Dropcity Convention 2023 offered a foretaste of the cultural apparatus that will be produced by the Centre for Architecture and Design in its final form in 2024. An urban model unseen before in Europe —with over 10,000 square metres, divided across 28 tunnels—, Dropcity will host exhibition galleries, production workshops, carpentry, robotics and advanced prototyping laboratories. In this interview, Andrea Caputo, founder of Dropcity, talks about the importance of rooting a powerful program alongside Via Sammartini, how critical thought should be nurtured to practising architects by younger ones and how conceptual confrontation can help create a better design culture in the Milanese context.
KOOZ Spanning installations and exhibitions by invited participants, the projects presented expanded the notion of architecture beyond built buildings, engaging international studios and professionals. How did this edition lay the foundations for the future Centre for Architecture and Design?
AC The April 2023 edition marked a first step toward the idea of a convention that Dropcity would like to undertake on an annual basis. That is, a moment of collective discussion on contemporary architecture and design issues. In this time, in which we are strongly interconnected, I consider the need to meet and exchange real and physical experiences a fundamental act of social survival. But the convention is only a part of the foundation that Dropcity is trying to root in Via Sammartini in Milan: since it is a long-term and therefore permanent project, the main challenge will inevitably fall on the program schedule, an intense weekly program that can combine already available formats—such as lectures series, workshops and seminars—together with new insights related to cinema. After all, in Milan, project culture belongs to a wide-ranging system of people and initiatives where the city over the decades has also managed to excel in its ability to bring different disciplines together. In this sense, Dropcity intends to offer itself as a catalyst of energies, of design initiatives that can transcend the purity of Convention 2023's architectural program to other sectors. I would not hold back the potential of the exhibition areas—more than 1,200 square metres—to be dedicated to cultural initiatives often put aside in the city. I hope that new generations of designers and architects will confirm a spirit of resourcefulness that is evident but precisely compromised by the few possibilities the city offers today.
I consider the need to meet and exchange real and physical experiences a fundamental act of social survival.
KOOZ Specifically, this year Dropcitys’ projects included a photographic exhibition on the work of one of Italy’s most “public” albeit “forgotten” architects, Arrigo Arrighetti; a research on the coherence and similarities in the design choices of architectural practices operating in Europe; and a competition and workshop with the students at the L.A. based SCI-Arc on the programmatic possibilities for the re-use of the system of the Magazzini Raccordati. What is the value of Dropcity as a catalyst and active testing ground within the Milanese setting, characterised by its high quota of architects per sq. metre in this city?
AC The program proposed this year is deliberately embryonic to stimulate future initiatives. HPO's installation on Arrighetti, curated by Salvatore Porcaro, is a gesture of impetus intended to underscore not only how much there is still to be said and done in the city with respect to its heritage but also, and more importantly, it lays the groundwork for future initiatives: the investigation of Arrighetti cannot stop here. It is therefore intended to provoke chain reactions, which I see as the main added value of the initiative. It is clear that Dropcity wants to respond to a strong Milanese demand for adequate and accessible spaces for emerging architects, but at the same time generate a proactive attitude toward the idea of making exhibitions, of proposing content. I have often noticed that the spirit of inquiry that defines the university years tends to fade as one's professional career begins. The practical demands of the job often take precedence over research and analysis, leading to a more pragmatic approach. Ideal conditions should therefore be created to be able to highlight the urgency of critical debate and to put it on the same footing as the practical work aspects. One should nurture the education of those already practising by provoking a constant flow of content curated and designed by those 20 years younger. The entity of Dropcity will thus not only be physical but ideally associated with that of a perpetual force and promoter of new intellectual initiatives.
One should nurture the education of those already practising by provoking a constant flow of content curated and designed by those 20 years younger.
KOOZ The Spring Lecture series of Dropcity Convention 2023 focused on Public Agency and engaged international practitioners and respondents from young architecture offices based in Italy to promote a creative and productive discussion about current work and speculate about the future of our practice. As a practising architect and the mastermind behind the project of Dropcity, how do you respond to the questions raised to the speakers this past week? To what extent can the projects for the Centre for Architecture and Design be seen as your agency?
AC I think the debate around today's modus operandi needs to be nurtured and evolved. I remember a column I had for years in Domus called “Studio Visit'', where the central theme was precisely related to the practice, methodology and everyday life of architectural practices. Keeping projects in the background, Studio Visit has managed to return to an idea of complexity by mixing case histories that are also very distant from each other: from established realities (Toyo Ito, Micheal Maltzan, Doshi) to medium-sized offices (SO-IL, Flores Prats) to small studios such as Albori or Alexandre Brodsky, however capable of producing extraordinary ideas. Studio Visit for me was an essential investigative experience and an anticipation of some reflections proposed in April. Not by chance, we strongly wanted to associate lectures by established international architects with emerging Italian ones, young realities on stage for an unprecedented and I think very successful confrontation with respect to the same themes. I was very impressed by Luigi Cippini's critical spirit with respect to Reinier de Graaf's contribution or the constant interaction that Fondamenta generated speaking with Christian Kerez. In a contemporary process where the architect is less and less the protagonist of a choral development of the project, I believe that any initiative must necessarily open the circle and engage a mechanism of participation in debate and design. I hope that Dropcity can represent an open circuit, one where it is not necessary to be invited to participate but rather natural to be part of, to propose and challenge, to add, subtract and modify.
Andrea Caputo, architect and researcher, lives in Milan. He combines his professional practise with ongoing research in the architectural and urban planning fields. In 2011, Andrea opened his architecture studio. His work is recognised for its unexpected solutions, often juxtaposing different materials, which draw attention to the smallest of architectural details. The studio works internationally, developing complex projects on all scales. Andrea’s first investigation into urban culture’s aesthetic and social influences was published as All City Writers (Critique Livre, 2009) and soon became a sought-after reference work for street culture. From 2018, he edited Domus magazine's "Studio Visit" column, which explored contemporary architecture studios’ practices. In 2022 together with Anniina Koivu he published U-Joints, a taxonomy of connections. In the same year Andrea founded Dropcity, a new center for Architecture and Design for Milan. Currently, Andrea’s studio is engaged on behalf of the Vastushilpa Foundation of Ahmedabab to conduct a vast survey on the architecture of Balkrishna Doshi, Pritzker Prize 2018.