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‘With our two dogs, it’s a great excuse to go out three times a day and just walk around Rome.’

Gems in this
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Gems in
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Feature by Exceptional ALIEN

For Australian–born, Italian–based architect Carl Pickering, his best thinking happens while traveling. Be it sitting on a chairlift in the mountains, exploring artisanal workshops near his latest build, or touring the basilicas in his home city of Rome, inspiration strikes strong when he’s on the move.

Soaking in the feel of his surrounding culture and landscape is what makes Carl’s work so memorable. With his equally brilliant husband and business partner — of over four decades — Claudio Lazzarini by his side, together they travel the world designing cozy Swiss ski chalets, contemporary French seaside villas, and Ottoman-inspired mountain spas in Lebanon. Perhaps his most influential trip, however, was his move to Italy back in the early 1980s. Now, immersed in the creative life of Rome, inspiration for Carl also lies in scouting his way along the city’s historic Via Giulia, peering in at architectural monuments like the Pantheon and witnessing the layering of history within each building. We chat to Carl about creative travel, finding inspiration in the small details, and his most beloved Travel Playbook for grand architecture and contemporary culture in Rome.

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On the influences of travel

With each project, we’re faced with finding a primary idea. It’s a very fluid process that often takes traveling to foreign cities, or being displaced, so we can think differently. Ironically, the boat projects we were on have all been created in the mountains. Chairlifts have been one of the greatest locations for inspiration. Travel offers the perfect chance to have very intense conversations about something that is fermenting in our minds. Being away from our normal lives allows us to concentrate our energy. Travel allows us little capsules of time in which we can really define and refine a project. Once we have the primary idea, we then try to hone that and make it as strong as possible while layering it with functional aspects.

On the influences of Rome

I think Rome has a profound effect that influences how I see things. But I don't know how to decipher the richness of it. Rome does help us with the solutions we create, especially when we're restructuring historical buildings. Quite often the inspiration finds us by chance.

On where you’re from

I was very lucky to be born in Sydney to two fantastic parents who gave their children a sense of optimism, which I think is a unique Australian trait. I grew up looking at Harry Seidler’s Dusseldorp family chalet in Thredbo, Australia Square and the Summit restaurant, as well as many of his other fine buildings. This upbringing meant I was always passionate about architecture. My aunt, Beryl Guertner, started Australian House & Garden magazine in 1948. She was the first female editor in Australia and was a lesbian who lived with her partner. I’d talk about design with her from an early age and she was a very important influence on me. I then went to the University of Sydney and was passionate about postwar Italian architecture and design. Many of these architects were teaching in Venice, so I looked to do a year there and stayed. 

The Lazzarini Pickering Architetti studio in Rome's leafy neighbourhood of Trastevere sits within a very storied building. It started life as a soap factory, then the building was converted to house artists including American painter Cy Twombly and postmodern Italian painter Mario Schifano in the 1980s. Today, the building has residential and office spaces, of which Carl Pickering and Claudio Lazzarini have both, with their apartment and their studio nestled within. Photos by Paul Barbera.

On moving to Italy

I arrived in Venice in October 1980, knowing nobody, at the age of 20. I wanted to feel like a small fish in a big pond — I needed to be tested. It was tough. I thought my Italian was good, but Claudio said it wasn’t that strong back then. The cultural level of the university and the other students was a different world to Sydney and the professors had incredibly high expectations. My father would say ‘You’ve proven yourself, you moved there, just come home’. But my aunt Beryl said ‘Come back when you don’t have to, when you’ve made a career abroad and you no longer have the obligation to return’. I’m still here.

‘Travel allows us little capsules of time in which we can really define and refine a project.’

On moving to Rome

I met Claudio in 1981 and we became a couple in 1982. We started living and working together, which was quite a challenge, so we say we’ve been together for about 750 years. I was living in Venice but going back and forth to Rome. I then moved permanently to Rome in 1991. The historical center was quite dilapidated because everybody had moved to the outskirts of the city, following this American idea of modern life. So you had the aristocrats, artisans and the intellectuals who had been left in the center. It really was as I had imagined it though — it was a dreamscape. The sense of history was extraordinary.

On something very Roman

There is one day in Rome, which dates back to memories of the 1980s, where people start opening their windows and cooking capsicum [peppers]. I don’t eat capsicum, but there’s something about the smell of charred capsicums wafting through open windows that tells you summer has arrived. To me, this is a celebration of Rome and something that is so ingrained within the city to signal that summer is here.

Carl and Claudio travel the world designing, but something the duo are known for is ensuring each design fits snuggly within the culture and context of the surrounding environment. Shown here is the vast breadth of their style from a villa in the Chilterns (top two images), to a palatial apartment in Rome (third and fourth image) and a day spa in the mountains just outside of Beirut (final three images). All photos by Matteo Piazza.

On what you love about the city

I love the sense of humor of Roman waiters. They just have this very blasé attitude, that comes across as rudeness. But it’s a very Roman trait because they’ve seen it all over the past 2500 years. Especially the older waiters who just have this wicked sense of humor. They drop plates down on your table then look the other way, or make matter-of-fact comments that are just hilarious.

‘There is one day in Rome, which dates back to the 1980s, where people start opening their windows and cooking capsicum. I don’t eat capsicum, but there’s something about the smell that tells you summer has arrived.’

On where you’re based in Rome

Our office space is fantastic. It’s an old soap factory in the historical center of Rome. The building has such good pedigree. It was used by famous artists including Cy Twombly, Gino De Dominicis and Mario Schifano in the 60s, 70s and 80s, plus the amazing printmakers Stamperia d’Arte 2RC were also here. Our office is next to Twombly’s studio and beside where I am sitting is a terrace with a floor Cy designed, plus an avocado tree he planted in 1972. This building is wonderful industrial archaeology with tall ceilings and lots of light.

On designing serenity

There's no doubt that there are spaces that have serenity. In the case of Icebergs [Icebergs Dining Room and Bar] in Sydney, all you do is look at the view and you have a general sense of wellbeing. That's what we try to do in our work on land, and it’s what we design in boats too. We try to be as invisible as possible. What distinguishes something from ‘look at me’ architecture to serene architecture, is respect. You need respect for the site and respect for the client. This respect manages to create tranquility and serenity.

For Carl, inspiration flows best when he's experiencing the changes and stimulation of travel. The architect chortles when recalling that inspiration for a boat design struck while he was in the mountains on a chairlift. First image by Industrial & Corporate Profiles, next two photos by Gilles Martin Raget, fourth image of Polytropon by Franco Pace, final image of Athens by Dimitris Kiriakaki.

On your creative approach

We call our work ‘site-specific portraits of clients’. Site specificity comes from attention. In the case of Al Bustan [hotel in Lebanon], there was a fine Ottoman tradition. In Rome we worked in two Renaissance palaces. In Positano we discovered the Arabic tradition of glazed tiles that was brought to Italy in 800. However, we wouldn’t use the tiles on the floors or behind the wall in a kitchen, instead we would decontextualize the traditional material and find our third millennium reinterpretation. We love materials, we have an extensive materials library in our workspace, and we’ve never been afraid of the word ‘decoration’. Decorations and materials become ‘how to’ tools that allow us to personalize the architecture for our clients. When designing, we try to go in as surgeons to the historical space. It’s this idea of stratification, of everybody adding their layer, that is a vital element of our work.

‘What distinguishes something from ‘look at me’ architecture to serene architecture, is respect. You need respect for the site and respect for the client. This respect manages to create tranquility and serenity.’

On eating out in the nearby neighborhoods

I drink liters of tea, so Claudio is the coffee person. He goes to Caffè Settimiano just under a medieval arch near our place. With our two dogs, it’s a great excuse to go out three times a day and just walk around Rome and our neighborhood Trastevere. We’re also just across the bridge from Via Giulia and we love Piazza Farnese, there’s no doubt it’s one of our favorite squares. It’s where I buy the newspaper and this square forms part of our weekend ritual. There’s a bar there that’s a great place to have a coffee and a restaurant we love called Ar Galletto that has both fish and great pasta. We love sitting there and looking out at Piazza Farnese. We’re creatures of habit, so we have our favorites. In the next square along, Campo de’ Fiori, we have La Carbonara, which as one could imagine, has fantastic carbonara. Campo de’ Fiori also has fantastic food shops including a delicatessen, butcher and great grocer.

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On getting your culture fix

Near us, there are some great galleries including the contemporary gallery Galleria Lorcan O'Neill. We’re great lovers of Richard Long’s work which they have, they also have Anselm Kiefer, Kiki Smith, Tracey Emin, as well as some younger Italian artists. Monitor, in particular, focuses on young contemporary Italian artists. That’s really what we follow, so Monitor is definitely one of our favorite galleries.

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For Carl, the joy of exploring his home city of Rome, comes from visiting local galleries, sitting in his favorite squares and viewing the layers of time and change in architecture in everyday buildings. First image by Agatha Depine, second row courtesy of the artist Gianni Politi and Galleria Lorcan O’Neill Roma, third row courtesy of Basilica San Clemente, fourth row courtesy of La Carbonara.

On your favorite buildings in Rome

I cried when I first went into the Pantheon in the 1980s. It’s everything you’ve ever imagined and more. We haven’t been able to get there when it’s been snowing, but that’s our ideal time to see it: with snow coming through the hole. It’s such a feat of engineering and it really is exorbitant. Teatro di Marcello is also a favorite. You can see people literally living in an amphitheater. It’s a building that sums up what happens when one decides, in the Middle Ages or in the Renaissance, to live within ancient Roman architecture. There’s also a wonderful 1970s stratification in the internal redesign, with parts done by Ludovico Quaroni, which we have been lucky to visit. You have the forms that flow around it and the buttressing to keep it standing, it’s just perfect and beyond belief.

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‘I cried when I first went into the Pantheon in the 1980s. It’s everything you’ve ever imagined and more. We haven’t been able to get there when it’s been snowing, but that’s our ideal time to see it: with snow coming through the hole.’

On ancient Roman design

The one thing that people don’t know much about, but that I’d recommend seeing, is Rome’s aqueducts. They are extraordinary feats of engineering that we’ve only come to understand recently. We were lucky to spend some time in a place that had Roman aqueducts at the end of the garden. I began researching the precision and it was a 1% continuous incline for it to work. One aqueduct stretched 19 kms through mountains, hills, you name it. The more you learn about ancient Roman engineering, the more you see how extraordinary it was. Unfortunately slavery had a lot to do with the grandeur of it. But from a metaphysical point of view, the Romans had a calm sensuality and function about their design.

On a hidden gem

Most of Rome’s churches have this stratification, from ancient Roman temples, which were then pillaged to quarry materials for more buildings in the medieval times. Even from the street you can try to decipher the different interventions within these churches, which is very exciting. San Carlino alle Quattro Fontane is a Baroque masterpiece and something that people need to see. The extraordinary thing is the modernity of the crypt, it’s almost Gaudí. It’s an organic architecture yet hardly anybody notices or manages to head down to explore the crypt, but it’s certainly worthwhile. Underneath this Baroque folly, you have this anamorphic and organic world that is absolutely extraordinary.

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On a window or an aisle seat

I like to be able to get up without disturbing people and expand into the corridors. So I’ll choose the aisle. But Claudio loves the window.

On Rome in one word

Palimpsest. 


It’s the stratification in time, the stratification of architecture, and of people’s lives. That’s summed up very well. One place the palimpsest nature of the city is summed up very well is Basilica di San Clemente. It’s a church that begins with an ancient school, followed by a Mithraic temple and catacombs, early Christian basilica and façades and then Baroque ceilings. It really does sum up that layering of time, which you feel as you move through the whole complex. To me it represents everything I love about Rome.

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Carl

PICKERING

‘With our two dogs, it’s a great excuse to go out three times a day and just walk around Rome.’