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24/03/2021 | DESIGN, PEOPLE

ROBERTO MARCATTI. THE ARCHITECT OF WATER

Posted by: Gisella Borioli, interview

Roberto Marcatti is an architect with multiple lives: developer and designer with important partnerships (including Fiorucci and Armani), He took part in Zeus creation, minimal and elegant industrial design, pioneer of Tortona area where he opened the first "outlet" for auteur design, exhibitions curator, books and essays author, and more. The turning point comes with water's value awareness and its suffering. He founds the H2O association which becomes the fulcrum of all his choices. On World Water Day, March 22, we ask him some questions.

On national water day and 15 years after the birth of your H2O Milano association, what's the balance amount of things you have done about this issue?
H2O Milano non-profit association was born by the will of Cintya Concari and mine after the first exhibition held right in Zona Tortona, where perhaps also visionary and ahead of its time I proposed a consideration to 100 designers of Project Culture on their relationship with water, a primary good for our existence on the Planet. I realized immediately despite the great participation of friends and colleagues, that perhaps not everyone was aware of what the final project was. A mass awareness on savings, protection and conservation of water. Without water there is no life, in fact the title was: "H2O new scenarios for survival". The foreign press present at  Fuori Salone dedicated reports, interviews and much more to us also in the following months. We therefore set up a non-profit association, in order to protect projects on display, and immediately afterwards we also made the first publication. This project has toured all over the world, New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Tel Aviv, Mumbay, New Dely, and many stops in Italy.

It all started because...
Everything was born from my curiosity and the desire to break away as a designer from furniture industry. I still think that designers must return to design for people for real and practical needs. In that period I brought out again a book that has stayed with me since my education, written in 1971 but more and more current, by an extraordinary visionary Victor Papanek, "Design for the real world". So I went back to those theories and concepts and I tried my hand to make design a discipline for people again. The project is ultimately a political act, it's not a coincidence that the last exhibition at Vitra Museum on Papanek was entitled: "Victor Papanek - The politics of Design". Today Design and its whole system only works for 10% of global population. As designers, we must also take care of the remaining 90%, who have other needs and other demands.

The increasingly limited primary resources are one of the great problems that afflict us. However the water's one seems the most serious and difficult to solve. What can an association like yours do in this sense?
Our association has always been in favor of public water, for water as a common good, and I remember that in 2011, 26 million Italians sanctioned in a referendum that no profit could have made on water. Today's data: the increase in water tariffs in 10 years has been 90%. Then came water bonds made by banks, and today its listing on the stock exchange. From our cultural and operational point of view we have tried in a proactive way to raise public awareness, train on water at any level, bring this message where Project Culture, as main and integral part of a system, can and must do more. H2O Milano is today one of the most followed and qualified free realities on this issue.

You turned sixty. Always in step with the times, you graduated from Milan Polytechnic in years of great turmoil. You were an architect who worked for well-known "fashion" masters, including Elio Fiorucci and Giorgio Armani, you made innovative projects, you opened the first design "emporium" at democratic prices, you were a pioneer of the famous "Zona Tortona", you wrote books and won awards. Now you spend most of your time in Puglia at Zollino in Salentine Greece. What were the most important steps?
I would do it all again, even if you know, how you read in the last book dedicated to me edited by Cintya Concari, that my passion was and is music. I still play drums and I wanted to be a disk jockey. Passion remained, I did another job, I was lucky enough to meet important and extraordinary people for my training. Now I always deal with projects that have environmental sustainability, resources protection, and social aspects for a better human life on the Planet as a focus. I think the water project is the most interesting and exciting project I have done, although when you hit these roads are always uphill on all fronts.

Could we really win the battle for environmental sustainability? And when?
There was a real awareness on sustainability and resources, but even yesterday in the day dedicated to water the press dedicated some articles, and some TV media did not even give the news. It's hard to change people's habits and lifestyles, starting with the little ones. During the year there is no attention to the problem, and no awareness and participation. However, when there is no water then everyone remembers how precious this liquid is, how much this resource represents to daily living, not only in the residential aspect, but also for industry at all levels. We are 69% water. Let's remember it, and the first relationship we have with water is in the womb. The first two things they look for on Mars are water and breathing air.

Covid years have changed our lives. What will the consequences be in the world of design and architecture?
This pandemic must teach us several things. That the Country System must not give up strategic production processes for the Country, that we must invest in research and innovation, that healthcare like water is a civil and democratic state's right, and we must help those who had and are having a hard time in this pandemic, as they are not get ready for such a situation. This is a virus transmitted by air. Great world organizations and scholars from all over the world, and we too have been invited, need to think about a possible scenario on a virus that is transmitted by water. Will we be ready? Will we be able? Will we have the right facilities? Our task as a Non-Profit Association is also this, continue to study and share proposals, possible solutions, both related to architecture and design world, through the Project Culture.

Tell me three small gestures that each of us can make to contribute for a better world.
Invest each of us time to reflect and volunteer for Planet protection. Support with small donations dedicated projects. Amplify common efforts, build critical mass.

Your project for the next ten years?
The realization, before the peak point on water emergency, of documentation and training centers for new generations, and digital platforms, so they can understand the importance of this resource and always have the awareness that as William Morris wrote “Each of us is committed to overseeing and protecting the right order of earthly landscape, each with his spirit and his hands, in the portion is due to him, to avoid handing down to our children a lesser treasure than the one left to us by our fathers." I wonder if Morris was aware he defined "sustainable development"!

Cintya Concari and Roberto Marcatti, Honorable Mention at XXVI Compasso d'Oro in 2020 for Alessandro Guerriero: al diavolo Alchimia!. Photo by Roberto de Riccardis.
“Alessandro Guerriero: al diavolo Alchimia!” exhibition at Must museum in Lecce to tell Alchimia movement's forty years, 2017. Drawing by Alessandro Guerriero.
H2O exhibition at Montreal Centre de Design, January 2008.
Water Jar H2O Milano project born from the collaboration with 30 Palestinian, Israeli and Italian designers/artists called to design a decoration inspired by water to be reproduced on carafes sold during a charity auction.

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