Antonio Scarponi

Antonio Scarponi is an architect and designer. He is the founder of Conceptual Devices, a research and development office for design, architecture and urban agriculture. In 2011 he realized “Uf01”, the first rooftop aquaponic farm in Europe. Designed for the Zurich startup Urban Farmers, “Uf01” enhances unused industrial rooftops to produce food. In the same line of reflection, he published ELIOOO, a manual about how to grow food at home using IKEA furniture. In 2016 he was commissioned a project for mobile architecture by the Italian pavilion for the Venice Architecture Biennale.

Within the design teaching project Hic-et-Nunc, Antonio Scarponi challenged students from the Department of Design of the Zurich University of the Arts with a ‚reality check‘, designing a refugee camp in Zurich. The project was awarded the “bests of the year 2017” award by Hochparterre (link) in the category design.

Scarponi studied architecture at Cooper Union, NY and at UAV, Venice, from which he holds a PhD in Urban Design. Since 2012 he is an EU commission consultant for social sustainability.

SAA: How would you describe the style of your office?

AS: Back in 2008, I wrote a Triangular Manifesto, in which I have summarized my “credo” or position in what I do. In the first statement I claim that “design should not be based on formal principles, but always on an idea of society”. In my opinion this is what the language of design and architecture is about. But if you are referring to my office as the place where I work, is “very messy-style”!

SAA: Can you tell how one of your project marked its environment, surrounding, public space?

AS: The goal of the work I do is to “mark”, so to say, the imagination. In this sense a built project is practical to have, but architecture is an idea of society in the first place. In the XVth Venice Architecture Biennale I have presented a project for a mobile architecture. The project is called Campo Libero and it is conceived as a device for the reactivation of land confiscated from the mafia in the south of Italy. This project is made for agricultural areas, and therefore it is supposed to be completely off-grid. Since then, I am imagining what kind of urban environment could produce an “off-grid architecture”. In Basel I will present an “urban toy” to imagine a piece of participative off-grid city. I will invite the public to explore an off-grid architecture that can generate a different form of urbanization. This “urban toy” is called “La Città Libera”. Freedom is a process, and architecture needs to be liberated.

SAA: Do you think that architecture should become more socially/ecologically driven?

AS: In the next 20 years, two more billion people will live in cities. It is the same amount of people who lived in the entire world when my father was born in 1935, in the golden age of the modern movement. Yes I believe that architecture should be more socially and ecologically driven. But independently from my beliefs, architecture should start reflecting the real challenges of our times.

SAA: How does architecture change the world? And your architecture?

AS: I think of architecture as an imaginative art. The art of imagining an idea that can be built, and that can change the perception of our world. The history of architecture is made of projects that were never built but that radically changed the discourse on the built environment.

As far as it concerns my work, I am interested in the possibility to change the relationship between people and things. I have been working on many different urban faming projects. I think we should start thinking the city as a place where value and resources are grown, including food. I think we could use the same logic of agriculture in the city. The city requires seasonal planning and constant care.