Design, in addition to improving the quality of urban space, becomes a complex action, which stimulates the reuse and re-functionalization of public areas. Simultaneously it acts as a tool to strengthen bonds within the community which will inhabit and use those spaces.
The architectural project is entrusted with the task of giving shape to a place that hosts and promotes this process, enhancing the features of the context. The design choices are initially oriented around two fundamental aspects: to make the area accessible, bridging the initial distance and replacing it with an open and inclusive place of relationships; to leave free space for collective uses and experiments, encouraging appropriation by the inhabitants, while suggesting new visions for the neighbourhood. The process aims to create a complete but unfinished space, where indeterminacy is its strongest point.
The new square, measuring 8,600 square metres, is divided into three levels, stitching together the city and “the pit”.
At the same level of the urban circulation and facing the park, “the high square” hosts “the ring”, a regular iron structure designed for the meeting of several generations. Here, there is space for games and sports, moments of leisure and moments of rest. The floor design, in different colours and materials, organises activities and furnishing elements.
The intermediate level mainly serves the function of connection: stairs, steps and slides delineate on two sides a system of free paths accessible to all, leading to the lower part of the area.
The “lower square” is a free area of 2,400 square metres, imagined to host events and collective activities, facilitated by an industrial concrete floor which, divided into 2 x 2 m modules, is open to possible future overlays. At the centre, a sinuous ribbon-shaped seat marks the boundary of a 300 square metre green area: “the oasis”.
Beyond the square, the architectural intervention extends to Parco Europa, a 35,000 square metre green area where an underused space becomes an open air classroom and a collective nursery. By redefining and completing the cycle and pedestrian paths that cross the park, the project transforms the public spaces of the neighbourhood into a system.
The construction site, no longer an exclusive place for workers, becomes a moment of collective creation, an “open” place in which accessibility, visibility and communication involve the inhabitants in the transformation and accompany the progressive appropriation by the community.
The programme along the works is the real innovation of Prossima Apertura. The integrated activities are parallel and complementary actions to the development of the construction site: events in the vicinity, visits to the area under construction, events and workshops in the progressively completed areas. They are all fundamental elements of this urban transformation process.
By including integrated activities in the safety plan of the construction site, Prossima Apertura affirms that the involvement of inhabitants is essential to the construction of a place for the community and attests that urban safety can be promoted through initiatives that do not involve the control and inhibition of uses, but rather becomes maximised when a place is open and inhabited.
While gradually welcoming the inhabitants, the construction site communicates with the neighbourhood through the creative use of temporary structures commonly used in construction work: a banner, installed at the edge of the site, acts as a landmark and announces the start of the activities; the external fence narrates the progress of the work and the collective events that mark its course; a scaffolding staircase becomes temporary access to the square for the workshops.
Starting from the construction of iconic and recognisable elements, the construction site enters into a relationship with the inhabitants long before it is completed, presenting itself to the neighbourhood with a precise identity; at the same time, the opening of dedicated social pages increase the dissemination of the project in the area, opening up new forms of direct dialogue between designers and citizens.
Together with the construction site, the community building process is initiated, designed and coordinated by an interdisciplinary working group, with the aim of investigating the local culture, strengthening the community and reconciling it to the public spaces under construction.
Focus groups, public presentations, site visits and coordination round tables gather around the area an active and informed community in a constant dialogue.
At the same time, Prossima Apertura acts as a facilitator between the parties involved, opening up new ways of dialogue between citizens, local associations and public administration. The worksite and the activities promote subsidiarity between the parties, with the aim of building a continuous and direct dialogue that can have positive effects on the city and its citizens.
The planned activities involve both the community, creating new opportunities for meeting and training, and the space, building furniture and light devices that suggest possible uses of the place.
Participation is not understood as the action of questioning the actors of the territory about the purposes, forms and uses considered suitable for the spaces in question, but as a model of intervention that stimulates new ways of inhabiting collective spaces. These ways can sometimes be encouraged: the workshops, especially the hands-on workshops, involve the inhabitants by stimulating the emergence of new links and uses of collective spaces.
Paint ‘n’ Play
Paint ‘n’ Play is the first physical interaction between the inhabitants and the space, through the realization of a mural painting. Rub Kandy involves the workshop participants in the creation of a public artwork for the building’s ground floor, a privileged place for observing the construction site that has just begun.
A series of coloured geometries intersect with the signs already present on the walls and are recomposed into figures through the technique of anamorphosis. The work invites people to walk along the ground floor and observe the site from different points of view.
The psycho-social research conducted by NOEO goes hand in hand with Alessandro Imbriaco’s photographic research, experimenting with new ways of connecting people and places.
The social function of the square is anticipated by the group portraits taken by the photographer, who brings together in his shots people encountered casually in the neighbourhood. The return of the printed image becomes an opportunity to interview the inhabitants and investigate the local culture.
To conclude, the life-size portraits are hung on the walls of the building in a large temporary exhibition in which the residents, neighbours but often perfect strangers, recognise each other and meet.
The construction workshops investigate different types of collective spaces and functions, with the aim of stimulating the imagination and the free use by the inhabitants. The hands-on laboratory happens simultaneously to the construction site, creating synergies and collaborations.
In summer, a green oasis is created within the first part of the square, that has been completed and opened to the public. It consists of a system of wooden walkways inviting people to enter the large green space to stop, enjoy the coolness provided by the vegetation and irrigation, and take care of this new place.
The theme of conviviality and food guided the second self-construction workshop, which produced a large circular table that has become a meeting place for the neighbourhood’s inhabitants. The element, 12 metres in diameter, is opened to connect the paths in the green area with the access ramps.
Inside the square, a unitary system begins to take shape, in which permanent and temporary elements work together to build an open and changing imaginary.
The table, inaugurated with a large neighbourhood picnic, will be used by a km0 market to collaborate in the promotion of short supply chains and neighbourhood services, while it is already being used for meetings, presentations and daily events.
The last workshop takes place in Parco Europa: after a year of pandemic, spring brings us outdoors. Several punctual interventions take place along the newly completed paths, favouring existing uses and inaugurating new ones.
Through a work designed by Rub Kandy, a large paved area is transformed into a playground, then completed with a basketball hoop. A wooden structure connects two paths, becoming a bridge, a playground, a seat, a deckchair and a small stage.
The bowls court, created in an unused area of the park by a group of local pensioners with the help of the contractor, is shaded by two sunshade structures, complete with seats and pots for growing climbing plants.