On Saturday, 5 May, the Torre GalFa — an acronym based on the fact that it stands on the corner of two streets: via GALvani and via FAra —, with all of its 31 floors and underground garages, became Europe's largest occupied space. The idea of turning Melchiorre Bega's 1950s skyscraper — initially "home" to an oil company and then a bank before eventually being purchased by Italian developer Salvatore Ligresti — into the Macao arts centre verges on the sublime. "We didn't want a space with previous implications, like a museum, a theatre or a cinema; and we didn't want to merely re-appropriate a public space used for culture", explains Maddalena, one of the minds behind the occupation, "We raised our game because we are interested in an artistic — and cultural — concept that is far broader in the urban and social fabric."
"We want to show how the culture industry produces disparity, in Milan and beyond it, on both the work and urban fronts", adds Angelo. "What does the event economy leave on the ground — from the Furniture Fair to the EXPO, the Venice Biennale and the Forum delle Culture in Naples? Basically nothing, not for the citizens or the so-called creatives. It commandeers free labour and public space. It produces gentrification, like the huge Porta Nuova area behind here has done in the Isola district."
The next day is even better. Volunteers start coming in: a whole procession of architects, artists and designers with projects for greenhouses, shells, emergency furniture, cardboard beds and concert platforms. Ferdinando coordinates the workforce, assertively: "First, we need bathrooms and a concrete screed to cover the dust or we will suffocate in here! We have to live well". There is disconcertion. Architects always think on a grander scale, plans in hand. Then one comes up with the idea of used tarpaulins, another can bring tiles and pallets. Minds are switched on to recycled materials and they discuss warehouses. The cleaning and safety operations become acrobatic, with even a girl on stilts removing rotten cork from the ceiling.
We didn't want a space with previous implications, like a museum, a theatre or a cinema; and we didn't want to merely re-appropriate a public space used for culture
What will they do with all this space? Keeping it closed indefinitely would be an unforgivable crime. "We shall open one floor at a time and the pace of upward expansion will be in step with the projects and people willing to put them into practice. We could already fill many with those we have now", ends Angelo.