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Mario Cucinella an architect outside the box

By Gaia Grassi

Every architect’s studio tells you something about the person who works there, and visitors to the Milanese offices of Mario Cucinella will immediately know what kind of individual they are about to meet – a professional who has made sustainability and awareness of environmental and social issues the focal points of his approach to architecture. The location he has chosen for his Milan base is a splendid building with three floors and rooftop in a complex built in the style of old Milan, with interiors dominated by light and verdant foliage. 

©Amedeo Turello

This concept is most clearly expressed by the rooftop terrace, which also hosts a small vegetable garden. If you then have the opportunity to interview Cucinella in person, the picture becomes even sharper – nothing could be more distant for him than the idea of the celebrity architect, the starchitect, a label that does not fit him, and one he would be very uncomfortable with.  We at Top Yacht Design were lucky enough to be given this chance, and the result was a very pleasant chat during which the architect introduced us to his world. He always has a pen in hand, because as we discovered, Mario Cucinella likes drawing above all. 

Mario Cucinella

Mario Cucinella: love for the sea

The sea is another great love. “When I up anchor and leave the marina on my sail yacht I enter a different dimension of space and time”, he says. “What fascinates me most is the view. If you look around when you’re on land the horizon is always chaotic, full of buildings or mountains. At sea, it’s different – the horizon is open, free, and that puts a different psychological slant on everything. But I’d like to emphasise that I’m not an expert sailor – knowing how to manoeuvre well is a gift, you need talent and an awareness that creates a kind of complicity with the yacht. Now, though, like all architects who own a yacht, I’d like to design my own. At the moment it’s just a dream, but we’re beginning take the first steps towards presenting the world of sail in our own way, influenced by nature and the wind”. 

Mario Cucinella

The perfect boat

So what would Mario Cucinella’s yacht look like? “I want a clear space below deck – the central section of the boat must be open, without any visual obstacles, because when you enter you should immediately be able to take in the whole interior. But what interests me most is the idea of the life and death of yachts. How do we dispose of the waste?

Mario Cucinella

That’s why we thought of a boat made from materials deriving from the circular economy and equipped with solar panels, wind turbines and waste compactors. A craft, in fact, that becomes our manifesto. For the hull, the Florentine naval architect Oris Martino D’Ubaldo, my captain Tommaso Stella and I have chosen the strip planking technique, then we want to cover these planks with a linen fabric to make the hull more resistant to wear and avoid using fibreglass”. 

Mario Cucinella
San Raffaele Hospital_ ph Duccio Malagamba ©Mario Cucinella Architects (10)

Mario Cucinella and sustainability

Together with his MCA studio, Mario Cucinella Architects, he has put together a project for building a yacht with components which, when they have reached the end of life, are fed into a circular system. They have identified, for example, Orange Fiber (, a company producing fabric from citrus fruit, and NewspaperWood (, which makes kitchen panels made by vacuum-compressing old newspapers.

Mario Cucinella

They are also evaluating a manufacturer of rigid panels made from fish scales. “Maintaining the emphasis on sustainability (here all our posts about sustainability), I’d like a full-electric yacht with solar sails and a small wind turbine, making it energy self-sufficient”, the architect says. “We’ve sourced small desalinators so we don’t have to buy plastic bottles, and some microcompactors for differentiated waste disposal. These plastic, glass and aluminium compactors have a very small footprint. Our planet needs a change of direction – the environmental problem has been in existence for a long time, but it didn’t interest me at first. Now, though, providing solutions has become more urgent. We need a holistic vision in this context, too, we shouldn’t just think about electric power and materials”. 

Mario Cucinella
Apax sketch

The yacht will be a reflection of Mario Cucinella himself, because, as he admits, buildings and yachts are very similar – yachts move, houses don’t but the approach to both is the same, as they are all sophisticated objects that involve digital systems, strength and sustainability. 

Mario Cucinella
Guastalla Sketch

As the architect says, “These days, buildings are like huge catamarans. They’re the end result of a process of extensive experimentation, research, design work and simulations. Two worlds with many similarities. The Unipol Tower in Milan, for example, conceals a technological complexity that closely resembles that of a yacht. It may be one of my most sophisticated works, also from the point of view of innovation, with its elliptical shape featuring a geometrical grid of wood, metal and glass cladding and a large atrium designed as climatically-controlled space that exploits exposure as a source of energy. The project we developed for the San Raffaele hospital in Milan is monolithic and highly complex, especially given its location.

Mario Cucinella

The new surgical and A&E centre stand among other buildings, so we wanted to give them a special look (a curving shape and glass-clad concave walls – ed) so that they seem to be formed by compression from all sides, from the surrounding buildings, because the dialogue between a structure and its environment is everything”. 

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