On site with the mind and the maverick behind Lecce’s celebrated Centre for Paper Restoration.

Riccardo Cavaciocchi is a design maverick with a desire for innovation. The Italian-born architect and art director is a self-described creative investigator who seeks to create visionary and dynamic work in countries as diverse as Italy and Brazil or Spain and Saudi Arabia.

From coordinating and designing interiors to renovating entire buildings and constructing site projects or temporary installations, Cavaciocchi works with clients to develop designs that are as visceral and interpretive as they are cerebral and utilitarian.

Following his studies at the University of Architecture of Firenze in Italy and the Ecole d’Architecture Paris-La Défense in France, Cavaciocchi went to the Netherlands where he worked for design firms, and later collaborated on several projects with ByLissoni, the New York office of Milan-based Piero Lissoni. In 2003, he set up his own firm in Barcelona with Rute Brazao, and they were eventually joined by Sandra Carito Ribeiro. In 2009, the trio established LOLA, Local Office for Large Architecture, which focused on multidisciplinary architecture and contemporary design.

The foundation of Cavaciocchi’s work is research, collaborative design methods and an ongoing dialogue with studios and professionals from various architectural and design disciplines, which makes for a flexible, diverse and constantly evolving platform. Since 2011, Cavaciocchi has been an independent architect based in New York City.

Perhaps his most personal project to date is the Centre for Paper Restoration, a building he and Brazao completely renovated for his family business – Centro Restauro Materiale Cartaceo – operated by his mother, who is an acclaimed and classically schooled paper restorer.

The centre is on Cavaciocchi’s home ground, in the historical town of Lecce, beautifully situated among ancient and irregular streets flanked by buildings constructed from local stone. The project area was previously divided into small, poorly connected spaces, the result of multiple renovations that had completely altered the original structure. Cavaciocchi outlined the objectives: ‘The goal was to create a room for the treatment of papers (washing and drying), an area for scientific research, analysis and the preliminary stages of the restoration work, an archive, a library, a space to wash tools and a changing room for the staff.’

The first step, according to Cavaciocchi, was to recover the original structure and eliminate all the parts that did not have an historical connection. White was used to increase the reflection of light, and the space was opened up. The staircase, which is made of local stone, protrudes from the wall and seems to float in the air, taking you to ‘a space in metamorphosis,’ as Cavaciocchi described it. Then there are the empty pockets interrupted by box-shaped iron profiles that fold into steps, railings and balustrades communicating with the lower floor.

Cavaciocchi began work on the project in 2009 and spent almost a year completing it. The space opens your mind to new perspectives; there is something lying in wait around every corner. The emptiness emphasizes the fullness and depth of the centre, and at the same time represents its more hidden elements.

‘This is about a language,’ commented Cavaciocchi. ‘For me, it’s a game of solids and voids where the local stone takes on an expressivity and is the absolute protagonist.’

The elements that were added seem to rise and come to life because they integrate with the supporting structure such as the staircases, the large tanks for washing the paper and other horizontal tanks for the conservation and cleaning of brushes and tools. ‘The height allowed us to design a floor that has the characteristics of an almost abstract environment so it wouldn’t oppress the spaces below,’ Cavaciocchi continued. ‘We needed something light, solid but intangible, that returned the light it was given during the evening.’ The result is a kind of moodboard connecting the two environments that mimics the shift from morning to evening.

For his next piece, Cavaciocchi is headed to a summer villa in Italy where he will research and experiment with recycled-paper compositions, using them as structures for interior furniture and industrial design. He described the project as ‘a very personal venture, considering that the spine of the material comes from Salento, a peninsula in Italy where the practice and art of paper mâché has been a long-standing tradition.’ But the long-term goal remains the same: to transcend and transform popular concepts and create designs that are instinctive, at times illusory, but that always achieve a careful balance between form and functionality. Ever the creative investigator, Cavaciocchi continues to draw on his architectural training while ultimately playing by his own rules.

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