Report from Calabria
I first visited Belmonte in 2016 with Studio 3, where we spent a week developing small interventions in the old town; ending in an event with children from the local school. On returning, the presence of the Casa in the town as a new cultural institution is becoming a catalyst for activity; the town feels more lively.
The ‘Casa’ is a studio and a social place - a building that was once a nunnery, gifted to La Rivoluzione delle Seppie; a collaborative multi-disciplinary organisation who are active in running community projects in this area, as well as putting Belmonte on the map through international cultural events. They have largely finished renovating the first floor. This space changes continually throughout the day: there are studio spaces, but we also cook and eat together here, have meetings with local residents, watch films, as well as using the roof terrace for exercise classes and watching the sea. In this way, it feels like a warmer and more homely space than the campus in London. For the first time, 7 students from London met are on a 2 month residency here, as well as residents from other backgrounds visiting for shorter periods. This coincides with the ‘School of Commons’, a workshop with students from Polytecnico di Milano. We are a diverse range of people living together as friends - although geographically we are quite isolated, it seems less isolating than life in London, where it is perhaps common to not know your neighbours well. Although this can be intense and tiring, the quietness of the town and all its hidden spaces make time alone possible and enjoyable. We are all learning a lot from each other, and no doubt will keep in touch.
A group of seven undergraduate and postgraduate architecture students is currently living in the small village Belmonte Calabro in the South of Italy as part of a study-abroad programme, called “Studio South”. Paired with the London-based activities of Studio 3, this student-in-residence mode of study is a 9-week long field study experience funded by the Turing Scheme, offering the students to be embedded in the local community as part of their architecture studies while developing their design projects for the village. Collaborating with the local non-profit organisation, Le Seppie, the programme represents a new form of university teaching, enabling students to apply their learning on world issues through immersive practices and building relationships which benefit society and students’ transition into their professional lives.
Being in this location has helped to develop lines of research in unexpected ways. I do not think I would have had time or head space for this whilst working full time and studying in London. Not only through the inspiring conversations with other Casa residents and local people, it is helping to develop skills that are perhaps more difficult to learn in School in London. By being able to fully immerse ourselves into the location, local economy and community, we improve our communication and listening skills, become more sensitive and curious about small changes, and develop better skills in understanding what is important to different people. In an area with such rich traditions and culture, we can gain a better understanding of the relationships involved with the land, production, and community; learning to reflect critically on the value of past ways of life, and considering what is helpful to build upon in the future - both in rural and urban areas. Hopefully our projects are also valuable to the local residents, in one way or another.
Switching from working as a furniture maker in London, to doing writing and research projects full-time here has been a bit difficult, but we hope to start some more practical tasks in the next week with the School of Commons. We have also been privileged to be involved with some of the ongoing workshops with the local community, such as HappyLab, a ceramics workshop with children originating from Lebanon. Le Seppie are continually arranging more visits and putting us in touch with local contacts. It is hard to tell exactly how the Casa and the residents are viewed in the local community - but it seems there are many more connections and stronger relationships from when I was last here. Everyone greets one another on the street, and we often join local people for a chat or for games in either of the two bars. People here are welcoming and generous, in a way that would not always be so common in London.
21 November 2022
All images: Giulia Rosco
Background and Pedagogy
Studio South has been developed as a new pedagogical model as part of Crossing Cultures, a university-based research initiative of AAD. Since 2016, a “fluid” timetable which consists of overlapping events and recurrent activities beyond the boundaries of the academic calendar has involved different student cohorts to apply peer-learning, teamwork, experimentation, and agency in Belmonte. As a result of the long-term engagement in the village, the students contribute to a growing body of work together with Le Seppie, building a new vision for the village.
The project bridges the gap between academic education and real-life issues. It provides an inclusive learning environment, facilitating intercultural relationships and group learning while equipping students with essential skills for a globally connected world beyond the subject of architecture.
As this region in Calabria suffers from depopulation, the student residency is also an opportunity for students to become agents of change by helping to rebuild the local community. Students add to social capital, population, and economic growth by becoming temporarily part of the village.