Pietra Serena becomes curtains. The IL CASONE stand at Marmomacc.
Interview with the architect, Francesco Steccanella
Can stone become curtains? What are the new, once unthinkable, applications for stone materials that new technologies have now made possible?
According to Francesco Steccanella, the young architect who designed the IL CASONE stand at Marmomacc this year, there’s room for some creative play, addressing different senses and creating a much less material-bound design. In this interview, he explains how he came up with the idea of curtains in stone, with which he has demonstrated how stone materials can be used in ways other than just for the cladding of facades and floors.
Given the way you break up and distribute the spaces, the stand designed for IL CASONE is rather more than just a simple exhibition area. How would you define it?
It is an architectural object, because, as in all spaces, the areas meet very exact functional needs. Il Casone needed operational spaces, spaces for service and display, so the sort of plan typical of any architectural design was required. The stand is therefore an architectural object, there are entrances, outside passages, and so, as in any design, each part relates in a different way to the whole. The central corridor, for example, is more important that the one at the rear; here the walls are “fragmented,” they become almost transparent, allowing the perception of what may be behind them precisely to imbue the desire to pass beyond those fragments of wall to find out what is hidden behind them; whereas, in the front part, one perceives the whole pavilion (and the key to the respective passageways), its passageways, its layout and spaces. An architectural object, therefore, because it is an element that has to perform various functions, as opposed to a design object, which usually performs only one function. Let’s say it was a bit like designing a single room.
In carrying out this project, how did the interchange with the client evolve?
There wasn’t an interchange, in the sense that they told me their requirements for space and display and then I drew up the design, which was immediately well received. I must emphasise that I believe that there was mutual esteem and trust between me and the team from the Il Casone company, not to mention the fact that they are people of great intellectual acumen and interpretive ability.
What was the genesis of the idea?
It started almost like a game. First of all, I began with stone curtains, a material I know very well. I began to play around with the idea of a curtain in response to the theme suggested this year by Marmomacc of a pliant hybrid. Hybridization was interpreted by many as hybridization between materials. But I tried to make the stone become something else, suggesting new, or at least unusual, applications. As I said, stone that becomes curtains. These days, technology allows us to do what we like. So I tried to hang the stone, turning it into a curtain. It was a sort of abuse inflicted on the stone material, but in my view it was useful in showing that you don’t just have to use stone as cladding for facades and floors, you can play around with it in a creative way, involving other senses and creating a much less material-bound design.
The polychrome “screened” walls were then a necessary device for dividing up the space and, above all, for creating a scenic backdrop for the curtains. They too came out of a vision I had while I was at the company, faced with a mass of off cuts from the processing.
Over and above the innovative use of stone, turned into curtains, there was also another aspect, unusual for a stand, regarding the use of waste material. Can we say this was the spirit of sustainability in this design?
At the workshop, I found myself faced with an incredible quantity of waste materials. It did, indeed, awaken in me a consciousness of sustainability. Usually, at Marmomacc, the best slabs are put on show; here we are presented with waste materials. The Il Casone company was pleased and fully shared this unusual, but innovative, choice, because I “freed” them from a load of waste that, as can be seen from the finished product, is of no lesser value than the carefully selected slabs. I produced a polychrome wall as part of the attempt to carry out an act of reinterpretation; in this case, the wall loses its usual solidity and becomes almost transparent. (In this way, creating the scenic backdrop behind the curtains).
Do you also think that the ideas in the stand, for example the curtains and the wall, have an application? In other words, could it become a prototype?
In my view, yes. Just think of the enormous quantity of stone material that is wasted: it could become a dividing wall, a dry stone wall, an article of furniture. Moreover, increasing the space between one element and another can increase the transparency. But the real value of this design isn’t so much the idea of creating a wall of this type, as the fact that this is waste material. No longer is it a stand for which the company ends up throwing away valuable material, after using it only for 4 days.
We assume that this innovative use of stone arises not only out of creativity but also from your particular professional evolution and from an unusual approach to design…
I tend to use materials in a very flexible way, for example using wood where it shouldn’t be used, or rather, where usually we don’t expect to find it, let’s say, in an unconventional way (but that’s also true for metals, stone etc.). Naturally, I try to gain a very deep knowledge of the material, precisely because I want to use it in a different way, sometimes in an extreme way. It means constant research that involves putting the material to the test continuously. I enjoy enriching my experience because it stimulates my creativity, but I must emphasise that to do that, you have to start with knowledge of the material in order to understand how it will behave, whether it will undergo distortion etc.
In your view, what is the undiscovered potential of stone?
Well, I am working on a book on the subject. Often, architects treat stone like any other material. Many don’t know how a slab of stone is produced. It’s the only semi-processed end product that comes directly out of the production, from the quarry. Architects undervalue the role of stone in their designs. Stone should not be seen as an element stuck in at the end, but an integral part of the design. There are those, on the other hand, who often use it as a way of covering a 30 x 60 floor space and think no more about it, just as a simple slab to be applied, as if it were a stone tile. There’s no attempt to accentuate it, and often its use in this way also risks trivializing valuable spaces. Stone should therefore always be considered as part of the strategy of the overall project, otherwise it would be better to use plaster.
Are you working on other interesting projects? Will you tell us about your activities?
I’m studying for my doctorate at the University of Udine, I’ve been collaborating for 7 years with the University of Venice, working on architectural composition. At Udine, I collaborate on design courses and technology courses, in particular with Professor Christina Conti, a researcher with whom I am collaborating on the editorial of a book on sandstone, which I mentioned earlier. For me, composition does not exist without technology and vice versa, whereas sometimes, in the academic world, they are two parallel worlds. In reality, they intersect; I believe it is indispensable for an architect not to be lacking in either of the two disciplines, otherwise they will run the risk of limiting their composition, to the detriment of the quality and innovation of the work itself.
I have a studio with 5 collaborators. We don’t restrict ourselves to only one type of work, we create villas, maisonettes, public works, urban constructions, shop-fittings, exhibitions. I’ve just finished fitting out the national library and the national anthropological museum in the capital of Chad, N’Djamena; I’m designing a hotel in Corfu, as well as a little town bar of 32 square metres.
by Laura Della Badia and Valentina Valente