Aula Minerva is a very large room on the ground floor of Galleria dell’Accademia, the Florentine Museum that hosts, in the room next to it, Michelangelo’s David. The room is part of the University of Architecture and the Academy of Art. The place always had a magical effect on all the students. It is surrounded by huge chalk statues, such as Minerva, and replicas of the Parthenon Metopes by Antonio Canova at the end of the 18th century specifically to give students the time and opportunity to copy them.
In 1992, in my 4th year as an architecture student, I went there to attend the first lesson of furnishing and interior architecture. The place was dark, except for a few weak rays of light that bounced on the tops of the dusty statues, and it was filled with more than 200 students. We sat on benches, on tables, on the floor or we leaned on walls as there were never enough chairs or even room for all of us. Remo Buti arranged his slide projector and started filling the darkness with colorful images that blew me away and completely changed the way I perceived architecture.
Up until that time I didn’t even know if being an architect was really my path. I started school thinking that I would then go into advertising, into photography or something else. Architecture was boring and the professors even more so, as they lacked any sense of irony and any spark of real creativity. Remo changed all of that with one simple slide show.
His class had already attracted the most curious students in the college and many of them had become his teaching assistants: Stefano Giovannoni, Guido Venturini, Massimo Iosa Ghini, Pierangelo Caramia, Massimo Mariani and many others. All of a sudden architecture was fun, fascinating, enticing, challenging, young and dynamic. All of a sudden it talked about my generation and felt a lot closer to all of us. It mixed ingredients from fashion, art, graphics and music. It mixed scales at a point that we couldn’t understand if we were working on a building, a lamp, a mockup or something else. There were no boundaries between disciplines; it didn’t matter if we were there to study furniture, buildings or interiors. We worked hard all year to define our project, exploring art, pop culture, graffiti, fashion magazines… we made countless models, sketches and proposals and in the end we delivered our project: the façade of a disco club in the Paris Defense neighborhood. But more than a building we designed an object. We didn’t have to present drawings, sections, plans, details… none of that, just a perfectly crafted object that represented our building in 1:50 scale, but that could have been a lamp in its own scale.
In the following years I didn’t stop going to his classes, this time as a teaching assistant, always looking for his advice, his input, his way of looking at things from the other side, the “wrong” perspective, out of the box. I formed myself as a designer just by listening to Remo’s classes and by always presenting him with ideas, models and objects that I was building in my spare time or by skipping other classes.
I always say that there are two types of teachers: the ones that cut your wings and take your passion away and the ones that give you fuel to create. I know that in that year I met the spark that ignited a desire to make things that has not faded through the years.
A few years later, following in the steps of other Remo’s students such as Giovannoni, I moved to Milan to learn from Ettore Sottsass but that’s another story and another father-figure.
Sergio Mannino, May 2015