Would you like to introduce yourself to Vivishenzhen’s readers, please? Who are you and where do you come from? Can you tell us about your professional and academic path before moving to China?
My name is Manfredi Valenti and I was born in Sicily. To be more precise in Palermo. I studied at Universita’ di Architettura of Palermo and RWTH University of Achen, Germany. My first steps in the job market were in Northern Europe. I did a lot of work in the Netherlands. Mecanoo, one of the Netherlands’ most famous studios, inspired and transmitted to me passion and curiosity for architecture. I have been roaming the world a lot since my experience working at Mecanoo. First I went to the UK then the Middle East. Eventually several opportunities arose in China in cities like Shenzhen and Shanghai, 6 years ago.
What made you take the decision to move to Asia? What triggered you in starting this new adventure?
I always wanted to live my life with inspiration, and turn this inspiration into space and light. I thought that there wasn’t any better place than China to achieve this creative dream of mine. I literally packed up and came to Shenzhen, which was just uncharted territory at the time: it was an opportunity I absolutely knew I couldn't miss.
Considering all your past experiences in different countries, how has your first impact with Shenzhen, and China in general, been? What were its pro’s and con’s according to you?
Surprisingly enough, my experience in Shenzhen has been positive. I began with a large and important firm and, within six months, some of my projects were actually getting made. This is something completely unthinkable in Italy and England. I found myself in a highly rewarding environment that cast huge responsibilities on me from the very beginning. There are some negative aspects of course: management is not always effective , HR can be peculiar to say the least. Still it's been great being my own team leader. I've found it easy to re-organize projects and give instructions my team who have always managed to follow my lead with great devotion and a sense of responsibility.
How have you reacted to this completely new responsibility?
I felt a little lost at the very beginning: there was no one with European experience and each time I attempted to push new ideas and such, people looked at me bewildered. This used to happen until the very moment clients would go for my ideas rather than theirs!
If you had to go back after so many years in China, what would you bring back with you? Would it be easy to re-accustom yourself to Italy?
I would take with me all the experience I amassed in Asia and China, something completely different from my Western heritage: the way Chinese engage with other people (rule number one: don’t get mad) and their expertise in sealing a deal for example. From a strictly professional point of view, I would bring back my experience in going from design to immediate execution. South of China and South of Italy share many traits: open people who are used to life outdoors, down the streets or in the community spaces which is exactly like us Sicilians!
Which are your greatest professional achievements here in China?
I have been working on several projects since my arrival: Shopping Malls, Mixed-Use spaces, Offices, Interior, Urban and Landscape design projects. Among all of these, I still have fond memories of a Yacht Club in Sichuan we had to complete in a very short time (2010). I was totally astounded by this modus operandi, especially if compared to Italian and European scheduling: I realized that a 5000 square-meter Yacht Club is considered a small-scale project here, while in Italy it would a mid-size one. That was my first step here from a mere theoretical point of view. Many projects have followed in the next few years, but if I had to name only one or two, I would say the La Zi Yuan Tower and the Immigration offices. Both of these projects in Shenzhen, my second home, are something I am extremely proud of.
How do you see your future after so many years in Shenzhen? What will your future be like?
I still see my future away from Italy and, if I have to be honest, away from architecture as well. I’d like to slow down in the next years: I’d like to get away from it all at a resort on a Thai island after so much time in a megalopolis!