Designer Platform: Alessandro Ciarpella

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This article first appeared in haven, The Edge Malaysia, on Issue #82 December 2016 - February 2017.


Partner at Italian architecture firm, GAP Architetti Associati 

Who: Design and architecture go hand in hand for Alessandro Ciarpella, a partner at Italian architecture firm GAP Architetti Associati. A graduate of the Sapienza University of Rome, Ciarpella joined GAP in 1997 and became a partner in 1998. Based in the Eternal City, the architectural firm was founded in 1992, working primarily in four environments — residential design, urban design, restoration and landscape. Prior to working at GAP Architetti Associati, Ciarpella worked at architecture firms in England, France and Spain.

On what good design means to him, Ciarpella says, “Design is all around us. I believe design and function must have a very strict connection. Otherwise it is a piece of art done by an artist while design, industrial design, has to be useful and comfortable.” The most important aspect of design and architecture for Ciarpella is the genius loci which means the spirit of the place in Latin. The term relates to the distinctive atmosphere or ambience of the place, emphasising the importance he places on detail. Ciarpella believes that design and architecture coexist, highlighting the significance of being able to design a piece of furniture as well as the overall master plan of a building. He goes on to say, “In Italy, the most famous architects start as artists before and then, when they become architects, they still do paintings and sculptures.”

For Ciarpella, it is important for architects and designers to have a heightened sense of curiosity about their surroundings. “I say we must be like children, because when you see a child starting to play with something he doesn’t know, you will notice he plays with it in a different way,” he says. “You must maintain the curiosity. Italian design continues to dominate because it is very innovative and unexpected. There is also the tradition and history of Italian design, which has lasted over a thousand years.”


What: As an Italian firm which wants to expand globally, GAP Architetti Associati has been working closely with the Italian Trade Agency (ITA) over the past two years to meet potential clients around the world. The strong working relationship with the ITA has enabled his firm to, likewise, forge strong ties with international clients. Through his work with the ITA, Ciarpella has been able to work on projects in Asia, including in Malaysia, Vietnam and China.

Ciarpella was recently in Malaysia to give a presentation on “Architecture & Design: New Trends of Italian Design and Living” as part of the Italian Festival 2016, which was organised by ITA in collaboration with the Dynaforce Group. In his presentation, Ciarpella highlighted the importance of lifestyle and wellness via the incorporation of architectural design and functionality into one’s way of life. 

As a partner at GAP Architetti Associati, the majority of his architectural work in Italy involves restoration projects, as over 75% Italy’s architecture scene involves heritage buildings. This has been one of the most interesting aspects of his work as he enjoys giving old buildings a new lease of life. “One of the most interesting projects for me was transforming a very huge palace into a museum — this is what happens when you live in Rome, where some buildings are more than 2,000 years old. It is remarkable to work like this because, every day, you discover something that surprises you and we get news every day during the job or construction about its progress.”

With most of his work in Italy involving restoration, refurbishment and the repurposing of existing buildings, it is interesting to hear Ciarpella’s point of view on the demolition of or disregard for old buildings in developing countries. “I believe this trend in Asia is thankfully changing,” he says. “I have a few friends who are working in China at the moment where, 10 years ago, they wanted to demolish all the ancient buildings and build skyscrapers. Now, they are starting to work, reuse and transform existing buildings. For example, I have been to Melaka and I hope next year we can try to organise an exhibition about Italian architecture that specialises in refurbishment.”


Where: GAP Architetti Associati is located at via Catania 80, 00161 Rome.