Team Representative: Andrea Alberto Dutto (IT) – architect
Contributors: Andrea Aliangena (IT), Chiara Genta (IT), Andrea Giordano (IT) - architecture students
Via Sobrero 7, 12100 Cuneo (IT)
+39 329 980 32 58 – firstname.lastname@example.org
A. Aliangena, A. Giordano, P. Ortiz Soto, C. Genta & A.A. Dutto
Click on the images to enlarge
1. How did you form the team for the competition?
All of us attended the Faculty of Architecture at the Polytechnic of Turin and we are all based in Cuneo. Actually, for two of us the Europan experience follows several previous collaborations and design competitions. From the beginning we established that all decisions had to be shared, without anyone claiming a specific competence. As the project took a more precise orientation, it was only natural for each of us to focus on a specific aspect. We are quite convinced that the project reflects this methodological approach, thanks to the discussion and negotiation of every minute detail, square centimetre per square centimetre. In this sense it can be suggested that the title of the project is a conceptual reference to Venturi’s 'difficult whole', which for us represents a way to work together: it is a ‘sociological’ motto.
2. How do you define the main issue of your project, and how did you answer on this session main topic: the place of productive activities within the city?
For us, the concept of ‘production’ is crucial. Indeed, to be honest, we do not think that a serious project can be undertaken without thinking about how it might reflect on the economic structure of its site. Let’s consider Cuneo, for instance; for those who know this city, it is evident that it is a success story, in terms of urban identity, expressing its commercial, mercantile roots, namely the backbone of the historical centre, characterized by a repetition of shops aligned along a continuous portico. In addition, linear structures and other elements like the covered markets and commercial squares, which in many ways express the social economic identity of the location, bear witness to the city’s cultural dignity.
Hence, in order to clarify what we mean by production, we might say that, for us, it represented a way to choose a precise moment in the history of the city, in which it seems that the form of architecture adheres to a specific phenomenology. Thinking about production has helped us choosing the project’s starting point: a basic raw material that is essential to achieve an effective conception for the site.
3. How did this issue and the questions raised by the site mutation meet?
For those who know the city of Cuneo and its historical evolution, the site chosen by Europan cannot leave one indifferent. First of all, it is located along the main urban axis that gives the different sectors of urban development a unique figure from North to South, a so to speak, 'urban skewer'.
Secondly, the site is located close to an important infrastructural node, which crosses a secondary axis perpendicular to the main one, and which connects the two respectively Eastern and Western river banks of the plateau. This ambiguous infrastructural node is devoid of organization and is characterized by a great chaos of fragments scattered without any continuity: barracks, narrow green areas, public spaces that lack the qualities of public spaces ... In this disorder, the project proposes a series of possible solutions.
For example, it offers to confer a respectable urban appearance to the part of the site that overlooks the main axis, with a large portico that reminds us of those in Cuneo and functions as an entrance to the area and as the foyer for a cultural centre hosting an auditorium with a capacity adapted to the city’s size. At the same time, we think that the site has all the potential to improve the image of the neighbourhoods. Recently built in the background of the site, which is still looking for an identity that also involves innovative job possibilities for the area (including workshops), a market area and buildings for displaying local products and spaces for the latest generation of digital production, are still insufficiently present.
In a way, Cuneo appears as a city full of activities and high-quality products that are crucial agents in order to revive its image. In this sense, we think that leisure spaces, green areas, sports facilities are not lacking at the moment and it is maybe not enough to limit our commitment to these types of activities. What is lacking is the confidence in the expressive abilities of its citizens, therefore enhancing this expressive capacity might grant these places a more authentic image. We are interested in this kind of authenticity and we are confident in Cuneo’s outstanding artisans whose products are internationally recognized. Our project is dedicated first and foremost, to them.
4. Have you treated this issue previously? What were the reference projects that inspired yours?
We use references to communicate with each other, not so much as examples to be copied or to inspire. We are architects and the references we take from the history of architecture and places work a little like a trowel or a hammer for a mason, or a calculator for an engineer: to discuss design you need to know projects that other architects have done before, the way in which they have faced and sometimes solved problems. In the same way, we communicate with the sites through projects and maps that, over time, have affected them. Considering Cuneo, we already had the opportunity to think about the development of the old city, using a series of historical maps as the basis of our work, that have also become important for this current project.
The first map is that of the fortified city, made up of islands, including the military barracks that also mark the territory of the plateau in a rhizomatic way.
The second map is that of the post-Napoleonic city without walls, that highlights the central axis that develops southwards from the historical city, in the direction of Borgo San Dalmazzo. In addition to these maps we have recovered other maps or images of projects even further away in time and space, like the one proposed by Heinrich Tessenow for a great portico in a forest that is particularly relevant because of the way in which it builds an ambiguity between a large urban structure and a natural area, keeping this dichotomy magically suspended.
Another important reference was the work of Bob Venturi and Denise Scott Brown in Las Vegas, in the 1970s, which helped us finding a useful way to carry out the analysis of the main axis of Cuneo. Nevertheless, we would like to clearly state that we have no specific sympathy for these architects; we simply use what they did as useful material and we are not interested in defending any aspect of their work that does not fit the project’s direction.
5. Urban-architectural projects like the ones in Europan can only be implemented together with the actors through a negotiated process and in time. How did you consider this issue in your project?
If someone wanted to attack our project, they might say that it is utopian or visionary. Utopia is, in fact, the exact opposite of what we wanted to propose: our project is practical and concrete, and we are not interested in being visionaries. The fact that it seemed necessary for us to propose new buildings in line with our attitude, because the site as it looks at the moment, is not self-sufficient, neither in terms of buildings, nor in terms of green areas.
The area is there, it is strategic for many reasons, but it is empty of resources and it is necessary to have the courage to rethink it according to what has happened to its surroundings in the meantime. Whole neighbourhoods have been built, the main axis has become increasingly filled with infrastructures, soon a large urban park will be built, ... And to all of this we must add that long before we intervened, many inhabitants hoped that this area could represent an opportunity for them to improve the quality of their everyday life, perhaps finally offering them an image that might be similar to the one achieved by the historical centre that represents nowadays the city's boutique.
Therefore, we took into account projections and wishes expressed by social actors on the site: different and sometimes conflicting intentions that do not necessarily have to be consolidated. In this sense our choice has been to work with separate elements in relation to the feasibility of the project. We do not think, in fact, that it is possible (or even desirable) that only one investor takes responsibility for the entire operation. We think instead that the success of the project depends on its ability to reflect the way in which the city has been built over time, through the juxtaposition of intentions, the outcome of the constant negotiation between social actors and investors. It is a project that requires patience, and which cannot be resolved with a single "gesture" or an individual will to intervene. The site is an experiment in the construction of the city, intended as an image of a multiplicity of actors, authors and practices.
6. Is it the first time you have been awarded a prize at Europan? How could this help you in your professional career?
Yes, it is the first award we have received from Europan, also because it is the first time we have all participated together. However, it was more important to us to understand that a shared working method based on reasoning (and not on suggestions, ingenious ideas, or propositions of angels) is possible.