Research Background

Presented principles and guidelines derive from a funded Italian National Research Project (PRIN-MIUR2009 developed in the years 2010-2013) titled “Architecture as Heritage: innovative instruments for the tutelage and the improvement of the local border systems”; within this National framework, authors from University of Pavia under the scientific coordination of Tiziano Cattaneo contributed the research under the theme: “Regeneration and renewal of rural landscape. Building strategies in the surroundings of new urban centers”.

 

Starting form the assumption that research by design approach is capable of nourishing economical, environmental and social innovation, this research aims to the creation and definition of goals and strategies for the regeneration of the rural landscape, with particular focus on architectural and landscape design, which can become a comprehensive medium for promoting the value, the memory and the environmental quality of the rural landscape as cultural heritage. 

 

The crisis of European rural areas is distinguished by a set of problems that can be summarised as follows: depopulation and ageing of the population, abandonment and decay of small town centers, difficulty in keeping existing businesses and/or in launching new start-ups, intensive agricultural practices to the detriment of biodiversity, pollution, a lack of infrastructures and services for tourism, as well as a shortage of job opportunities for the population, etc.

 

Within this background the research questions are:

- Which is the role that architecture should play within a framework of rural innovation and intensification?

- What parameters can be used to assess the development, preservation and implementation of rural areas?

 

Through desk research, workshops, seminars and filed trips we investigated what the architecture role could and should be in the process of regeneration of the rural landscape.

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Definition of the design tool-kit for the development of rural areas

 

Rural Architectural Intensification is an innovative design mechanism for architecture and landscape design.

This operative mechanism is applicable for design the regeneration of the contemporary city-landscape into uses that are suitable for contemporary ways of living through the construction of a new paradigm that will shape an architectural and urban project committed to sustainability.

 

Rural Architectural Intensification research project is centered on three keywords:

 

- Rural as shared heritage with richness of history, values, memory and high quality;

- Architecture as a process of participation and product of the built environment, which can create social, cultural, economic and technological innovation;

- Intensification as a strategy to create sustainable density and interaction between nature and people in which the natural environment and the rural-urban environment can coexist harmoniously.

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Rural Architectural Intensification: parameters, action matrix and case studies report.

 

As stated above the crisis in rural areas is essentially a common problem within the whole European territory.  From Spain to Germany, from The Netherlands to Poland, from United Kingdom to France, there are similar imbalances to the situation in Italy: depopulation and ageing of the population, abandonment and decay of small town centers, difficulty in keeping existing businesses and/or in launching new start-ups, intensive agricultural practices to the detriment of biodiversity, pollution, a lack of infrastructures and services for tourism, as well as a shortage of job opportunities for the population, etc.

There are possible solutions to each of these problems, different paths to follow depending on the potential of each region, its physical characteristics, but also its social and economic features.

Over the last few decades, the EU programs have promoted many solutions and initiatives for rural development.

These solutions and initiatives have been discussed by authorities and have attracted great interest by researchers and institutions also through conferences, symposia, debates, and as well as during legislative action at international, national, regional and municipal levels. Moreover, media and communications give emphasis to this topic engaging citizens in many activities organising themselves in associations and movements, action groups and eco-villages. Finally, the same European Union, which for years was introducing intervention strategies and Community policies, funding experimental programs, as well as establishing cooperation networks and pilot projects that provide training and information in order to implement the activities in rural regions, has promoted discussion and thematic clusters on the results of those initiative and solutions. Lastly, many interests has been demonstrated by designers, town planners and architects, namely experts in the filed, which are the professionals directly involved in the creation of possible scenarios on the development of rural areas.

 

Enhancing rural architecture, farmsteads, small towns, and ancient relics is one of the main components for the regeneration of the countryside heritage. Sustainable regeneration could be a strategy with a positive outcome, even only if it is supported simultaneously by the possibility of creating different format of business as long as is generated taking into account the preservation and the improvement of the environmental aesthetic of the countryside. Therefore, within this development framework improving business in rural areas, there also has to be an increase in environmental quality, in the infrastructures and services for people.

The development of small and medium-sized enterprises also forms a possible opening strategy, but in this case as well, only if it allows the possibility at the same time of reusing the existing architectural heritage, or at least respecting its presence as a unique value of a region. In the meantime, small and medium-sized enterprises should be supported by specific services, such as access information and communication technologies, participation and sharing services, co-working, and in close relationship with natural resources (sustainable green infrastructures) which would allow businesses to establish themselves in a region within and eco-system of new initiatives. Namely, the protection of biodiversity, as well as new models of organic and biodynamic farming, can be turned into opportunities to diversify the range of services towards other economic sectors as well, including sustainable inclusive tourism.

 

In order to provide evidence of the above framework, in this section is possible to find the following research outcomes: (1) definition of what are the parameters (strategies and goals) that can be used to assess the developments of a rural areas, (2) a matrix of assessment of architecture in rural areas using the defined parameters, (3) a comprehensive case studies report.