Theatre of Practices

Project

The curtain rises, the lights dim, the audience is gestured to join the stage and Parco Forlanini is revealed, ready for the performance. A play in which everyone is the actor and everyone is the audience, but also a play in which various interactions, notions and engagements unfold. It is as if a designed game with a script has been given out and each person is encouraged to interpret it as he wishes.

 

Following an initial analysis on the quality of space and the sociocultural approach towards the existing park, Parco Forlanini in Milan is revised. With Urban Acupuncture and Flexibility as the two essential guides, the epicentres evolve. The stage setting spaces are: the Agora, the Odeon, the Stoa and the Natatio. Each intervention has respected the quality of the space it exists. The interventions are in terms of impact strong enough to trigger a variety of different usage of each space. Triggering acts for further practices and future chain effects. As flexibility and time are the mere elements, permanent does not exist. With the  use of an abacus of tools, the actors are welcome to explore the space and their train of thought to determine how the space will be used. 

At the Agora, the design has been based on three visual axes: the agricultural lands, the cascina with the gasometer and the industrial site. Thus, the existing ‘industrial’ slab transforms into a place of interaction ranging from sitting with rechargeable stations, to textiled coverings supported by scaffolding. The paved slab, offers opportunities to pierce, attach and service. The agricultural axis is filled with urban gardening and sitting, encouraging the concept of involvement. 

The Odeon becomes the actual stage of Parco Forlanini, behind one of the busiest streets of the area. The aim is to create a theatre space by embracing the existing nature. Topography is the key word, as organic-shaped artificial hills have been designed, enabling views, sitting spaces and buffer zones. Their shape and arrangement offers centralities all with the ability of hosting events, while their ground to top heights alternate from one to six meters. The hills are coated with grass and are surrounded with floor lighting. 

 

The Stoa is compiled by a set of elements used separately or combined offering a choice of use, for skate users or families. These overlapping conditions offer a set of rules to the users, allowing them to manipulate the space, without controlling their actions. The ground has been left natural while at certain locations the soil was paved and altered for skaters or others who would use the hard, dented surface for other purposes. 

At the Natatio, the addition of a pier alongside the intervened Idroscalo side becomes the main addition, allowing actors to cross to the other side, walk, sunbathe or play. The Natatio is realised through the intervention of the ‘swimming pool’. Using a net to create a rectangular border, the water is proposed for a variety of uses as it is adjacent to the pier.

Interview

What prompted the project?

The challenge we set to ourselves was to let the park develop according to how people were using it at the moment. We were not planning on letting physical space determine socio-cultural connections but rather the opposite. We observed people’s actions and behavior, in order to understand what works best for them. In other words, we let them design their own space.

What questions does the project raise?

Each living body is space and as it moves it produces space around it. This connection reiterates the significance of people in the production of space, moreover public space. Public unbuilt and open spaces should not be considered as left over areas. To fill up a vast area, as is Parco Forlanini with various functions is easy to do. But where do people come in? The seamless unity between movement, people and space is the main topic.

How did you approach the research of the site? What tools did you use?

Site visits were carried for a week, from morning until evening, as we wanted to thoroughly understand where and why the people were moving on the grass, jumping through fences, having picnics, dancing, resting, reading, cycling and so on. These were then mapped and analysed, resulting in 4 specific points of interest where the activities would overlap. We called these points ‘epicentres’ and decided to act on them. Time-lapse photographs, psychogeography mapping, interviews, observations and on-site sketching were all used as tools to develop our idea.

What defined the notion of theatre to which the project is assimilated? How does this affect one's perception of the project?

Performance is the key word here. On stage, the props and the scenography change to fit the acting. In the same way Parco Forlanini became our stage, where people’s acting determined where and how those ‘props’ would be set, whilst offering the chance for flexibility and the chance for various ‘actors’ to give various uses. As mentioned, we did not want to design for the people, but rather let them design themselves, even without realising it. Once this becomes clear, whether perceived by the actual actors themselves or not, performance is triggered. To offer the tools but not the use, is to offer opportunity and choice – and this is what we touched on.

What informed the focus of the project / guidelines as 'Urban Acupuncture and Flexibility?

Parco Forlanini is a disjointed area, without an infrastructural or physical support. It is mostly composed by outdoor spaces working as a background of a mixité of different practices derived from the dispersion of the city’s territory. Urban Acupuncture is used for explicitly small interventions that are strong enough to trigger the perception of space, and flexibility offers adaptability to tran¬sformability. Both these elements together, create a collection of changes inten¬ded to imagine new scenarios.

How did these translate into the various elements of the design?

As far as the project goes, tactical urbanism was the follow-up approach. We tackled low cost yet catalytic interven¬tions aimed for the public. The Agora became the market, the sociopolitical gathering and the production; the Odeon becomes a physical stage for various spectacles; the Stoa offers shelter and play and the Natatio embraces and highlights the water. The development of those interventions is achieved with the creation of an abacus of flexible devices which are to be implemented in order to trigger further practices and thus encourage the performance of our theatre park.

How does the design cater and respond to our contemporary society?

Society today is driven by trends, where one does not necessarily perform but rather follow. We tried to provoke this, by offering practices instead of functions. When offered flexibility, you challenge your inner actor, but when given the specific function you are only another audience.

How do you see this developing in 50 years time?

To allow the people to use the space as they wish, is to let them perform in it and when the users become the creators and performers, the space is theirs. Therefore the way in which the project can develop is manifold, but what we can say for certain is that it will never stop developing, the same way people will never stop performing.

How flexible is the project in enabling a transformation of the buildings through time?

The transformation of those epicentres can occur from person to person or from one day to the next. We tried to give a type of flexibility that enables multiple practices without necessarily meaning that each alters or affects another one. Chain effects are then exposed, resulting in more practices; practices that can create an alternative image of the park, practices that allow time to pass, users to change, and the interventions to adapt.

What is for you the architect's most important tool?

The most important tool is no tool at all. It is not about a specific method, but rather a combination of approaches. When architects deal with the built and the unbuilt, they deal with people. Opinions, observations and participation should be shared and understood. Then and only then, will open spaces give unity and strength to the urban fabric.

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