MSc Building and Urban Design for Development students have just returned from the annual BUDDCamp. Over the next four days we will be presenting a series of blogs that discuss what the students have been doing while away, alongside individual and collective reflections about their experiences and observations.
The BUDDCamp is a 3-day design workshop, part of the Urban Intervention Studio where students bring together theory and practice by working on the proposal of innovative design strategies for specific urban issues. For the fifth time, the BUDDCamp took place in Brescia (Italy) in collaboration with the Local Democracy Agency (LDA) Zavidovici, an organization working with refugees and asylum seekers in the city.
LDA proposed four different urban spaces to explore. Students worked in groups and had to develop small, low cost, ‘doable’ design strategies, paying special attention to the narrative, the understanding, the needs, and the aspirations of the refugees working with LDA and of the citizens living in the area where they intervened.
Brescia is an extremely interesting urban laboratory. It is a small town with a population of less than 200,000 inhabitants where the effects of sudden economic transformations due to global and national crises have been accompanied by shifts in the makeup of the population.
In fact, an increasing number of immigrants have settled in the city, often creating various clashes and tensions. BUDD students were presented with a representative selection of these challenges in order to provide strategies and projects aimed to foster equality and social justice.
Surveys, interviews, focus groups, mapping and transect walks are few of the participatory activities that were undertaken to collectively understand and engage with the spatial and social experience of the sites.
The main outputs of this intensive action-research workshop were a range of design strategies aiming to maximise the potential of these places as catalysts of new social dynamics and development towards urban justice. Students had the opportunity to present their urban strategies to our hosts and to local practitioners and civil society groups thus creating a vibrant platform for sharing their visions and ideas.
URBAN SPACE 1: Abandoned Carabinieri Station in Flero Municipality
The group working on this case was confronted with the specificity of the periferia diffusa (sprawled periphery) and asked to work in the small municipality of Flero, just outside Brescia. Participants had to provide a vision for the decaying and unused “Carabinieri” station; an impressive concrete skeleton of a military station that remains unfinished and derelict.
There were two main challenges: the large scale of the abandoned structure and the fact that the building is partially immersed in a swamp, which has a negative effect on the wellbeing of the inhabitants (such as the invasion of rats and mosquitos).
Is it possible to look at these problems as opportunities?
Ana: “The shared impression among our group was that the municipality workers were very open and flexible for an input to create a vision for the structure that could provide for the well-being of the residents. However, the municipality didn’t seem to be very engaged in a dialogue with the residents themselves in discussing that vision.”
“So” – adds Jiaqi – “we started this program by initiating a dialogue with the local community to actively engage people in the process and to produce a portfolio of ideas”.
“As a result” – add Miro – “we came up with the concept of mixed-use. We developed the idea of creating a strategy that was demand-driven rather than supply-driven, which means that we encourage all kinds of private sectors, small businesses, and flexible activities to happen here in small units of the building”.
Principles for Regeneration
The group developed a set of principles for the regeneration of the area, the use of the building and its social activation. These include: a programmatic diversification of functions and investments; an incremental occupation/appropriation of the available space and the self-sustainment of the reclamation/remediation.
Although simple, the combination of these three principles constitutes a viable and realistic proposal to mediate between the scale of the building and the lack of resources.
Giulia Carabelli is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc BUDD programme. She joined the current MSc students on the BUDDcamp in February. Look out for reflections from the other 3 case studies on the blog later this week.