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Architectural design for regeneration of shared-living heritage interacting with the SDG

Tiziano Cattaneo, Emanuele Giorgi

Università degli Studi di Pavia, Department of Civil Engineering and Architecture, via Ferrata 3, Pavia.

Tecnologico de Monterrey, Escuela de Arquitectura, Arte y Diseño, Campus Chihuahua, México.

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The paper introduces an ongoing research led by authors as part of a recent and widest international research network, which focus on the forms of shared life and on the recurrent phenomena of abandonment of rural settlements. The aim is to understand how ancient buildings in rural areas, which originally housed functions for agricultural production, or defense from external hazards, have produced a space of collective and shared life. Once abandoned and dismissed their original functions these historical buildings could be regenerated by keeping their sense of community hosting again shared functions and becoming occasions of transformation of the built environment in order to contrast the abandonment of rural areas pursuing Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) targets.

The analyzed geographical contexts - with particular reference to northern Italy, Fujian-China, Mexico and New Zealand - are rich in buildings, with traditional typologies, four of which have been selected on the base of their organization on sharing of spaces and functions. These buildings, often in a state of complete abandon, are nowadays subjects of great attention through interventions of regeneration. Twelve projects have been selected with a predominantly anthological method applied with a theory-guided content analysis, which is text, and drawings analysis through which one is searching concepts of the studied entity. Then, the research has compared the studied projects’ features with selected SDGs by extrapolating the common characteristics that indicate an attitude of sustainability, including: the regeneration of the existing; the limitation of land use and the creation of communitarian environments.

Definition of the four Shared Living Heritage Typologies

According to the research objective, four architectural typologies (one for each geographical contexts) have been defined with the following characteristics: (1) historical relevance as community building; (2) having been object of several regeneration projects in the last decades; (3) possibility to access to a significant quantity of material, suitable for analyzing projects. Furthermore, the four typologies have been selected in four different geographical areas and consequently are expressions of different cultures.

The four selected typologies, which are explained in the following figures (Figure 1- Figure 4), are: Tulou (Fujian, China), Cascina (Northern Italy, Europe), Hacienda (Mexico) and Marae (New Zealand).

Selection of the regeneration projects.

The need for community, as a response to many of the challenges posed by the change of the world in the past few decades, is affecting the way of life of more and more people. The need to rediscover natural forms of relations pushes to think new forms of architectural space and functions for working (coworking, crowfounding), living (cohousing, airbnb) and experiencing (culture, tourism).

In recent years, old abandoned buildings are becoming objects of regeneration projects to establish forms of communitarian living. This desire to share has clearly effects also on the need to change the spaces and to propose new architectural solutions with respect to the modern spatial configurations.

Three recently regenerated projects were selected for each typology for a total of 12 projects. This decision was made considering a good balance between the need to provide a varied representation of the design approach and the necessary possibility to have an in-depth analysis in terms of information useful for analysing the projects. Moreover, these projects have been selected from the panorama of local regeneration interventions, excluding all those demolition and reconstruction that are oriented to the mere real estate market. Thus, projects selection considered these aspects: (1) consistency with the local identity; (2) abundant availability of material that describes the whole characteristics of each project. In order to the limited space here only four projects has been selected which are explained in the following figures (Figure 5 – Figure 8).

Choice of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In order to assess the sustainability of the territorial impacts of each project, it was decided to take into consideration the SDGs that are valid internationally as a reference framework for the territorial development practices that want to reach defined sustainability objectives. Based on some previous research by the authors it was decided to consider some specific SDGs significant to this article scope. Hence, the targets and sub-targets of the SDGs relevant to shared life and regeneration of abandonment of rural settlements as strategies for development of sustainable territories are:

SDG 4. Quality Education

SDG 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth

SDG 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

SDG 10. Reducing Inequality

SDG 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities

SDG 12. Responsible Consumption and Production

SDG 13. Climate Action.

Results achieved by Theory-guided Content Analysis

In terms of contents this study reveals that the regeneration of historic community buildings often brings a change in the relationship with the context. From the state of introversion toward the landscape of these historical buildings, the regenerated buildings become extroverts, generators of social relationships, promoters of activities and local life; in other words a sustainable regeneration of heritage allows to recreate a community. Thanks to these changes, this research shows how the urban-architectural regeneration of these historical typologies can be clearly associated with indicators of sustainable development.

By comparing the four typologies features with the selected SDGs targets we can affirm that SDG11 Sustainable Cities and Communities is the goal on which the regeneration projects contribute more for the four typologies. Instead the SDG9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, and SDG13 Climate Action, are the two goals with the lowest impact. This is due to the fact that in rural areas industry, innovation and infrastructure along with the climate actions are not yet fully considered central in the whole process of regeneration. It could be determined also by the fact that infrastructures, innovation as well as climate change actions are seen as in charge to the central government due to many reasons such as, for instance, the huge investments needed for infrastructural projects. This insight is already a preliminary validation of the need to define of normative and superordinate design actions for sustainable development of territories.


With this study, we tried to demonstrate an approach to democratize the heritage regeneration design approach preserving identities of communities from cities expansion, real estate market and the slowness of local governments to cope with necessary changes. Thus, it is necessary to enhance awareness of communities in the field of sustainability, culture and traditions in order to take into account in the design process the specific characteristics of ethno-cultural groups for the regeneration and protection of communities from lands use and the industrial development.

In the area of shared-living heritage it is necessary to develop a series of measures so that the communities could foster and thrive their culture and products. By creating sustainable business opportunities through architectural regeneration will help to build a balance between governments top-down approaches and citizens bottom-up engagement. And also, policymakers along with designers, citizens’ representatives and stakeholders need to create a “tailored” system of measures to encourage people to maintain and steward their cultural landscape respecting biodiversity and resources. Moreover, it is still necessary to provide sustainable perspectives in terms of living conditions, work opportunities, housing and services to the locals, engaging in innovative models of growth within traditional economic and working activities. In this regard, new technologies, such as Internet of Things, telecommunication, sustainable mobility, new transportation services (i.e. drones and smart devices), are creating new opportunities for people, businesses and society in remote places respecting traditional forms and security in terms of natural and human resource safeguarding. In other words, it is necessary to cooperate to create resilient, sustainable and prosperous communities.

Bibliographic references (Bibliografia essenziale)

United Nations. (2015). Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Available online: (accessed on 26 April 2022).

Giorgi, E.; Cattaneo, T.; Ni, M.; Enríquez Alatriste, R. Sustainability and Effectiveness of Chinese Outline for National Tourism and Leisure. Sustainability 2020, 12, 1161.

Cattaneo, T.; Sha, Y.; Giorgi, E.; Manzoni, G., “Identity+Innovation: How to give hope and opportunities to forgot suburbs. A comparative study between EU and China”. In Heritage and Technology. Mind Knowledge Experience, Proceedings of the Le vie dei Mercanti, XIII International Forum, edited by C. Gambardella, 1363–1372. Napoli: La Scuola di Pitagora Editrice, 2015.

Herneoja, A. Theory-guided Content Analysis in Architectural Research. Paper presented at Architetural Inquieris, Göteborg, Sweden. Göteborg 2008. Available online: (accessed on 26 April 2022).

Sassen, Saskia, Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press: 2014.


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