A square is a void that awaits the unexpected, explains Collettivo Orizzontale: a place that challenges the world of design because it is designed without a specific function, an open system and therefore current

Anyone who knows the city of Lucca knows it well: the square represents the possible, because it is the space of the unexpected. Let's take this city, in the area inside the walls, because it is an irregular and surprising succession of squares that hold the passer-by due to a new perspective.

As if the eye were caught off guard when seeing that crooked, slanted, oblique opening... an effect similar to when in Venice, now lost among the alleys, one unexpectedly finds oneself in a field or - worse - in a small opening on a channel. The effect is similar in these two magical cities that harness wandering in the imagination.

But the focus is precisely on the square, an open space, an urban void interspersed with buildings more or less crowded together.

What are they and what meaning do they have in today's society? We talked about it with the architects of horizontal collective (Jacopo Ammendola, Juan López Cano, Giuseppe Grant, Margherita Manfra, Nasrin Mohiti Asli, Roberto Pantaleoni, Stefano Ragazzo), which has never stopped working on the < strong>public space.

Their work continues along various projects but an exhibition, first set up in Florence and then in Lugo, showcased their idea of a square and the results of their analyses, to then translate everything into book form ( in their editorial container called VUOTO, created in collaboration with the Milanese visual design and communication studio Atto).

How do you study a square?

horizontal collective: «We study by wasting time. Being in the square, on the bench to let the minutes pass. Walking, playing with children, talking to people. But also by creating initiatives that ensure some presence in that space. We need to experience public space in an unconventional way because life in the square is changeable."

An interesting premise of your work concerns the definition of the square.

horizontal collective: «We want to go beyond the traditional definition, overcome the models that have defined it in the past, from metaphysical and monumental squares, to village ones, to more political ones... Around the idea of the square there are nostalgias of various kinds that need to be abandoned.

What interests us is a relationship between use and space as opposed to that of monumental squares and those designed but not lived in. For this reason we have also featured many temporary realities in the exhibition, spaces that are used for a certain time and then dismantled and perhaps reorganized with other objectives later, or squares born from the reuse of spaces without specific connotations that find a new use thanks to their reorganization" .

For example?

horizontal collective: «In Lima, Peru, the workRUS. Autoparque de diversionsis a project by the Basurama collective aimed at recovering the space beneath and surrounding the viaduct of the elevated train that crosses the Surquillo district, begun in the 1960s but never finished.

The project talks about a reactivation of this area through reflections on public space and private and public transport, which has materialized in artistic actions and citizen participation that have transformed the present infrastructures into an almost Luna Park."

And then there is the question of the void, which perhaps is the basis of all reasoning: the square as an empty space in the city.

horizontal collective: «Emptying is not just removing, it is also making available, making a space available. For example, let's think about a road: it is full of cars, bar terraces, road signs and prohibitions, all things that prevent or certainly limit its use. If, however, we think of the square and public places as possible territories of continuous habitability, they must be, precisely, empty. And therefore not necessarily linked to a design, on the contrary...".

Indeed, you chose as the first example to talk about squares in your book (and therefore also in the exhibition) a very particular case, from an era slightly before the 21st century, on which you focused. But it's not just a question of age. The issue concerns precisely the absence of the project. Why?

horizontal collective: «We chose to start with Place Léon Aucoc in Bordeaux because it was the object of a courageous act. The local administration had asked the Parisian studio Lacaton and Vassal (of architects Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal) to redevelop the square.

After a careful study of the place and its use, the two architects proposed to do nothing except clean the square and carry out routine maintenance work for the next ten years.

Here, the total subtraction of the project is a revolutionary gesture. And we chose it precisely because our focus is on the non-preponderance of the project on the use of space. That is, not having a program, but taking to the field, not designing or dressing, but using."

What is the current use of the square? And what definition would you give of this public space?

horizontal collective: «It is impossible to define the square today because it includes a plurality of things, uses, ways... But what we want to bring outis a void that awaits the unexpected. A place that challenges the world of design because it is designed without a specific function. The square is an open system and for this reason it remains a current device."

What then is the role of public administrations?

horizontal collective: «Often, not always, it is the missing part of this discussion, although public administration is the key to transformation. However, highlighting squares as key elements of public space means drawing attention to the needs of the community and how the contemporary city wants to be transformed."

You talked about emptiness and in fact the pandemic has allowed us to experience the existence of empty squares... has this experience inspired you?

horizontal collective: «Those empty squares represented a deprivation: they were places that could have been good for us because they were outdoors, but instead they were forbidden. That is, it was forbidden to use them and they were part of the lack of sociality that we forcibly experienced in that period. However, that void made manifest the latent possibility of a non-asphyxiating use of the square. The void showed the possibility of making space for relationships."

The square used as a public space also implies reflecting on the issue of security, which is increasingly under the spotlight today.

horizontal collective: «Safety is certainly an issue. We think that space is safer the more inhabited it is. Then we certainly need to deal with different human approaches and situations to deal with. But living together creates a democratic environment."

The unexpected guaranteed by empty space is an opening onto the future. What characteristics does 'your' square of the future have?

horizontal collective: «It's impossible to say, precisely because the square is the space of the unexpected. But thinking about a wish, we hope there will be more, for reuse or for new creation. We hope that there is more space for human relationships, for discussion and even for conflict. In our book there is a long list of words that tries to define the square. Well, the future could be characterized by new words to add to the list."