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Utopias of Art and Architecture

Ludovico Quaroni

The town of Gibellina in western Sicily is an attempt to realise a Utopia through art and architecture. Gibellina’s special story is well known. In 1968, the Belice valley in western Sicily where the town is located was devastated by an earthquake that wreaked death and destruction. The desire of survivors to rebuild their communities was thwarted for long years, marked by heated polemic over political intrigue and unethical practices.
Rebuilding a town is not just about urban plans and construction. It is about “replacing” what has been swept away and “inventing” a new context to foster a social fabric with its baggage of human ties created through family and work, consolidated habits and community relations reaching back into the history. It is against this backdrop that architecture is called to play a decisive role to recreate the everyday and exceptional features that together make up the particular identity of historic communities that are the expression of our civilisation.
Recreating a vital ensemble of this kind, once it has been wiped out, is a complex task, requiring perhaps more than mere architectural and artistic acumen, however excellent. And yet the attempt to build “Gibellina Nuova” perpetuates an idea that architecture and art can trigger a higher quality of life within the urban context and do so through the creation of physical urban systems. The optimism and high ideals that fired the project and underpinned what has been achieved down long years during which reconstruction waxed and waned, have never faded. The Utopian ideal that Gibellina could be rebuilt as a place of art has persisted despite the setbacks. Artists and architects have answered the call to do their bit against the inertia, feet dragging and lack of resolve. The hope has never faded that a Utopia can be physically built, that after destruction by earthquake, a new civil entity can become a reality. Responding to the appeals, architects and artist have demonstrated...

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