Pietro Cicognani has been a respected architect and designer for 35 years. Its blend of European design with practical, sustainable and contemporary creations has made Cicognani a favorite of Sean Connery, Kathy Rayner, Drue Heinz and The Carnegie Museum. It makes sense that close friend Isabella Rossellini wrote the preface to Cicognani’s book, Pietro Cicognani: Architecture and designbecause she has been a customer on several occasions.
Normally there would have been book festivals and book tours with great fanfare around October 9.e launch date, but the coronavirus has put an end to traditional in-person events. So imagine, if you will, a room filled with the above notables and their friends, all gathered around Cicognani to celebrate his life’s work. Italian by birth, blessed with a formidable sense of humor and great energy, an articulate Cicognani would have eloquently answered the questions below.
What made you want to become an architect?
I was a very visual person from a young age. At first I wanted to be a visual artist but then gradually I realized that I was more interested in space and 3D problem solving. Traveling the world during my teenage years and learning how different constructed forms manifested in different cultures had a huge impact.
What is your background ?
I had a humanistic background growing up in Rome, as the son of a lawyer who always took me to visit churches on weekends, not for their religious content but to study their forms.
What made you want to publish this book?
After 35 years of work, I wanted to see the different projects in context, and see if they stood the test of time. A comprehensive look back helps you move forward.
Why did you choose Isabella Rossellini to write the front?
Isabella has been a constant friend and client for 25 years. We’ve done a lot of projects together, and we both love the action of the build and feel restless when a project is completed. It seemed natural to me to ask him to write about the way it is to work together.
What do you think defines your style of architecture and design?
I would say take risks, be eclectic, seek out unusual juxtapositions. Be firm on getting the correct proportions (derived from the classics) and quality of light, both natural and artificial. We pay great attention to our integration into the landscape. We combine a classic flavor with the reality of our dysfunctional life – each project is a challenge to be solved in its own right.
What’s the most fun you’ve had on a project, and why?
Particularly fun projects, completely independent of their scale, have been the Heinz Architectural Center in Pittsburgh, because of its vocation as a center for the study of architecture for a very enlightened client, Drue Heinz; a private chapel in Pennsylvania for Mr. and Mrs. Buccini – it was special to have the opportunity to shape something eminently spiritual; and a classic little temple as a guinea fowl shed for Kathy Rayner, due to the unusual nature of the program, and working for a client who always seeks beauty and harmony in everything she does.
What was your most frustrating project and why?
The most frustrating projects tend to be those where the agenda is more important than all other considerations, where – for example – the size and configuration of the closet becomes the most important topic of a meeting …
What celebrity homes have you designed?
We started the office with a project for Jann and Jane Wenner. Other notable clients have been Billy Joel and Christy Brinkley, Nicky Forstmann, Jean Stein, Massimo Ferragamo, Uma Thurman, Sir and Lady Connery, Mr. and Mrs. Moise Safra, Paula Cooper, Ralph Lauren, and on several occasions Isabella Rossellini, Mr. and Mrs. Rayner and Drue Heinz.
How has your style evolved over the past 35 years?
We get to the point faster, we have become more realistic but also more daring. We don’t take ‘no’ for an answer and work WITH the client to assess common goals early on. The style hasn’t really changed much and has remained fairly consistent – now ecology and energy saving have become key issues, and we try to address them in every project.
What would be your ideal project in the future?
A self-sufficient project, mindful of the environment while remaining harmonious and built with the greatest respect for materials and their assembly.
Your book comes out in the midst of a pandemic. What are the challenges of its commercialization at the moment?
This question should be asked of our editor, Vendôme, and our public relations firm, Niven Breen! All live events scheduled for this fall in Europe and the United States have been postponed until next spring, God willing.