Alexandra Budaeva, an architect at Meganom, undertook two internships in Rome. She talked about why Italians, unlike Russians, are willing to miss every deadline, but still thoroughly design a good-quality project.
Photo: personal archive
Alexandra studied at MArchI from 2008 to 2014. In September 2014 she went to an architectural workshop called “San Rocco” in the capital of Albania and met architects from Europe and America. After the workshop, she decided to gain international experience and explore approaches to architecture in other countries. She sent her portfolio to various bureaus and received a positive response from the Roman studio 2A+P/A. After finishing a three-month internship there in the spring of 2015, she came back to Moscow, where she worked the entire summer. In the fall she decided to research the principles of architects’ work in Italy more thoroughly. She sent an updated portfolio to Roman bureaus and received a positive response from ma0 studio d’architettura, where she undertook a second internship.
THE CONDITIONS OF THE INTERNSHIPS
The Roman bureau 2A+P/A was founded in 2009 by architects Gianfranco Bombaci and Matteo Costanzo. The studio regularly participates in international design and architectural competitions. The studio’s works are focused on the adaptation of nature to the context of the modern city. The bureau develops designs for private houses, and creates interior designs and designs for exhibition halls. 2A+P/A developed projects like the Bamyan Culture Centre in the Bamyan province of Afghanistan, a tobacco factory in Bari, and Piazza della Scala square in the Italian comune of Scala. The bureau also issues its own architectural magazine, San Rocco, and organizes workshops, lectures, and exhibitions.
Duration: from three months to six months
Application admission: any time of year
Scholarship: the internship is unpaid
Ma0 studio d’architettura bureau was founded in 1996. Its main purpose was to create a platform for architecture’s communication and wise collaboration with residents. Design is the main communication tool that helps ma0 solve social issues. The bureau developed projects like the Secion d’or student cultural center, the Pincetto multifunctional complex in Perugia, and the Soft Space pavilion at the Infopoint film festival.
Duration: from three months to a year
Application admission: any time of year
HOW THE 2A+P/A BUREAU WORKS
The employment situation in Italy is complicated. There is an economic crisis and the highest concentration of architects from all over Europe – many people work for free in Rome. This is the basic system for most of the Italian architectural bureaus: take interns and students in order to not pay them or pay very little. It is difficult to get visas for students to come to Rome. Usually, an intern organizes the trip for him/herself; he/she finds a place to live and buys tickets, and the studios only help with further recommendations.
2A+P/A bureau is not very big: there are two head architects and about five interns. This small group always works on a single project, dividing the tasks among themselves. It was surprising, how friendly everyone was. I came into the bureau and the whole staff got acquainted with me straight away: they started talking about their projects, immersed me into their current assignments, and attached me to the competition that was supposed to be handed over in a few days.
The bureau is situated in the Mandrione district in a 20th-century building made of stone and wood. It used to be a mill. It’s a two-storey space, about ten meters high, with large windows. There’s a light, spacious room filled with models, posters, collages, and books. Every staff member sits in the open space at his or her desk, while the two head architects reside in their separate room. Throughout the work process, every staff member felt like a partner. Everyone had their area of responsibility, but, at the same time, we were always included in the general discussion. If at least one person in the group didn’t speak any Italian, everyone spoke English so that no one would be left out of the process. The working hours were 10am to 7pm, five days a week. Usually, everyone in Rome starts a bit earlier because it is very hot in the afternoon, making it impossible to work.
The bureau works on competitions and they have a very conceptual approach to them. A thorough examination of the problem and the architectural context for the project are very important for them. 2A+P/A always suggests an alternative story and vision of the problem. They have a philosophical and partly abstract approach. Winning in a competition is not their main goal. Interns deal with competitions and research, while the head architects deal with commercial orders. Gianfranco and Matteo also created their magazine and hold workshops. A year and a half ago they founded the CAMPO gallery. They try to hold lectures and discussions every month; sometimes these take place at the same time as the opening of a new exhibition. They call famous architects, and their friends and colleagues to participate. The work in 2A+P/A is often shared with guest specialists. The interns are given a general direction and the tasks get assigned to them. At least once a day a general meeting would be held where we could share our ideas, and if they had potential the design could change.
We always had time to think about the problem we were studying. The head architects worked with their library; they would select literature and show it to us. We were told to express our thoughts in words. Every stage was recited and discussed. Due to this, we were able to stop the work at any time to analyze it.
THE PROJECTS WE MANAGED TO WORK ON
On one of my first days at work I was told: “Since you are from Russia, look for competitions there. That way we will participate somewhere we’ve never been before”. I chose the “Expanding Space” competition from the V-A-C Foundation. The project’s main goal was to give the viewer a comprehensive image of the city, to implement modern art in it, and to create a platform for discussion. Together with a friendly bureau, T SPOON in Rome, which researches urban space, we started working on this competition. I moved into their office right across from the Coliseum for almost a month.
We were supposed to create a design within the boundaries of Moscow. No one but me knew anything about the capital’s features or its urban space in general. That is why I became the link between Italian and Moscow architecture. I suggested working with the Boulevard Ring: it is fascinating that there is a closed space like that, united with streets that are not directly connected. We developed this idea and created an art object on every boulevard that would turn into a single organism. T SPOON worked on the project with us. It was a collaboration and a knowledge exchange. There wasn’t a clear division of tasks for the competition: we worked together. We would first discuss our ideas and thoughts, then we would sit at a table and draw sketches together, and send pictures to each other for inspiration. The design developed during the discussions, which we tried to hold every morning before work. Our design turned out to be very architectural, while the competition demanded public art. I think that is why we lost.
The Bauhaus Museum in Dessau was the next project. The starting point was the awareness about the failure of what was theorised during the period of the modern movement and therefore also the fact that resulting expectations never occurred to the society. The project and the approach taken, it is a logical consequence of this assertion. We asked the conceptualist and founder of Italian radical architecture Andrea Branzi to join the project. We studied the connection between human and animal worlds. We decided to implement his ideas in our design. That’s how the Bauhaus Museum became an aviary that incorporated the natural and artificial landscapes of the city. The first and ground levels represented a field of fertile land: cows, monkeys, and people walked on it and birds flew above it. It turned into a three-dimensional device that created a synthesis between human and animal worlds, kind of like a garden of biodiversity. The semitransparent volume of the museum itself floated above the empty space of the aviary and contained exhibition halls in the form of a linear gallery. The museum turned out to be kind of like a living rack consisting of three levels, with exhibitions, offices, cafés, shops, and all the necessary spaces for different kinds of museum activities.
A building for the Dallara company was the third project. Dallara is a manufacturer of various parts and chassis for racing cars. It had to include a museum and an educational center. We started researching the brand straight away, and later experimenting with the form. The new educational and exhibition complex was designed as a pure volume that deformed commensurate with the boundaries of the site: a silvered prism sloped along the terrain and merged with the ground. The idea was to build a graceful metal monolith: a technological building, which, due to two big windows along the hillside, would open its peculiar interior to the viewers. On the one hand, it was an entrance to the educational center dedicated to the history of the development of the company, and the laboratory, which would present how various products work. On the other hand, it was an enormous exhibition hall with iconic brands of sports cars placed in chronological order.
THE BEGINNING OF A SECOND INTERNSHIP IN MA0
My internship in 2A+P/A was an intensive three-month educational workshop. During that time I immersed myself in the process, got to meet many architects from Rome, and decided to keep in touch. That is why, three months later, I chose to work in that city once again. As I could already count on a paid internship, my circle narrowed down at once. The architectural bureau ma0 studio d’architettura invited me, so I went to work with them from September to December.
The bureau had some issues with orders: they wanted to hire new architects constantly, but their workload was unstable. The studio itself is not very big: there are three head architects and interns. Ma0’s approach to work radically differed from the one at 2A+P/A, where I had my first internship. Ma0 liked to experiment with space and study the people who live in it. If the work required reconstruction and renovation, the bureau would work closely with the residents at different stages. Their main philosophy was to explore the social role of architecture in modern society, unlike 2A+P/A, where people were much more interested in philosophy than in the real state of things.
Three head architects and a few interns worked at ma0. The interns were coordinated by the head architect. The workload was taken into account during the recruitment of interns.
We worked from 9.30am to 7pm. Once, we stayed awake the whole night before handing in the design. That was the only time that we stayed late. Just like at 2A+P/A, communication was in English, but the general level of English ability was a bit worse.
PROJECTS AT MA0
During the course of the internship, I worked on a kilometer-long housing complex in Corviale. It was an interesting space that looked like a city within a city. A little bit of Orwell, a little bit of Kafka. The goal was to improve the living conditions for people that live in that unfavorable, dangerous area, and part of the building was unused. We worked with rough architecture: there were many concrete amphitheaters. The building was designed as a utopian project, where people didn’t have to leave the complex, since they would find everything they needed inside. During the first month we held meetings with people that live and work there: this was sociological research. Ma0 has been in a partnership with the large architectural research group Stalker for a long time, so they drew them to the project to share experience and ideas. Just as for the competition for the V-A-C foundation at the 2A+P/A bureau, Stalker worked with us on every stage. A lot of research was conducted, and then we started working. A total of twenty people worked on the competition, and this wasn’t easy, as we always tried to take everyone’s opinions into account and try different approaches.
Photo: personal archives
Sometimes it was difficult to get immersed in the project because not all the people from the other bureau knew English well enough. However, I had already started learning Italian by that time, which was very helpful sometimes.
I also worked on the reconstruction of three apartments in the center of Rome. I participated in discussions concerning the structure of the historical building and met construction superintendents. For example, according to the design of one of the apartments, a minor redevelopment was planned there. Part of the plumbing and communication equipment and had to be relocated. The construction superintendents and I were looking for ways to solve this issue in that space. We also discussed how new door frames could be installed: the ones that were planned didn’t fit in, so we had to make a quick decision. That was something new: I used to work on interiors in Moscow, and I was excited to see the approach in another country. It turned out the difference lay in the fact that in Italy people paid a lot of attention to quality and details. It is fine if the deadlines aren’t met. What is important is that they turn in a good-quality product. A situation where the design and the idea get developed in one night doesn’t occur there.
ON LIFE IN ROME
During the first internship I lived five minutes away from the bureau and 20 minutes away from the center of Rome. The rent was about €500 per month, which is an average price. The second time I lived a bit further: in the same area as EUR. I could get to the center by car in 10 minutes.
At first I would buy food in supermarkets, so it wasn’t much different from what I was used to at home. I would eat quickly in the evening after work. And after I got to know Italians a little better, mostly my colleagues, I noticed that they talk about food all the time, even while eating. They discuss the quality of food, cooking methods for various dishes, the places they like to have breakfast, new restaurants, and how good the food is at them. Once, there was a long argument during lunch. I didn’t speak any Italian at the time, so I asked my friend to explain what the fuss was all about. It turned out that this whole time the guys were discussing cooking methods for pasta and arguing over which one was the most traditional. Also, Italians like ice cream very much.
What I liked about local residents, and what makes them different from Russians, is the following: Italians are very friendly; they like and appreciate live communication. That’s why, when I decided to learn Italian, it was an easy and pleasant process.
In the course of working I acquired connections, acquaintances, and friends. On weekdays I could only manage to meet them in the evening for dinner. On the weekends I would walk a lot and explore the city. As both bureaus had many interns, many of whom, like me, came from other countries, we used to spend most of our time together: we would walk and have dinners. Sometimes on the weekends Gianfranco and Matteo from 2A+P/A would meet us in a café to drink coffee and show us the city. They wanted us to feel comfortable in the new place.
Unlike Muscovites, who like walking in the center, Romans avoid the center: they have given it up to the tourists. So I, too, tried to go to parks. I also went to Florence during my first internship. There’s a sea close to Rome, which it would take me an hour to get to by car. It is interesting that there are many more events taking place in Moscow: frequent openings, exhibitions, plays. That is being cultivated there. There’s much less of that in Rome. The city itself is like a museum. A fascinating ruin to walk through and explore.
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