Interview with Matteo Cainer, Matteo Cainer Architects

Matteo Cainer is a practicing architect, teacher and curator. Based in London and Paris, he is the principal of Matteo Cainer Architects, co-founder of the Confluence Institute for Innovation and Creative Strategies in Architecture and the director of ‘Architecture Whispers‘.

Cainer works and collaborates with many international practices including Peter Eisenman, CoopHimmelb(l)au and Arata Isozaki Associati. In June 2010 opens his own office, Matteo Cainer Architects. Currently working in Paris since 2011, Cainer also directs Architecture Whispersa series of intimate multidisciplinary and cross-cultural conversations between emerging, established and visionary international architects and their colleagues in other disciplines.  Cainer is also co-founder with Odile Decq of the Confluence Institute for Innovation and Creative Strategies in Architecture.


A-N. Which of your projects has been the most rewarding and why? 

MC: Rewarding projects are those that have evolved through a long process from an initial idea to a built reality. There is nothing equal to challenging preconceived notions and then walking on a building site and seeing an initial vision grow and move into an exciting new direction. Also rewarding is the way people receive and relate to your work. By this, I believe that when a project is complete and handed over, it then belongs to the people that use it, and their responses become an inherent part of it.

Busan-Opera-House_South-KoreaBusan Opera House in  South Korea

A-N: How do you think architecture will change in the next 50 years?

MC: Complex global issues will no longer be solved within the boundaries of a single discipline. Architecture can no longer be seen as a static entity but as a dynamic, transformative and reactive discipline with the potential to respond, adapt and innovate. In this sense, I believe architecture will become an integrated design approach not only for sustainable reasons but because the opportunity now exists to combine architecture, design, physics and robotics, as well as advances in other fields such as neuroscience and biological engineering. This will encourage major collaborative research projects where experts from different disciplines will work together on a regular basis on important global issues. Material manufacturing will influence the making of architecture itself.

Furthermore with an ever increasing demand for growth and development, and a world population estimated at 7.1 billion and rising, architecture will focus on re-thinking and re-inventing the cities that house more than fifty percent of the world population.

Cyber-ProstheticsResearch on Cyber-Prosthetic Architecture

A-N: What changes would you like to see in the Architectural profession?

MC: I would like to see a greater engagement, and by this I mean braver clients, but also architects becoming more aware and responsible of their role and its social implications, listening and addressing contemporary issue. I would also like to hear more often the words re-cover and re-use. We have to stop being too specific and sectorial, the world needs open minds that can innovate and span across disciplines. Furthermore I strongly believe that an intellectual architectural debate must re-emerge through face-to-face discussions and personal interaction. I created ‘Architecture Whispers”, a series of intimate multidisciplinary and cross-cultural conversations between architects and experts from other fields. Architecture needs to be less focused on the visual image and more on the content, with the capability to develop new strategies. It would also be great if there was greater elasticity in the way regulations are administered and a more balanced economic distribution. This will require significant changes to the way we educate future generations.

Light-frame_Rome-Italy-and-The-Void_Milano-ItalyLeft: Light frame in Rome, Italy Right: The Void in Milano, Italy

A-N: What are you most proud of in your career or any aspect of life?

MC: I believe there is a real need for change in the way architecture is taught and also how architecture is realised.

I founded a new architecture school: The Confluence Institute of Innovation and Creative strategies in Architecture in Lyon, France. I believe it is important to give new generations of students the ability to pursue a more transversal, collaborative and interdisciplinary approach. We need to give them possibilities and create opportunities so that they can find their own path. The ambition of the school when founded was to become a reference point, an open and flexible platform or think tank for architecture in France and Europe. Experts from various fields are invited to interact with students and challenge conventional approaches to architecture through other disciplines. As the co-director and chair in the first year, I had the opportunity to direct research into re-thinking the city and how neglected or distressed pockets of urban fabric might be re-covered and re-invented.

As to the way architecture is realised, I look to my practice, not just the inclusive design approach but also the ambience and human relationships we maintain in the studio. I have always believed in finding the right balance between exciting and challenging projects and a joyful and energetic work environment, and I hope that we are achieving just that.

MOCAPE_Shenzhen-ChinaMOCAPE in Shenzhen, China

A-N: What aspect of Architecture do you find most important? What is fundamental to your practice and your design process?

MC: Architecture is a passion, a way of life, it’s not only a profession to me, it’s a personal obsession, a dream to pursue and I firmly believe that it has the potential to shape the world around us and the way we live. It’s clearly about the future! So experimentation and research are fundamental to us. Curiosity pushes us to question and understand the future as a result we are pushed towards a strong conceptual commitment that is informed by an always evolving dialogue and interaction between different disciplines. I think enthusiastic ambitions will creatively harness new technologies through innovative thinking, acting as a bridge between technology, art and design, and generating an architecture that evolves through concepts, as a series of built ideas!!!! Furthermore, the integration of fabrication technology with multicultural experiences, ideas and a strong sense of spatial investigation results in an intellectually challenging and spatially complex architecture that not only is in a continuous dialogue with the existing environment, culture and politics, but offers the freedom to develop unique and independent urban solutions.

A-N: What inspired you to become involved in Architecture? What inspires you now?

MC: Initially I was very drawn to painting, sculpture and the visual arts, and it is a passion that I retain to this day, However, I realized I wanted more. As a curator, I understood that I could shape a larger vision of the world and the way architecture is perceived and received.…nonetheless, I wanted to be part of it, to contribute in bringing about change, I wanted reality, materiality and architecture is all of that and so much more, it is resilient, and like a complex and beautiful organism it continuously regenerates and evolves!

Right now, I am fascinated by re-use and how science fiction can be part of that equation. How technology can imply that our buildings will change, how with robotic engineering, artificial intelligence and the use of shape changing alloys, the integration of interactive, reactive and responsive designed environments might re-define the boundaries between tactile and tectonic, static and dynamic. However, I’m inspired by simply looking at the world, through a piece of artwork or by listening to a piece of music as much as staring at the sky or contemplating the sea.

Taittoigami_Mantaa-FinlandTaittoigami in Mantaa, Finland

A-N: What other interests do you have? 

MC: Cinematography, the visual arts in general and people! … I believe that maintaining an interest in our immediate surroundings cultivates our minds and encourages our curiosity. As for my favourite places, I am torn between the natural and the built environment but if I had the chance to say both well I would say New York, I fell in love with the Big Apple the day I set foot in it and there is the magic of looking out to sea from a Aegean island. Always inspiring is the set of the interviews of Alfred Hitchcock by film critic François Truffaut and books by Italo Calvino. Music?… Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major, to the magnificent Gioacchino Rossini and yes…dance music!! I thrive on the energy of taping into a new and contrasting world.

A-N: What would be your ultimate design project?

MC: I have so many!! I’m fascinated by our current research to develop a cultural robo-technology hub from an abandoned building, where any number of creative fields are incubated and synergised through new digital frameworks. Dreams aside, the typology of museums and how they mirror our society and transform our cities is an on-going passion.

Three-stone-Performing-arts_Taipei-TaiwanThree stone Performing arts in Taipei, Taiwan

A-N: What are you doing at the moment?

MC: We are on site with a large penthouse project in Paris. It’s a complete design at every scale that includes major changes to the structure and the detailed design of landscaping, lighting and furniture. We are also currently working on a research project studying cyber-prosthetic architecture and completing a competition entry for a museum extension.

A-N: Who would you most like to work with on a project? 

MC: I would love to work with the City of New York on a major metropolitan project. I would also relish the challenge of defining an architecture that can successfully integrate with the natural world. I would also enjoy working with inspired design companies such Vitra or Alesssi, on artefacts that connect the human body to an ideal living space.

Timeless-Cube_Kabul-AfghanistanTimeless Cube in Kabul, Afghanistan

I’d like to thank Matteo Cainer for participating in the interview, it was a pleasure. If you’re interested in getting in touch or finding out more about Matteo Cainer Architects, visit their website.

If you are interested in being interviewed or featured on archi-ninja, please contact me.


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