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The inclusive city: interview with Massimo Colombo

Massimo Colombo, collaborator of the Fondazione Giovanni Michelucci and head of the Social Housing, Self-construction and Cohousing area of interest, deals with the issues of the variable city with particular attention to the issues of housing and social inclusion.

“The inclusive city is the place where anyone, regardless of economic condition, gender, age, race or religion, is allowed to participate productively and positively in the opportunities that the city has to offer.”

UNCHS (United Nations Centre for Human Settlements), 2000.

1 – How would you describe the current situation with regard to integration and reception policies? How has the phenomenon changed in recent years and how is it expected to evolve?

Integration, hospitality and design, are three areas that find in architecture, as demonstrated by the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016 with Alejandro Aravena, a great opportunity to demonstrate how this discipline can play a major role in the construction of a living comfort for everyone regardless of the marginal situations of departure. However, contextualizing these considerations in the current Italian political climate could be very slippery, but according to the project, the relationship between hospitality and inhabited space, we must admit that this issue has never been at the center of the intervention priorities. Beyond virtuous exceptions, we have always been very far from the housing parameters and building interventions of other northern European countries, instead making the word “adaptability” the founding principle of the housing offer of those who live in a marginal or precarious situation, whether foreign or not.

2 – Let’s talk about the Michelucci Foundation: being a point of reference in research on social habitat and the relationship between space and society issues; what is the approach to the issue? What initiatives is the Association developing?

Starting from the belief that, in Michelucci’s words, the value of space is not simply given by the distance between objects, but by the possibility of a relationship that it offers to the subjects, the Foundation places its scope of commitment, in addition to the protection and promotion of the architect’s work, in believing that the housing issue returns to be a fundamental element of the social protection system and guarantees of citizenship, regardless of the starting conditions of the subjects involved. An architecture that he would have had variable and changeable due to the variability of the needs of those who would have used it. From these considerations, the fields of research go in the direction of an inclusive city with insights related to the spaces and architectures dedicated to citizens in conditions of hardship, the spaces of health, the forms of active citizenship, the new composition of the plural city.

3 – In recent years, the phenomenon of petty crime and religious radicalisation has often been linked to low architectural quality and social exclusion. If this were true, could Architecture, understood as action and intention, become a first system of containment of the phenomenon?

Within this approach, it seems obvious to think that architecture and the construction of a “space” for man, can give an answer to those phenomena that socially appear more breaking, ut not on the level of containment but rather on that of an opening to new opportunities and new sociability. In Michelucci’s words: “I propose the City of Justice, because I want that in any point, in any space of the city, there is the sense and the certainty that everything is right.”

4 – What do you think of the re-evaluation of architectural structures located in historic centres, trying to avoid the isolation caused by an excessive distance of these communities from central places of city life?
How do you see the case of the former Saint-Vincent-De-Paul Hospital in Paris?

Projects such as the recovery of the former Saint-Vincent-de-Paul hospital in Paris, aimed at regenerating areas (perhaps also economically attractive) experimenting with cooperative and social lifestyles are welcome, such as the Julien Beller’s intervention of a temporary structure for the integration of migrants in the heart of the city of Paris, and not on its margins.

5 – In your opinion, would approaches such as those mentioned above have a place on the italian scene?

Such interventions could, with a little more courage, find ample space also in our country; just as, without always being negative, they are already taking place in some of our cities.

6 – More and more cases of strong interaction between immigration and architecture are emerging, how will all this be translated in the long run? What responsabilities will architecture have to bear in relation to the changes in the work field?

On this issue, I am pleased to see how experimentation and study, also at university level, is creating excellent ideas for work and reflection. As with other disciplines, architecture too can only draw enormous wealth from the opportunities that this historical period, despite its complexity, can offer in terms of offering increasingly inclusive cities, with a view to “making place by creating space”.

Translated into English by Marco Grattarola.