Dall'Orto / Rural Habitat at 0° Latitude

Rural Habitat at 0° Latitude The Architectural Project as a Tool for a Critical Investigation on Living

Author: Valentina Dall'Orto, Politecnico di Milano

Supervisor: Andrea Gritti, Professor Dr., Associated Professor DAStU, Politecnico di Milano; Antonio di Campli, Politecnico di Torino; Franco Tagliabue, Politecnico di Milano

Research stage: initial doctoral stage

Category: Extended abstract

The research deals with the themes of the project of rural dwelling, through an analysis of the architecture of the house in its different declinations. The house has been selected as a material expression of changes of inhabiting practices occurring in the Global South.

The complex and multifaceted scenario presented by the contemporary countryside is an object of debate in different fields of knowledge. A multiplicity of conceptual categorization and the blurred nature of rural subjects invite researchers to study it through unexplored optics.1

In this framework, architecture is envisioned as an important agent of transformation in re-shaping the future of the rural2.

In the Latin American context, non-urban territories represent a conflictive environment, far from the pastoral image dominated by an untouched nature. Currently are crossed by processes dictated by a forced adaptation to global market logics, by migrations and consequent cultural hybridizations, which have also led to a profound change in dwelling spatial practices. Such violent events shape a different function for the architectural device for living. The house no longer represents the specific constitutive matrix of the place3, but often appears completely unrelated to the context.

This invite researchers to questions, how as architects, can we conceive a critical representation of contemporary rurality? And consequently, which architectural research instruments allow an effective reading of the complex dynamics that are shaping these territories through the analysis of the house?

From a bibliographical analysis, it immediately appears clear the difficulty to ascribe what is not urban through predetermined categories. Some authors identify rurality as a spatial condition while others deny its existence, stating that there is no longer any outside to urban world4.

Figure 1

Regarding the design practices, some relevant exercises have been identified at different latitudes for their capability to reinterpret this blurred reality. Several projects deal with the frontline of the urbanization process, addressing its consequences by maximizing the flexibility of the building, to respond to the changing necessities of the users. Some experiences along these lines are the 20’k-Home-Programe by Rural Studio or the prototypes building-cores by RUF for the Chinese village of Shichuang5. Simultaneously, the European experimentation of Gion Caminada reflects a continuous dialogue with tradition speculating on the concept of “cosmopolitanism”, differing from "globalism", interpreting the former as the act of focusing on a specific place without losing the overall vision [ 1 ].

The proposed research will be developed in a territory characterized by a mainly mountainous orography and an unstable climate, a frontier land that presents several environmental and socio-economic critical issues6. The Andean region of Loja, in the South of Ecuador, is crossed by phenomena such as intensive agriculture and miner exploitation, while the marked inequalities induce the generation of original practices in the production of space. The emergence of new forms of subsistence impacts on the settled dwelling transforming into an orbital one, as often the domicile changes depending on the economic activity carried out during the year. In this framework, the house becomes an 'infrastructure' to support these mobile economies, it is marked by a non-domestic character as temporarily inhabited by different subjects of the extended family.

The province has a varied ethnic component, reflected in a diverse architectural production; in part due to the presence of the border with Peru, which causes a constant flow of people, goods, but also international images and models.

Additionally, the rural area includes indigenous territories inhabited by Saraguros people and recognized by the 2008 Constitution7.

Through the investigation on the case study, it’s arguable to examine worldwide phenomena such as the interweaving between transnational economies and the circulation of images and models. The results of the research will therefore be referred to a local condition, but extrapolated to different latitudes once despoiled of the proper specificity of the place.

The PhD exploration is focused on the analysis of the house in its different manifestations, both traditional and hybrid. From this perspective, traditional and contemporary architectural productions seem to be placed in an antithetical relationship, despite the difficulties in situating them in a specific temporal or formal horizon.

The first, a complex cultural product congruent with the image of its creator, expresses a coherence between the form, its constitutive parts and the function associated with space. It demonstrates an organic unity with the surrounding landscape8. Its spatial conformation is strongly marked by the presence of productive activities associated with life ones. The spatial requirements of domestic-agricultural practices, such as drying and storing the crop, and the contextual conditions, are decisive for the daily actions of the dwellers. The essentiality of the interior allows that activities such as eating and sleeping could occur indistinctly in the different rooms. Although there is no univocal typological classification, these buildings are characterized by a simple plan, in the form of I, L, [ or H and a combination of closed volumes and portals in façade. The portal is a particularly relevant architectural element since it relates the introverted body with the exterior. In addition, the corridor is the only component of the house that seems to survive to the inexorable process of homologation of domestic architecture. It is also used to resolve the relationship with the slope, especially in the case of isolated houss9. [ 2 ]

Contemporary housing appears as a result of the flaking of places, a process of radical hybridization of cultural practices that manifests its uncertainty through imported architectural forms in perpetual transition. The transformation leads to a progressive rejection of the type, in favor of the homologation of domestic spaces to different paradigms, characterized, especially in the so-called remittance houses, by singular decorative elements.

Figure 2

Governmental social housing programs for rural areas contribute to the circulation of models totally unrelated to the context, as they are a reproduction of the ones offered for urban centers, thus establishing a notion of domesticity that doesn’t provide any link with the local conditions10. [ 3 ]

An important variable identified relates to the transience of the spatial characters; evidenced by the difficulties in placing the elements conforming the house in a predefined temporal or formal horizon. From a preliminary survey, both the traditional and the contemporary dwellings appear as an interesting collage of elements produced in different socio-historical contexts, whose interaction and evolution are part of this study.

The reflection on the instruments of the project is focused on establishing an appropriate methodological path for the reading of the intrinsic conditions of contemporary rurality through its spatiality. This process will facilitate to obtain a representative tool-kit useful for the purposes of the architectural design.

The relevance of this investigation lies on the necessity to set up the instrumental basis for a decolonial architectural discourse. As Ananya Roy (2009) argued, the dominant theories on the design and governance of cities and territories are rooted in the Euro-American experience and are therefore unable to account for the multiple forms of space production in the southern hemisphere.11 Regarding the case study, coloniality also emerges from observations of the construction of the countryside from urban points of view, values and desires that flatten the complexity of the rural in simplified images. The expected outcomes concern the design of a representation code that allows, through the analysis of domestic space and its components, to read the intrinsic conditions of rurality in the Global South.

Figure 3

  1. Regarding the concept of “blurred countryside”, Antonio di Campli defines it as a "mosaic of situations in which collisions and conflicts occur, but also alliances between strategies of transformation, visions and imaginaries". Di Campli A., Coccia L. (2019), RuralEstudio, Quodilibet.
  2. Roskam Cole. 2016. Inventing the Rural, in Architectural Design – Designing the rural N.242, edited by Bolchover, Lin, Lange. Jhon Wiley and Sons.
  3. Sereni E. (1961), Preface of “Storia del paesaggio agrario italiano”, Laterza, Roma
  4. Neil Brenner in Theses on Urbanization, referring to the significance and to the planetary scale of urban condition stresses its ubiquity, denying the existence of the rural as a spatial category. On the other hand, some authors question this absolute position, as Rem Koolhaas expresses in Countryside: A report. Here, through a recognition of experiences and projects in the global rural, is highlighted the necessity to rediscover countryside as a place to resettle, experimenting new ways of development. Brenner N. (2013), Theses on Urbanization, Public culture, Duke University Press. AMO, Koolhaas R. (2020), Countryside, a report: Countryside in your pocket, Taschen
  5. The impact of the design-and-build program proposed by Rural Studio is particularly relevant in re-shaping the rural communities of the Black Belt in West Alabama. Rural Studio researches for a cost-effective architectural design that transcends its common existence as a commodity for the rich and becomes a routine enrichment of the built environment. Hensel M.U. (2015), Rural Studio: Incarnations of a Design-and-Build Programme, article in Architectural Design. The operation of Rural Urban Framework constitutes an interesting exploration envisioning the future of housing in rural villages of China, exposed to an accelerated process of urbanization. The project addresses the consequences of this phenomena through the proposal of a three storey core that could maximize the flexibility in the building construction, providing also a rooftop garden or a water storage reservoir. Bolchover J., Lin J., Lange C. (2016) Designing the Rural: A Global Countryside in Flux, John Wiley & Sons;
  6. Alvarado M. (2018), Territorialidades campesinas en Loja, Ecuador: análisis de sus dinámicas organizativas a partir de tres casos de estudio. EUTOPÍA. Revista de Desarrollo Económico Territorial N.° 13, junio de 2018, pp. 89-113 ISSN 1390 5708/e-ISSN 26028239.
  7. Constitución de la República del Ecuador: https://www.oas.org/juridico/pdfs/mesicic4_ecu_const.pdf
  8. Sanchez C, Jimenez E. (2010), La vivienda rural: su complejidad y estudio desde diversas disciplinas, Revista Luna azul n. 30 pp 174-196;
  9. Hermida M. (2015) Valores formales de la vivienda tradicional, la provincia del Azuay en Ecuador como caso de estudio, Arquitecturas del Sur XXXII, Num. 46
  10. The Ministero de Desarrollo Urbano y Vivienda (MIDUVI) is responsible for the development of social housing programmes in urban and rural areas. The architectural proposal of the "casa para todos" program for rural areas can be found at the following link: https://www.habitatyvivienda.gob.ec/programa-de-vivienda-rural/
  11. Politécnico di Torino – Decolonial Urbanism, course by Antonio di Campli and Camillo Boano