Project: BaBel2 - Critical Living
Organisation: Forte Prenestino (Rome, IT)
Moderator: Thomas Laureyssens
Social Spaces was invited to conduct a MAP-it session in the Forte Prenestino Social Centre in Rome (IT). A preparatory meeting took place as a prelude to the first edition of BABEL2, biennale of critical living. The Forte Prenestino is a large military fort that was built in the 18th century as part of a defence belt to protect Rome. It features and impressive number of large spaces, underground hallways and two large inner squares. The Forte has a green touch: around the squares are areas with nature mostly left on it's own. During WWII the Forte was occupied by the Nazi's, and after a short occupation by leftist squatters in the 1970's, the Forte was left over for nature to take over. Since 1986, the Forte is illegally occupied by approximately 60 permanent and 30 temporal squatters (among these 30/40 may have lived or live in the forte, the others have an house in the neighborhood or mainly in the east rome area).
Apart from spaces transformed into housing, there are several 'laboratories' in the Forte: metal, wood and silkscreen workshops, a bike repair (and re-configuration) workshop, but also a theatre, a cinema and even a fitness room. The kitchen is a lively place where you can have a good pasta for 3€. They also have a Vinotheque with an excellent selection of wines and a cozy tea-room with a large choice of infusioni, very good cakes and underground comic art. Parties and festivals are the primary source of income for the Forte Prenestino Social Centre. Due to the illegal nature of their occupation of the Forte, the organisation does not intend to be supported by the government for their independent activities. (Although some smaller associations of the Forte’s large network get some public funding.) Some of their widely acclaimed cultural activities like the CRACK comic festival and the many music events attract thousands of visitors, the revenues of which allow for investments in infrastructure. This independence from public funding makes the organisation very resilient, as well as untouched by the current cuts in cultural funding that take place all over Europe. I saw many parallels of squatter culture with the field of Media Arts: the innovative organisational structures and ways of working, a critical approach to society and a spirit of experimentation.
The BABEL2 biennale wants to create a platform of discussion and creation around the concept of 'critical living'. Different modes of living will be reflected on, with for example actions of squatting and nomadic living. Through a conscious use of resources, the biennale's organisers also promote and experiment with biocompatibility and self-construction. The Forte's squatter culture is an embodied example of these philosophies. But the intention is to bring some of these critical practices outside of the Forte's gates, into the surrounding Centocelle quarter in Rome. The projects that will be built for the BABEL2 biennale should not only benefit the squatters but also the inhabitants of the neighbourhood.
During the preparatory meeting of the BABEL2 biennale, the MAP-it tool was used to gather ideas for projects, as well as to develop a shared vision for the biennale. For the background map we used a detailed map of the Forte, as well as some of the surrounding streets of the area. There was an initial discussion about whether to use a detailed background map or a more open drawing of abstract architectural features (by an underground artist). A concrete map conceptually smells like order and control, which in squat culture is not appreciated. We decided on a detailed map to be able to point to concrete spaces - with the knowledge that the MAP-it tool is open for adaption and that the background map can be transformed by the participants. As the mapping question we defined "How can the BABEL festival be a bridge between the dynamic of the Forte Prenestino and the wider urban/social situation of the surrounding quarter?" The Forte is a breeding ground for experiment and social innovation - but as long as this stays inside the fortified walls of the Forte, society doesn't benefit.
During the preparatory meeting, two workshops took place over two days. The first day there was a MAP-it session with primarily architectural students, divided over two mapping groups. The second day, six squatters came together around a table to do the second MAP-it session: four from the Forte itself and two Dutch squatters on a visit. After this session there was a closure moment where students and squatters exchanged their results and had a final discussion. The results of all groups were remarkably similar. There was a wish to direct the festival towards the themes of critical thinking (and living) and biocompatibility, with connection and openness with the neighbourhood as two core points of attention. Many of the projects that participants came up were to have a more welcoming entry of the Forte and communicating the Forte's activities in a better way. One group of architectural students analysed the Forte's entry in a scenographic way, formulating many points for improvement for light design, security and signage. The other student group wished to place a playground near the entry, as a (lowcost) extension of the government-built public playground nearby. The general visibility of the Forte could be improved with a portal, uniform signage and an activities list including today's menu. The thoughts on the inside of the Forte were mostly focussed on increasing its biocompatibility. There were ideas for a biological vegetable garden and compost heap (open for the neighbourhood) and a biodigester. And maybe the festival would be a good reason to finally push through the long term ideas for evolving towards solar power. A main concern was to open up the conception and development of these projects towards a participation with the neighbourhood.
General Resume map. High resolution version.
Resume map of the squatters group. High resolution version.
Resume map of the students group. High resolution version.