Sustainability and technology in design: architect Mario Cucinella
16 Aug 2022
Mario Cucinella is an architect whose work is at the nexus of sustainability and technology. Based in Milan, Italy, some of his notable projects include an eco-residential 3D-printed building using clay, a hospital with 'smog eating' ceramic fins and a nursery school grounded in nature.
Designing buildings which need few energy inputs is a “pillar” of architecture, Cucinella told Nine to Noon. “If you’re looking at the past, at the history, when there was no energy available, architects designed buildings in empathy with the climate, so the design was fantastic, and so different for different latitudes.
“It’s one of the fundamental elements of designing buildings, how you can relate it to your climate because that’s the only energy available.”
The past and modern technology can inform how we build, he says.
“I think we need to look in our past, and not in a nostalgic way, but to see how we did it before, how we designed buildings with no energy and you discover then the key point is how you design your building, the architecture, how the architect is able to control the daylight and increase the ventilation and insulate the building.”
One of his projects used locally sourced clay and 3d printing. The result was a building which needed no energy to heat or cool, he says.
The shape is made so the clay will stay together, and we can make this building with no mechanical services, it is free running, so it’s very well insulated, but at the same time, it’s ventilated.
“I think the shape that came out is something that looks like a pre-historical building, but at the same time so modern.”
He says the building had a powerful effect on him.
“When I visited the building when it is finished, I tell you it’s the emotion to find that this relationship with material now, you feel the earth, you feel the wood, you feel the concrete.
“So, I was inside of this dome, and I get some emotion from my DNA now, as a human, it’s back to our history, you know, and I was really impressed.”
Building with locally available materials will dramatically reduce the emissions associated with construction, he says.
“This is another approach now, instead of transporting all the material you analyse the material locally and then see how much you need to make it structurally sound, because you need to make buildings that stand up and protect from the rain.
“And I think that there is a different process to see how to use local material because the impact of building construction is huge in terms of CO2 emissions, transport and materials and the construction time.
“All these represent more or less 40 percent of the CO2 emissions.”
He designed a hospital in Milan which needed much less energy to run and had an anti-smog system, he says.
“A hospital is a very consuming machine because it’s working 24 hours a day; this new generation of building is made by two very simple principles, 70 percent of the hospital is very high insulation, so you require less energy, less cooling, less heating which is mean representing a huge amount of numbers in terms of cost, of course, also the emissions,
“But then the skin outside of the building is louvres, vertical louvres in ceramic, and these ceramics contain titanium molecular so the pollution touches this material and is transformed into salt, so when it’s raining it’s washed away the pollution and transforming that in kind of safe material.”
One of his favourite projects was building a kindergarten, he says, he still has strong memories of the one he attended.
“It was designed by a modern modernist architect, Italian architects, and I remember the proportion, the lighting and maybe this is memory remains in my brain for so long.
“So I think when we design a building for kids, you must know that you are going to create a memory.”
His kindergarten was made from wood and resembled, he says, a whale or a boat.
“It is not a room, a square like home, no this is a place they can imagine something else.
“So, you go into school, and then you increase your imaginations, it looks like a boat, it looks like a whale and this help kids to create their own imagination and memory.”
This is his favourite kind of work, he says.
“We designed buildings from the 1940s called Reggio Children which is a model copied many parts of the world.
“And this guy [Reggio Emilia] said the architecture is the third educator, because you’re going inside a building and the building tells you something, the space, the light, the way you can move inside, all these is high responsibility for an architect when we design these kinds of buildings.”