Letters from Lockdown: Pippo Ciorra

During lockdown, our Architecture Consultant, Marina Engel, asked a series of architects, to consider, or dream about, the role of the architect and urban design post Covid-19. The following text is by Pippo Ciorra, Professor of Design and Theory at University of Camerino and Senior Curator of Architecture at the MAXXI in Rome.

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My premise is that I hope that things will slowly go back to normal. It will take time and there will be social and economic casualties, but — needless to quote Hobsbawm — human progress is also based on the ability to forget and leave behind mistakes and wounds. The alternative would be paralysis and regression. However, this is a big trauma, just like a world war, and recovery from global trauma always implies that human kind learns something from the experience and turns it into some kind of positive innovation. If this interview aims at identifying in which areas such innovations (or relevant changes) should/would happen, I can here propose three fields of action, all related to the space of living/working.

The first and most obvious directly concerns the space of the house. There are already thousands of Covid and post-Covid projects posted, in these days on the web, showing how to expand your home into a mini-office, mini-gym, mini-restaurant, mini-garden etc. It is certainly interesting and useful, because it will probably give a new impulse to research on residential space. Still, we should acknowledge the incredible resilience of the typology of the house, which has been basically the same for four millenniums, and which has easily absorbed any similar changes in the past.

What will probably achieve more radical change in both the living and working space (and beyond) is instead the infrastructure. Going back to war-fueled innovations, they mostly happened in the field of infrastructure and tools. It seems clear that this will also happen this time. In the short run, cities will have to manage the conflict between the persistence of fear and the need to bring back the previous degree of activity in physical infrastructure. In the longer run, every home will need to be provided with a much broader band and instant connectivity. It is not simply us teaching students online or companies run from home. Why couldn’t the robot building a car be managed from the worker’s home instead of at Wolfsburg? We will also need to investigate how to combine these anti-virus tools together with climate consciousness, being aware it could be a very productive alliance.

Coming to the third point, I would like to speculate on the idea of dystopia and “smartness”. What we have learnt in these days is that the two concepts seem to love each other more that we had already expected. We’re seeing a new kind of dystopian space: not the late XX Century chaos, pictured by Blade Runner or JG Ballard, but images of clean, empty and unpolluted cities with everybody at home and nobody disturbing the beauty of monuments and landscapes. Control in this kind of dystopia is transferred to the invisible activity of a trillion networks and devices, monitoring and influencing our lives. We already knew that smart had a lot to do with control and we have already lost most of the battles in this war, but clearly the virus condition pushes this to the limit. This is where we will have to watch carefully and build some conceptual resistance. It will be important both to go back to the streets, the original space for democracy, and to build consciousness and counter-actions in the digital world.

Pippo Ciorra is Professor of Design and Theory at the SAAD School of Architecture and Design, University of Camerino. He is Senior Curator of Architecture at the MAXXI, Rome and Director of the International PhD Program Villard d’Honnecourt, IUAV Venezia.

The text is part of the project Letters From Lockdown by BSR Architecture Consultant Marina Engel. Read Marina’s introduction to the project here.