Since 1930, Pininfarina Group, the iconic Italian design practice writes history in the global auto and industrial design. From hundreds of great projects in the automotive industry that gained the company an indisputable reputation in the field, Pininfarina Group, has made another step forward entering Architecture and Interior Design.
The numerous prestigious awards and prizes that its projects have been presented with and the satisfaction of its clients are the ultimate proofs that every new project born in Pininfarina’s nest is more than everything else, a manifestation of the company’s catchphrase, “We move dreams.”
We had the chance to make a virtual conversation with Giovanni de Niederhäusern, a member of Pininfarina’s core.
With a degree in Engineering and Architecture, an MBA, a lecturer’s position at the Politecnico di Torino since 2016, and years of valuable professional experience in international projects, Giovanni de Niederhäusern is since 2019 the Senior Vice President of Architecture in Pininfarina.
His innovative thinking teams up with Pininfarina’s ground-breaking and well-being-driven philosophy, and a new perspective of beauty and superior know-how is born.
With a legacy derived from car designing, Pininfarina focuses on its client’s perception of well-being and not just aesthetics. That makes its projects unique. From automotive to architecture, from smart products to retail, every new design is not only great in terms of form but more importantly it is a living organism ensuring an excellent quality of life.
Good Design entails processing all factors that have a predetermined positive impact on the individual or the collectivity’s overall quality of life. It is at the base of our focus and is also a scientific approach we extensively use.
Elizabeth Soufli: Pininfarina has carried out architecture and interior design projects worldwide, from Italy to the United States and from China to Brazil, that have been awarded more than one prestigious award. What’s the philosophy of your Studio?
Giovanni de Niederhäusern: Our Studio has a wonderful legacy that derives from the world of car design: it is the direct result of Pininfarina’s decision, twenty or so years ago, to contaminate and be contaminated by venturing into product design and by ultimately delving into architecture. We see this as a manifestation of a willingness to think out of the box, by accepting contaminations; to design objects with a strong character that can become a mean of identification for local communities; and finally, a willingness to embrace complexity such as the one currently found in a building: similarly to what happens in a car, buildings are more and more embedded with digital technologies.
E.S: What is needed in order to create and build a “GOOD DESIGN” project?
G.N: A project that bears this definition, in our view, is based on well-being: this concept drives us to start by designing the quality of the space as it is perceived by the user. It is critical to understand the Client’s perception of well-being and to work on focusing not merely on aesthetics but on a stream of defining factors that have a holistic and anthropologic nature, such as the quality of air, water, nourishment, light, the presence of nature and even art, to mention a few.
The Good Design you refer to entails processing all factors that have a predetermined positive impact on the individual or the collectivity’s overall quality of life. It is at the base of our focus and is also a scientific approach we extensively use.
E.S: When did you first think of becoming an architect? What were your influences to make this decision?
G.N: I cannot really pinpoint an age or a specific “eureka” moment, but I can tell you that I have always been fascinated by the act of building things, making projects, and ultimately “doing architecture” as the peak management of complexity. I define it this way because the crux of architecture is to take into account experiences and to ultimately show the values and opportunities of those same experiences, amplified through a series of precise choices. Architecture allows to create an impact through these choices after going through a general process: it is a discipline that allows to overlap many different observable layers.
My main influence was quite possibly this general process of which architecture, in its literal definition, is only the ephemeral part, not because it isn’t important, but because it comes out at the end of a very complex process of synthesis.
E.S: Climate change is now more than ever forcing us to think green. Are you and your team concerned about environmental and social sustainability in your buildings?
G.N: Environmental sustainability is admittedly the buzzword of the moment. However, we architectural firms have been ready on the topic for well over fifteen years, during which the literature and the know-how have built up to create a noteworthy body of knowledge and science. So much so that environmental sustainability offers a number of commoditized options.
Social sustainability is another topic altogether. This is what will really make a difference in the near future: too often, there is a reliance on haphazard externalities – some of which may not even be acknowledged or understood – that may end up being uncontrollably positive or negative. This is why, in Pininfarina, we apply a process that implies INTENTIONALITY (explicitly agreeing with our counterparts), ADDITIONALITY (we pinpoint the desired outcome and ask that the counterpart deliberately invest resources to reach it), and MEASURABILITY (because no social impact can be delivered effectively unless we set the correct parameters to be measured).
E.S: What are the most significant challenges an architect is facing in creating green constructions?
G.N: Green construction is more of a supply chain issue than anything else. An architectural firm may be very advanced in its design and its processes, but when the project is handed over to general contractors, these will be less advanced and will ultimately rely on true and tried basic techniques. So, the challenge is more cultural than technical. The complexity I mentioned before calls for a more long-sighted approach, where the short-term benefits of minimizing costs today may be outweighed by choosing the longer-term benefits of solutions with higher performances or lower maintenance costs tomorrow.
E.S: Your project Yachthouse by Pininfarina luxury residential towers in Sao Paulo, Brazil, recently won an American Architecture Award. With a dynamic architectural style, Yachthouse is an iconic two-tower skyscraper; tell us more about it.
G.N: Without delving into a list of technical project features, Yachthouse represents the highest residential building in South America, and it is branded by Pininfarina. We rank third in the world in the Branded Real Estate industry because we pursue our philosophy of well-being, which I mentioned previously, not only in architecture but also in the integration of interior design, materials, technology, all the way to the furniture itself.
Ultimately our creations are a projection of the values of a lifestyle brand, of excellence and quality.
E.S: With the hope that the pandemic crisis is soon to be over, architects and designers need to start re-thinking the concept of a post-pandemic world. How could this affect the new designs? What are the things to consider?
G.N: From my point of view, many things will eventually go back to normal, as they were before. However, our perception of space has changed together with our view of its quality. Is our space big enough or flexible enough to accommodate our needs? Will the materials respond to our newfound requirements? And what about factors such as the quality of our air and light? The factors that I mentioned in the all-encompassing concept of well-being will be a guiding element in the future, and we cannot ignore them.
Public and private spaces are already benefiting from new investments to address these key issues, and there will no longer be an acceptance of compromises. The concepts of space and its fruition have changed: we have been forced to be indoors more than ever, and our perception of function and form has shifted from the acceptance of transient solutions to interchangeable ones, especially after our recent experiences of the boundaries of work, life, leisure and learning blurring considerably.
E.S: What are the next steps in the company? Are you designing something new at the moment?
G.N: As Pininfarina Architecture, we are growing rapidly in many different fields, such as residential and interior design, to name a few. If I had to indicate the most relevant and interesting new challenges, I would indicate two: industrial production design, where we aim to build production plants as an item to work on from scratch in terms of impact on the business plan (i.e., choices made on the working spaces, facilities, and infrastructure) and secondly, branded residential projects, where a more overall quality is requested as a deliverable and that Pininfarina can warrant is embedded in its design and can offer as a brand.