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Resisiting Bodies

Part 2 Project 2009
Rebecca Stephens
Manchester School of Architecture Manchester | UK
Sitting on the beautiful beach in the town of Chiavari on the Italian Riviera, is a disused collection of buildings. This former fascist Colony is a reminder of a dark past.

All along the coast the Northern Italians show off their affluence by their chic preened bodies. Underneath this exterior not all Italians are comfortable beneath their skin.

The vision for the site is to create a space for teenagers to explore their perception of themselves and promote healthy attitudes to body image. Encouraging the principles of the “Mediterranean Lifestyle.”

I wish to reconnect a site, which was a place for young fascist boys to work on their “bodies” inside and out, with the modern local community. The new set of occupants will bring added vitality to the existing network of facilities within the town.

The new architecture includes an elaborate roofscape terrace, relating the built environment to the residence own bodies. The link platform is a Kenaf (hemp) farm. The growing of this product is a way of visualizing change and time as part of the key restorative process.

The cathedral-like underbelly of the terrace, houses the processing plant, and also creates a cool environment for socialising, out of the Mediterranean sun.

The production of textiles on the site evokes memories of the fascist uniforms and the women of the resistance. This connects the historical Italian female “body”, political and physical, to the contemporary context.

The raw hemp, resembling hair, is used to produce solar shading for the existing buildings. Hair in its luxuriance is a potent symbol reminiscent of the changing role of women, referring directly in contrast to the war’s bygone repression.

The concept for the site was to produce minimal visual obstruction and environmental impact. Grey water is filtered through the structural stalactites of the terrace these in turn act as a carbon store. Ground water source heat is collected, and the site utilises the prevailing wind, off the sea, as natural air conditioning.

The premise of the site acts as a series of seasonal, physical and social cycles that interweave amongst the buildings.

Rebecca Stephens

Rebecca was a final year student in the displace non-place Barch Unit at the MSA. Displace refers to our means of investigation, the way in which we are displaced into unknown situations, whilst non-place refers to the condition of the site in which we operate. Students are told that they will have to step outside their comfort zones in order to challenge their preconceived notions of design. In order to attain such a goal, a series of investigations, seemingly disparate, yet purposely disorientating, are introduced in the first term. Reinforcing this goal, students are displaced from the familiar British context and placed into the unfamiliar historical, cultural, and climatic context of the Italian Riviera – the chic resort town of Chiavari in Liguria.

Students were first asked to understand the meaning of (public) space and how Italians form and occupy place set within the Mediterranean context. To further explore unknown territory the site of the second term project was a non-place, the abandoned tower of La Colonia Fara, which originally housed the summer camp activities of raising good, healthy, young Fascist boys. The programme was to design a place of remembrance, open to student interpretation, for the women partisans in Italy based on an anthology of texts, Resisting Bodies, on the site composed of the tower, a series of abandoned spaces and nondescript vernacular buildings that formed a wedge between a beachfront and a train line. Students were also required to add another programmatic element that traced the story of the female (body) into contemporary Italian society. Polemical situations emerged. How does one resolve a place of remembrance for women of the Resistance on a site which retains the burden of history as a place which housed the opposition – both in the corporal and political senses?

Rebecca was able synthesise a series of oppositions into a poetic design solution through rigorous research into unfamiliar subjects such as the history of the Colonia type, the clothing of the female body from the Resistance to the contemporary fashion consciousness, body perception, and the harvesting of a particular crop. Her project may be read as an architectural landscape, a series of experiential adventures which challenge conventional building design whilst reinterpreting the forgotten history of a place.


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