Controprogetto designs and creates one-off pieces, bespoke furnishings, installations and public spaces, using recycled materials. Valeria Cifarelli, Matteo Prudenziati, Davide Rampanelli and Alessia Zema set up the workshop in 2003, as part of the urban rehabilitation project for the old Stecca degli Artigiani factory in Milan’s Isola district, a multidisciplinary hive of craftsmanship, collaborative ventures and art. Their first project was a playground in a remote village in Kosovo, created by means of a participatory planning process. Since then they have never stopped building, designing and experimenting, executing commissions for private homes and large brands, trade fair displays, presentations and shows, and special projects, always in the spirit of participation.
Controprogetto is a name and a declaration of intent; can you unpack that for us?
In 2003 we were looking for a name for our association and wanted something that expressed our consonance with the spirit of the Stecca. We were also already well aware that we wanted to work with a design approach geared more to “achieving” than to projects in their own right. The decision also came as an antithesis to the formative guidance of schools and universities, which put the emphasis on planning and theory rather than on direct experience in the field. So it seemed quite natural for us to define ourselves as a proactive work association.
How would you describe yourselves: a studio, a work group or a collective?
Our work encapsulates several different aspects: craftsmanship, design ability, business vocation. Often even we find it hard to come up with an unambiguous definition, the word that sums us up best is workshop. A workshop capable of designing and creating.
How would you sum up your journey from 2003 to now?
The common thread of these last 14 years has been spontaneity. We decided to work with recovered materials because we came across them every day in the abandoned factory where we first started. If, as Franco La Cecla said, that waste is not a condition of the matter but a of state of mind, then one can always breathe new life into something destined to be thrown away. For us it’s a way of keeping costs down but also a deliberate decision to cut down on waste. It was tough early on because not everybody understood our work with the materials. We are happy to have been the forerunners in Italy of an approach, both ethical and aesthetic, that has slowly gained ground everywhere.
What sort of feelings are you trying to stir with your work?
Whether we are working for companies or for private homes, we always try to tell stories. It’s our way of interpreting slow living, in a society that is always rushing, that takes too much for granted; we want to give back value to time and the sense of memory that becomes ensconced in objects.
Your work could be described as a contemporary interpretation of craftsmanship. So, from your perspective, who is the craftsman today and who is the designer?
We believe there is ongoing cross-pollination between the two professions and, although craftsmen and designers are still too far removed, the younger generations are altering the landscape. In this sense too, so much has changed since we started out; during the early twenty-first century it was quite unusual to find hybrid figures like us capable of following – as it were – the entire process through from the beginning to the end. It’s not like that now, thank goodness, just think of the makers.
Thinking about the domestic space, what type of clients seek you out?
People who love materials with a past but who also need bespoke furnishing. Very often, too, we are asked to adapt family furniture to new surroundings, people don’t want to throw it away, just bring it “up-to-date”.
Where do you find the materials you need?
Over the years we’ve built up a network of contacts and we consult them regularly: installation designers, construction companies, architects. Sometimes it’s the companies and private clients who seek us out when they need to get rid of flooring, doors and windows and materials. Once we even found boxes of antique parquet left at the entrance to the workshop by someone who probably didn’t know how or didn’t want to get rid of it.
You create unique furnishing pieces. What sort of relationship do you build up with your clients?
There’s something of the sartorial in the way we work, we introduce people to the materials, the objects and their history. In this sense, our work is always made-to-measure and springs from a very direct relationship with our clients. One thing we love doing is bringing people into the workshop, showing them how their piece of furniture evolves.
You like to describe yourselves as carpenters, which means you have a very physical relationship with your work, what’s your opinion of 3D printing?
We don’t feel diffident about technology; in fact we like combining ancient practices with technological tools, especially if they can be of help in everyday craftsmanship.
Tell us about your experiences in Brazil
We went to Brazil for the first time three years ago to work on the premises of an Italian client. A childhood friend there put us in touch with Enel Green Power, which was trying to get rid of the packaging for the solar panels for the solar power plant they were building in Bahia. That triggered a project for recovering 16,000 pallets, which took place in two stages. During the first mission (November 2016) we worked on building a collective joinery and fitting it out with all the equipment. We then went back in May this year to train the people in the villages involved in the project, so that they would be capable of building facilities for their own communities – these are very poor places, lacking almost everything – and to produce them for others. One of our pipedreams is to create a Controprogetto range of furniture and it would be great if that could be achieved right there.