Holistic design | by Alessandra Coppa

RIOS has a multidisciplinary vision: what is your approach to the complexity of the design world?

CarloMaria Ciampoli: “Our approach to design has often been described as multi-disciplinary or trans-disciplinary. Those definitions have historically represented our ability to utilize all the in-house disciplines to solve complex design challenges. In our evolution as a collective of creative thinkers our approach becomes more and more post-disciplinary (beyond disciplines), where the complexity of the design world is analyzed and solved through multiple disciplinary lenses applied simultaneously. The innovative design solutions are the results of a novel way of thinking where the boundaries between disciplines are completely removed in order to allow for a full creative fluidity: this often results in solutions that are deeply rooted in their socio-economic-cultural context and always try to reframe the design conversation in the search for human centered design outcomes”.

Simone Lapenta: “The approach that we cultivate at Rios is that of a universal nature of design, where distinctions and classifications give way to a more holistic and collaborative nature of designing. A nature where diversity and integration become guiding and enriching elements of our work that generate interest, joy and participation”.


The hybridization of the contemporary habitat between inside and outside is a recurrent theme in your projects. In which realizations are the boundaries between inside and outside canceled?

Sebastian Salvadó:“The Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine and 1 Hotel are great examples of how we blur the boundary between the architectural interior with the exterior world by extending a similar material palette, including plants and trees, both inside and outside”.

SL:“The theme of the threshold is recurring and central in our discipline and has always been a place for reflection and exchange on the subject of design. I believe that the answer can never be univocal, the threshold is a place of demarcation not only between two spaces but also between different emotions or expressions of living and our actions in the built environment. I believe that our task is to listen to the places and embody ourselves with the users of the spaces we are called to build. The key is in the search for dialogue between man and nature”.


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The workplace, the traditional office space, has undergone a profound transformation after the pandemic: how do you collaborate with your customers to find appropriate solutions to new needs?

SS: “What we’ve focused on more than anything else during and after the pandemic is how to design office space that makes people want to come back to work. First, we take a lot of time to understand the culture of the company for which we’re designing – what are they creating? How do they work? How do they socialize? Then we develop a simple concept for the space that yields a complex spatial experience, defined by having a variety of different types of spaces that can support all the different ways people like to work within that company. We’ve come to regard our office design like planning a park – creating a landscape that supports many different modes of occupation or activity simultaneously. Into that organizational structure, we weave a rich palette of material textures and colors, often including plants, to enhance and make the spaces even more engaging. The Good Rx headquarters, Spotify Headquarters and the Ellison Institute for medicine are all good examples of the RIOS approach to office design”.

CMC: “We have been experimenting with new models of working for quite some time. In the past 3 years we have been using our HQ in Los Angeles as a workplace/lab to test and implement new ways of being together at work, to collaborate with our clients and to amplify our collective creative voice. As with our own employees, the base layer of our collaboration with clients is to deeply listen to their story, vision and aspirations. Innovative solutions can only be found by mixing together a willingness to being immersed in a new company culture and the audacity to reframe design challenges based on our experience and intuition”.

SL: “I believe our understanding of the workplace has become deeper and more complex. Work and place can now be seen as distinguished, flexible and nuanced elements. Because we learned that we can effectively work differently, the nature and purpose of being together has now changed and taken on a richer and critical significance. The office space is where the culture and the spirit of a firm gets built, nurtured, shared and manifested. It is where people get together to have vibrant and collective experiences where ideas and creativity can flourish and grow. Our LA office is a true representation of this mutation and a celebration of that spirit. It’s conceived as a platform for shared ideas and it functions as a flexible ground for innovation and development”.


How should the relationship between architecture-landscape, man-nature be reviewed?

CMC:“The relation between humans and nature needs to be reframed as a much more fluid conversation. Architects and designers have the potential to become “landscape curious” and vice versa. Nature needs to be one of the tools designers adopt to create meaningful experiences. The key is to go beyond a pure dual discourse between architecture and landscape and into a full symphony of relations to define human centered experiences. People experience the world simultaneously: nature and the built environment are two parts of the whole. We need to learn to design that way”.

SL: “Mankind has always inhabited space to find shelter and protection from the ecosystem in which it was immersed. The very notion of architecture is based on the ability to create and organize space. With the advent of urbanization, this simple relationship began to change and become more complex and sometimes aimed more at distinguishing than uniting. I believe that the designer’s task is to build by virtue of this relationship of coexistence and immersion in the natural element. In this vision the binomial man-nature has no distinction and the organic nature of this relationship is the basis of our ethos at RIOS”.


In your architecture, I have noticed that materials – the skin of the architecture – play a fundamental role in terms of comfort. Is that true? Do you also use ceramic materials?

SS:“Yes, it’s true. Our materials preferences for finishes tend to be and feel more natural, even if they are synthetic. As much as possible, we like to use natural materials like ceramic: they add warmth, are healthier and go a long way to help our designs blur the boundary between outside and inside/the natural vs the human-made. This is why you will often see us pull the exterior materials into the interiors and vice-versa”.

CMC: “Comfort is one of the outcomes we are always looking to achieve in every project: the materials we choose and the way we articulate them to form the skin of our buildings is constantly at the center of our design exploration. Our group has a thriving luxury residential practice and our designers have the unique opportunity to experiment with materials that often are out of reach for commercial projects and are able to dig deep and understand material properties and behaviors that are then translated into very comfortable environments. The conversation about nature extends to the façade design and projects like IAC and Row DTLA showcase creative solutions that are a fusion of architecture, landscape, beauty and comfort”.



RIOS is an international design collective working beyond boundaries to inventively combine disciplines and amplify the impact of design. The built environment and landscape architecture are interconnected to harness the positive impacts of wellness and define design as a continuum. The practice operates at the intersection of architecture, landscape, urban planning, interior design, video, graphics and signage, experiential, and product design to inform design at all types and scales: “we believe that design is better when you think inclusively about ways to solve a problem. We are problem-solvers, innovators, and creative thinkers. This proclivity can be seen in our unshakable nature as storytellers revealing the potential each project has to celebrate our diversity and humanity”.

RIOS has been recognized for design excellence across the broad spectrum of design disciplines, including as a finalist for The Architect’s Newspaper Best of Practice Awards, winner for the ArchitizerA+Awards for office interiors, for the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for landscape architecture, and as ‘Firm of the Year’ by the California Council of the American Institute of Architects.



July 2022