Ask the architect – David Padoa of Design International

Why did you become an architect?

It was almost by accident. I decided to enrol at the Architecture University in the Polytechnic of Milan after a brief conversation with a girlfriend from senior high school who was upset due to her father forbidding her to enrol at the University. His argument was that architects could not find a decent job in Italy and she would have had a limited career. I always wanted to work abroad and travel. Something felt right and challenging about becoming an architect: it was a vast platform to fulfil my curiosity, creativity and travel ambitions and eventually modify places that people visit and experience.

What do you like about it most?

The human factor. To me, a good architect is a person that is mainly capable of listening, also what is not explicitly said. I work principally in the hospitality, leisure and retail architectural sector and I like to create stories that our visitors or guests love to experience. Architecture transforms both places and lives; it can create employment opportunities and regenerate communities and the environment. Architecture is guided by vision and imagination as well as financial and technical knowledge. It serves a plurality of purposes – this is what I like the most.

What is your proudest achievement and why?

Building up a working environment based on trust, creativity and passion. In our firm we have more than 120 talented individuals of over 30 nationalities and yet engage between each other like members of the same family. From a professional point of view, the greatest moment was the opening event of Morocco Mall in Casablanca in December 2011. The owner projected onto a large video wall, behind Jennifer Lopez performing, the video interviews of all the key people that contributed to the project. I was part of it, as its architect, and my immediate family and business partners were there. When my daughters and wife looked at me, I felt a profound moment of pride.

What’s your current biggest challenge?

We love working on challenging projects, both in competitive markets and new territories for clients that share the same passion to experiment, innovate and also care for the environment. With projects in over 20 countries at any given time, the biggest challenge is to stay focussed and deliver a service that exceeds our own expectations. Quality needs time, and time seems to be always the most critical currency we are trading in.

What single change/innovation would make an architect’s job simpler?

Reduce the approval time process and procedures to gain planning and building permits.

What is your favourite medium?

Hand sketches. I still believe that it is the fastest and sexiest way to express an idea.

What can we learn from foreign architects?

Every architect in my firm comes from a different country and a different background. We need to learn to embrace their culture without the loss of our own identity. Many non-Italian architects work in large teams whereas Italian architects tend to succeed as individuals. I do not believe in architectural firms that carry the name of a single individual. This is the opposite to my ethos of listening to others’.

What will the next big thing in the industry be?

The combination of physical space with virtual engagement. The aim is identical: enhancing experiences and comfort.

How do you see an architect’s role changing?

Architects shall learn again how to make their design approachable to people and become less self-celebrating. Each individual is unique, so are buildings that last. Functions and different lifestyles must be integrated. More and more often we are designing shopping experiences that resemble hospitality and working environments that mimic homes. Everything is sustainable. Ultimately the environment, our habits as visitors as well as our clients as investors receive an added value.

Are there limits to the part technology can play?

There are only benefits. Technology amplifies boundaries as opposed to architecture that is all about defining physical limits.

What are your hopes for the next 12 months?

That the banking system stabilises. That Mr Trump does not win power in the US, and that passion to improve our built environment is felt as a fantastic opportunity by the local governments. I also hope, as a group, that we will grow slowly and steadily.