Crossing cultures

Denicke-Polcher, Sandra and McAllister, Jane (2017) Crossing cultures. In: Architecture Connects ASSOCIATION OF ARCHITECTURAL EDUCATORS 4th international peer reviewed conference, 6-9 September 2017, Oxford Brookes University.


The title suggests journeys and mixing of cultures. The project brings depopulated Italian villages in close proximity with a growing need to integrate refugees arriving on its southern coast. This is an on-going research project based in the small abandoned mountain village Belmonte Calabro in Southern Italy, which started in summer 2016. The region is currently a frontier for migrants and refugees from West Africa, attempting to gain access to Europe, as well as a frontier for Italians, attempting to sustain their towns against the magnetic influence of the growing cities. The project focuses on the development of public spaces and buildings which can enrich the everyday life of the town, steered through consultations with key players which include refugees and inhabitants. These dialogues address the challenging aspects of Belmonte’s future - currently a derelict town at the fulcrum of migration from the southern hemisphere. The problematic, but potentially fortunate coincidence of these two is the need to settle and (re)build local communities, which is fuelling the subject of inter-disciplinary cultural integration in a wider sense. The project was developed after a student led summer workshop, which casts its nets wider than the academic studio: This brought various government stakeholders in holistic dialogue with Cass students and tutors, seeing this collaboration as an innovative contribution to the ontology of practice. Our working method has involved discussions with refugees, town inhabitants, school children, local and regional government, asking how this inevitable crossing of cultures - induced by global politics - can continue to create the richness of architectural setting already enjoyed as part of Italian culture and at the same time develop the skills that empower both, brief encounters and settled stays. Resulting from investigative workshops earlier in the year, the projects developed during the past academic session have been speculative. This paper highlights participatory events based on our previous speculations, organised by La Rivoluzione di Seppiei- an active ensemble interested in exploring the boundaries of practice and education. Our endeavour is to surface Belmonte’s cultural memory through participatory practices and to re-imagine the village’s identity. Our interests have therefore explored both, theories on cultural memory and on participatory systems of governance. It is worth noting that the Calabrian virtue fortunately is hospitality, and as such Crossing Cultures have been practiced in their cuisine, customs and architectures for centuries. As a result, our group of architecture tutors and students have sensed little estrangement as curiously we are but another foreigner engaged in dialogue along a border of history, culture and human finitude.

aae-2017-proceedings_full-paper-CROSSING CULTURES_7_8.pdf - Accepted Version

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