CONVERSATION

Nicola Brenna

The Diary of Nicola Brenna, architect, co-founder of the award-winning studio wok and MM Award 2022 Jury member. Welcome to Caleido, an inspirational diary, that narrates many stories: about creative people, trends, travels, objects. / Read the Editor’s letter here

Diary of: @studio_wok

Nicola Brenna
Nicola Brenna - @studio_wok
1. Studio wok’s manifesto is based on the concept of Habitat (which refers to the quality of living, and in a broader sense to how architectural design interacts with the daily life of the people who inhabit it). How is the way in which people interact with their homes evolving? What are the macro-trends of contemporary interior design that come to life in your projects?

We believe that good architectures are those that do not only respond to a function or a historical moment but that manage to evolve and respond to different needs with small adjustments. Lately, also due to the period that has forced us to live longer in closed spaces, the quality of the places we live in has taken on an importance that was often underestimated before. The contemporary home based on open spaces and small rooms has been severely compromised: today’s minimised rooms and large living rooms make it very difficult to work or organise a family’s daily life. It is important for us to think and design home spaces that are flexible and able to adapt to different uses throughout the day.

Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
2. One of the aspects that fascinates me most about your projects is the relationship they have with the environmental context, “always evident but never highlighted” (I comment): the materials, the landscape, the pre-existing natural elements (I am thinking of the much-photographed magnolia), the DNA of a territory, the light. How do you develop this dialogue between the pre-existing and the new?

When you work on an existing building (but this can also apply to new buildings in comparison with a context) the new additions must be inserted in a clearly contemporary way but without creating a strong contrast with the pre-existing elements: the dialogue between these elements must take place in a natural way, creating an almost timeless stratification.

There is a sentence by P. Zumthor that has inspired us a lot: “The presence of certain constructions has something mysterious for me. The possibility of designing buildings that over the course of time enter into such a natural symbiosis with the conformation and history of their place, excites my passion“.

Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
3. Thinking back to the beginnings of studio wok, and reviewing in slow motion the entire path you took together with Marcello Bondavalli and Carlo Alberto Tagliabue (co-founders of the studio), what are the lessons you learned that deserve to be recorded in a diary page? And the convictions that turned out to be wrong?

Having started on this path when we were young, many choices were made instinctively and naively and without having a clear strategy or point of arrival. When we decided to do our first job together, none of us thought that we would get this far after 13 years. However, we have always been motivated by a love of architecture and the search for quality; our approach is very humble, we prioritise our personal growth over monetising our work. One of the choices that has proved to be successful is that of having invested right from the start in communicating our work: the name studio wok was born in 2009, even before the first project, and right from the first work carried out a professional photographer described our work. Then, 5 years ago, the fortunate collaboration with Fiammetta Gamboni was born, which allowed us to tackle communication, social and otherwise, with a precise and far-sighted strategy. With regard to mistaken convictions, there have been many, often accompanied by disappointments. But they are also part of the growth process.

Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
4. Looking at your projects, a very clear and consistent aesthetic of the studio emerges. How did this “signature” come about? Also in light of the fact that you are 3 different souls, and that you collaborate with various professionals, how do you concretely manage to transfer these stylistic features to the team and thus ensure them in each project?

We are very fortunate in this respect, as we have had a great deal of common ground from the outset. There are discussions and clashes (especially at the beginning), but there are three of us, so there is always a majority in the decisions and, very importantly, we are all able to take a step back for the good of the studio. Great credit also goes to the team members who work with us. We have been able to find great people who are very knowledgeable and with whom we share the goals of the firm and who are often able to inspire us. We see studio wok as a family and we believe in a horizontal relationship where everyone participates in the creative process. I think that is one of our strengths in trying to make quality architecture.

Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
5. When I think of studio wok I think of the project of renovation of the farmyard in Chievo (Verona, Italy). What are the elements that made that project so significant for you? Are there any other projects, or portions of projects, that you would put beside that one to tell your DNA?

The Casa al Chievo project was the first project that was not just an internal one, and in which we were able to continue thinking about issues that are very important to us, such as the habitat and the quality of living, while also tackling the theme of the landscape and exploring the relationship between history and contemporaneity. Its success is also due to the relationship of trust established with the clients; as we often say, good architecture goes hand in hand with good clients. Its success is also due to the relationship of trust established with the clients; as we often say, good architecture goes hand in hand with good clients. Thanks to the success of the Chievo project we have received other commissions that have allowed us to continue investigating the relationship between architecture and landscape, between history and contemporaneity. Although it was a small project, the Myrto restaurant project in Porto Cervo was very important to us because we were able, with an interior design project, to pay homage to a territory and tell its essence.

Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
6. An important part of storytelling is related to photography. What is your relationship (both professional and personal) with it?

I am very passionate about photography, more as a spectator and user. With regard to architectural photography and how it can tell the story of our projects, I think the most interesting part is the interpretation of the space by an outside eye. Together with the photographers with whom we collaborate there is always a very dense exchange, in which we try to convey the depth of our work, but often the sensitivity of an outside eye can capture glimpses and sensations that we had not thought of or perhaps underestimated.

Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
7. Shifting your attention outside the work sphere, what is a personal goal you are pursuing? What are the steps along the way?

It may sound a bit obvious, but all my attention outside of work is devoted to my daughter and my wife. Architecture, which is first and foremost a passion, is a beautiful profession but one that absorbs a lot of mental energy and can sometimes become all-consuming. Being able to disconnect is very important.

Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
8. I recently heard Drusilla Foer (a quote that is not yet on your engaging Instagram profile) say that the kitchen and bathroom are the “truest” rooms in a house, the ones where the hosts really have no secrets. Do you agree? What is the room in your home where you feel most like yourself?

When we design an interior we always try to design spaces that have a character, but not too intrusive, to leave room for those who live there to enrich it with objects and furnishings that can tell their story and personality, with a stratification of styles that is often very surprising. Vico Magistretti used to say: “A home must be simple, qualified by its spaces. And it must be generous, i.e. it must welcome everything, because the furnishings, the image of the house is a self-portrait of the person who lives in it. A person will always be told by his home.”

Nicola Brenna

It’s true what Drusilla (click here to discover more) says. In many homes, especially in more bourgeois contexts or those linked to certain styles of the past, we find so-called “representative” spaces dedicated to receiving guests and where the owner of the house can more easily lie. However, I think there is a tendency to be less formal and above all to live the spaces in the house more freely. For example, in my home, which is very informal and which I have had the pleasure of designing and personalising according to the needs of myself and my family, I can say that I feel at ease in all areas.

Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
9. You are one of the members of the MM Award Jury: what do you look for from the contestants?

I look for a project that tells a story and tries to convey emotions. It is not easy to evaluate an interior in depth without visiting it live because architecture is a physical and sensorial experience. The way the project is told and presented will therefore be very important.

Nicola Brenna
@studio_wok
10. What is an object in your home that you would never give up? What is the memory attached to it? Can you send us a photo taken by you?

I am very attached to this small chest that belonged to my grandparents; it was a gift from my mother, who had it restored when I moved in with my partner (who later became my wife). I am very attached to it because it represents my roots and because it has accompanied me and my wife through the homes that have bound us together.

Nicola Brenna

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