Maria Giuseppina Grasso Cannizzo
Maria Giuseppina Grasso Cannizzo graduated in 1974 in Architecture at the University of Rome La Sapienza. From 1974 to 1980 dedicates herself mainly to the course of restoration of monuments at the Faculty of Architecture in Rome with professor Franco Minissi.
In 1980 she moves to Turin where she collaborates with Fiat Engineering on a project reconstructing the historical centres in Basilicata. Since 1986 she has lived in Sicily.

In 2008 she was among the five architects invited to the competition for the curatorship and the preparation of the Italian Pavilion of the XI Biennale of Architecture in Venice. In 2016 the jury of the XV Biennale of Architecture of Venice assigns her a Special Mention for the installation “Onore Perduto” with which she participates in the exhibition Reporting From the Front, curated by Alejandro Aravena.
In 2018 she participated in the exhibition FREESPACE curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, at the XVI Biennale of Architecture of Venice.

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When you were a child what did you want to be when you were older?
Every day the dream changed. One day I dreamed of being a painter or a sculptor, the next of being a zoologist or an archaeologist or a botanist. I never dreamed of being an architect.
What was your favourite subject at school?
At school I had no preference, I did very well in all subjects, but in private life I excelled in drawing. I had a large room at home, shared with my sister, where I could express my natural inclination for art, and work with different techniques: watercolours, oils, engravings… At school, unfortunately, drawing was conditioned by precise requests and instructions from the teacher. This prescriptive approach prevented me from highlighting my qualities.
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House in Ragusa, Italy, 2001 (Ph.© Hélène Binet)
When did you realise you wanted to study architecture and become an architect?
Perhaps the question, in my case, should be when did I consciously decide that I wanted to be an architect? The answer could be when I was forty. At the age of eighteen, after wavering between different interests, I had expressed the desire to enrol at the Academy and become an artist. The resolute opposition of my family pushed me to choose the Faculty of Architecture. I thought that this choice would allow me to be closer to the life I wanted and away from the family tradition that inexorably directed me towards studies in Medicine. Having taken the decision out of the blue, I dismantled the work room and stopped producing “artworks”, I harnessed my hand. My mother managed to keep a good part of the production (from 1951 to 1966). Some drawings now coexist with my parents' collection of works.
What was your educational path?
In high school, in order to follow the family tradition, I took classical studies. I have never had any particular regrets, except for having studied mathematics superficially. Today, if I had time, I would like to study pure mathematics, or rather mathematics that is not necessarily applied.
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Holiday home in Noto, Italy, 2009, (Ph.© Fabio Mantovani)
How do you remember yourself as an architecture student?
Terrible. I always wanted to escape from studying architecture, but my sense of duty towards my family prevailed. Lack of awareness of the path I had taken deprived me of the opportunities I had from meeting professors such as Perugini, Fiorentino, Sacripanti, Zevi..... I graduated without conviction. By choosing a thesis project in restoration, I was basically looking for an escape route from design: at that time I thought I did not have the necessary tools to tackle a thesis focused on designing a new building, and I mistakenly thought that restoration implied the possibility of shadowing the results of somebody’s academic career. Another difficulty that seemed like an insurmountable obstacle at the time was my shyness, which prevented me from working in a team with other students. This aspect, partially overcome over the years, has conditioned my work by imposing solitude as a necessary condition to express myself without fear or conditioning.
Which architects have influenced you the most?
I don't have any inspirations or references; I believe that principles, ideas, reasoning, and visions only emerge from my internal memory, leading me to follow directions, sometimes unforeseen, in the design process: it is important to feed our imagination every day, going beyond the boundaries of the discipline, and not to look for references. Certainly Franco Minissi, a leading figure in an approach known as Critical Restoration and the supervisor of my Degree thesis, has contributed profoundly to my training: our meeting in 1972 led to our collaboration.

During the six years of teaching experience at his side, an unexpected interest in the discipline became apparent. But it was only in the years that followed, with my first experiences with projects and building sites, that I became aware that the theoretical principles of Critical Restoration (the importance of the knowledge framework, reversibility, the renunciation of formal inventions, the maximum control of detail and of the whole, and also the use of the process as an instrument of knowledge) were not only part of the cultural background of my training, but also constituted my natural toolkit in the approach to both reuse and the design of new buildings. Other architects? I have looked carefully at the Metabolist movement, Brutalism, Alison and Peter Smithson, BBPR, but also at simpler constructions designed by anonymous technical offices such as the Soviet public transport shelters, the Autogrill restaurants on our first motorways, the ENI petrol stations.
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House in Vittoria, Italy, 1993 (Ph.© Hélène Binet)
In what way have other creative fields influenced your work as an architect?
In the 1980s, when I moved to Turin, my personal interests shifted from the experimental theatre of the 60s and 70s to visual art. My direct experience and my frequent visits over the years to the world of visual arts forced me to study in depth and relate different, apparently distant experiences, giving rise to reflections that later influenced the attitude with which I approached the project and the control of the entire process.
The job at Fiat Engineering, for example, organised as an assembly line, took on a new meaning and fueled my attitude toward an open and unprejudiced view of the design process. On the walls of the office where I worked there was a single, very long drawing containing an abacus of construction details, compositional principles, and dimensions of individual control elements with the intention of obtaining total control over the expected final result. As part of the design process, FIAT's decision to assign the tasks to be carried out, ensuring that they alternated as necessary, meant that drawings, transcriptions of measurements, nib thicknesses, formats, sheet squaring, and texts had to respect precise and unequivocal codes of representation, erasing the individual peculiarities of the designers involved. The depersonalisation of the sign and writing no longer seemed to be an alienating practice, but a method used intentionally by some conceptual artists in the process of producing their works. However, this brief experience helped me to curb my intolerance of rules, imposing a form of discipline on me.
What is your approach to the profession?
Awareness that the project implies a constant and exclusive commitment, and moderate ambition. I have never been interested in converting the studio into a company: such a decision implies a different organisation and necessarily a different relationship between the architect and the project. My professional life is divided between the time of project development and its execution. The minimal structure of the studio, the difficulty in delegating, and the need to check every passage of the design process, have forced me to acquire total autonomy: for many years I have been using the mouse as if it were my hand. I personally take care of the graphical representation of the project and almost always, during the engineering phase, of the executive phase down to the details.
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House/nursery, Mazzarrone, Italy, 2018 (Ph. © Giulia Bruno)
What particular aspects of your background and upbringing have shaped your design principles and philosophies?
I think I have already answered this question by highlighting the importance of critical restoration and the visual arts in defining the principles governing the design process (transience, the possibility of progressive adaptation, reversibility, the instrumental use of materials...).
Transience, for example, is an essential condition in the definition of the project of a new architectural solution, but also in going through life: for instance the scaffolding used during construction is a living organism that grows by welcoming diversity, gathers knowledge and specific skills from other disciplines, accepts its own fragility and escapes the principles of persistence. The transitory geometry of the device does not offer a shelter defined by precise boundaries but a living space that, suggesting ways of occupation, requires reflection, decision and consequent choices.
When and how did your career begin?
I decided to definitely choose to be an architect in 1988 at the age of forty.
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Holiday home, Scoglitti, Italy, 2002 (Ph. © Armin Linke)
What do you remember about your first completed project?
My first project came out in 1990; previously I had only worked on the renovation of historic buildings. It was with great fear that I tackled this new experience, which would necessarily have subjected the completed work to the scrutiny of the community. The work involved the reconfiguration of a project approved by the local technical office but not yet realised. Examination of the drawings provided by the client suggested the strategy and identified the objective: to look out from the inside of the inhabited areas towards the sea while maintaining the location, shape and volume of the project unchanged. The raising of the house from its original height and the use of an artifice to reshape the section (the introduction of a volume of sand as an obstacle between the house and the seafront) have freed the view of the horizon while excluding the surrounding buildings.
You have taught Interior Design and Architectural Design at the Faculty of Architecture in Palermo and Urban Design at the Faculty of Architecture in Siracusa. What does teaching mean to you?
I don't remember those years well, 1974-1980 Rome, between 2007 and 2010 Palermo and Siracusa, in 2014 Trento. The teaching experiences are episodic and distant in time: first as assistant to Franco Minissi, then many years later Palermo, Syracuse, Trento, as well as short experiences such as some workshops in Venice, Naples and Stockholm. Over the last twenty years I have trained many young architects in my studio. Life on site and targeted exercises have aroused their interest and produced good results. 
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House in Modica, Italy, 2018, (Ph.© Giulia Bruno)
Has your teaching activity influenced your work in any way?
In my first years as an assistant, dealing with individual projects with students, I had the opportunity to explore theoretical principles and themes related to the transformation of existing architecture. This phase certainly had an impact on my early work. In the last twenty years I have taken on the role in the classroom that I normally have in the studio, and therefore the latest experiences have certainly not had an impact on my work.
In your years of practicing and teaching architecture, which developments/ events represent the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
I don't feel I have faced any challenges, only projects.
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Loose ends-AUT Architektur und Tirol, Innsbruk, 2014 (Ph. © Nikolaus Schletteler)
Along the way, what is the best advice you have received, and is there one piece of advice in particular you would like to share with young architects and architecture students?
I didn't receive any advice; I went ahead on my own. I stumbled, I got up, I fell and hurt myself, I learned on the job. I think it is better to avoid giving advice; you can only help others by encouraging reflection.
Is there a book which is of particular importance to you as an architect?
Flatland by Edwin Abott, The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron, Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Mount Analogue by René Daumal, The Purple Cloud by Matthew Phipps Shiel, ......................................................................................................


I can't choose, sorry. My house contains a library of some importance, and I believe that reading each one of these books has had its importance in my education.

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House in Ragusa, Italy, 2001 (Ph.© Hélène Binet)
An instance of architecture important to you:
Chand Baori Well? No, I’m joking, I prefer not to answer; that is like asking which of my cats I prefer.
project you would like to realize:
The projects I am working on.
A piece of art important to you:
Here, too, I prefer not to answer: the list is very long.
English translation from the Italian provided by Ernestine Shargool Montgomerie
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Control tower, Marina di Ragusa, Italy, 2008 (Ph.© Hélène Binet)
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House in Vittoria, Italy, 1993 (Ph.© Hélène Binet)
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Caffè bar in Catania, Italy, 2001 (Ph.© Hélène Binet)
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Onore perduto, Reporting from the front, XV Biennale di Architettura, Venice, 2016 (Ph.© Sissi Cesira Roselli)
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House in Modica, Italy, 2018, (Ph.© Giulia Bruno)
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House/nursery, Mazzarrone, Italy, 2018 (Ph. © Giulia Bruno)
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Holiday home in Noto, Italy, 2009, (Ph.© Fabio Mantovani)
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