Here there are a couple of reasons why she has become my main reference model:

Sicilian, woman

Ok, these cannot be two merits in the strict sense, but emerging internationally, starting from such a difficult land and being woman, is no small feat. Since 1986 her office is in the hometown of Vittoria, far from metropolis and artistic epicentres, but she is neither provincial nor uninformed. She does not use social networks, does not sponsor herself on the internet and does not even have a Wikipedia page despite the numerous prizes won (once I tried to activate it, but brilliant moderators did not believe she was a public figure). A counter-current attitude in the contemporary architectural panorama, that pushed Luigi Prestinenza Puglisi – Italian critic – to attribute part of her success to this particular ascetic narration of herself (see article – in Italian).

a year at University of Palermo

I had the honor of being her student in the only year she was a professor at the Faculty of Architecture in Palermo. With this, I want to underline two aspects: first, I was lucky enough to attend her lessons, among the most important ever received; second, she taught only one year. She did not have an easy life in the consolidated academic microcosm, from which she was thrown out without so many compliments. In short: anti-academic, quite subversive… other “negative” points to emerge in this profession.

Maria Giuseppina Grasso Cannizzo in her project “casa di Vacanze a Noto”, photo by Hélène Binet

Japanese influence

Maria Giuseppina had the opportunity to live one year in Japan, as a guest of a relative. She communicated it in the classroom, as an incipit of one of the greatest lessons she could give us: the spatial elegance of Japanese architecture. A lesson that characterizes the beauty of each of her projects, where emptiness is the main protagonist, chaos is tamed and ordered according to precise designs.

Without taking anything away from other teachings of equal importance, no teacher has ever put in front of us these references so distant from us, and it was fundamental for me to discover the spatial solutions of Waro Kishi, Kazuyo Sejima, Toyo Ito and colleagues. I seem to hear it even now, when she suggested taking any Japanese micro-house as a reference, because they are very good at designing masterpieces with small size projects, measured to the millimeter, essential, logical and simply beautiful.
In short, to create beauty, you don’t need huge contracts or large sites.

project of Maria Giuseppina Grasso Cannizzo: “Casa bifamiliare a Marina di Ragusa”, photo of Hélène Binet

Architectural re-use

Another pioneering teaching: the architectural reuse – also called “Parasite Architecture” (from the book written by one of her most assiduous followers: Sara Marini) – re-uses the pre-existences, restores dignity, beauty and identity to already made and unsuccessful artifacts, modifying them, creating new and unexpected projects. Rather than demolishing, and considering the existing built as a limit, this becomes the strength of the project itself: it makes it unique and reinforces its identity; it ethically exploits what is already available, reducing pollution and finding an intervention strategy for the transformation of our cities.

my two projects [on the works page], of the Villa in Plemmirio and the Recycled Theater, start from this teaching. In the first case – in the photo – a steel structure completes and rationalizes the structure of a single-family villa, and the concrete terraces are demolished but reused to model the land.

The projects that arise from this approach are amazing: entire complexes are emptied and redesigned from the inside, obtaining an effect of Chinese boxes; new volumes fit into the old ones creating combinations worthy of a contemporary art installation.
This method underlines another peculiarity: the ability to subvert the rules of the game, giving new meaning to things.

the relationship with clients

Her very first lesson at University: several slides showed photos of villas of Italian tv series or famous tv-shows, questionable examples for those with a certain type of architectural culture, like everyone present in that classroom.
Without batting an eyelid, the architect told us that many people have these types of references in mind when they think of their ideal home. These are the models they know, because the TV spreads these images to all the houses. We all are not informed in the same way.

Several customers showed her these reference models for their own house: at that point, she explained to us, we have a duty, which is to bring out our professionalism, aesthetics and taste that we have refined and strengthened over the years by studying and learning from Masters. The sensitivity we have gained towards space. Because it is so, the taste is educated, beauty is the result of study and hard training.

casa di Vacanze a Noto
Maria Giuseppina Grasso Cannizzo in her project “casa di Vacanze a Noto”, photo by Hélène Binet

[All professors should be able to be freelance too, to be able to give teachings of this type].

It does not mean that we all must necessarily love Japanese architecture, for example. But we must distinguish a non-functional architecture, incoherent and visually weighted, from the functional one, which enhances the space and restores beauty. And we architects are the added value for our customers, not an obstacle, we have a duty to give them our vision.

some conclusions

Certainly a particular designer, uncompromising and extremely coherent. She didn’t complete many projects – in agreement with the client – because the choices made no longer reflected her vision; she learned the use of architectural software at a late age, often managing projects on her own (more unique than rare, senior designers almost all rely on new architects/interns, especially if with a minimum of fame).
For those fascinated by this designer, I suggest watching some video lessons on youtube and two books – even if a little bit cryptic for non-experts:

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