paris and London, boast more than ten million inhabitants; normally in Europe we don’t have the twenty million megalopolis that you can easily find in Asia, in South America, in Africa, or in North America. All these considerations confirm my opinion that we can relate to Europe as one unique city. A city with its own parks: Alps and Pyrenees, for example, can be conceived as the huge natural environments surrounded by the city. This city has, within itself, its gardens: the cultivated fields can be considered as places where we can invest in the future of an agriculture that could be useful for the citizens. This geographical evidence is supporting the metaphor of Europe as unique city. There is also a completely different perception which is more related to our daily life. I am now referring to those maps of flight routes over Europe where you can immediately see the density of movements and flights. This explains why, nowadays, we are capable of moving in Europe from Stockholm to Palermo, from Porto to Belgrade, in the cycle of a single day. This is another way to strengthen this idea of Europe being seen as a unique city; a city where we can easily move around according to a time-cycle connected to the necessities of our daily life. This subjective perception is also very strong and is related to the biography of a minority of European citizens. Let’s think of the students and ex-students of the Erasmus programme. The Erasmus programme started in 1987, now we have more than one million ex-students who have experienced this programme. Basically, all these Erasmus students have more or less an international European network of friendships, of connections, of affectionate relations and this is also another element that helps us to understand why Europe is a unique city. So, my proposal in Berlin was: let’s start to consider this possibility, this metaphor, and let’s try to convince the political sphere that this could be a very good metaphor for the upcoming future of Europe.

TC: How did the politicians reacted to your proposal?
SB: The reaction was very positive and now we are working on another different step. We can use this metaphor to start imagining how we could realize a sort of daily chronicle journal following the cultural life of this unique city; a journal anticipating what is going to happen in the different districts – namely the different cities – of this unique urban environment. The point is, why don’t we work on a web journal which could be updated – day by day, hour by hour – on what is happening in this huge environment? This is what we are working on at the moment. We are now together with the Venice Biennale and the Berlin Biennale promoting this web journal. We are working on a idea of a journal which, on one side, should inform and update the readers on what is going to happen in the city; on the other side this journal is also meant to put together a bunch of thinkers that live in Europe and that follow what is happening in Europe. Indeed, this is exactly what keeps Europe together today, and what has kept Europe together for centuries. Europe has never been a continent with a precise perimeter. It has been a geopolitical environment which has changed its borders many times. If you try to describe what is Europe nowadays, you will still not find a clear perimeter: if you observe it through the Euro prospective you have a certain Europe, if you observe it through the European Commission prospective you have another Europe, if you consider it through its net of defenses you have another Europe, and so and so on. But finally, what keeps Europe together is a sort of global conversation between the thinkers that produce the European thought. The other goal of this journal is an attempt to put together a bunch of thinkers and ask them to start a dialogue, to converse, on what is going to happen in Europe. Using culture as a first key-entry to Europe.

TC: It’s quite interesting to see that European politicians were open to considering your proposals, the intellectuals’ proposals. Is the same happening in Italy? Are politicians in Italy so open to considering proposals by intellectuals?
SB: No, I don’t think so, but it depends… I think we cannot generalize, it really depends on the kind of politicians that you can involve or can be involved in the project. For me it is difficult to answer, because I have been recently involved in politics, and as a politician I was playing a completely different role from the one I have now. When I was in that position, I tried to involve intellectuals and thinkers. My idea is that you can imagine collaborating with the political sphere when you have a very strong proposal. This proposal has to promote a vision. The point is, how can we – “thinkers” or “intellectuals” – be capable of avoiding any kind of instrumentalization by politics? The political sphere is used to using you, your skills, your talents for its immediate schedules, its needs. Thus, the point is, how to avoid this kind of risk, because this is a big risk.

TC: Do you think that Italy and the Italian politicians are ready for it?
SB: Yes, sure. I am interested in this idea of asking the intellectual sphere to work on a project that has the goal of producing a narrative which is not a brand, nor simply something that you can sell. Producing a narrative requires a deep and profound thought on what is going to happen in a specific territory. It’s something that can be extremely useful also for Italy. I’m going to propose to Matteo Renzi to do a new narrative for Italy. This is something that could be extremely fertile. What is Italy nowadays? How can we avoid the cliché? This is the point: how can we avoid the cliché that is normally used to describe Italy as the land of pizza and mafia or the land of tours or things like that.

TC: The last question is about your book which I find very inspiring “Fare di più con meno” (Do more with less). I don’t know if you have the English translation for this title already. Would you like to speculate on it and explain it to our international audience? I like the theory and the points you analyze in this book.
SB: In the book there is an interview that, thanks to Hans-Ulrich Obrist, we had with the British historian Eric Hobsbawm. We had this conversation in August 2012, basically just a few weeks before he passed away. Hobsbawm was very strong in suggesting that the economic crisis isn’t considered like a temporary condition. For him, this crisis will last and will outline the new economical, political, and cultural condition of Europe. We were starting from that point, and with this idea that we have entered a new landscape, a new condition, and we have to learn to live and to develop ideas, proposals, and enterprises within this new condition. This new condition is a condition where we have a scarcity of resources, and we all have to learn how to reduce the amount of resources to produce advantages and positive developments. That was the starting point of my book. I’ve started the book with the story of a lamp designed just after the war by three Italian brothers, the Castiglioni brothers. They were asked by Flos to design a lamp and they didn’t work on the complicated mechanical devices nor on technical innovation; they simply got a sort of bricoleur attitude; they put together three pieces: a piece of marble, a piece of aluminum, and a car lamp. And by simply assembling three things – which were very simple and in a way complete in themselves – they were able to produce an unbelievable acceleration in the designer furniture story. Indeed, they invented a new way to light space. Light comes from the top, but can be moved around. And this lamp, called “Arco”, is an example of how it is possible to do more with less. This approach represents an unbelievable acceleration. That metaphor is something that I considered useful also for the political sphere. When I wrote the book, I was a councilor for the city of Milan and in charge of Culture, Fashion, Design and the upcoming EXPO 2015; and that’s why in this book, I’m also promoting or trying to suggest some ways to produce and implement the public policies in a condition of scarcity of economic resources.

TC: I would like you to tell us something about the meeting you had in Berlin with Barroso and Merkel and about your proposal.
SB: This project started some months ago. In 2012, the European parliament in Strasbourg issued a declaration in which President Barroso was asked to promote a round table on a new narrative for Europe. The idea is to bring together a group of thinkers, scientists, artists, writers, and ask them to imagine how it is possible, nowadays, to promote a new narrative for contemporary Europe. This is not simply a brand, but the idea is to propose a structural concept for the future of Europe.
I was part of this group of thinkers and we had a sequence of meetings, the first one was in Warsaw in July, the second one was in Milan in December, and the last one was in Berlin more or less one month ago. On this occasion, I proposed a vision of Europe related to a project I did with Multiplicity in 2000 – 2001. Within our research on urban mutation, we had the idea of looking at Europe as one unique city. This is basically what I proposed to Barroso: why don’t we start to see Europe as a unique city? We know very well that this is a metaphor and sometimes metaphors are cruel. Metaphors normally reduce complexity, kill the heterogeneity of phenomenology. In this case, this metaphor of Europe, seen as a unique city, is extremely fertile. Indeed, this metaphor forces us to imagine — from a different prospective — how Europe could be governed, how Europe could be a cultural device capable of involving new population groups, new traditions, new cultures.
At the same time, this is already confirmed by the evidence: if you have a satellite night-time view of Europe, you immediately understand that our continent is a unique metropolitan environment with a very strong population density concentrated in inhabited areas. More than 60% of the European population live within an urban environment. The second evidence is that this city is composed of thousands of small and middle-sized cities. This is something which is absolutely specific to Europe. This huge urban environment is, in reality, a polycentric environment which has, within itself, many middle-sized and small-sized cities. Only two megalopolis, Paris and London, boast more than ten million inhabitants; normally in Europe we don’t have the twenty million megalopolis that you can easily find in Asia, in South America, in Africa, or in North America.
All these considerations confirm my opinion that we can relate to Europe as one unique city. A city with its own parks: Alps and Pyrenees, for example, can be conceived as the huge natural environments surrounded by the city. This city has, within itself, its gardens: the cultivated fields can be considered as places where we can invest in the future of an agriculture that could be useful for the citizens. This geographical evidence is supporting the metaphor of Europe as unique city. There is also a completely different perception which is more related to our daily life. I am now referring to those maps of flight routes over Europe where you can immediately see the density of movements and flights. This explains why, nowadays, we are capable of moving in Europe from Stockholm to Palermo, from Porto to Belgrade, in the cycle of a single day. This is another way to strengthen this idea of Europe being seen as a unique city; a city where we can easily move around according to a time-cycle connected to the necessities of our daily life. This subjective perception is also very strong and is related to the biography of a minority of European citizens. Let’s think of the students and ex-students of the Erasmus programme. The Erasmus programme started in 1987, now we have more than one million ex-students who have experienced this programme. Basically, all these Erasmus students have more or less an international European network of friendships, of connections, of affectionate relations and this is also another element that helps us to understand why Europe is a unique city.So, my proposal in Berlin was: let’s start to consider this possibility, this metaphor, and let’s try to convince the political sphere that this could be a very good metaphor for the upcoming future of Europe.

TC: How did the politicians reacted to your proposal?
SB: The reaction was very positive and now we are working on another different step.
We can use this metaphor to start imagining how we could realize a sort of daily chronicle journal following the cultural life of this unique city; a journal anticipating what is going to happen in the different districts – namely the different cities – of this unique urban environment. The point is, why don’t we work on a web journal which could be updated — day by day, hour by hour — on what is happening in this huge environment? This is what we are working on at the moment. We are now together with the Venice Biennale and the Berlin Biennale promoting this web journal. We are working on a idea of a journal which, on one side, should inform and update the readers on what is going to happen in the city; on the other side this journal is also meant to put together a bunch of thinkers that live in Europe and that follow what is happening in Europe. Indeed, this is exactly what keeps Europe together today, and what has kept Europe together for centuries. Europe has never been a continent with a precise perimeter. It has been a geopolitical environment which has changed its borders many times. If you try to describe what is Europe nowadays, you will still not find a clear perimeter: if you observe it through the Euro prospective you have a certain Europe, if you observe it through the European Commission prospective you have another Europe, if you consider it through its net of defenses you have another Europe, and so and so on. But finally, what keeps Europe together is a sort of global conversation between the thinkers that produce the European thought.
The other goal of this journal is an attempt to put together a bunch of thinkers and ask them to start a dialogue, to converse, on what is going to happen in Europe.
Using culture as a first key-entry to Europe.

TC: It’s quite interesting to see that European politicians were open to considering your proposals, the intellectuals’ proposals. Is the same happening in Italy? Are politicians in Italy so open to considering proposals by intellectuals?
SB: No, I don’t think so, but it depends… I think we cannot generalize, it really depends on the kind of politicians that you can involve or can be involved in the project. For me it is difficult to answer, because I have been recently involved in politics, and as a politician I was playing a completely different role from the one I have now. When I was in that position, I tried to involve intellectuals and thinkers. My idea is that you can imagine collaborating with the political sphere when you have a very strong proposal. This proposal has to promote a vision. The point is, how can we – “thinkers” or “intellectuals” – be capable of avoiding any kind of instrumentalization by politics? The political sphere is used to using you, your skills, your talents for its immediate schedules, its needs. Thus, the point is, how to avoid this kind of risk, because this is a big risk.

TC: Do you think that Italy and the Italian politicians are ready for it?
SB: Yes, sure. I am interested in this idea of asking the intellectual sphere to work on a project that has the goal of producing a narrative which is not a brand, nor simply something that you can sell. Producing a narrative requires a deep and profound thought on what is going to happen in a specific territory.
It’s something that can be extremely useful also for Italy.
I’m going to propose to Matteo Renzi to do a new narrative for Italy. This is something that could be extremely fertile. What is Italy nowadays? How can we avoid the cliché? This is the point: how can we avoid the cliché that is normally used to describe Italy as the land of pizza and mafia or the land of tours or things like that.

TC: The last question is about your book which I find very inspiring “Fare di più con meno” (Do more with less). I don’t know if you have the English translation for this title already. Would you like to speculate on it and explain it to our international audience? I like the theory and the points you analyze in this book.
SB: In the book there is an interview that, thanks to Hans-Ulrich Obrist, we had with the British historian Eric Hobsbawm. We had this conversation in August 2012, basically just a few weeks before he passed away. Hobsbawm was very strong in suggesting that the economic crisis isn’t considered like a temporary condition. For him, this crisis will last and will outline the new economical, political, and cultural condition of Europe. We were starting from that point, and with this idea that we have entered a new landscape, a new condition, and we have to learn to live and to develop ideas, proposals, and enterprises within this new condition. This new condition is a condition where we have a scarcity of resources, and we all have to learn how to reduce the amount of resources to produce advantages and positive developments. That was the starting point of my book. I’ve started the book with the story of a lamp designed just after the war by three Italian brothers, the Castiglioni brothers. They were asked by Flos to design a lamp and they didn’t work on the complicated mechanical devices nor on technical innovation; they simply got a sort of bricoleur attitude; they put together three pieces: a piece of marble, a piece of aluminum, and a car lamp. And by simply assembling three things – which were very simple and in a way complete in themselves – they were able to produce an unbelievable acceleration in the designer furniture story. Indeed, they invented a new way to light space.
Light comes from the top, but can be moved around. And this lamp, called “Arco”, is an example of how it is possible to do more with less. This approach represents an unbelievable acceleration.
That metaphor is something that I considered useful also for the political sphere. When I wrote the book, I was a councilor for the city of Milan and in charge of Culture, Fashion, Design and the upcoming EXPO 2015; and that’s why in this book, I’m also promoting or trying to suggest some ways to produce and implement the public policies in a condition of scarcity of economic resources.

Thanks to Laura Mazza, Azzurra Muzzonigro, and Garvin Cummings  for helping with this project.

© radicate.eu