Friday, December 27, 2013


Mia Zhang interviewing Marco Casagrande

PRO.DESIGN 01/2014 

ISBN 978-988-12438-8-1

Cicada, Taipei
Marco enjoys insect architecture construction, where the building parts are human scale --- fits a hand and the structure can be woven up together by small scale repetitions, like insect architecture. 

Pro. Design: What inspired you to get into architecture? 
Marco Casagrande (Marco for short): I have always been drawing, playing in forest, building snow cave systems and imagining my own worlds, telling stories to myself. I didn't choose architecture, I just ended up there. 

Pro. Design: What would you prefer to be called, architect, environmental artist, or social theorist?
Marco: I would like to be called something that combines all of those three. Maybe Constructor or Insect. 

T-Factory, Sanjhih, Taiwan
Pro. Design: Insect Architect?
Marco: I enjoy this kind of construction, where the building parts are human scale - fits a hand and the structure can be woven up together by small scale repetitions, like insect architecture. I got very curious about insects when fixing up a Fujian style brick roof in T-Factory, Sanjhih, North-Taiwan and a bee came to steal my cement from my red bucket. This big bee kept coming back and I wondered what he did with the cement --- could he digest it? (I had mixed some lime and sea-weed into the cement for flexibility.) After a couple of months I found the cocoon of the bee in the downstairs of our living ruin. He had mixed the concrete with mud and pieces of straw and wood in order to create a fantastic dome structure with natural ventilation for his offspring, which had flown away. I documented this cocoon and started imagining humans in insect scale and building these kinds of  cocoons and other insect architecture strictly tied with nature for us modern men as industrial insects. 

Wasp cocoon made out of weak concrete.
Pro. Design: Insect Architect? Since 1999, you have created 65 cross-disciplinary, original and radical works within 14 years? It sounds quite a large number. How could you be inspired so much?
Marco: There is no limitation for inspiration. Limitation is a different thing. Life is unlimited inspiration. Inspiration is kind of a thought originating from nature, the life-providing system. This system is one big brain and if you connect with it, you are inspired. Nature thinks through you.

Pro. Design: I saw a picture of you carrying stones during the construction of Bug Dome project in Shenzhen City. Are you always engaged yourself in the whole construction process? 
Marco: Being present is the key of all art. It is a blessing, not a burden. Architecture is not a remote control art, but it requires humane presence. I must be there in order to understand, what the architecture is trying to transmit, what it needs to become. I am a simple architect, not a fortune-teller…I need to be there. 
Pro. Design: Your studio name is Casagrande lab. I mean, Casagrande is your name, of course, but why “lab”? Is experimentation your major focus? Then what do you experimenting on?
We are working more like a laboratory than an office. All our work is project based and cross-disciplinary. Sometimes, when we are really good, you could call us a circus. Art is a constant experiment by its nature. Also the deepest nature of architecture is the unknown. 
Pro. Design: You used a lot of willow. I have seen willow woven objects like basket. They are adorable, and because they are small they don’t seem to contrast drastically to the modern world. But a large project, like Cicada in Taipei, would contrast a lot to the surrounding, at least to me. So how do you see that contrast? 
Marco: Mixed feelings. It shows how brutal the surrounding city is, but same time offers an escape or retreat to the modern man. In some sense this kind of insect architecture is acting as a mediator between the modern man and nature. You can also see how totally the modern city is lacking local knowledge.

Cicada, Taipei
Pro. Design: How would you describe your style?
Marco: No trends, no style – just architecture. Later, when the transformation is almost complete, my way is insect architecture. 

Pro. Design: What do you enjoy most in your work?
Marco: Seeing the unknown, forgotten and neglected. I enjoy the feeling of freedom and clarity, when you are truly working, when architecture is near. 

Pro. Design: What do you think is the most important quality of an architect?
Marco: There are different ways, not only one. Some architects have the capacity of being a design shaman, interpreting what the bigger nature of collective mind or shared conscious if transmitting. This shamanism is close to nature.

Chen House, Sanjhih, Taiwan
Pro. Design: What are the aspects of architecture you consider most important? 
Marco: Constructing human environment as a mediator between man and nature. This can be both practical and spiritual. 

Pro. Design: What do you think of the current situation of architecture? 
Marco: Boring. Modern architecture is dominated by industrialism and tries to compensate this trauma by flashy images and computer generated mutations. Architecture has become pornography for architects and kinky architecture hangs around politicians and businessmen, who get pleasure in dominating an architect to make their twisted orders come true. In this situation architect is a prostitute, which becomes boring after a while. We really have to focus on local knowledge and the possibilities of bio-urbanism together with normal people and get rid of the power-architecture. 

Ruin Academy in Artena, Italy
Pro. Design: Could you share with us briefly about what you are working on currently?
Marco: I am setting up NOMAD - an environmental art and architecture school with architect Hans-Petter Bjørnådal in Hemnes, Norway and I am setting up Ruin Academy with architects Roan Ching-Yueh and Hsieh Ying-Chun in Taipei and with the International Society of Biourbanism in Artena, Italy. I am starting to design a new wooden house in Taidong, South-Taiwan. This house will be floating in jungle.

Pro. Design: I saw you quoted Bertolt Brecht “In a dream last night, I saw a great storm. It seized the scaffolding….” So you read a lot of Bertolt Brecht? Which of his book is your favourite? What other writers do you like?
Marco: I like Brecht poems. They are good for hang-over. 
    Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness 
    Arkady and Boris Strugatsky: Roadside Picnic 
    Adorno & Horkheimer: Dialectics of Enlightment 
    Burgess: A Clockwork Organge 
    Claude Levi-Straus: The Savage Mind 
    Beckett: Waiting for Godot 
    Lao Tzu: Dao Te Qing 
    Kropotkin: The Spirit of Revolt 
    Tolstoy: War and Peace 

But movies are equally important:
    Tarkovsky: Stalker
    Francis Ford Coppola: Apocalypse NOW!
    Fritz Lang: Metropolis
    Kubrick: 2001: A Space Odyssey 
    Eisenstein: Ivan the Terrible
    Bergman: 7th Seal
    Kurozawa: Dersu Uzala
    Herzog: Fata Morgana
    Kaurismäki: Man Withouth Past
    Schlöndorff: The Tin Drum

Pro. Design: What do you believe in?
Marco: Life / Nature, Accident

Pro. Design: Is there any difference between the working you and the not working you?
Marco: I am in the ruins, in the cross-roads, on river banks and garbage dumps. The office-me is nothing of this, but I am constantly aware of it and constantly escape to the jungle. 

Pro. Design: What kind of lifestyle do you prefer? 
Marco: Real Reality. 

Madam Chen at Chen House
Pro. Design: What do you love to do when you are not designing? 
Marco: Fishing. Boxing. Drinking. Sauna. Play with kids. Enduro. Watch movies. Pick mushrooms.

Pro. Design: Do you like music? What is your favorite musician? 
Marco: Right now I enjoy to dance Greek Zorbas with my 9 months old son. 

Pro. Design: You have to expose yourself in nature so as to get inspired. But getting close to nature always reminds me of being wild and adventurous. Would the birth of your son change your way of approaching nature? Would you take a more reserved way?
Marco: Nature is about energy exchange. you have to input some of your own energy in order to receive reality. Other than that is just viewing of nature, which is kind of a fiction. Real nature demands your energy. Flesh is more. My son will not be "protected" from nature; on the contrary, the whole family will be fully sacrificed to nature. One has to die a bit to be re-born. 

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