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Genius Loci, Enzo Mari, and timeless design with Marco Lavit

A look into the vision of an architect and the inspiration to design not only our spaces but the way we live. Talking earth, Ettore Sottsass, and a wooden sailboat

Lavit founded Atelier LAVIT in 2014. Based in Paris, it is a space where bicycles roam free among books, shells, a small treehouse, and a hammock. Wood is omnipresent, a trademark of the studio, applied in architecture to housing structures, notably across France, Italy, and Spain. Works include a treehouse, a series of floating cabins, a meditation pavilion for the Venice Biennale, and a prefabricated wooden cabin called TOGNA, the first tiny house project that will be available to order. At thirty-four years old, a pure imprint is found in his craft. Whether it be the wood, the clean lines, or the essentiality, his pieces and spaces, honor both his roots and dedication to his vision.

Jessica Lilly Walker: In the beginning, as a child, are there memories connected to architecture?

Marco Lavit: I grew up in the countryside in the north of Italy in the lake district until I was eighteen years old. My dad, Carlo, is an architect as well, who loves painting and sculpturing. I spent most of my weekends in the forest, building tree houses and wooden fortresses. In the garden, we used to have a tiny house built by my father and his carpenter friend Paolo when they were 22. They did a round trip in northern Italy with this tiny house, pulled by a horse called Maria.

JLW: Growing up, what was around you that has become essential to you today?

ML: Everyday contact with open air, and sea eventually. In Paris, I force myself to move around walking or bicycling, even for long distances. 

JLW: If you could choose eight things to put in a suitcase?

ML: A bike, foldable probably, a sailing boat, French students prototyped a folding one called the Tiwal 3, a few moleskins, a pencil, binoculars, a diving mask, a camera, and a hammock.

JLW: Who or what has been an early reference for you?

ML: The vernacular architecture that I could experience during my early trips, and the one that I could experience in Italy, in regions such as Tuscany, Sicily, Puglia. And Greece of course. This spontaneous order is the result of an economical and ecological way of building with what we have on-site, in terms of materials and ancestral knowledge, like the terroir.

Maquette of ORIGIN treehouse 1 1
MAQUETTE OF ORIGIN TREEHOUSE, DESIGN MARCO NICORA LAVIT

JLW: A short list of projects.

ML: ORIGIN treehouse. A hundred-year-old oak, one of the tallest of the domaine at Château de Raray, was the starting point for the reflection of this project: ‘how to sublimate the tree?’. A meeting point between poetry and carpentry, the ORIGIN treehouse was inspired by a bird’s nest, it discreetly stands among the centennial oaks, honoring the land by offering shelter. The access is a sequence, passing first from a platform suspended on another tall oak thirty meters away, a wooden walkway, ten meters from the ground then leads you straight into the heart of the nest. Each one of the living spaces faces the large windows overlooking the forest.

Domaine Des Dimanches Winery is a wine cellar and tasting space developed from the construction of rammed earth. An ecological technique, giving natural management of humidity for the air in the spaces of production and conservation of the wine. An open-air tank on the roof of the winery also allows the recycling of water used during the production process, with the principle of phyto depuration.

GCP Wood Cabins Hotel. Building on a lake surrounded by vineyards in the south of France is a challenge, in a place like the Mediterranean maquis, a  fishing reserve, a few kilometers away from Avignon. Twenty-five huts, like primitive constructions in lake reeds, floating on the water like rafts on stilts, along the banks of Lac de la Lionne. The changing of the seasons and the hours of the day constantly transform the presence and the dynamics of the hut with the landscape. During the day, the experience inside the space is a play of light and shadow, with the sun filtering through the wooden screens, light moving. Random gaps provide abstract images of vegetation, lake, and sky. After sunset the effect is reversed, immersed in darkness and illuminated only by the moon, the hut evokes a lantern, radiating the internal golden light between the wooden slats.

JLW: What are you working on now?

ML: Starting from the smaller scale, such as furniture design, product, and collectible design, to prefabricated private houses, a tiny house collection with Corsican carpenters, eco-lodge hotels in Italy and France, and an experimental project of a rural self-sufficient community in Île-de-France. Most of those subjects are developed in my teaching experience with students from the Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris.

JLW: What role does nature play in your work?

ML: I would say ‘genius loci’ rather than nature.

JLW: If you could build or design one thing entirely from wood, what would it be and in what wood?

ML: A sailing boat, made from teak wood. 

JLW: What sustainable materials are you inspired by for tomorrow’s architecture?

ML: Rammed earth. It is an ancient technique for constructing foundations, floors, and walls using natural raw materials such as earth, chalk, lime, or gravel. Structures of rammed earth create a sustainable union with the environment around them. Generating very little waste, while contributing to the energy efficiency of the edifice, the density, thickness, and thermal conductivity also render it a suitable material for passive solar heating.

I share two quotes of two masters: Enzo Mari and Ettore Sottsass. In the last few years, with the ecological movement, we have witnessed an excessive phenomenon of commercialization and marketing of ecological need, creating the fortunes of the ecology lobby that partly manage architectural development today. I would therefore like to rethink the ecology linked to design and redesign as something almost visceral, that we may draw from, for our daily life, even the most intimate one.

‘Designing is an instinct inherent in man, as the survival instinct, hunger, sex.’ Enzo Mari

‘Not everyone can design their life as a feast.’ Ettore Sottssas

JLW: Where is a tree or forest you love?

ML: A garden. The Kolymbethra garden, in Agrigento.


IMAGE GALLERY

Marco Lavit
Professor at L’Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture in Paris, where he studied, his work has been exhibited at Milan Design Week, Cité de l’Architecture & du Patrimoine in Paris, Nilufar Gallery, Maison & Objet Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Palazzo Litta, Museo della Scienza e della Tecnica and the Venice Biennale, to name a few. He won the Rising Talents Award for Maison & Objet Paris in 2018 and the AD Seven for the Future Award.

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