Skyscrapers and dreams: Story of an Italian architect in China

Skyscrapers and dreams: Story of an Italian architect in China

Hi Aldo, and thank you. You have been living in Chongqing for many years, when did you first move to China?
The first time I came here was November 2012, that time I stayed for just one month, then I came back again in July 2013, when I started spending periods in Italy and in China.

What brought you to Chongqing? Did you ever heard of it before actually having the opportunity to come?
To be honest I arrived here by chance. When I finished my studies between Portugal and Brazil I decided to enroll into a Master degree at Tongji University in Shanghai. While there, I started taking classes of Chinese language, and then, back in Italy, I realised I wanted to try the experience of working in China. So I began sending out my CV, applying for different positions all around country; an Italian atelier located in Chongqing found my profile interesting, so I just took the opportunity and moved in here.

Are now fluent in Chinese?
Yes, I have a good level of Chinese, especially because 99 percent of the people I normally hang out with are Chinese. Also, if you want to expand your business, being able to speak a good Chinese is key.

Which differences do you find in the approach to working and the opportunities offered between China and Italy?
About the approach to work, in China generally I see a certain degree of lack of cooperation. I believe I had been lucky working in an Italian environment, because when having to deal with all the other different partners, I have always faced tough competition. Moreover, when working with partners, most of the times we started with good ideas for cooperation, but then we ended up doing what the Chinese side wanted.
As for a difference in opportunities, I think that in China there are more job openings, which is positive, but they represent mostly short-term positions, which is negative. This is especially true because it is difficult to develop and advance your skills in a short time, unless you work inside a big international company.

aldo-buscioSpeaking about the demand for architects in China, is it so huge as people generally think?
The reality of Chongqing is different compared to Beijing, Shanghai or Shenzhen; there is no clear trend like in other Chinese cities. The demand is undoubtedly present, even if it is not as large as a few years ago; however, once you get here you have to cope with a different approach to the same situation, which is related to Chinese culture and local habits, and reality turns out to be very far from what we learned on our books back in Europe. We are used to work for a target, develop the project and its meaning working side by side with the custome; in here, when designing a project, it is less about applying your experience trying to give shape to a request, rather than realising exactly what the buyer wants.

From your experience, was it very difficult to enter the Chinese market?
Working for a company that was already settled, I did not live personally the phase of market entering; it does not seem particularly difficult, incomes are still pretty low. People with high level of competence and international experience simply do not consider Chongqing as an good option, this is a city for young architects who need to get their first experience; the city is not ready yet for a different and modern architecture.

Do you mostly work with Chinese or foreigners?
Fundamentally we work with Chinese. We cooperate with a Chinese atelier composed of 250 people, inside which we have established an international department. Usually we cooperate with Chinese firms on local, international and government competitions.

Have you noticed some changes at work since you arrived here?
Let’s say that when I came to China I had high hopes and expectations, especially finding myself working for important clients at expensive projects, but honestly I have not experienced great changes or improvements on a practical level. If we think about the changes our Western societies went through, lasting decades or even centuries, here in China the same changes are taking just a few years. Chinese want to reach great achievements and set high targets, and for the time being we cannot predict how this country and its system will evolve in the coming years. So, if you asked me to make a prediction for either the short or long-term, I would not be able to answer. The future of architecture in this sense is completely unknown even to us, working and living in China.

In conclusion, will you suggest to other architects to come to Chongqing?
I will definitely suggest them to come here and try the experience. China is economically convenient and is a good place to start; as for now, I would also say that if you want to feel challenged by your work, and give your professional life a turning point, you cannot stay here for long. Chongqing is still not mature at cultural level and in its taste to give the chance to foreign architects to experiment and give their contribution to a new form of architecture. In Chongqing the demand for modern spaces and a more friendly environment to improve the quality of life is still very limited; the concept is yet to be fully acknowledged, at least in this part of the country.

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