Beauty is in the heart of the beholder

Recently knighted in the Italian Order of the Star, architect Carlo Corallo speaks about family, architecture, and the importance of connecting to our past to design the future.

On the occasion of the Italian Festa della Repubblica (Republic Day) on June 2, Italo-Australian architect Carlo Corallo was awarded the title of Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy. Once emphasizing postwar reconstruction merits, this reformed distinction is now conferred to honorable civilians who preserve and promote the Italian prestige abroad. The award acknowledges Carlo’s huge and constant work cultivating ties with Italy as well as fostering friendly relations and fruitful cooperation with other countries. He has been doing so by reclaiming and promoting his Sicilian heritage in Australia, and through his internationally renowned projects of urban design.

Born in Australia, Carlo’s mother was originally from Padua, Veneto, and his father from Ragusa Ibla in Sicily. Both his parents migrated when they were still children: to other parts of Italy first, and then to the Italian colonies in Africa. The parents of this future knight met in Asmara in 1949. The place used to be called “Little Rome” due to Benito Mussolini’s ambition of making it the capital of his East African empire. Three years later, the couple arrived in Melbourne’s Little Italy, namely Carlton, where they used to live along with many other immigrants.

Carlo’s connection to his maternal, Veneto side was strong as his mother arrived in Melbourne with all her siblings. In contrast, the connection to his paternal, Sicilian side was hanging on by a very slim thread. With the passing of their father, Carlo’s sister Carmela commented: “Adesso che non c’é più papà, abbiamo perso la nostra sicilianità” – “Now that Dad is gone, we have lost our Sicilianness.” This inspired Carlo and a group of friends to establish the Sicilian Association of Australia as a means to reconnect with and maintain their Sicilian roots and heritage.

The Sicilian Association of Australia, Melbourne, 2022

Connection to one's own past is important for Carlo. For this reason, the Committee of the Sicilian Association of Australia is working on a new project: producing a documentary about the last century’s Sicilian emigration to Australia so as to collect the many stories of everyday people which, in Carlo’s opinion, deserve to be heard and shared in a way that will ensure their legacy. Permanence is a concept that he feels is close to his mission, something that he discovered through architecture: when architects design, they know their projects will outlive them. Connection to others is just as important. One of Carlo’s fondest memories is of his father telling him, “we are so fortunate” – a phrase which he could not understand while growing up but of which he now realizes the deepest meaning. Having everything does not mean owning things, it means to have one another, to be connected to each other.

At the intersection between beauty and social responsibility, architecture seems the perfect fit for a man like Carlo, who conceives of beauty as the way a place makes you feel inside, rather than being about exterior appearance. Carlo credits his idea of bellezza to the family values passed onto him in conjunction with the influence of his Italian heritage. A perfect example of this is his mother’s home, which he considers to be the best accomplishment of his career, because this is where he saw her the happiest, looking after her garden and lounging in the afternoon sunlight. This “beauty of the emotions” applies to urban design as well: “put on your shoes, walk, and feel the spaces around you. This is how you know what urban design is,” Carlo tells us with a smile that really comes from within. Places, therefore, are necessarily made by the people who design them and by those who live in them. 

Once again, relationship is the key, those ties that, like roads on a map, connect our souls to that of others, shaping family and collective memories becoming one with the places hosting them. In Carlo’s view, Italy is considered “the beautiful country” primarily thanks to its inhabitants, whose generosity and hospitality make it a unique place celebrated all over the world.