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Ask the architect: Claudio Nardi

In his native Florence, Claudio Nardi has designed everything from the Marble Museum in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi, and the Bridge of Love installation over the Arno, to the new Riva Lofts Florence hotel, run by his son and daughter.

Published 14 May 2019, 10:17 BST, Updated 22 Jul 2021, 12:35 BST
Architect Claudio Nardi
Architect Claudio Nardi.

How does Italy inspire creativity?
Being based in Florence has given me a knowledge of tradition, but also the desire to add contemporary elements. Treading the line between tradition and modernity is the first thing I do. It’s a wish to be original, but to get close to the root and adapt it.

Is italian architecture a ‘language’ ?
Yes, it’s humanistic. Two of the best architects of the 20th century, Carlo Scarpa and Gio Ponti, always bore in mind all the levels of a project: details, interiors, architecture, and the insertion of the architecture into its urban context. Scarpa had close relationships with artisans; he cared about interiors and objects. Ponti built skyscrapers but also ceramics. They brought everything back to a human scale.

What are your influences?
I love set design and I’ve always been inspired by the Sicilian baroque, the idea of making theatres out of cities. Florence is another kind of theatre — more severe, but it gives equilibrium. My other inspiration is Mediterranean architecture — ‘architecture without architects’, made up of cubes, whites, little windows — interacting with nature with a perfect naturalness.

How did Riva Lofts happen?
It’s not a design hotel — I loathe them. I wanted to do a hotel that would be like a collective memory: filaments of history grafted inside and out. The building was originally my studio. Inside, we used furniture from the 1700s and from the 1940s and 1950s, plus I designed some myself. I thought: an architect can’t just remove their entire history. So, I thought of a place that could belong to me, Alice and Alessandro [his children] — a space that could be shared with people who are dear to me.

With so many centuries of architecture in Italy, is there freedom to invent?
There’s a culture of absolute conservationism at the moment. But many buildings could be reworked. My passion is to work with Italy’s existing fabric. I had an office for 10 years in Krakow, and there are lots of industrial heritage buildings redeveloped there. Conserving the roots while you transform them gives fantastic depth to the new organisms — that’s what I was aiming for when I designed the MOCAK [Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow].

What are your favourite projects?
Years ago, I did one of the first Dolce & Gabbana shops in Milan. It was a chance to play with set design — I did the flooring and researched Sicilian gothic motifs. It was more set design than it was architecture. For the Port Authority building at Marina di Carrara, I was inspired by 1930s Italian rationalist architecture, while the headquarters of Florence’s Mandragora Publishers is very different — a lot of layers and lightness.

How about your favourite buildings?
My absolute favourite is the Pantheon in Rome — all the history of humanity is in there. Casa Malaparte, on the island of
Capri, is marvellous: a rationalist 1930s building on this rock spur, made by both man and nature. You couldn’t build something like that anymore; you have to build away from the coast these days. But the Italy we all love is anthropomorphised nature. It’s hills crowned with villages, towns perched above the sea. Architecture should not just consume land. It should always add beauty, not subtract it.

Riva Lofts Florence has doubles from £107, B&B.

Click here to see the 12 designs shaping modern Italy.

Published in the June 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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