The "Orto" collective, when architecture draws from jazz music


Institutional Communication Service

4 February 2020

Architects Maria Ave Romani, an assistant atelier architect at the USI Academy of Architecture in Mendrisio, and Paolo Catrambone, a graduate of USI and architect at the Herzog DeMeuron studio in Basel, are among the ten winners of the "Nib" Prize (Newitalianblood), which every year identifies the best emerging firms in Italy with architects aged under 35. The "architecture collective" Orto, initially founded by the two young architects, has in fact distinguished itself for the work carried out over the past three years. 

Paolo and Maria Ave share a passion for architecture as well as for the Academy of Architecture in Mendrisio, where Paolo graduated and where Maria Ave, after her studies in Portugal and various work experiences abroad, is now an assistant atelier architect. "From my experience at the Academy - says Paolo - the imprint of the Project stemming from the teaching approach remains very strong: the pivotal role of the Project and the attempt to portray the architect as a cultural and universal figure, undoubtedly represent a very strong basis for our work". The direct contact and discussion with qualified professionals, which is an essential element of the study curriculum in Mendrisio, is an opportunity also underlined by Maria Ave, who defines it as "a privilege not only for the students but also – and especially – for the assistants. The possibility of comparing these alternative research paths encourages a great sense of independence in defining the Project".

Orto is a collective of architects operating halfway between Italy and Switzerland, founded in 2017 by Paolo and Maria Ave, in which the two work in parallel with their activities in Switzerland. Orto takes inspiration from "shared creativity", a concept borrowed from architect Alejandro De La Sota to describe the work of sharing experiences and ideas on which the firm is based. The two young architects explain this approach starting from a musical metaphor: "jazz is a musical genre that is often associated with the profession of the architect, and the metaphor refers to the jazz combos that can help to explain a working method in which the melody of each element, sometimes rehearsed and sometimes improvised, creates harmony, in the same way that a group of young architects tries to conceive an architectural Project". 

Hailing from Italy, both Paolo and Maria Ave have studied and worked abroad. In an online interview published by La Stampa, Paolo talked about the situation of his hometown, Asti, underlining the importance of involving young public administrators who, with their international experiences, can provide fresh ideas and impetus to the country. Even Maria Ave, after her stay in Portugal, in Milan, and in the Grisons at the studio of architect Peter Zumthor, sees this mobility as an added value: "Those who leave tend to develop greater ability for research and transversal reading of the reality that surrounds them, even when compared to the city in which they have always lived, since childhood. The freshness of new ideas comes from open dialogue, from that inevitable experience of encounter that comes by testing yourself when trying to live in a foreign place".

Switzerland is considered a particularly interesting ground for architecture in Europe and this is due, according to Paolo and Maria Ave, to the great skillfulness and seriousness of work that defines this sector in Switzerland, which gives this profession a recognized cultural role, thus also offering a high level of the insights offered by universities. For young people like them who approach this profession, choosing USI for their studies, Paolo and Maria Ave suggest that architecture should become not only a job but a way of seeing and interpreting reality: "This means learning to look around and try to grasp as much as possible from any area related to our profession. We are certainly not yet in a position to give advice, but without a doubt, the Academy offers the invaluable opportunity to work alongside high-profile professionals. Being able to sit down every week to listen to and accept their criticism is a privileged condition to be exploited in the best possible way in the definition of one's educational path.