Spagnolo / Sharing Landscape

Sharing Landscape Beyond the Urban-rural Dialectic; New Productive Soils as a Form of Settlement Resilience

Author: Isabella Spagnolo, Politecnico di Milano

Supervisor: Guya Bertelli, Prof., DAStU, Politecnico di Milano; Marco Bovati, Associate Professor, DAStU, Politecnico di Milano; Andrea Oldani, Prof., DAStU, Politecnico di Milano

Research stage: Intermediate doctoral stage

Category: Extended abstract

The research intends to investigate new possible spatial relationships between ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ areas linked to innovative agricultural production due to the progressive deterioration of the relationship that traditionally linked the two entities. It is developed according to three macro-sections: the first, “SHARING as a new condition of contemporaneity,” is a theoretical framework of the city-countryside relationship. The second “SHARING as a paradigm and interpretative strategy” explains the methodological approach. The third, “SHARING LANDSCAPE as an operational tool,” sees the implementation of the design methodology outlined.

Lorenzetti, Allegoria ed effetti del Buono e del Cattivo Governo, 1338

Figure 1: Lorenzetti, Allegoria ed effetti del Buono e del Cattivo Governo, 1338

Sharing is the keyword that unites the three parts of the thesis and may represent our contemporaneity's interpretative key, characterized by an increasingly widespread fragility in which unexpected events are regular1.

In the first section, "SHARING as a new condition of contemporaneity," we intend to deepen the de-formations that characterize our contemporaneity, which originated with the advent of industrialization and led to the crisis of that dichotomous relationship that has always characterized the city and the countryside. What instead unites today the concept of urbanity and rurality is a condition of fragility. Acceleration and rupture of the co-evolution nexus are therefore two sides of the same coin; the first leads to the formation of areas that are too full, where development is concentrated, and environmental bad of anthropic origin are produced (e.g., air pollution); the second generates areas that are too empty, where territorial marginality takes shape, and ecological problems (e.g., hydrogeological instability) arise from neglect.

We can summarize and decline these thematic according to three categories: physical-spatial, socio-cultural, and environmental-energy.

  1. Physical-spatial fragility regarding the progressive growth of cities (UN’s 2007 announced that 50 percent of humanity already lived in cities and that this percentage would increase to 70 percent by 2050) and the fragmentation of cultivated land with consequent decentralization of large agricultural productions and abandonment of land no longer grown.
  2. Socio-economic fragility as regards the food production of the agricultural sector, which is increasingly unsustainable economically (most countries do not have sufficient domestic agriculture and import products: FAO asserts that it is crucial to building more resilient cities by enhancing local food production and diminishing the dependency on food imports) and socially (the lower social classes, and not only, have no access to quality food).
  3. Environmental-energy fragility linked to the unsustainability of the two previous fragilities: the growing demand for food and the transport of products, in addition to leading to a degradation of our territories linked to the waterproofing of soils, involves problems in terms of pollution (of soils and air) and logistic infrastructures (due to the current prevalence of the fourth range production).

We can then speak of sharing as a condition of contemporaneity in the sense that we are all equally exposed to the consequences of our actions: “the mirage of globalization has led us into this New Climate Regime in which the climatic consequences know no boundaries.” 2

If in the first section, sharing is assumed as an inevitable condition. In the second section of the research, “SHARING as a paradigm and interpretative strategy,” the theme of sharing is seen as a strategic response to the fragilities listed above.

The concept of sharing and that of fragility, despite belonging to different linguistic strains, have a similar meaning. Share represents a part, a portion (into which something can be divided); fragile, from frangere, from which the word fragmentum also derives, represents the ease of something to break, to fragment. This situation of shared fragility is alternately seen with a sense of mistrust in the globalized future and nostalgia for the local dimension (Retrotopia3) and, on the contrary, with the belief that new general technologies will bring positive developments in the design of our future cities that will have a highly shared and connected character on a technological level (Futurecraft4).

Therefore, the thesis proposition sees the “strength of fragility”5 in being able to share the fragmentation, the complication of our contemporaneity, to establish cooperative mechanisms6. The challenge lies in seeing the innovative forms of farms as design interpretations that give rise to both visions (Bauman’s Retrotopia and Ratti’s Futurecraft): they work at the local scale thanks to the technological evolutions that the production systems of the agricultural world are developing, making an ideal mending between 'rural' and 'urban'. So, the farm could represent the concept of sharing on a physical plane, such as spatial and functional contamination and hybridization between agricultural production and other forms of living, and on a theoretical level, such as exchanging different knowledge.

For the deepening of the first aspect, we intend to study design examples of innovative farms from which to draw the paradigms, strategies, and design actions. Being a type of production that does not have particular spatial needs, it can be declined in a very flexible way. For which concerns the second aspect, instead, we intend to study innovative farms that were born thanks to innovative policies applied to agriculture and that seek a point of contact with other forms of cultural production: Agricola Moderna in Milan (2020) and Sci-Tech Farm in Tokyo (2012) are two examples.

This intermediate section represents the link between the theoretical section and the final design development section. Here we intend to systematize a series of keywords, design references, and interpretative schemes, like an ex libris in the form of a dictionary, which will serve as a methodological guide. The three sections are not intended as consequent to each other but in a continuous exchange between them, in the process of constant modification and evolution since the design strategies will certainly derive from the references and the study of the selected project areas.

The last section, “SHARING LANDSCAPE as an operational tool,” intends to apply design to the strategies and principles. Innovative farms represent a new architectural typology to be investigated, trying to understand how we can formally and spatially decline these new production methods to establish connections at the urban level and to coexist different functions that benefit from space coexistence.

The three applicative study areas (Sagrera area in Barcelona, Var valley in Nice, and Milano Bovisa’s gasometer) are selected for their condition of promiscuity, encounter, and confrontation between widespread urban territories and once agricultural environments.

In this sense, sharing landscape becomes the verification design tool inside the urban void (to avoid further land consumption and to redevelop abandoned or degraded urban areas), a space of missing relationship, that is by its nature found between different entities.

Spacely degraded countryside from urban expansion and agricultural greenhouses in Ragusa, Sicily, 2021.

Figure 2: Spacely degraded countryside from urban expansion and agricultural greenhouses in Ragusa, Sicily, 2021.

Agricola Moderna, hydroponic farming company in Melzo (Milan), 2021.

Figure 3: Agricola Moderna, hydroponic farming company in Melzo (Milan), 2021.

  1. Alessandro, Balducci; Daniele, Chiffi; Francesco, Curci (2020): Risk and Resilience. Socio-Spatial and Environmental Challenges, Digital Edition: Springer.
  2. Bruno, Latour (2018): Down to Earth, Cambridge: Polity Press.
  3. Zygmunt, Bauman (2017): Retrotopia, Bari: Laterza.
  4. Carlo, Ratti (2014): Architettura Open Source, Torino: Einaudi Editore.
  5. Brené, Brown (2016): La forza della fragilità, Milano: Vallardi A.
  6. "Creativity could take two forms, the first of these, negentropy, through the physical trapping of energy [...] and further, through those cooperative mechanisms that are indispensable for greater complexity - and therefore evolution - which is the symbiosis". Ian L., McHarg (1969): Design with Nature, Wiley Series in Sustainable Design.