Teresa Sapey: “Spaces, like people, have their own personality” lifestyle
Energetic, playful, colourful. Teresa Sapey, an architect with a degree in Fine Arts, treats architecture as the art of space, and each project as a blank canvas that is born of an idea.
Colour and light are the materials she uses as a way to give volume to each of her works.
Teresa Sapey (Cuneo, Italy, 1962) takes an artistic approach to each project she faces, as if it were a work of art. Energetic colours, the dimension of light and buildings with their own “feelings” define much of her work, which spans furniture and product design to interior design, urban spaces, hotels and home renovations.
In 1990, she founded Teresa Sapey + Partners (her own architecture firm), where she has taken on some of the most well-known projects of her career. Such is the case of the car park at the Puerta de América Hotel in Madrid (a building that also features the work of well-known architects Jean Nouvel, Zaïre Ha Hadid, Arata Isozaki and Norman Foster), the underground car park of the Plaza Pedro Zerolo in Madrid, the Custo Barcelona store in Madrid (with which she won the Interior Architecture Award from the Community of Madrid in 2005), the Room Mate Pau Hotel in Barcelona, the Nhow hotel in Marseille, the Sky Lounge of the Indigo Hotel in Madrid, the inner courtyard of the Santa Bárbara Hotel in Madrid or the Room Mate Bruno Hotel in Rotterdam (Holland).
She is currently working at a mountainside hotel in Italy, and last year she designed the new Gancedo store in Madrid with premium collections by Porcelanosa Group.
A graduate in Architecture from the Polytechnic University of Turin (1985), Sapey also studied Fine Arts at the Parson School of Design in Paris and a master’s degree at La Villette. “Madame Parking” (as dubbed by French architect Jean Nouvel) has specialised in the architecture of “non-places” — the name given to transit areas — turning them into functional and practical spaces of common use.
Her designs, always adapted to the space with both imperfection and eclecticism, reflect a personal language based on micro-architecture and macro-architecture. Two styles with which the designer has written the new artistic and social reality of our time.
“Good design is anything that has a function in addition to aesthetic value”
Q: You approach spaces with a 360° view. Architect, designer, interior designer, teacher… From this perspective, how would you define architecture?
A: Architecture is synonymous with life and quality of life. It is much more than a discipline; it is a complete lifestyle involving many specialities.
Q: Do you see yourself as more of an artist than an architect? (on occasion you have defined yourself as an artist of space)
A: Absolutely, I’m a mixture of the two. I’m ephemeral. I studied both fields, Fine Arts at Parsons Paris and Architecture at the Turin Polytechnic, and I’m very lucky to make a living combining the two. I’m an architect/artist or artist/architect.
Q: What is design?
A: Well, I would add “good” to design. Good design is anything that has a function, but also aesthetic value. Function without art is an everyday object, and an idea without function is a work of art. The symbiosis between the two is design.
Q: Is architecture a tale, a way to tell stories?
A: I always tell stories; I describe the life of today and tomorrow, but I lived yesterday.
Q: You’ve occasionally spoken about dignifying space, about giving it a personality and autonomy of its own. How is this achieved?
A: It’s very important not to fill in the space, or not to shape the space. Ask yourself what the space will be used for, who it’s intended for and why it’s being worked on. Once you define the final result of the space, you have to consider all the factors that influence a project: Height, light, geographical position, the client, budget, use, and also the message that you want to convey with that space. You’ll notice I didn’t mention aesthetics, which is perhaps the last factor to be taken into account.
“It’s very important to ask yourself what the space will be used for and who it’s intended for”
Q: What is more important for you in a building, volume or colour?
A: Colour has volume, they go together, hand in hand.
Q: Do you like talking about trends or movements?
A: I like talking about life changes. Society changes, the world changes, and architecture changes with life.
Q: You were first recognised for your design of the car park of the Puerta de América Hotel in Madrid. In that process, you competed against the likes of Norman Foster and Jean Novel. What did this project mean to your career and to shining a light on women in the world of architecture?
A: We didn’t compete, we shared. It was a unique experience in my life that I don’t think I can repeat because some of them are gone, like the great Zaha Hadid. Having said that, it changed my career because it gave me a global, 360° outlook, and also because I was woman who was doing a car park using colour as a material. When I work I feel like an architect, not a woman architect. I don’t think the profession has a gender.
Q: Can we talk about feminine or feminist architecture?
A: You can obviously talk about feminine architecture, just like you can talk about male architecture, but not feminist. I have never heard of that.
Q: What is the significance of public spaces in your career and how do you deal with projects of this nature?
A: Public spaces are a wonderful opportunity to design. They reach a large group of users. You also have to realise that since you’re using “our money”, public money, you have to invest it very well. Not only is the aesthetic result important, but the maintenance of the project is too. Hopefully I’ll be able to take part in a public project again sometime.
“Gio Ponti has been a great inspiration in my career, and recently I paid tribute to him with a housing building inspired by his work in Venezuela”
Q: You also teach. Have you learned more in the classroom or in front of a model?
A: In the classroom, without a doubt, with people and increasingly with young people. It’s like osmosis, I have to receive in order to give, and models don’t speak, not that I know of anyway.
Q: Why did you decide to set up shop in Madrid after having lived in Turin and Paris?
A: Life brought me here, and now I feel like an adopted Madrileña.
Q: For you, what three qualities should a designer house have?
A: Not look like a designer house, have personality and be lived in.
Q: Can spaces have feelings if they are inert?
A: Of course, spaces can communicate, they can speak, and they also have their own personality, like people. It’s not just aesthetics; they have a complete DNA.
Q: What is the main challenge facing architecture in the future?
A: It must respect the planet (be sustainable), endure, be shared and be accessible.
Q: Should architectural sustainability be legally enforced? What role do architects and designers play in this changing urban model?
A: It’s not a changing model, any good professional has always been sustainable.
Q: Your pet project?
Q: You have done almost everything, but… any projects on your bucket list?
A: A winery.
Q: If you had to give one tip to young architects, what would it be?
A: Draw freehand. The pencil is the instrument that connects the mind to the brain. Learn how to sketch.
Q: Do you consider yourself a pop architect?
A: No, because I would be out of fashion then. I consider myself an ambitious architect.
Q: What architect has inspired you? How did you honour him or her in your work?
A: Gio Ponti has been a great inspiration in my career, and recently I paid tribute to him with a housing building inspired by his work in Venezuela. Carlo Mollino too, there are many direct or indirect references to his works in my designs.
Q: In what project did you challenge yourself?
A: I always challenge myself in everything; there is no better or worse project. I always say that the best project is the one that’s yet to come, the one I’ll do in the future.
Q: Is architecture like pasta, in that the less you add to it the better?
A: Obviously, if not it turns into a collage, not architecture.
Q: What projects are you working on now?
A: A hotel in the mountains in Italy, a couple of brand showrooms in Italy and Spain and a home in Monaco.
Q: Do you use the same language in the field of architecture as you do in interior design?
A: I still don’t know where one ends and the other begins. A good architect knows how to design interiors and a good interior designer knows how to design spaces. That’s precisely why I mentioned Gio Ponti, who designed everything from buildings to silverware.
Q: Where or to what city do you go in search of inspiration?
Picture Courtesy: Teresa Sapey+Partners