In 1968 Roberto Brambilla was among the few architects chosen from around the world to join the Urban Design Program, the most advanced program drawing from in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Planning, at Harvard University.
After Harvard, Brambilla joined a team under Mayor John V. Lindsay of New York City. The team published the first urban design study of Manhattan. This study became the foundation for Brambilla’s own work in the city.Brambilla has a talent for envisioning value in places, before it’s time.
Examples include the Italian island of Pantelleria during the ‘60s; New York City Soho and Tribeca in the ‘70s; and Vieques island in the ‘90s.
While at Harvard, he designed the exhibition “Art & Landscape of Italy: Too Late to be Saved?” The exhibition opened at he Metropolitan Museum in New York and traveled to 18 cities of North America and Europe. Indeed it influenced the historic urban conservation policies of Italy.
In New York, in the early ‘70s, he was among the first to envision value in the restoration and adaptive re-use of many abandoned manufacturing buildings in Soho, Tribeca and Brooklyn. He succeeded with a business approach to conservation. He attracted investors with his vision of elegant
design and profit. He converted manufacturing buildings into residences in Lower Manhattan, then revived the townhouses of the Upper East Side.Brambilla deserves much credit for reviving the Italian Island of Pantelleria.Following his example, hundreds of vernacular stone shelters have been converted into elegant summer residences for celebrities. His idea of agro-tourism was realized.
Again, he was the first to actively promote an eco-tourism strategy to revive the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. That was fifteen years before the U.S. Navy vacated two-thirds of the island – now the largest Protected Natural Reserve in the Caribbean. His vision of a SunBay leisure community with ecological design, green technology, organic farming and holistic health could be compelling to high-end tourists, as well as promote a sustainable economy for this island.
Brambilla understands the history of civilization – perhaps it’s the legacy of his Italian heritage - and his design sensitivity and social sensibilities are extraordinary. His most recent endeavor is the restoration of an abandoned 1700th. Century noble house near Noto, Sicily, and its conversion into a modern Caravan Serrai combining hospitality with education, art, and culinary events.
Brambilla’s design – like all great art – is not about the technology, material, style and fashion. His design goes well beyond that, to bring the arts and culture to people leading banal lives. His aspirations are rooted in advancing our civilization.
Former Director, Long-Range Planning, Harvard University.
Co-Founder, Project Paideia: A Meta-Field of Study