Allegrini 2018

Casamonti: rearrange the spaces, from the house to the restaurant to the cellar

At WineNews the vision of one of the most important architects of the Belpaese and signature of the winery of Marchesi Antinori in Chianti Classico
Marco Casamonti, in the photo by Alexander Dobrovodsky

The Covid-19 pandemic forced Italians to stay at home for weeks, living in their houses, and therefore their own spaces, in a completely new way. Cohabitation and smart working have laid bare all the limits of decades in which the focus has been on the growth of cities and increasingly smaller spaces, to the detriment of suburbs, villages, and countryside. A dynamic that we can also set in the world of catering: as the story of many chefs and entrepreneurs in the sector shows, adapting to the new rules will mean relating in a new and different way to space and its limits, to ensure social distance and healthy environments. From an architectural and urbanistic point of view, all this, what does it involve, and how does the world of architecture face the medium and long term changes we are facing? At WineNews we talked about it with Marco Casamonti, one of the most important architects of the Belpaese, and one of the most futuristic wineries of Marchesi Antinori in Chianti Classico.
A boundless topic, to be treated with care and contextualized with precision, starting from the beginning, that is, the pandemic. “What we are facing is the global spread of an insidious virus; however, this is, and it is good to stress this, of a far from the unexpected event as many had anticipated after the experience of other epidemics, such as swine flu or Sars, which had involved the Asian continent in particular. It’s not the first one - says the architect - and unfortunately it won’t be the last, so it’s a duty to be prepared, even rethinking the spaces where we live: those of home, office, work, health, but also catering and entertainment. In what way? With other architects - including Ramon Prat from Barcelona and Massimiliano Fuksas from Rome - we used the time saved from the business trips of these two months to rethink the places where we live and propose concrete working hypotheses, mainly addressed to institutions, starting from some ideas that emerged both in professional activity and in research”.
The starting point is the center of everyone’s life, the “houses where we live are the beginning of a process of rethinking our way of living that has probably lost in time the meaning, for the domestic space, of shelter, of protected place, while the house must continue to represent the place of first aid. It is quite evident that there is a problem of space connected to the dimensional contraction that has caused the expulsion of many daily activities from the domestic place. Conversely, facing the Covid-19 emergency, people were asked not to go to the Emergency Room, to stay at home, unfortunately at the mercy of events and often without assistance. If our homes had been connected with local medicine through remote assistance services with technologies already available today, it would have been possible to support many families and patients who felt completely abandoned, make a diagnosis or talk to their doctor or hospital without leaving home to protect even the doctors who have lost their lives to help the many infected people at home. But home - continues Casamonti - in addition to the theme of technological infrastructure, other critical issues are common to many other types: we have to think that our life is a continuous movement between inside and outside, so every living place needs a space with a filter function. In all the buildings we will have to divide a “dirty zone” from a “clean zone”: entering, we will have to find an entrance where we can take off our coat and shoes, wash our hands, and from there enter the “clean zone”. In the house, it is easy to do, just a few square meters, and it is possible to do it in an office and probably also in a restaurant or a place of leisure”.
The main obstacle is the logic of profit, since “to cut any surface considered accessory the market offers apartments with the entrance directly on the kitchen-living room, which is unhygienic regardless of the Covid-19. It should be remembered that the spending power of the average Italian family is roughly the same, and in the face of this capacity for indebtedness, the market offers smaller apartments: since the cost cannot increase beyond a certain limit, space and services are reduced. And this also applies to offices and many other workplaces. There are municipalities, such as Milan and Genoa, which allow the construction of houses of 28 square meters, where you can only sleep or just a little more: this leads to the expulsion of the inhabitants from their home space to carry out any other activity. On the contrary, there are Municipalities, such as Naples (45 square meters) and Florence (50 square meters) that have raised this threshold, and, contrary to what one might believe, this strategy helps to calm the market because that minimum cannot be higher as a cost than the average spending possibility. Establishing correct dimensions for living to protect people inside the house, also allowing them to study and work, is, as everyone understands in this phase of forced cohabitation, a necessity that can no longer be postponed. All this - adds the architect - also applies to many other work activities including catering: in a room of defined dimensions, if there are no shared rules, each operator will tend, to increase profit, to the maximum exploitation of space and seating. Probably it will be necessary to orientate, for any building, not to the maximum use of available space, but the possibility of the best exploitation of space concerning the quality of life and comfort of people”.
Once the question of surface rents has been overcome, the attention of operators must shift to the concept of health, i.e. the “possibility of sanitizing living space”. We have today, and it is good to remember it, all the technologies to sanitize environments, just apply them. Ultraviolet lamps that kill bacteria and sanitize environments have been used in operating rooms for years. Perhaps, with little expense, it could turn out to be the right solution for the sanitization of the house, office, and restaurant: once closed, the lamps are turned on and the next morning the environment is sanitized, it is not difficult, nor expensive”.
Another great reflection concerns air conditioning systems and more generally air conditioning systems. “If we continue to heat and cool the rooms by recycling indoor air with centralized systems - points out Casamonti - we are unintentionally contributing to the circulation of any viruses or infectious agents. Why don’t we choose, in hospitals as well as in offices, and more generally in all enclosed spaces where there are collective activities, radiant systems, which do not move the air, while for natural air changes we do not rely as much as possible on old windows? All this is largely feasible, but if there are no rules to impose it no one will do it”.
COVID, also in this sense, confronted us with an obvious reality: “we must be concerned about people's health and the environment. If we continue to destroy the landscape, we will not be surprised by climate change, and yet, if it is established that the use of fossil fuels is responsible for global warming, there will come a time when nature will be counting in terms of melting ice and therefore rising sea levels, but by the time we see the impending disaster, it may be too late. Many distracted citizens generally do not show a long-term vision, a vision that at least politicians and institutions, unfortunately, focused on short-term results, should at least show the end of the next elections. If we can think about what the world will be like half a century from now, we will immediately understand that we should stop using fossil fuels indiscriminately. We have reached a condition so crazy that nature has rebelled, and will do so more and more frequently because if fifty years ago there were two billion of us, today eight billion people live on the planet, and if we continue to grow at this rate pandemics, pollution, the problem of food, will become increasingly pressing dynamics.
Someone has to take care of it, remembers Marco Casamonti, “starting with us architects. I am not saying that we must stop building, but we must feel very strongly the responsibility that this entails in terms of land use. With the Antinori winery in Chianti Classico, we have built over 50,000 square meters of building, recreating the same amount of vineyards on the roofs. The cellars, in this sense, are a virtuous example of the use of resources because historically they obtained the ripening temperatures of the wine easily through the exploitation of the temperature of the earth, of the subsoil. Wine and its consumption also bring to our attention two fundamental terms for contemporary life: respect and moderation. If wine is drunk with respect and moderation it is good for the body, some say that a glass a day helps prevent cardiovascular disease. But if we abuse it, we get the opposite effect and, what was good, becomes harmful. Wine from this point of view is an example: it can be a pleasure but it must be drunk wisely. Considerations that apply to any other resource: oil is, unfortunately, the cheapest energy that exists, however it is clear that its indiscriminate use is harmful to the environment. I am sure that in the future we will have to live ecologically and sustainably, but it will be too late: we must take preventive action so that this wonderful planet does not become sick, and because it must already be considered environmentally ill so that it does not become even worse.
Another topic related to the terms of the current discussion concerns de-urbanization, “an opportunity we must strive for,” says Casamonti, “but if we all focus on cities, it is because in the countryside and the villages there is still a gigantic gap in terms of connectivity. It is difficult to work or study from home living in the Apennines. The theme is the infrastructure of the territory. Until this activity is completed, on a technological level, these wonderful places in Italy, which are our backbone, will become increasingly depopulated. Only in these terms can we think of decentralization, and allow everyone to take advantage of the opportunity of telework, remote health control (telemedicine). We must go back to making smaller centers attractive, starting with mountain territories. Decentralization is desirable, but strong incentive policies are needed, such as tax relief on labor costs for companies that allow smart working. This propensity towards smaller centers can also favor the quality catering sector, even if in this phase of extreme suffering for the sector, public use of roads, which are now “privatized” by the bulky and polluting presence of cars, should be encouraged. Streets and squares should not be parking lots, or traffic flow lines, but rather meeting places for people, spaces for catering, and free movement of people. We must try to make this world civil,” concludes the architect of Studio Archea Associati, “so that people use the car as little as possible, less than ever fossil fuels.

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