If there is a way of designing that is completely integrated in the destination territory, it can only be validated by those who have always lived that place. The community, with all its traditions, habits, memories and passions, is the only institution to be convinced so that a project is well received.
The young architecture firm LAP, specialized in participatory planning aimed at recovering areas in a state of destruction (often these are small Abruzzo villages destroyed by the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake), he grasped the point. So much so that the 'community walk' is included in its design dynamics: a collective day dedicated to the first inspection aimed at listening to local voices, on the spot.
An exercise of humility, but also of fundamental respect when working with annihilated territories and planning with the aim of restoring dignity and future to the community.
The latest work - awaiting the awarding of a national tender by the Cohesion Agency, but which will otherwise be carried out independently by LAP - is called 'La casa dei Mandarini' and always has to do with the rebirth: a private house leased in Santa Maria Imbaro (Chieti) and confiscated in 2010 from the underworld will become a safe space multifunctional in the name of freedom.
Why 'The house of mandarins'?
A mandarin that survived an advanced state of decay was the only trace of life found during the first visit to the facility. He amazed us how he resisted, after so many years and in such a state of abandonment. It was for us the inspiration that illuminated the project, the symbolic light of resilience.
Will we find the mandarin in the project again?
Yes, we also used the mandarin fruit as a stimulus design: imagining to break it down, we drew on its characteristics to combine conceptual and design interpretation.
The peel for example, a protective and porous element that allows nutrients to pass, inspired us for the design of the street facade of the building, previously completely closed and now designed as passageway entrance and contact between the external and internal world; the main façade has been kept as it was: both because it is located in the historic center and because for us to maintain unaltered aspects albeit not of excessive value but which the local inhabitants are used to is fundamental, we do not like to create detachment it is breaking into the equilibrium of the community.
What will the function of the structure be?
It will be a safe space. A place in which to find a dimension of protection, hope and the future. The sociologist Carlo Colloca, established in the sector and who worked with us on the project, calls it 'The place where antibodies are generated for the community'.
It will be a multifunctional space active 24/24. It will be a place of training, there will also be school laboratories, laboratories for citizenship, spaces for relationships, health spaces and spaces dedicated to the small economy.
We have worked with the aim of creating different levels of privacy: on the ground floor, directly accessible from the outside, there will be a bar managed by the local Pro Loco together with a cooperative specialized in food processing courses (in this case they will be grown on site).
There will also be a private area, not accessible from the outside, dedicated to training for employees of anti-violence centers and other rotating spaces dedicated to a clinic and a counter for psychological support, for example.
On the upper floor, on the other hand, which enjoys direct access from the outside and is not connected to the lower floor, several bubbles will be positioned divided by areas: a playful for children, a reading space also available for presentations and screenings and a last one dedicated to co-working or study projects.
Upstairs - mezzanine - there is a space dedicated to informal activities face to face. In the basement, on the other hand, accessible from both the outside and the inside, there will be workshops dedicated to schools: photography room, music room and recording room. Dr. Agnoli helped us in this.
Your signature is recognizable in the community listening method. What is it?
It is a walk lasting one or more days, with which we reversed the idea of the inspection . We noticed that the mere technical inspection did not offer us the right information.
We ask the Mayor and local organizations from time to time to lead us and decide what and where to go during this day. What to see, the stop time in the various places depends on them.
We then translate all this into a map affective, a sort of diachronic map in which the country deforms (expands or shrinks according to the variables that emerge) that we expose to a period in the center of the country/workplace, available to everyone.
Has it ever happened that you had creatively conceived a project that was then impossible to achieve due to the distant demands / needs of the community?
Yes. A concrete example was the case of Pizzoferrato, we had designed a beautiful structure on an architectural level but which did not align at all with what emerged.
We therefore turned to the construction of a cantilevered terrace with a view that went beyond usefulness and was the embodiment of the memories and the emotional affection that the local population had developed towards the place.
In the case of the Casa dei Mandarin, how did it go?
We have straightened out the function of the structure on the run. Initially was born as a purely health project, aimed at anti-violence activity, because that was what we wanted to give to the community. Then we realized that the request was to have a positive place, open to sociability.
However, it will remain a point of reference for anti-violence structures (which are numerous in the area): it will be the place for training and updating for those working in the sector. It was nice to see the response of anti-violence institutions and cooperatives for the future management of this property. Many expressions of interest have arrived.
The new keywords were: openness, joy, freedom. We then worked on the concept of transformation: from a dangerous place (until 2010) to a place of resource and social life.
What was the central element for the transformation?
We started from the boundary wall. During the first inspection we were amazed by the immensity of the external space, which was however limited by a wall more than 3 meters high. This barrier limited the potential of the greenery and also the wonderful view of the Abruzzo mountains: there was the need to close oneself from the outside world.
By eliminating it, we were also able to create an interesting connection with the historic center directly from the inside; in addition, we have noticed that through an ad hoc path, the garden can be connected with the back of a school that flanks the house.
Only by breaking down the wall can we create a real network of connections, that is what we want this place to become.
The landscape architect Marilena Baggio, Prof. Carlo Colloca, professor of sociological analysis and methods for territorial planning at UNICT, Dr. Antonella Agnoli cultural designer, Dr. Nicla Roberto fundraiser and CIVICA collaborated on the project. - proposed as part of the National Strategy for the enhancement of assets confiscated from the mafias envisaged by the PNRR.