Interview with the architect Osvaldo Luppi

Osvaldo Luppi, (Buenos Aires, 1974)

Osvaldo Luppi, (Buenos Aires, 1974)

Osvaldo Luppi, (Buenos Aires, 1974) studied architecture at the University of Buenos Aires, where he combined his professional practice with his academic work. In 2003, he moved to Mallorca, where he worked with several local architects before starting up OLarq, Osvaldo Luppi Arquitectos, in 2008. Specializing in high-end residential architecture, OLarq has succeeded in giving its production a distinct personality, independent of styles and conventions, focused on giving the appropriate response to the demands of each specific project. The projects designed by OLarq have been repeatedly awarded and selected by the Mallorca Architecture Prizes. They have drawn attention from the press and been published in books and architecture magazines.

Motivation and beginnings

What initially sparked your interest in architecture? Do you remember any specific moment when you clearly identified that path? Tell us at what stage in your life it happened and how it developed thereafter.

Architecture is a manifestation–perhaps the most tangible—of our impulse as a species to imagine worlds that don’t exist.

I have an image from my early childhood of driving at night from the city of Buenos Aires towards the coast. Crossing the vast plains of the Pampas, every now and then I’d catch a glimpse of a small house lit with a pale glow in the middle of the darkest nowhere, and I tried to imagine what it would be like to live there. That act of imagining something so different from my life in the city was an architectural thought.

My first taste of design was through objects. I applied to industrial design school; I wanted to design furniture and objects. At the University of Buenos Aires, all areas of design—architecture being one of them—are shared during the first year. In this course, students become acquainted with different realms of design: architectural, graphic, industrial, audiovisual and fashion. My choice of architecture had to do with my realizing that it was a discipline that really allowed me to change people’s lives, while also integrating all other forms of design within it. The fact that we listened to opera at home ever since I was very young left a mark on me, because I was able to appreciate the result of several different art forms converging in a single common goal: the piece.

In addition to this passion, were you drawn to other areas?

I was twelve when Comet Halley made its last appearance. At our family’s place in the country, we spent night after night gazing at the stars through a telescope. It was fascinating, and for a few years I wanted to be an astronomer. I wanted to understand all of that strange, faraway stuff. That interest, like so many others, vanished when I was a teenager. Later on, after high school and before I decided to pursue design, I wanted to study genetic engineering. I felt that it was a promising field for the future and was very interested in the creative aspect of gene therapy. But in the early 1990s, it wasn’t yet offered as a major in Buenos Aires. It was primarily linked to medicine and my interests were more along the lines of genetic design.

I always thought that my early interest in the telescope, then followed by the microscope and finally ending up in earthly matters was proof that, ultimately, it’s all a matter of scale.

If we make the assumption that your early points of reference were the classics of twentieth-century modern architecture, how would you say the different places where you have lived–Argentina, Spain, Japan, and other countries—have influenced your work?

I’ve always been very interested in the universal nature of architecture.

My education in Argentina gave me an open mind and a lack of prejudice because it wasn't restricted by a powerful traditional heritage. Those were the years where I acquired the teaching experience that enabled me to consolidate and question my knowledge of the architectural discipline. It all encouraged my need to embark on a life journey that took me to Japan for a year. That experience left me with a great interest in craftsmanship, particularly with wood, and attention to detail. Spain in general and the island of Mallorca in particular have given me the opportunity to shape my notion of space and make a firm, artless, evocative statement of a timeless conception of architecture.

Casa M3, "bulthaup | the kitchen as a living space” competition winner project.

By Osvaldo Luppi.

In some of your works we see open courtyards and atriums, white or light-colored walls. What impact has your perception of the Mediterranean environment had on your projects?

Houses in Buenos Aires revolve around a central courtyard. It is a direct legacy from the Europeans, who in turn inherited it from the Arabs. The courtyard has been present throughout my childhood, ever since my earliest memories. It is the most inclusive domestic space of all. The light in the Mediterranean is special, and therefore a Mediterranean courtyard is the quintessence of domestic living space. There’s something dream-like about light bouncing off limestone or a whitewashed wall. It elicits silence.

How do you combine individual creativity with teamwork at your architecture firm, OLarq?

The way I approach each project is like a sculptor facing his block of stone. There’s a very personal moment—as if that were the first, or maybe the last thing to ever be built in the universe. Over the years I’ve managed to put together a great group of people who are excellent professionals, and where each one contributes his or her vision, and that results in a better final outcome. But I try not to lose that magical moment. I almost always succeed.

Who would you name as the architects and other professionals or artists who have had the strongest influence in your career?

Aside from the great masters and academic trends, I have tried to avoid being influenced by any particular architect. Sculptors like Oteiza, filmmakers like Fritz Lang or composers like Philip Glass can evoke more architecture than a building. The same happens with literature: Borges describes worlds that seem to have sprouted from the mind of an architect, and once you’ve imagined them, they’re etched in your memory forever.

How would you define your motivation for practicing your profession?

Every brick that is placed is a little miracle. Being a part of that is highly motivating. I would like to believe that my work contributes towards improving the whole. That’s what really matters.

How do you combine craftsmanship and technology in your projects?

I consider myself an analogic architect with a conceptual basis. I believe that our discipline, for better or for worse, hasn’t changed much in the last few centuries. We continue to imagine and design what we believe is best with the means at our disposal. Above and beyond styles, trends, and movements, architecture, as a concept, is primitive. Technology has more to do with the means for reproducing and building it than with the true essence of architecture.

Osvaldo and bulthaup

Where do you see your affinities with the bulthaup values?

In the importance of the materials and in elegant simplicity.

How did the idea arise of presenting your Mallorca project to the “bulthaup | the kitchen as a living space” competition?

I have always seen bulthaup as being very architectural, and when I found out that the competition was being held, it struck me that the M3 house was a good example of what can be achieved with bulthaup b3.

What role did you want the kitchen to have in this project?

The kitchen is the heart of the modern home. You can make do without a couch and a television set, but you have to have a good kitchen with a good table close by. That’s where life happens. In this project, the presence of the courtyard as a generator of experiences allows the kitchen to actually become a part of that outdoor area.

What are the aspects of the award-winning 2017 bulthaup project that best reflect your values as an architect?

The clarity of the proposal at a programmatic level and the use of natural and local materials for its construction. When you build a good idea well, you don’t need to explain it. All you have to do is invoke silence.

What was the reason for your choice of a bulthaup kitchen for this project?

We needed a company that represented the project’s values and that would adapt to the design of the kitchen within the functional layout of the home. Knowing that the bulthaup brand delivered added quality value, it was very easy. Another reason was having worked in collaboration with the Nicolau family for many years.

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