The Belly of an Architect

Text Leslie Jen

Fictional American architect Stourley Kracklite–the protagonist of Peter Greenaway’s 1987 film The Belly of an Architect–travels to Italy, a country that captivates and inspires so many with its colourful history, stunning architecture, and sophisticated design culture. Similarly, thousands of architects and designers from around the world flocked to Bologna this past fall to attend CERSAIE, an annual international exhibition of ceramic tiles and bathroom furnishings that is a veritable feast for the senses. Tiles in every imaginable colour, shape, size, texture and pattern enticed, alongside a broadening range of attractive bathroom fixtures in an industry increasingly defined by designer collaborations. Nearly 900 exhibitors were spread over 166,000 square metres of space in multiple cavernous halls that comprise the Bologna Exhibition Centre. And although Kracklite’s unfortunate story results in tragedy, CERSAIE 2013 has a happy beginning, middle and ending, offering up an endless buffet to fill the belly (and soul) of any architect.

In addition to the enormous variety of product on display, CERSAIE offers an always stimulating program of events. In the past, architectural superstars such as Renzo Piano and Kazuo Sejima have delivered lectures that gave audiences much to ponder. This year was no exception with the presence of Pritzker Prize-winning Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, who in his keynote address presented a variety of projects from his impressive portfolio, including the Museum of the Roman Theatre in Cartagena, Columbia University’s Northwest Science Building in New York, and the Iesu Church in Riberas de Loiola, San Sebastián. Titling his lecture “Buildings are not Objects,” Moneo emphasized the importance of designing contextually responsive buildings that must engage with their sites, communities and cities.

Anton García-Abril, another Spanish architect and cofounder of Studio Ensamble, a firm with offices in Madrid and Mexico City, rounded out a list of presenters. Abril leads a truly global existence, maintaining offices in Madrid and Mexico City while fulfilling teaching duties in his professorial role at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Having lectured in various cities in North America over the past year, Abril treated CERSAIE attendees with a sampling of his truly inventive and materially innovative structures and buildings such as the Cervantes Theatre in Mexico City, the Truffle in Costa da Morte and the General de Autores y Editores in Santiago de Compostela, both in northwestern Spain.

Another delectable treat to be sampled was Bologna Water Design, a CERSAIE-sponsored initiative that launched in 2012. Taking place at the Ex Ospedale dei Bastardini, the event comprised numerous evocative installations and exhibitions by architects and designers that focused on water, public spaces and outdoor design, culminating in a dramatically lit and cocktail-fuelled gala celebration that attracted hundreds of invited guests who congregated in the historic structure’s courtyard on a starry night. The broad range and scope of the installations highlighted issues of water use, sustainability and conservation in the vast spaces and against the denuded walls of the former maternity hospital’s remarkable architecture.

But the main event still managed to impress the most with its limitless array of offerings. These two pages represent just a mere sampling of the latest trends and products on display at CERSAIE 2013.