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Luigi Ramazzotti

Rules for building in the countryside

Vague territory. Oil on canvas, Luigi Ramazzotti. - ZOOM

Vague territory. Oil on canvas, Luigi Ramazzotti.


An agricultural countryside north of Rome, increasingly affected by the encroaching sprawl of the capital, reveals all the fragility and antinomies of a weak territory. The study focuses on the unsolved and often dramatically evident dialectics between the city and its outermost settlement areas. The study explores the critical features of this geographical area and comments on its potential, emphasising the urgent need to review our disciplinary tools in order to create a new urban and territorial image.

The study proposes an integrated and multifaceted approach to the problem of how to interpret settlements in the outer hinterland of Rome by using complex and non-schematic methods; it focuses on the critical areas and antinomies - often dramatically evident - between the city and its outermost settlement areas. This is particularly important when it involves casual models which escape the net of good urban design projects and associated analytical studies and theorisations. In this particular case, the city appears to loose its traditional logocentrism and substantive nature and dissolve in the proliferation of descriptive adjectives: diffuse city, mutant city, removed city, dispersed settlements, urbanised countryside, inhabited landscape, and metropolitan nebulous.
However, all this terminological proliferation depends on just one thing: the fact that the urban-centric city is considered as a conceptual facility and the end product of an idea to which the suburbs, open land, and countryside, are all subservient. Vice versa, the territory considered in this study is a well-defined area 45 km northeast of Rome where the Via Salaria crosses the municipalities between Fara Sabina and Scandriglia in the province of Rieti. It is an excellent area on which to test our theory that geographical space is not only a potential city opening onto the countryside, but also an experimental workshop to test knowledge tools and specific projects in our field of learning. This involves testing a new urban and territorial image based on formal conditions of use in certain places, and revising and verifying pre-established interpretive models and their conceptual schema (Amin, Thrift, 2011).
This particular geographical area was chosen due to its multifaceted heterogeneity, including its urbanisation models, dispersal or concentration of settlements, the presence of historical residential facilities (such as small towns and archaeological sites), morphology of open spaces, agricultural farmlands, and the influence of the road and rail system. This is a potential and unusual urban entity prompting a re-think of the city starting with its places-space in open territory, its size, latent proportions, relationships and forms. At the same time, the heuristic process (required to structure the problem) is accompanied by a review of the tools and fundamentals of a design technique which should affect “all dimensional scales of the environmental ensemble with a view to architecturally transform the anthropogeographic landscape (Gregotti, 1991, 2).
Architectural spaces have recently appeared in the inhabited countryside along the two Salaria roads (Salaria Nuova SS 4 and Salaria Vecchia SP 20) consolidated in the fifties by casual settlement formulas. This agglomeration lies between Passo Corese and Osteria Nuova extending in a west/northeast direction for 18 km. It is a small part of the historical and geographical area known as Sabina, where open space has been divided into small sequential lots with different characteristics. The term used to describe them in this study - places-space – is intended to illustrate how in their relationship with the interpreting entity, places and space are created by delimitation and descriptive compilations (De Certeau, 2001, 182). This procedure takes prior account of the temporary and experimental nature of these narrations while searching for appropriate explanatory models and applicable forms of design.
Moreover, to avoid remaining imprisoned in the cages of our disciplinary representations, the latter were corrected and amended through hands-on knowledge of the sites: analysis is thus questioned by experience, by multiple contemporary views, by getting lost in the streets and byways, where language become tangible while we see, touch and hear things which become part of our conscience (Secchi, 1995; Munarin, 2012, 32-37). The description and identification of the parts is subordinate to the composite web of relationships and internal ties, historically grafted into the tectonic fold that encourages the Apennines to vanish into the plain of the Tiber. 
As a result, interpreting the territory prior to its transformation or vice versa its safeguard is based on the more grandiose and conflicting architecture of its original elements, nature-environment-landscape, which impose their jurisdiction and determine specific spatial rules. When the “dictatorship of the natural orientation of the orography” puts its stamp on the landscape and communications network it determines a figurative individualism of the ensemble albeit within the “compartimentalisation and division of the physiological cells” in the geographical expanse (Farinelli, 2000, 128).
The order of this potential “expanding city”, between the two extremes of Passo Corese and Osteria Nuova, is based on the divergent and multiform factors which determine its characteristics. These heterogeneous entities, which play a different role in the organic life of the system, reflect the plurality of these interpretive methods. The elements involved are the old and new Salaria roads representing the functional need for mobility. Together they not only create a sort of territorial and morphologically characterised architecture - since they include the elements which have led to the formation of spontaneous aggregations - but together with all the other roads also establish a dialogue with the sites. It is this dialogue that reveals a reality suspended between linearity and fragmentation.
Signs and script determine the constitutive rules of the territory and teach us about the compositional grammar of the “landscape of urban sprawl”. Then there are other endogenous factors: the inhabited farmland characterised in this area by traditional olive-growing but gradually being converted into residential housing; smaller towns and their balanced silence of abandonment; the heritage of history alerting us to the past we have inherited (Cures, Farfa, the Via Francigena); recent, low-quality urbanisation; industrial and artisanal areas and, finally, the local character of the landscape. All this creates overburdened reality and conceals its unitary nature, a nature which is perhaps unnecessary because many possible descriptions and representations exist, even if they overlap.
The critical features of this area depend on the different way in which the settlements are dispersed along the Salaria, in the countryside, or in the two housing agglomerations at each end of the area in question. Again, this is due to residential architecture and its relationship with the land, to agricultural production methods, to the industrial dislocation created by administrative fragmentation and lack of an overall vision. With this in mind, smaller towns are weak elements to be re-inserted by carefully balancing protection and regeneration.
Nevertheless, the study focuses on trying to identify its unappreciated potential and reinvent the territory. It also tries to distance itself from traditional planning practices which impose a chiefly regulating vision and, vice versa, assert a design dimension.

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Luigi Ramazzotti is Full Professor of Architectural and Urban Composition at Faculty of Engineering of the University of Rome Tor Vergata. He has been Scientific Director of several PRIN (Research Projects of International Interest) research programmes. Since 2009, he has been national coordinator of PRIN.

Pianta e delineazione del Te(rritorio) del Ven. Monastero dei monaci di S. Maria di Farfa con suoi confini et altre adiacenze, [XVII-XVIII sec.] (Farfa, Archivio del Monastero di Farfa, Racc. Cart.). - ZOOM

Pianta e delineazione del Te(rritorio) del Ven. Monastero dei monaci di S. Maria di Farfa con suoi confini et altre adiacenze, [XVII-XVIII sec.] (Farfa, Archivio del Monastero di Farfa, Racc. Cart.).