In order to describe the fifteen year objectives of the Borgo Abruzzo project, rather than a dry list of goals and intentions, we have chosen to present a narrative of a day in the distant year 2030. In so doing, we recount the phases of development foreseen by the project and the intended outcome over time.
Castelvecchio Calvisio, Date: 2030
You wake up to the sound of birds in the rooftops and footsteps and the sweeping of streets. From your window you look out across undisturbed mountain landscape to compact towns in the distant hills, towns to which you might walk in a couple of hours, or bike to in a half-hour. You see no cars; they are there but stored deep underground to be used for rare outings to distant destinations. If you need to travel somewhere today, you can descend to car storage, retrieve your hybrid Alfa and zip over to the coast (one hour) or to l’Aquila (30 minutes) or even to Rome (1.5 hours). Or you may prefer to catch the shuttle to the train which will whisk you into the city or the airport, allowing you to catch up on reading or work in comfort and reduce your carbon footprint further.
But most likely, unless you have a compelling reason to be elsewhere, you will pass your day in town. You might go for a walk or a jog along the trails which lead directly from your door past gardens and out into the restored landscape where the fresh air and diverse flora clear your head. On your return you stop for breakfast at the cafe where the owner greets you by name and fills you in on local gossip. As you sip your cappucino, you scan the headlines on your ipad (connected to the town’s high-speed wifi) and shoot off emails to your editor in New York and your financial advisor in London. You post an image from your morning walk to Instagram, tweet your thoughts on policy decisions by the EC in the mideast, and ask the barista what he thinks about the European election results. On your way home, you stop in the piazza to buy organic greens which have just been harvested, and then at the butcher who is making sausage, the bakery where fresh bread is coming out of the oven, and the cheese store. You also stop at the Post Office to pick up some packages that arrived the previous day while you were out: a couple of books bought on Amazon, ram for your laptop, and parts for your mountain bike produced by a start-up in Rotterdam, all ordered online and paid for through Paypal.
With your purchases in tow, you stop off at your apartment and leave everything on the kitchen table, shower and change, and head out again. A two minute walk down one street, around a corner, up some stairs, and you are at your studio space, in a transformed top-floor of a medieval tower house. Your workstations have already booted up, light is streaming in through skylights and photovoltaic thinfilm integrated into the roof tiles are producing more energy than you need to run your technology. On the server shared with colleagues in Berlin, Amsterdam and Mumbai you see modified versions of a video project that you have been editing. After a quick viewing you call up on Skype the project team, streaming them in HD video on your 27” iMac, and discuss the project status and deadlines. You dedicate the next three hours to concentrated creative activity, pushing to complete your task by lunch time. In the early afternoon a young programmer, the daughter of local artisans who moved here from Scotland last year, will be coming to work and you want to leave clear instructions. You had arranged a lunch for some visiting engineers who are here on a working retreat, one of whom in particular, a lanky blond dutchwoman, had caught your eye, so you head back home to open a bottle of local wine and begin cooking. It is warm enough to eat in the garden overlooking the snow-covered mountains in the distance. The conversation, the food and the wine prolong the meal into the afternoon and you eventually have to make excuses to get back to your studio to check on your intern, with promises to get together again later to show your dutch friend your garden.
Back in the studio, you work into the evening on preparations for a symposium you are organizing at the Centro Studi in Castelvecchio in the summer, a three-day event dedicated to Abruzzo agricultural traditions and the role of towns, which scholars from throughout Europe will be attending. The rest of the afternoon is spent skyping sponsors in four continents to lock in funding, drafting emails, fine-tuning the calendar with some local calls to friends in town who will be providing venues, including the architects who are building the outdoor theater set (with volunteer labor from the Rome-based study abroad program of a noted East coast university).
This is just one of a rich calendar of events that the village hosts throughout the year. The primary function of the Centro Studi is to host scholarly activities for European and international academic programs during spring and fall semesters as well as during the summer months. North American university programs in architecture and other disciplines, under the supervision of AACUPI, come to Abruzzo to carry out research on archaeology, medieval urban studies, urban ecology and economics. Some come for the day, while others stay for up to a week in local lodging and attend workshop activities or travel to neighboring towns each day. Archaeological field schools have seen students excavate important Roman and medieval sites during month long programs for which university credit was given. The study center, housed in a high-performance, environmentally sensitive green-roofed building at the edge of the borgo, provides an auditorium for lectures and group meetings (capacity: 50 people), a library for research and independent study with a sufficient collection of books on cities, ecology and the Abruzzo region, and offices, storage and support services for basic program administration. The adjacent Palazzo del Capitano was restored to provide exhibition space and a cafe managed by the school for hospitality. Elsewhere in the borgo, a restaurant and visitors center serve as a logistical base for program participants who are housed in dispersed lodging in renovated homes within the village center.
One of the most successful and renowned programs is called “Studio Remote”, inspired by Auburn University’s Rural Studio program in Alabama. Each year, a dozen Architecture students are selected out of hundreds of applicants from Italian and American universities. They work in close contact with top international architects and with local craftspeople to design –and then build –needed facilities for the community. Some of the projects have included the construction of photovoltaic greenhouses, underground refuges for shepherds, and the restoration of stone retaining walls to prevent erosion at the town’s edge. The Studio Remote program serves to keep alive local construction techniques as well as providing needed structures and educating a new generation of students about appropriate technology.
There is the winter sports season which brings cross-country skiers and snow trekking aficionados for weeks of races, lessons and exhibitions and sees the town bustling with glowing lights and roaring fires. In the spring the return of the sheep from the plains is celebrated with agricultural festivals and local traditions, attended by visitors from around the world. Spring also sees the arrival of international business retreats, teams of engineers and scientists who have discovered in the Castelvecchio Calvisio Center an ideal base for concentrated brainstorming, where the contrast between dense walkable village facilities and exposure to undisturbed nature promote clear creative thinking. Summer workshops attract artists and writers, drawn by the temperate weather and peaceful atmosphere where they can draw, paint or write inspired by their surroundings. And the fall harvest is marked by cultural and gastronomic festivities which fill the town all over again.
With all this activity and visitors from around the world, you don’t get bored in Castelvecchio, but when business or pleasure beckons you have little difficulty planning global travel from your mobile device–no need for a travel agent– and heading out into the world. It is easy to catch the electric shuttle bus to l’Aquila that connects directly to the train to Roma Tiburtina where you catch the high-speed train to the rest of Europe. Or, if your destination is further away, you take the airport shuttle to Fiumicino, an hour’s drive from l’Aquila. Compared to decades earlier, when traveling was for many a necessary evil and most destinations were starting to look alike, digital communication has returned travel to a rare but meaningful intercultural experience, supportive of the authentic “genius loci” of each destination.
At your day’s end back in Castelvecchio, far from feeling isolated or cut off from the world, you appreciate your harmonious balance with the local ecosystem and global networks, from food and friends within a ten-minute walk to information, culture, opportunity and virtual communities all over the planet but accessible at your fingertips.