A return to focusing on people and how they spend their time together, to building new relationships in communities through the design of cities and public spaces – the time has come to pursue all these values, which are summed up by the word togetherness. These are the non-negotiables that Bologna studio Rizoma Architetture, headed by Giovanni Franceschelli, expresses in its architecture and now in a new monograph, a book that grew out of reflections on both our increasingly fluid and hybrid world, and the last two years of restricted human contact and interaction.
Titled Togetherness and published by THE PLAN Editions, the book was officially launched on May 10 at Togetherness Night, an event held at The Student Hotel (TSH) in Bologna, whose interior design was the work of Rizoma Architetture. The book launch was a chance to retrace the events that led up to and influenced its writing, as well as for participants to reignite the discussion of city living, its quality, and the importance of public spaces. The session moderator was director and co-founder of THE PLAN, Nicola Leonardi, while the participants included Giovanni Franceschelli; TSH’s managing director of brand experience, Jason Steere; artist and president of the Eta Beta cooperative in Bologna, Joan Crous; and Alfonso Femia, founder of Atelier(s) Alfonso Femia. One of the topics discussed was a new beginning.
A deer, barely managing to stay afloat in the Secchia River and completely cut off. In front of him, behind the camera, is the man who took the photo, Luca Capuano. This book grew out of that sense of loneliness. “What’s happened and what’s still happening now? Where are we going with our lives? These are the questions we try to answer,” beginning with our daily work, said the founder of Rizoma. The search for a new community stems from this, the design not only of architectural spaces but, more importantly, “of social spaces,” Franceschelli stressed.
The new beginning being discussed here isn’t some sporadic search for new living ideas or lifestyles that are different or never before seen. To quote Togetherness, this new beginning is about “a deeper understanding of existing human relationships,” embracing the philosophy epitomized by the thoughts and work of artist Joan Crous, manager of the Bologna art space Spazio Battirame – that is, to create spaces that are resilient to external forces but also able to provide quality of life within the most varied communities, including in marginalized communities: “We focus on this every day – on the people who bring architecture to life,” says the Catalan artist who has lived in Bologna since she attended university here, recalling how the great challenge of the future is, to her mind, “engaging with the marginalized.” Crous is the first “lone voice” (as the examples of togetherness exemplified in the work of Rizoma have been described) that’s woven into the polyphony of the book.
Another of the book’s voices belongs to Alfonso Femia, who, at the launch, talked about the close attention he’s always paid – and not just in the architectural sense – to the meaning of a project, to investigating the trajectories it initiates, the thought that went into futureproofing the project, and to the “extent of reflection on building a better future,” he adds, expressing in different words the need to engage with the marginalized. This is also discussed in the book through the interpretive lens of La Bonne Ville, the book authored by Femia and Paul Ardenne about responsible architecture:
“For an architect, combatting social vulnerability involves thinking through situations, engaging in dialogue, encouraging integration, fostering a sense of belonging, and refusing to be indifferent to end users and their situations …. When it comes to a commitment to alleviating social vulnerability, being an architect today means working as both an engineer and a nurse, as a psychologist and a sociologist.”
The venue for the book launch was the TSH in Bologna, a hybrid accommodation facility for students and tourists that opened in the second half of 2020. Students, in particular, are not only provided with a room during their university course, but also a whole series of services, including spaces to study, coworking areas, fitness facilities, and informal spaces for socializing. Rizoma Architettura was responsible for the interiors of TSH in Bologna (designed by Open Project), which are contemporary, colorful, and feature extensive glazed areas. The firm also looked after the interior design of TSH in Florence (designed by Archea Associati). The Bologna hotel, with an area of approximately 280 thousand square feet (26,000 m2) and 361 rooms, is designed to be a hub of creativity centered around an internal courtyard, where cultural events, concerts, and conferences can be staged.
“TSH has a mission,” commented Jason Steere, “to create community through spaces able to trigger their birth.”
Togetherness can be read as a reflection of Rizoma Architetture, as can its botanically derived name:
“The rhizome connects any point to any other point …. The rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo …. [it knows how to] move between things … overthrow ontology, do away with foundations, nullify endings and beginnings: from multiplicity of thought, every form of life is born.” Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari
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Photography by and courtesy of Ariya Karatas