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The domestic architectures in the towns of migrations

by Pasquale Culotta

The workshop
The architectural planning workshop, attended by students of the fourth year of the Faculty of Architecture (Palermo - Italy), has been trying for some years now to translate ways of living and cultures coming from places geographically distant from our country, our habits and language. Foreigners living in Palermo for working reasons have been our source of inspiration. As inhabitants, they introduce into the city new cultural expressions, but also a particular and complex series of real needs, considering their inappropriate living conditions.
The home planning (the domestic and public space par excellence) has become the occasion to write an original page of urban architecture.
The didactic interest was focused on the Albergheria-Ballarò, Monte di Pietà, Papireto quarters in the historic center, the most populated by the immigrants, where the social and cultural relationships between Palermitans and foreigners are more visible and where the living and hygienic conditions are more dramatic because of the visible and irreversible environmental and physical degradation of the buildings.
The teaching program has also been an alternative planning investigation to the urbanistic municipal instruments, which are conservative and, most of all, inadequate to solve the co-existence and contiguity of pedestrian spaces for the inhabitants' social life, of routes open to traffic, and of the private use of cars.

Taking into account the presence of 15000 immigrants coming mostly from Mediterranean, Asiatic, and African countries, readings, surveys and plans were used to study the domestic spaces for people (in groups different for composition and number) from Tunisia, Morocco, Pakistan, Iran, Nigeria, Cameroons, Cape Green, Sri Lanka, Philippines, and Bangladesh.
The students' plans (more than 200) can be considered interesting examples of a research carried out on the theme of the modernity of cities and houses.

The domestic architectures
The found solutions are very impressive probably because the representation of the domestic spaces is far from the Western functionalism through ways which translate the living places of "the other" into the town of all.
The Arabian, Iranian, and Maghrebian houses look onto the road, but from the entrance you cannot perceive the inside.
The house, which has to take into consideration the location and the specific building regulations, consists of different levels which develop around a core open to the sky or covered by a skylight (a small patio or the system of the staircase's flights) from which to get the light and create spatial relationships within the house.
This architecture is also a domestic landscape where, in the space figurative language with its subtle references and allusions to the décor of far-away lands and cultures, the inhabitants find the domestic intimacy of their origins.
Many plans present a structured and discreet distribution of the natural light, coherent with a way of living the house towards the inside rather than the outside which is typical of the Western culture, testifying the beginning of a research on the architecture of the space.
The Tamil house has a prayer room, a fundamental and permanent domestic space, full of symbolic meanings and cultural and religious abstractions. The planning of this particular room has been used as an organizing principle of the inner space of the house and makes it different from the Western models typified by a functional (living room - fireplace) or aesthetical core (the view).
The entrance door and the bedhead of the Philippines home face East (the Eastern sun is a source of energy and light and the regulating principle of the domestic body).
If the house does not have an Eastern urban exposure, the planner has to study its body beginning from the staircase which, from the entrance on the ground floor, has to find the apartment door on a wall facing East. Even the Eastern position of the bedhead creates in the night area interstitial spaces which are unusual for a domestic architecture and are the consequence of a clever use of rotations and of the double envelope in the geometry of the rooms.
The house of people coming from Cape Green develops according to an axis that joins in a linear sequence the day activities to the night ones.
The houses inhabited by people from Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Cameroon present principles suggested by the living culture of the native countries.

The teaching task is that of translating the different languages into the architectural texture of the Western town. The theme of the (public) rules to be applied in the buildings construction, is solved by the predominance of the fulls on the voids, by openings (windows and doors) with vertical axes, by the set position of the frames, and by the monochromatic plasters from the ground line to the eave line.
In the double language of the house, the domestic interior and the public exterior, thanks to the solutions found for the foreign inhabitant, Palermo shows at a same time a sunny and smooth "skin" and a complex "stomach", with fresh and surprising interiors.

The research
In these plans what is really interesting is the attempt of translating into architecture the various cultural migrations towards West and vice versa. This is testified by the designs which have a double nature: the geometrical semplicity of the facades and the inner spatial complexity in the plans and the vertical sections. It is also testified by some graphics of the interiors: the perspectives of the bedrooms, the dining room, the kitchen, and the small living room take into account the future use of furniture, electric household appliances, and domestic tools typical of the Western market. The cultural contaminations involve the design and its role in the Western continent and in any other region of the world reached by the house industry.
The research can take advantage of the extraordinary universe of the cultural migrations. The course that the project must follow consists in listening to "the other" in order to come to an architecture as a unique place of the human experience.

English translation by Federica Culotta.
Workshop assistants: Fabio Alfano, Antonio Biancucci, Giovanni Chiaramonte, Cristina Giuffrè, Santo Giunta, Aldo Li Bianchi, Sirus Nikko, Emanuele Palazzotto, Gaetano Pullara, Andrea Sciascia, K. Syed, Sebastiano Triscari, Gianfranco Tuzzolino.

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