Architecture and Landscape Architecture students teamed up with their Milan counterparts to change Imperia’s empty landscapes into a thriving city.
Master of Architecture and Master of Landscape Architecture students travelled to Italy as part of research laboratory Officina Imperia’s ongoing research project, Officina Imperia – Resilient Imperia.
The project, run by Associate Professor Mauro Baracco and academic and architecture graduate Jonathan Ware, and affiliated with RMIT’s Centre for Design Practice Research (d___Lab), sought to transform Imperia, a coastal town in north-west Italy.
RMIT students collaborated with Master of Architecture students from Milan Polytechnic, Italy’s largest technical university, to test design ideas around urban and landscape resilience in Imperia.
Major government and industry stakeholders supported the studio, including the General Confederation of Italian Industry, the Imperia Council, the Italian Institute of Architects and the School of Architecture at Milan Polytechnic.
Imperia, located in the Liguria region, is characterised by many vacant and abandoned industrial areas, like the empty corridor of the relocated railway line.
With the abundance of “dilapidated landscapes”, Officina Imperia looked to revive these locations by using architectural knowledge and exploring the integration of built and open spaces.
“This project envisages environment and economic rehabilitation of large territories and their related communities,” Baracco said.
“Students achieved this by looking at the adaptive reuse of existing landscape and architectural heritage into sustainable and resilient environments.”
The studios’ outcomes were presented, upon invitation, at the 15th Venice Biennale of Architecture, where the designs were publicly discussed in related Biennale Forum Sessions.
Stakeholders and academics from both RMIT and Milan Polytechnic gave public talks about the research laboratory’s innovative and methodological approaches.
Baracco, who is also a 2017 Victorian Architecture Award winner (Desbrowe-Annear award for ‘new houses’ category assigned to Baracco+Wright Architects), said the project tapped into an architect’s ability to think tactically, as well as creatively.
“It supports architectural design thinking as a smart process led by architects through their role of strategic thinkers who work across various different fields, stakeholders and expertises,” he said.
The Resilient Imperia initiative’s first year came to a close with an exhibition at the Calata Cuneo harbour at the town itself.
Presented as part of the annual Imperia Confindustria convention, the conference and showcase hosted an overview of Officina Imperia’s work and speeches about visions for Imperia’s economic, urban and landscape future.
The symposium highlighted the potential of all of Imperia’s overlooked environments, such as an incomplete marina precinct and an urban park with a sewerage treatment plant.
“There is so much potential transformation in this town to change its urban and surrounding territory into an integrated whole of resilient environments informed and invigorated by sustainable economies,” Baracco said.
And while some locals may be concerned that foreign influence could eclipse the coastal community, Baracco assures that a balance is achievable in the world of architecture.
“Officina Imperia offers an opportunity to support and promote local products and qualities and yet attract global tourism, market and interest in general.”
Story: Jennifer Park