Maximising Value in Design
Leonardo Cavalli, Founder of One Works, discusses his sustainable approach to architecture in Italy and beyond
Writer: Sean Galea-Pace | Project Manager: Sam Love
“When I started out, we were drawing with a pencil — now look at the world!”
Leonardo Cavalli is the Founder of One Works. An industry expert with over three decades of experience, Cavalli believes architecture is unrecognisable from when he first entered the space in 1986.
“Today, the tools you have at your disposal are completely different and the professional environment has changed dramatically over the past 30 years,” he recalls. “We are still designing buildings and infrastructures but the way we do it has changed considerably. This is particularly true for a country like Italy where things have started to happen quickly during the past 10 years, when before that very little happened. This gave us the opportunity to grow and organise ourselves in a different way and allowed us to have more of a personal passion and approach to projects.”
Cavalli founded One Works in 2007 in collaboration with his business partner. His company is an international architecture design and engineering firm offering an integrated and sustainable approach. One Works believes in creating dynamic and intuitive environments where people and communities can connect with their environment and with each other.
The organisation closely works with both airport management companies and service operators to deliver safe, efficient, sustainable airport operations, while retaining a focus on passenger experience. One Works operates its design headquarters in Milan, and has offices in Bangkok, Chennai, Dubai, Doha, London, Rome, Singapore and Venice.
Indeed, upon the launch of One Works 14 years ago, Cavalli was adamant that a design isn’t just a matter of architecture, but an integrated effort that sets the standard to allow growth as an integrated design firm.
“It tends to be led by architecture, but design integration is primarily our focus,” he explains. “Opportunity and strategy are mixed to help grow together and that has really helped us over the past 15 years.”
“Today, the tools you have at your disposal are completely different”
One Works has been commissioned to work on a plethora of projects, featuring a variety of aviation, infrastructure, urban design, buildings and retail. To Cavalli, there are three that stick out for him in particular: Venice Airport, CityLife and the San Marino Outlet Experience.
“Those are the three that best showcase our capabilities,” he explains. “We were commissioned to design the new passenger terminal refurbishment and extension to facilitate growth in the airport’s level of service. The idea of bringing natural light into an airport is simple but if you think about all the airports in the world, very rarely is there natural light flowing into the airport from the roof. I felt this was a very interesting approach that we had. This was together with the idea of extending and leveraging the existing fabrics which I felt was the most sustainable approach design-wise when looking at new buildings.”
CityLife is one of the largest urban regeneration projects in the recent history of Milan. One Works was asked to design the Piazza Tre Torri and the commission included addressing the strategic design of a new retail plaza to serve as the entrance to the new metro line. The revision of the plaza’s layout stems from variations in its functional programme, or rather its spatial distribution and desire to create a single public place consisting of two open spaces at different levels. Retail functions, strongly characterised in part by the fashion mall at the bottom of the Hadid Tower, and the outdoor commercial activity distributed around the plaza and along the pathway towards Piazza VI Febbraio, permit the public square to open itself up to the city and the surrounding park.
“We are proud that we were able to bring the urban feeling into a very interesting project but separate it from the urban fabric,” discusses Cavalli. “Our mantra was to bring the town and urban environment into this new district which is built in the middle of a former fairground in the city and actually suggesting to the client to build less rather than more.”
San Marino Outlet Experience
Based in San Marino, One Works was commissioned to design a new luxury outlet destination to support the local community and tourism from local towns. The project assumptions originate with the territorial context, in addition to the commercial objectives.
Terraced parking lots follow the terrain’s natural profile and the interior pedestrian path winds following a slight slope diagonally across the hillside. The design concept allows visitors to read the site’s topography and at the same time significantly reducing the building’s footprint.
“The San Marino Outlet Experience only launched in June 2021,” he says. “It is totally open air, focused on the shopping experience rather than convenience, and building an environment which stands out.”
“We must also ask ourselves the best way to approach new projects while also maximising the value that already exists”
For Cavalli, sustainability is an important pillar to One Works’ strategy and he believes in maximising value out of pre-existing infrastructure.
“This is where our work on the Venice Airport project comes in because we are leveraging the existing materials,” he explains. “This is key because it’s important to understand and recognise what is existing and is a major step towards a sustainable approach. We must also ask ourselves the best way to approach new projects while also maximising the value that already exists. This is what interests me more about a sustainable approach.
“Sustainability isn’t just about design; it’s about incorporating the idea into the full chain that produces a place or a building. I believe this is the very goal of being sustainable in design. Being architects and structural engineers, we tend to look at the building physics rather than the operation of the building. There has been a considerable effort to have a more sustainable approach over the past 30 years.”
An Agile Approach
Cavalli is keen to treat technology as an opportunity to refocus on urban development. “Digital technology is a chance for the periphery of the countries and cities to become more relevant economically and socially,” he explains. “Digital technology will be the most interesting tool for a proper revolution and redistribution of wealth across different parts of the country and reducing the differences between rich areas and poor areas. I believe this to be far more important to the future of our cities and to our lives than technology in the technical sense.”
Like every other organisation around the world, COVID-19 impacted One Works. Fortunately, unlike all firms, One Works was well prepared. “We had the technology available for people to work from home if they wanted to,” discusses Cavalli. “We allowed them to act as freely as possible and even today people are still free to come to the office or stay home if they want to.”
However, Cavalli maintains that such a flexible approach has come at the cost of efficiency. “For our designers, being in one place and sharing a desk helps considerably,” he explains. “Creativity needs informality, and it isn’t something you can find on Teams or Zoom. What we saw happening is what might be forced to happen in the next five years anyway. We were forced to learn and adapt quickly. Our plan now is to balance out opportunities with future behaviour as we are working.”
Indeed, harnessing a collaborative culture is essential to sustained success on projects in architecture. “It doesn’t matter which staff member is assigned to the project, it’s about feeling part of the bigger process of producing a design,” says Cavalli. “We always try to be fair with opportunities in terms of career and we are of a decent size.”
Looking ahead, Cavalli understands the market shift as a result of COVID-19 and recognises the importance of listening to the current demands of the industries One Works serves to find the most appropriate solutions. “It’s about understanding what opportunities could arise,” he affirms. “Two of the main industries that we serve; airports and retail destinations, were significantly disrupted by the pandemic. This has showcased to us the importance of listening to find solutions and exploring ideas that are born from risks and disasters. Now, we know we must be open and ready to change.”