Eterotopia: an international workshop explores the Maddalena landscape

For ten days, eight architectural firms and 80 students from all over the world explored the territory of La Maddalena archipelago and its numerous singularities.

Eterotopia, La Maddalena 2018

The archipelago of La Maddalena, a popular tourist destination in the north-east of Sardinia, is the ideal playground to stimulate artists’
and designers’ imagination. It is here that from 22 to 30 September 2018 a workshop entitled Heterotopia was held. It was conceived by an independent group of architects and supported by various organisations and local institutions.

The French philosopher Michel Foucault defined “heterotopias” as real places connected to all other spaces, ideal territories but corresponding to effectively realised utopias. 

They are episodes of suspension from reality, places that at the same time represent, challenge and overturn social spaces. According to Foucault: “Heterotopias have the power to juxtapose in a single real place, different spaces that are incompatible.”

Eterotopia, La Maddalena 2018
Eterotopia, La Maddalena 2018. Visit to the military battery of Punta Rossa in Caprera. Photo Alexandra Kononchenko

La Maddalena reflects this definition of heterotopia: it is a unique accumulation of territorial short circuits, perfectly representing the postmodern condition. 

“The area has been inhabited by lots of different occupants: from shepherds to migrants, from hermits to exiles, from soldiers to foreign workers, up to tourists who fill the beaches every summer,” says the Eterotopia collective.

Halfway between the busy summer season and the deserted winter, the workshop took place in the perfect time to enjoy the heavenly and still largely untouched landscape. 

For the workshop, the organisers gathered eight architecture studios (Enorme Studio, False Mirror Office, Open Fabric, Orizzontale, Parasite 2.0, Something Fantastic, Traumnovelle and Urbz), as many researchers, a few special guests (Stefano Boeri, Luis Callejas, Pippo Ciorra) and 80 students from all over the world. 

Before the start, the invited studios conceived eight floating totems, exhibited in a rocky cove called Cala Francese, where most of the activities took place, and which represented the themes to be developed.

Eterotopia, workshop alla Maddalena
Visit to the former Arsenale della Maddalena. The building designed by architect Stefano Boeri for the 2009 G8 was left unfinished. Photo Alexandra Kononchenko

During the ten days of the workshop, students and teachers worked with drawings and models to prepare an exhibition on display at La Maddalena’s town hall. Collective memory, trauma, survival, anthropocentrism, action, time, mobility, colonialism, myth and narrative are just some of the key words discussed during the event.

Among the most interesting and debated topics, the legacy left by the American military base of Santo Stefano, which for 38 years – from 1972 to 2008 – has literally upset the economy and the biorhythm of the territory.

Eterotopia, La Maddalena 2018
Photo Alexandra Kononchenko

More than a laboratory, Heterotopia is definable as an experience. Even if it has structured the ten days of the event, the project is perhaps the least relevant part, or rather, it is meant if conceived as a tool of knowledge rather than a way to solve problems. 

It is more important to discover an extremely complex territory. It is more important to go beyond superficial judgements and change one's gaze. It is more important to ask questions, provoke and discuss.

Perhaps the same organization of the laboratory, beyond the particular final results, is the answer to mass tourism and predatory that afflicts La Maddalena: it is an invitation to look at the territories with attention and critical spirit, to identify with the uniqueness of the sites and in bringing respect and kindness in places foreign to ours, like those to which we feel to belong.

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