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Newsmakers: Cityvision Founders Francesco Lipari and Vanessa Todaro

By Carren Jao
March 10, 2014
Photo courtesy Cityvision
Worlds of Cityvision will be on view at the WUHO Gallery in Los Angeles through March 23, 2014. The exhibition features urban proposals submitted to international ideas competitions launched by independent architecture lab Cityvision, as well as the lab's own projects. Cityvision team members, left to right: Sebastian Di Guardo, Vanessa Todaro, Joshua Mackley, Boris Prosperini, Ilja Burchard, and Francesco Lipari.

The timelessness of Rome—the Eternal City—can be problematic for young architects attempting to break free of its design conservatism. Cityvision, an independent architecture lab based in Rome, offers an outlet by sponsoring competitions, publishing a magazine, and hosting lectures and events that invite people to discuss the future of cities.

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Founded in 2010 by Francesco Lipari and Vanessa Todaro—also the principals of OFL Architecture—Cityvision has made appearances at Maker Faire Rome, the MAXXI, and Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Roma, and garnered the support of Jürgen Mayer H., Joshua Prince-Ramus, and Bjarke Ingels. Four years since its inception, Cityvision celebrates another milestone with the opening of its first exhibition outside of Europe, Worlds of Cityvision, at Woodbury School of Architecture’s WUHO Gallery in Los Angeles, which runs through March 23, 2014. The exhibition features proposals submitted to Cityvision competitions, as well as the lab’s own projects. RECORD spoke to Lipari and Todaro about the challenges of breaking out of the mold and the future of the lab.

What is the culture of architectural innovation in Rome?

Lipari: Rome looks like “The Great Beauty” (La Grande Bellezza. 2013), which won the Oscar this year [for Best Foreign Language Film]. It’s actually a very difficult city because there is such a strong historical presence. This is why we wanted to create something that was the opposite.

What is Cityvision, in a nutshell?

L: We started Cityvision with the idea of building a creative laboratory in order to deliver projects that try to shape a different kind of city. Cityvision is divided into three parts: competitions, a magazine, and projects. Every year, we launch a competition focusing on a specific theme and city. The latest one will be launched this month, which deals with the future of Beijing. Every four months, we release an issue of Cityvision magazine. Each release merits a big event. We ran a Pecha Kucha in Rome. We also created a new talk format called “Gentleman’s Duel,” where two people engage in a timed debate around five pairs of words. At the end, the audience votes and elects a winner. 

How do you choose the cities you focus on in the competitions?

L: We started with Rome because it’s the city we live in. We chose Venice next because we were trying to build the connection between the historical part of the city and its future. Then, we introduced themes with cities. Our first was “Past Shock,” which was inspired by Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book Future Shock. We chose New York as the focus city.

Todaro: Our next theme was “Sick and Wonder” because we wanted to highlight what makes a city ‘sick,’ but also what makes it wonderful. In trying to focus on this dualism, we thought that Rio de Janeiro would be ideal. Unlike other cities, it has a different configuration. Rich people live in the lower part of the city, while the poor people live in the upper part. It is a central city, especially now because it is hosting the Olympic Games (in 2016) and the World Cup soccer tournament (2014).

The Cityvision competition juries have included some great names in architecture. What do you think attracts them to the project?

L: We are very convincing [laughs]? Maybe I’m funny. Plus, we can offer sun, pasta. It’s easy to get people to Rome. Jürgen Mayer H. became involved with our first competition through a chat on Facebook.

T: Maybe the manifesto of Cityvision itself is attractive—how we want to turn cities like Rome into something different.

What competition submission, so far, best exemplifies what Cityvision is trying to do?

L: We like to emphasize the visionary quality of the proposal. The more visionary the project, the more ideas can come from it. Entries need to involve the whole city, not just a part of it. An example of a good entry is the winning submission for Venice. It proposed using futuristic gondolas that can also purify the water around the city, while helping people experience the city in a new manner. The gondolas become islands that improve the territory.

What has been the most challenging part of organizing Cityvision?

T: We had no financial aid, which is why we launched our first Kickstarter campaign this year.

What is the Kickstarter campaign about?

T: The previous years, we have had no stable funding, just the contributions from the competition submissions. We tried to do it ourselves, but now we want to try something new. With the Kickstarter, maybe we can make a tour that goes through cities like London, Madrid, and maybe Barcelona. Our next theme is “Evolution.” We think that before an evolution of a city can happen, there needs to be an evolution of mankind. If a city’s too futuristic but people are still in the medieval age, it won’t work. The competition will focus on Beijing and our jury includes Sou Fujimoto, Greg Lynn, Sanford Kwinter, and Eric de Broche des Combes, with Ai Wei Wei as president.

Why is important for Cityvision to continue what it’s doing?

L: Cityvision is like a white fly, which is to say, it is the only one in Rome—something very rare. Because of the financial problems Italy is facing, people our age aren’t taking the risk to start an architecture office. There really aren’t that many opportunities to converse with people our age. With people who are older than us, it’s not easy. They are more conservative. More established firms don’t care about what we’re trying to do because they don’t want to take risk of going a new way.

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