Orizzontale is a collective, a studio and a laboratory
The experience of shared construction takes on a training nature
we believe that cities must be open
“Urban machines” are transitory devices through which we live in public spaces.
Orizzontale (Horizontal) is a collective of architects from Rome whose working dynamics and projects are strongly detached from the classic architectural studios. Each of Orizzontale’s works comes about through reflection on contemporary issues and it uses architecture as a means for proposing solutions or for raising public awareness.
Some themes held dear to Orizzontale are community, sustainability, urban aggregation and cities. To propose alternative ideas on these subjects, alternative processes that would be capable of supporting them were needed. Beginning with this assumption we can understand why Orizzontale’s architecture is created in public spaces, and is physically made up of local components, together with the local people and ultimately, they have a brief life-span because more than architecture they are “urban machines”.
How is Orizzontale’s configuration different to a normal architectural studio?
The idea of Orizzontale came about when we were still at university: returning from periods of study abroad, we felt the need to put into practice what we had learned and explore new ways to approach architecture. From this desire our first projects were conceived, around which, we gradually consolidated the current group. The idea of a procedural, hybrid and experimental approach has characterised every aspect of our way of working: Orizzontale is a collective, a studio and a laboratory and it is also difficult for us to see the limits between the different identities. And we sort of like this instability, which allows us to space ourselves out and continue to explore different areas but at the same time we feel a strong interconnectivity. In practice, the group structure operates in a highly horizontal manner, with an alternation of roles in the projects and distribution of tasks regarding the internal management of the studio. Construction is also an activity that has definitely characterised our way of exploring architecture and our configuration: in the construction phase we like to have the complete team and during the shared construction workshops the group expands to include collaborators, students and citizens.
Can you explain your idea of using the laboratory approach as a design strategy?
We use the laboratory tool to create open processes, capable of stimulating and embracing new contributions in all phases of project construction. By involving people in the workshops, our intention is to restore a concrete sense to the participatory process by involving citizens an active part of the construction of their habitat. The experience of shared construction takes on a training nature and lays the foundations for the creation of close relationships, while at the same time establishing lasting links between inhabitants and the environment that they have participated in constructing.
Can working in the public space help bridge the great cultural, social and economic differences that are increasingly evident among the people who live in the city?
Public space is the dimension in which we live daily as inhabitants, and where we have decided to act professionally as architects. If architecture builds habitats, there is no terrain more representative than public space: it is like a litmus test compared to the contexts to which it belongs. Public space is today at the centre of debates on the development of cities, unlike 10 years ago, but the results are, in many cases, different from those desired. What we are missing is the very significance of these places as spaces for dialogue, growth, exchange and comparison. On the one hand, private investments produce quality spaces, but which are intrinsically oriented towards control and profit; on the other hand, the tools that are used to intervene are often ineffective, untimely, incomplete; or worse still, as highlighted in a recent publication by Interboro Partners, space transformation strategies are used, which often turn out to be “weapons” of exclusion and segregation. Instead, we believe that cities must be open, porous and inclusive systems and that public space is the elective place within which these characteristics must occur. The project must stimulate processes of appropriation of places by those who live in them and facilitate the creation of new models of coexistence. Only in this way can public space be a place of growth and a testing ground for spatial paradigms that lead to new forms of urbanity.
What do you intend by the term “urban machines”?
“Urban machines” are transitory devices through which we live in public spaces. The term, deliberately mechanistic, could be interpreted as a reference to a utopian architecture or, even more distant, read in a functionalist perspective. Instead they are “machines” in that they react to the movement of those who live in them and are susceptible, subject to changes in accordance with external solicitations. Like theatrical scenography, they are light, modular and modifiable infrastructures, which allow you to “stage” unprecedented behaviours and relationships within the spaces of the city.
Another concept dear to you is the idea of temporary and ephemeral architecture. Why?
Temporary architecture or – to quote Renato Nicolini, who inaugurated a surprising season of the ephemeral in Rome – “the wonderful urban”, is a powerful tool for creating new visions. Through fixed-term interventions it is possible to recover forgotten habits and stimulate the creation of new rituals, giving rise to unexpected situations and releasing latent potential. Beyond their lifespan, temporary interventions leave lasting traces: signs and memories that settle in the territories and that allow us to foreshadow possible future scenarios. In this sense, temporary architecture is an effective tool, within long-term processes, to give meaning to moments of waiting and to test, in a bold and reversible way, new forms of use of space.
What do you intend by “municipal waste”?
Waste is everything that is discarded. The materials and products that the city expels daily, but also the abandoned places, the urban voids, habits and relationships forgotten within contexts in constant transformation. All these things represent, if the vision is reversed, an enormous potential: by synergising this waste it is possible to reactivate what has stopped serving a purpose, bringing to it new life and completely reinventing its uses and significance.
Today on a planetary level we are witnessing the growth of ever larger and numerous mega-cities within which there are numerous areas distorted by gentrification. Do you have any suggestions for the politicians? Will the rich and the poor be destined to be ever more distant?
Gentrification is one of the great paradoxes of modernism. It seems that it is not possible to imagine processes of regeneration of popular neighbourhoods and suburbs without falling into the inevitable “bourgeoisie” of these contexts. It is not actually a new process in urban contexts, but the speed of transformations in global cities is making it look more and more like a progressive expulsion of the less well-off classes from neighbourhoods that were once public housing and today are at the centre of large investments. The creative class, in which Richard Florida had believed he saw a positive regeneration engine, also suffered the same consequences, being rejected for economic reasons by those neighbourhoods that he helped transform. Is there therefore an alternative way through which it is possible to transform cities by maintaining balance within the system? We believe so, but in order for this to happen, public intervention is essential to guarantee social diversity through the control of the real estate market. And there are virtuous cases (for example, the IBA in Hamburg), where the transformation started from a public initiative and the citizens are the protagonists of new investments. We just need to learn!
Why did you decide to become architects? I ask you this question because seeing the work done by Orizzontale you understand that your primary need is not to use architecture to model spaces but perhaps for something much deeper than this to shape society. Could this be a correct interpretation?
Architecture is inevitably connected to the “human” aspects of living and public space is a direct expression of society. It is not possible to intervene in any of these aspects whilst disregarding the other. What moves us is not an ideological assumption, but our aspiration as architects. We want to explore the limits of the discipline, experiment with possible cross-pollination and put together different points of view to respond to the complexity of contemporary public spaces. The role of the architect is changing and collaboration with other disciplines is increasingly necessary: we will see what the effects will be in the long run.