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A Minimal Intervention in the Architecture of Italian Fascist Villages.

  • Essay
  • May 19 2023
  • Marginal Studio
    Founded in 2014 by Francesca Gattello & Zeno Franchini, Marginal Studio is a collaborative entity exploring the margins of the design field and the roles it can play in the making of societies. It uses prototypes, installations, writings, and films to investigate and document the production of objectual universes and spaces, and their implications on a planetary scale. Marginal Studio develops a practice in a continuous dialogue with other professions, expertise, and cultures. Within and against logic and structures of design, art, and architecture, it aims to constructive dissent, experimenting interactions as forms of social practice and political awareness.

In the countryside of Siracusa in 1939, Borgo Rizza was built as part of the land subjugation project planned by the Ente di Colonizzazione del Latifondo Siciliano (​​Sicilian Latifund Colonization Authority). Fascism had identified the territory where Borgo Rizza is situated as empty and backward; an abstract, uniform, and homogenous geographical space destined to be developed and repopulated. From the perspective of the Fascists, Sicily represented the final frontier of national modernization, a rural world considered as a land to be occupied. Borgo Rizza was one of the many rural settlements that acted as a scenographic space for Fascist propaganda, showing the progress of modernization in the Italian countryside and the call for a redistribution of land that never happened.

The Fascist regime was inspired by the rational model and architecture of imperial colonies for the design of this newly-formed settlement. However, the impression that one has of Borgo Rizza today is that the village was never meant to function as a center for farmers' lives, as was originally intended. Following the 2008 restoration of some Fascist villages by regional authorities and rural development funds, the collective action of Decolonizing Architecture Advanced Studies (DAAS), the Critical Urbanism course at the University of Basel (Switzerland) and the Municipality of Carlentini, where the villages are situated, made it possible to conduct a critical reflection on Borgo Rizza, and the difficult heritage it represents. In late summer 2022, these international students and researchers, as well as the local community, held a pedagogical gathering to problematize the colonial history of the Italian countryside. During that time, Marginal Studio in Palermo developed an intervention designing a mobile kitchen and a related event series to enable the re-inhabitance of the Borgo as a way to reclaim its history. In fact, living in the Borgo seemed to be the most constructive act of dissent against its Fascist-era purpose of expropriating the farmers and colonizing their land. 


fig. 1


In order to inhabit Borgo Rizza, a mobile kitchen seemed to be the most basic necessity, as the buildings had little to no plumbing or wiring. But constructing a kitchen also served a social purpose, as food provides the most direct means of reconnecting human presence to its nearby surroundings. Cooking and eating are activities that come very close to crafting. Food is a language in itself, one that does not require the people around the table to speak the same language. It's an intercultural sharing of an intimate material experience. When a local group of refugees and asylum seekers asked to join the activities of the summer school, most of them didn’t speak English or Italian. Still, we could work side by side, as making and consuming food are activities that do not require a common spoken language. After preparing and cooking the tomatoes and the pasta, the day culminated in dancing to an Egyptian EDM track, locals from nearby villages and migrants side by side. This sort of gathering wouldn’t have been possible without a shared collective experience; a convivial moment of making a hospitable infrastructure. In essence, such a moment is probably the exact inversion of what the original Fascist ideology that constructed Borgo Rizza would have stood for. 

We proposed to inaugurate the kitchen with a salsa making workshop, inviting the nearby community of Carlentini to reappropriate Borgo Rizza and take part in creating a new history for the area. The preparation of Sicilian salsa involved an exploration of the past and current conditions of local heirloom tomato crops that are no longer used due to the industrial development of agriculture and the exploitation of farmers in Europe. The ongoing exploitation of land and landworkers connects to the true legacy of Fascism in Italy: xenophobia.

Racism in Italy manifests itself in ways that are not always visible to the general public, but is quite evident in the Sicilian landscape. The Plains of Catania and Vittoria are known for their greenhouses and modern slavery. This is where one can witness caporalato, a form of illegal recruitment in which mostly migrant workers are paid below the minimum wage, sometimes earning as little as €30 for a twelve hour shift. Caporalato remains the exploitative condition necessary to maintain incredibly cheap cherry tomatoes in supermarkets across the continent, and why certain varieties of tomatoes have replaced others.


fig. 2


In order to talk about these difficult topics during the re-inhabitation of Borgo Rizza, we collaborated with Alagie Jinkang, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of the Arts in the University of Bologna. Jinkang, who experienced the exploitation himself, is currently researching human rights and immigration laws. In our salsa-making workshop, Jinkang helped us to guide workshop participants in how to address caporalato.

The metal structure of the kitchen was made in collaboration with Ebrima Kanteh, a Gambian welder from Palermo. The tops were crafted in lava stone, a direct reference to the architectural contradictions of Borgo Rizza: while the region might appear modernist and rationalist at first glance, its structures were in fact realized according to the vernacular techniques of the Etna region. Modernity, in Borgo Rizza’s case, was more fiction than reality. 

The design project of the kitchen inserted itself in the context of the existing heritage of the area, and addressed contemporary issues by embodying the material reality of Sicily. Rethinking Borgo Rizza and other small-scale Fascist monuments can only take place by considering the endemic practices of rituals, habits, and needs of the various communities that have come into contact with them. Healing the historical rupture with the landscape is to regenerate, rather than deprive, people of their material worlds, underlining the role that objects, such as the mobile kitchen, play in connecting to our surroundings.




    Collective salsa preparation in Borgo Rizza, Sicily, Summer 2022.



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