People Profile: Milan Associate Director Chiara Domenici on her career, project portfolio and design ethos

Chiara Domenici joined our Milan studio in 2012 and became an Associate Director in 2015. She undertakes a key role in the management of the studio, with a focus on design quality. In this profile, Chiara tells us about her international background, her career path to Chapman Taylor and her vision for the studio’s future direction.

Tell us about your background?

I was born in Milan and spent my early life here, but my father’s work in engineering took our family to live in Vienna when I was 10 – we returned to Milan when I was 14, where I attended a German school (which I like to think gave me a very rational outlook on life).

In my penultimate year at school, I decided that I wanted to work as an architect. My family had moved to a new home which needed renovation, and I was captivated by the process – the architect working on our house would ask me how I wanted my room to look, and I saw how the design took shape. My mother would have preferred me to be an engineer, but I was set on becoming an architect!

I then went to study architecture at the Polytechnic University of Milan, with one year spent on an Erasmus programme in Paris.

Where did you work after graduating?

After graduating, I returned to Paris because I love the city – I found a job at Vasconi Architectes, working for the famous Claude Vasconi, who designed Le Forum des Halles in Paris city centre. I worked on small things to begin with, but eventually had the opportunity, as an Italian, to take a more prominent role on Italian design competitions, such as for a local government building in Turin. I very much enjoyed working there, but left after two-and-a-half years when the office was completely reorganised with new personnel.

I applied for work at Renzo Piano Building Workshop in Paris – I eventually heard back that they had no openings in Paris but they asked if I would work at their Genoa studio, which I did for another two-and-a-half years.

I then moved back to Milan, where I worked for a couple of different firms before setting up a studio in partnership with a former colleague from my time in Genoa – it was a small office of between 7 and 10 people. That venture lasted for more than seven years, until the financial crisis hit Italy and the company became unsustainable. It was then that I joined Chapman Taylor, in 2012.

Why Chapman Taylor?

I heard that the studio was recruiting and I came here for an interview. Straight away, I appreciated the atmosphere that existed in the studio – it was a different dynamic from my time working for ‘starchitect’ practices. There was (and is) an excellent structure, combining an international profile and network while allowing freedom in design. That was immediately attractive to me.

What were your early projects at Chapman Taylor?

The very first project was the strategic redevelopment of the ACI marinas in Croatia, followed by some competition designs. The most significant early project was the Mercati Generali shopping centre project in Rome, a retail project in the historic centre which presented a number of complex design challenges – I worked on that very intensively for 18 months and enjoyed it.

NOI Techpark in Bolzano

Do any of the projects you have worked on stand out in your memory?

It’s very difficult to pick one! Mercati Generali was certainly memorable, as was a competition design we created for a new resort in Croatia that required a lot of deep thought and the design we created was extremely good.

I worked a little on the NOI Techpark office complex in Bolzano too. It is a beautiful development which really transformed the fortunes of a derelict complex while protecting its heritage.

Auchan shopping in Rescaldina, near Milan

What are you working on at the moment?

We have just finished the refurbishment of Auchan shopping in Rescaldina, near Milan, with the next phase, its extension, about to get underway. The refurbishment was a nice project – though there was a detailed brief, we were able to use our creativity to design a playful and bright environment in which to shop and relax.

We are currently refurbishing the Vicolungo The Style Outlets near Milan, where we have redesigned the central square, canopies and street furniture while adding a number of new features. This is another interesting project – completely different in style from the Rescaldina project in that it is less playful and more elegant. It is wonderful to be able to design in such different ways.

We are also working on a design for a major and complex Milan retail development, as well as refurbishing an outdated shopping centre in Rome to renew it in a contemporary style.

Vicolungo The Style Outlets near Milan

Where do you see the studio focusing on in the coming years?

Hospitality is a key sector for us because it offers exciting opportunities – tourism is a major part of Italy’s economic fortunes and we are seeing a renewed emphasis on the importance of a thriving hospitality industry. We are working on some hotel projects at present and are looking to boost our profile in the Italian hospitality sector.

There are still a handful of retail developments, all in the Milan area, which will be coming to fruition in the near future, but I think that we are seeing the end of new, large, retail-only centres in Italy. The future will be about refurbishments of existing centres, rather than building new centres.

With online shopping providing a major challenge for physical retailers, retail developments will need to provide a mix of uses and an all-day experience in which people can spend several hours shopping, eating and being entertained. F&B will be crucial – it might even be that future developments will be about creating food destinations which happen to have retail elements, rather than the other way around. Restaurants and cafés seem to be thriving in Italy, despite the sluggish economy.

Chapman Taylor is ahead of that trend, and is advocating a transformational approach to how shopping environments are conceived and designed in Italy.

Chiara Domenici (Dr Arch - Iscritta all’Ordine degli Architetti di Milano)

Associate Director, Milan

Chiara undertakes a key role managing our Milan studio, with a special focus on design quality. She has experience working in a number of international design practices as well as running her own architectural partnership in Milan.

Educated in Vienna and at the Politecnico di Milano, Chiara joined Chapman Taylor in 2012 and was promoted to Associate Director in 2015.

Areas of expertise:

Design Management / Client Liaison / General Supervision / Office / Retail / Leisure / Mixed-use

Chiara è entrata a far parte di Chapman Taylor Milano nel 2012 e nel 2015 è stata promossa al ruolo di Associate Director.

Chiara ha studiato a Vienna e si è laureata al Politecnico di Milano e svolge un ruolo chiave nella gestione del nostro studio milanese, con particolare attenzione alla qualità progettuale. Chiara ha maturato una notevole esperienza professionale lavorando in diversi studi di architettura di fama internazionale e gestendo il suo studio associato a Milano.

Aree di competenza:

Design Management / Client Liaison / General Supervision / Office / Retail / Leisure / Mixed-use

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