Hill-Top Haberdashery: How Can We Safely Bring a River Into a House?

Vaprio D’Adda (BG), seen from Canonica (BG).

Mum was from Vaprio D’Adda, a small village on the river Adda, traversed by il Naviglio della Martesana and loved by Leornardo. She arrived in Saronno the day of my aunt’s funeral. Both were 24y.o.. One came, the other left. Mum mistook the funeral for a wedding – flowers and people covered the main square. Dad met mum shortly after; they married a decade later. It would have been their wedding anniversary today.

Vaprio’s Adda and Naviglio are irresistible, their water is every shade of green-silver-blue-gold; their temper is fast moving. Adda gets angry when the wind changes, Naviglio sulks when starved of fresh water. Saronno and Vaprio are welded together by a flow of memories and by the road that my brother and I traveled almost every weekend as children, the one that I now take every time I am back.

Five years after mum’s passing, dad and I decided to work together on the tiny house she left us, a late 19th century building nestled proudly in the upper part of the Piazza, the bottom part of which opens onto the the river Adda. Dad gave me a blank canvas. I started with three tenets: openness to the future, continuity with the past, and reflection of the place.

Last dawn of 2019, Vaprio D’Adda. Similarities with Bellotto’s Vaprio noticed.

#1- First, the house had to be open to the future: it had to be bright, warm, dry, and low maintenance. The idea was big, and my budget tiny. The first question was: is it possible to have a comfortable house with no furniture? Ideas emerged and most were realised: the walk-in shower, the poured concrete kitchen, the reading alcove, the concrete floor, and the rail wardrobe. Architect L. Greco from Arnuova, took these ideas and turned them into form; a work of brilliance given that simplicity done well never comes cheap. Greco is also from Saronno, we met on a plane.

#1 Poured concrete kitchen and #2 grandparents’ sink. Setting by Arnuova, photo by Malangela.

#2- Second, the house had to share a continuity with the past. This tenet materialised in several forms, including the re-use of old objects, such as my grandparents’ kitchen sink. Arnouva was very attentive to the history of the house and its stories. For instance, I had once told them that the place used to be a haberdashery, owned by my mother’s aunt. As a kid, I loved playing with buttons, ribbons, and silk threads. Now light-bulbs hang from the ceiling on cotton threads, playing giddily with the past.

# 2 Lights hanging from cotton threads, #3 kitchen table. Photo by Arnuova, see feature on Instagram.

#3- Finally, the house had to be a reflection of the place. The river with its gold-green colour had to get in somehow, and so its temper – kind, nurturing, but also fiery and rebellious. The question was: how can we safely bring a river into a house? Its presence, had to be felt, tamed by sight and touch. Such a character, could only be the centre-piece. And so, the river walked into the house as a commission: an iron and resin kitchen table designed by Arnuova, and crafted by Saronno-based artist Gio’ Canegallo.

#3 Selecting the pigments and texture for the table top – with top-right proof chosen, photo by Gio’ Canegallo.

This project started in 2014 and uphill. Dad took ill shortly after its start and never saw it finished. The initial idea was that he would share his know-how while we worked together on a relatively small project, a warm-up before the Officina’s much longer journey.

And it is exactly what he did.

University, UnVersity, and Place

The UnVersity – a lean approach to campus structure, a rich-picture.

From today, I am taking 3 months off before starting a new job. I am one of the Faré, and I have a Faculty position at a UK-based university where I teach & research Software Engineering (SE) and Human Computer Interaction (HCI). As we pass the first wave of the pandemic, and likely enter a second one, it is time for reflection and for a different kind of action, which, for me, is temporarily freed from external targets and job demands. I am thrilled.

The Officina, and its parent structure, lends itself to be re-imagined as a physical place where learning happens and new knowledge is made. A couple of years ago, in conversation with a group of students interested in sustainable university models, I drafted a concept for an UnVersity (captured by the ‘rich picture’ above), based on a lean approach to teaching, and a federated campus structure – see the Cooperative University as an example of the latter. There, knowledge would flow in many directions, and change (e.g. expanding and contracting demand) would be met with and adaptive space structuring, to include a mix of temporary and fixed built elements sustainably built, relatively low-cost and low maintenance.

Today, with some time at hand, I have gone fishing for more ideas.

“… Give the university a PROMENADE ( 3 I) at its central crossroads; and around the crossroads cluster the buildings along streets…. Give this central area access to quiet greens…; and a normal distribution of housing.” Alexander, C., 1977. A Pattern Language. Oxford university press. – pg 279

For inspiration,  Christopher Alexander‘s Pattern Language is one of my first ports of call. Alexander’s work is mainly about the built environment – architecture, buildings, and planning – but it has also fundamentally shaped our digital space, with software engineers (e.g. Martin Fowler) adapting Alexander’s notion of patterns to software systems design. in Alexander’s book, the University, is Pattern 43 and it is described as a ‘marketplace’:

“...The original universities in the middle ages were simply collections of teachers who attracted students because they had something to offer. They were marketplaces of ideas, located all over the town, where people could shop around for the kinds of ideas and learning which made sense to them. By contrast, the over-administered university of today kills the variety and intensity of the different ideas at the university and also limits the
student’s opportunity to shop for ideas.

I do relate to a number of concepts here: the notion of ‘learning that makes sense’, the frustration with managerialism and over-administration, and the view of a university as part of the civic fabric of a diverse community. However, I’d argue that a departure is needed from the idea of a University that is primarly a marketplace. The university is more translation than transaction, more knowledge creation than quest for novelty, more flow than place. The philosopher, novelist, and cultural critic Umberto Eco in his work ‘Perche’ le Universita’? reminds us that the University “e’ uno fra i pochi luoghi in cui le persone si incontrano ancora faccia a faccia, in cui i giovani e studiosi possono capire quanto il progresso del sapere abbia bisogn di identita’ umane e reali, e non virtuali”.

Having worked in the field of digital for many years, I have no doubt that digital is a powerful enabler for learning, but it is not sufficient. Learning is in-formed by the place that it inhabits and a human-kind of knowledge is created through dialogue and in presence. In summary, my perspective values “a place of knowledge, where learning flows – more than a marketplace, where ideas and skills are bought and sold“. Similarly to the Agile Manifesto, I see value in both aspects but “while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more”.

QDC Brings Officina to Artigiana

QDC poster
QdC with Officina Fare’ poster

Officina Faré joins Humanitars14  and  Temporiuso Saronno  at Artigiana  on 7-8 March 2015!
Humanitars14 is a coworking art project and Temporiouso is a fast growing network of people living in the north-west ‘edge’ of Milan.
Artigiana (7-8 March / 13-15 March) is a spring fair showing the very best arts and crafts from our local area. It is hosted at Malpensafiere, a premiere venue at easy reach from Malpensa airport.

Quaderni di Carattere (QdC) have worked super hard to get the Officina ready for  the event designing our poster and information material. Come and have a chat about  sharing  Officina Faré space and vision.

Officina Faré Opens to EXPO

Logo Expo2015 Looking for an exhibition area,  studio space,  or a special backdrop for  social events during the six months of EXPO? Than check us out!  We offer flexibility and central access to Milan’s trasport and communications network. Check our options and get in touch with us for more information. Get involved,  support a shared vision and join the jouney.

Officina Fare’ is 15-20 minutes drive from EXPO,  5 minutes walk from Saronno train station which has frequent  rapid connections with Malpensa airport (17mins) , Milano Cadorna (20mins), Milano Centrale (30min), and the scenic City of Como.

Expo Milano 2015 is the Universal Exhibition that Milan, Italy, will host from May 1 to October 31, 2015. Over this six-month period, Milan will become a global showcase with more than 140 participating countries.

DOWNOLAD: Officina Fare’ Information Pack PDF [1.5MB]
CONTACT: Send us a message

Off to Korea for CHI2015

CHI2015 logoExcellent news!
Officina Fare’ is going to CHI2015, the top conference in Human Computer Interactions, which  will be hosted in Seoul, Korea,  in April this year.

One of the Faré , Maria Angela Ferrario  from the School of Computing at Lancaster University, will be talking about the Officina at the  Design for Sharing workshop. There, she will explain how lessons learned from Social Digital Innovations projects such as Catalyst have been applied outside academia and to Officina Fare’. The article will go on CHI website later on in March or, if you cannot wait, you can download it from here. (PDF)