Luigi Caccia Dominioni (portrait)
“The role of an architect, I believe, is also to raise a succession of emotions. My entries, my stairs and even my furniture are urban solutions” Luigi Caccia Dominioni
“(…) But what has this prestinee de rump … Alter che prestinee, alter che rump, mumbles the policeman, it is the sculptor Castiglioni who is returning to his studio. So I look closer and see “el prestinee” in his face: imagine, it’s him, Giannino, the sculptor I’ve known forever, for fifteen years I’ve been with him and his children day and morning and evening since the first year of university. So the sculptor sees me, recognises me and we smile at each other. Come in, it’s raining, he says to me and the policeman. Three of us went in and four of us found ourselves inside. The policeman was dressed in a dark suit, I was wearing a t-shirt and khaki trousers, el prestinee and, in addition, my friend Livio, all white, even whiter than his father because he was even more covered in plaster dust! Only the glasses and the blond hair can distinguish him from his father. But what do you do Livio? I ask him and he replies: We’ve been working all night for tonight’s party in the square: 120 plaster puppets, 24 loudspeakers, a myriad of cables, lamps, bulbs, rockets, firecrackers everywhere. And tonight? Tonight like cannonballs in the hall with the Rector! Do you remember? Or with the caretaker Andronico in architecture for the ex tempore sketch. (Stuff like that with firecrackers that were worth a lunch at Savini). Tonight a cannonball! On your way back from Milan stop off before going to Morbegno! Great show and there are some new type of superphone montages, you’ll hear what stuff! Livio was very tired from the night’s work and his eyes sparkled. That’s how he was. He was always working hard for others and it made him happy, as happy as a child. (…)” Luigi Caccia Dominioni (1)
Luigi Caccia Dominioni and Livio Castiglioni met in the early 1930s at the Milan Polytechnic. After graduating, they started working together in their studio in Corso di Porta Nuova, next to the workshop of their father, the sculptor Giannino Castiglioni; Livio’s younger brother joined them the following year. They worked on designing interiors, architecture and objects.
With the Castiglioni brothers he developed an intense pioneering activity in the field of design, designing a series of radio sets for Phonola and extensive research on the theme of cutlery, the prototypes of which were exhibited at the 7th Milan Triennale in 1940, for which he also curated the “Radio Set Exhibition”. Caccia”, a cutlery service produced by Alessi (designed by Luigia Caccia Dominioni, Livio and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni), is on permanent display at the MoMA in New York.
In Franco Raggi’s interview, Caccia recounts the birth of Azucena (1947). The company produced more than one hundred and fifty of his pieces, including the oval table T3 (1948), the lamps Monachella (1953) and Imbuto (1953), and the small armchair Catilina. In 1959 he designed the T12 chair for Palini together with the Castiglioni brothers. With this design object he won his first Compasso d’Oro in 1960, followed in 1984 by that for the Super door for Lualdi. (2)
(1953 – Lampada da tavolo “Monachella” per Azucena – Luigi Caccia Dominioni – Photo courtesy: Azucena)
Il Caccia (insiders affectionately call him this or Gigi) and Piero Castiglioni collaborated in the field of exhibitions: “Ratti and Paisley” (1988) at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, “Pittura lombarda del secondo ‘800” (1994) and “Arte a Milano 1900 – 1929” (1995) at the Milan Trade Fair, “Ratti and Paisley” (1995) at the Church of Sant Agostino in Como, “Tessuti copti” (1996), “Velluti” (1997), “Seta e colore” (1999), “Navigando tra sete” (2000) for the Antonio Ratti Foundation, “Gianni Versace, La reinvenzione materia” (1998) at Villa Olatti, “Gianni Versace, La reinvenzione materia” (1998) at Villa Olatti. (1997), “Seta e colore” (1999), “Navigando tra le sete” (2000) for the Fondazione Antonio Ratti, “Gianni Versace , La reinvenzione della materia” (1998) at Villa Olmo in Como, “Cezanne, Renoir. Collection P.. Guillaume Collection” (2005) at the Accademia Carrara in Bergamo.
On the portal of the order and foundation of architects planners, landscape architects and conservators of the province of Milan, you can find maps with the Milanese architecture itineraries: the description of the city through modern architecture. Today we select the Caccia itinerary. “Luigi Caccia Dominioni is one of the most authoritative interpreters of that Milanese and Lombard tradition of architecture that can be traced back to a disciplined adherence to reality, in which every architectural solution, while not renouncing refined formal solutions, is always traced back to a stringent logic, the result of a careful and patient harmony with the place, the techniques and the materials. It establishes a point of contact between the rigour of the “rationalist model” and the expressive freedom of the “organic proposal”, without ever neglecting constant observation of the “environmental pre-existences”. (3)
The Milanese itinerary features the following buildings: Casa Caccia Dominioni (1947-1949), Convento di Sant’Antonio dei Frati Francescani (1959-1963), Convento e Istituto della Beata Vergine Addolorata (1946-1955), Complexes for offices, shops and homes in Corso Europa (1953-1966), Building for homes (1956-1957), Building for homes (1956-1959), Residential and shop buildings (1959-1964), Residential and shop building (1963-1966), Residential and office building (1968-1970), Residential, office and shop building (1957-1961), Office building and VIP’s Residence (1963-1967), Office and shop building (1958-1960), Piazza San Babila (1996-1997).
Are you Milanese?
Yes, I am!
My father’s name was Ambrogio, I was born on St Ambrose’s day … that’s good enough for me.
What does it mean to be Milanese and an architect?
It means doing, having the desire to do, having the desire to do well … there’s the commonplace that the Milanese are workers, but in reality they’re … practical, when we say the ‘Ambrosian Rite’ we mean a way of doing things that is efficient, direct, effective, without formalities. In the Ambrosian Rite, in church, the altar faces the people …
Can you do quality without culture?
Culture is something that you have inside you, that comes from afar, that you build slowly, even unconsciously. (…) I don’t have culture in the sense that I am a practitioner, not a theoretician (…)
How has a classical education helped you in a technical profession?
But, I don’t know, I would say “roundness”, classical training has given me a certain depth, but perhaps also humanity, not in terms of origins but in terms of approach in the sense of accepting with curiosity the diversity and conditions in which you find yourself working.
Under what conditions did you start working?
In an interview in a newspaper some time ago, they made me say “my good fortune was the war”. I didn’t say that at all, quite the opposite, but the point is that during the war, since there was nothing to build, I started thinking about smaller things like furniture and design, which wasn’t called that yet.
Was design a fallback due to lack of work?
No, I was interested in starting from the inside anyway. I believe that architecture is a service and that architects must start from the need to live and not from the facades. (…)
Solutions for better living?
If I may say so, I have really become a specialist in housing, in living, in the family, in how to shape spaces to make a family feel better together. I have always done houses, flats, villas, … there are few spaces to work in, but office building projects are simpler, easier.
Is design a marginal episode?
In the meantime, I didn’t do design for industry, I did it more for myself, for my own projects.
Why? Didn’t you like thinking for the big series?
I would have liked to, but apart from the first two Phonola radios with the Castiglioni brothers, I didn’t do it again because it didn’t happen to me. (…) In short, I was cheated by my upbringing and my hands, which wanted to do architecture my way.
So what prompted you to design lamps for Azucena, for example?
I made Azucena, I invented it… in defence.
(1979 – Supporting Lamp for Azucena – Luigi Caccia Dominioni – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
In defence of what?
To do design you have to do it again and again, try and try again until it’s right; I used to do these things for myself with a glazier, a metalworker, an electrician … craftsmen. Then, if a client needed, say, six lamps, while I was at it I would make ten, then I would break three… but I didn’t charge for it because it felt like stealing, and in the end I was losing money as well as working. I said to myself: it’s better to set up a company to do these things here, so that when we finish our houses we can complete them. So I called Gardella and Corradi. That’s how Azucena came into being, to defend myself against the fact that I am neither a craftsman nor an entrepreneur and I wanted to design the right things for my environments and my architecture.
(1948 – “Sasso” floor lamp for Azucena – Luigi Caccia Dominioni – Photo courtesy: Pinterest)
What are you passionate about in your profession?
The search for form, for something well done. I keep designing and redesigning and trying to improve.
Our cities are made of history. Can you still think of modernity as a difference?
Lately it is difficult. You know the scandal of the Sant Ambrogio floor project?
The floor of “rounded” tiles…?
When the Superintendent saw it, she said that a “kitchen” floor had been put in S. Ambrogio. She said she had gleaned good faith. She said she needed to see a sample in place. They didn’t understand the drawings. In reality, I wanted to bring back “above” the floor that is underneath in the crypt, which is deformed and reworked by use over the centuries, with the same design but with lighter coloured stones, slightly rounded so that it cannot look like a mirror, it is opaque, simple, beautiful…; the strength is there.
Even Vittorio Sgarbi said he liked it, even if he found it a little strong.
He didn’t “find it a little strong” at all; he liked it, but he couldn’t say it too much.
What else don’t you like?
The house without an entrance. In the house, entrance and exit must be places, even minimal spaces, but spaces. You can abolish the space between the kitchen and the living room, but not the entrance. You can’t have the entrance in the living room, otherwise you risk finding the traffic warden in your armchair coming to give you a ticket.
And what do you like about it?
The sense of walking and discovering the changing space. You have to make people walk as much as possible … but never in the corridor. Then I hate wardrobes in the bedroom, wardrobes are sleazy, wardrobes are silly, they take away space and walls from furniture and paintings, a closet is better, it’s better to move the walls, create niches… The home is a story.
What does it tell?
A lot. The Genoese, for example, who have a more… “commercial” spirit, where do they put the party room? In the entrance hall, so everyone can see it and they don’t let you see the rest of the house; “esprit commercial” … you stop earlier and you don’t risk going through the dining room which, you never know, might make you want to eat …
How do you use light in architecture?
You have to defend yourself against light. If I have to say something about light, for example in churches, I prefer to build an atmosphere from darkness rather than light. In architecture in general I keep this weapon of filtering, screening, reducing light. Stained glass is very useful because when you make an opening in a façade you never really know how it is going to come in; by changing the type of glass the stained glass allows you to lighten or darken the light, like sunglasses.
How do you light up the interior?
A lot and a little. To make light, lots of it and immediately, I buy those Castaldi reflectors, beautiful, technical, I would rely only on those, then I put small things, my thin “funnel”, things that are not very visible.
(1953 – “Imbuto” floor lamp for Azucena – Luigi Caccia Dominioni – Photo courtesy: Azucena)
A contemporary architect you like?
And one I know, Gae Aulenti, who worked with me years ago for the Triennale as my student, then outgrew the master… she travels on her own, she’s good… but… she’s a great architect.
And her most beautiful thing?
The house in Piazza Carbonari … which is really beautiful, and do you know why? Because there was a constraint of the Building Regulations. The Regulations designed it, the obligation to set back the front in order to be able to go up in height and the slope, if it is beautiful, is not even thanks to me.
And the ugliest thing … not yours?
The night lighting of Sant’Ambrogio. Too much light and then those lights from below … scandalous! Never light from below, the light comes from above! And then from below it blinds, it’s frightening. That’s not right!
Is it wrong to light monuments?
It’s wrong to light them too much. St Ambrose in particular was and still is “the old one outside Milan”. Let’s leave it as it was in memory of a Milan made of shadows.
Was it better to do nothing?
Everything can be done, you just have to do it well and know how to do it, otherwise you leave things as they are. Either you improve or you don’t.
Dialogue between Luigi Caccia Dominioni and Franco Raggi (4)
These interviews are precious, because they allow us to learn about the evolution of the history of Italian architecture and design through the voices of the great masters.
(1) Courtesy Chiara Baldacci – The corner of memory – Published in Flare – Architectural Lighting Magazine – n°22 – DECEMBER 1999 – page 80
(2) Anty Pansera. Dictionary of Italian Design, Milan, 1995, Cantini Editore
(4) Courtesy Franco Raggi: Dialogue between Luigi Caccia Dominioni and Franco Raggi published in Flare – Architectural Lighting Magazine – n°32 – April 2003 – page 86