Dario Franceschini (Ferrara, 1958) is a lawyer with a pronounced literary propensity. He’s also Italy’s culture minister, known for championing the country's heritage as its complex society struggles with major structural and functional challenges.
During his career at the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism (MiBAC), Franceschini has succeeded in guiding his department along an uncharted and highly relevant path by introducing significant changes. Often, they represent a break with the institutional concept of the public good. Sometimes, they are a new twist on the very delicate relation between the ideation and enjoyment of the cultural experience in Italian society at the start of the 21st century.
So none better than he to usher in the newly designed website of the historical magazine Domus, a reference point with an international tradition, now reformulated as an Italian workshop hosting debate on architecture, design and art – in a word, everything Italy is known for.
Walter Mariotti: Minister Franceschini, what role do architecture and design have today in your opinion?
Dario Franceschini: Architecture has the task of designing human space, building the limits of its experience and giving meaning to its contents. At the moment, all this should aim to rebuild the sense of community that has been lost in most of our cities, especially in the outskirts. We need to think, design and build inhabited spaces, starting with the ones in which the metropolitan population works and dreams. Here, cultural aggregators must constitute the new centres of a replanned city in which people travel to the outskirts to get acquainted and experiment with what's new. Design, on the other hand, has the task of instilling daily life with beauty and practicality, two fundamental prerequisites for our times.
Walter Mariotti: What are the urgent matters that architecture must address right now?
Dario Franceschini: Urban rehabilitation, meaning that many buildings in central or semi-central areas of the city need to be brought up to current standards concerning earthquakes, energy savings and safety. The outskirts need to be replanned by the insertion of high-quality contemporary architecture that can generate material and immaterial value. The quality of metropolitan life needs the designing and building of public transport infrastructure that meets the requirements of an increasingly mobile population.
We need to think, design and build inhabited spaces, starting with the ones in which the metropolitan population works and dreams.
Walter Mariotti: Can architecture solve the country’s fragility in the face of natural disasters and big social changes such as migration?
Dario Franceschini: Indubitably, architecture is the tool. But only statecraft in the highest sense of the word can be a solution: the ability to understand phenomena and guide their evolution. To overcome Italy’s fragility, we need to stop unregulated building not just by banning and repressing it, but especially by educating people to build responsibly. We need to prevent that entire neighbourhoods are erected on the beds of streams and underground rivers, on clayey terrain, and in high-risk areas of seismic and volcanic activity. Social transformations need to be interpreted and constantly accompanied by inclusion policies that can turn a potential crisis into an opportunity for growth for this country. Migration is a constant factor throughout the history of humanity. Statecraft means using good architecture so that not ghettos, but new communities arise in which new and old Italians can live together, learn from one another and be enriched.
Walter Mariotti: Besides being a resource for our industry, can design bring cultural advancement and integration?
Dario Franceschini: Our design is the fruit of the taste and aesthetics of Italian culture, so naturally it can be a tool for integration.
Walter Mariotti: What relation do you see between trends and projects, between society and utopia?
Dario Franceschini: Without a utopia, there is no society. Without projects, there are no trends. By aiming for ambitious goals, we can mobilise the energy needed to reach them. Without a vision, we get lost in daily life and the mere satisfaction of primary needs.
To overcome Italy’s fragility, we need to stop unregulated building not just by banning and repressing it, but especially by educating people to build responsibly. (...) Social transformations need to be interpreted and constantly accompanied by inclusion policies that can turn a potential crisis into an opportunity for growth for this country.
Walter Mariotti: Will the role of criticism and civil society, meaning the Italian genius of which Domus is an emblem, still be relevant in the digital society of the 21st century?
Dario Franceschini: It will be decisive. Digital society is nothing without content. Italian genius, critical capacity and creativity are the generators of culture, without which all content is void.
Walter Mariotti: Domus has branched into many foreign editions (China, Sri Lanka, India, Germany, Central America and Africa) that have become vital reference points in the contemporary debate. Is this a sign of the strength of Italian-made products and culture?
Dario Franceschini: The Italian lifestyle is famous, appreciated and envied all over the world. It is a sign of strength that the magazine’s foreign editions are not pale attempts at imitation, but direct offshoots of an authoritative and accredited publication.
Walter Mariotti: One of the big topics now is the rehabilitation and preservation of the natural surroundings. Do you adhere to a specific landscape model, meaning a domesticated landscape that can stand up to climate change and new human effort?
Dario Franceschini: Without new development, the landscape does not exist. The landscape is the fruit of harmonious interaction between civilisation and nature, where humans skilfully shape the surroundings. This is the model of the European landscape, diversified in each country by original traits rooted in social, political and economic history. Our precise duty is to defend this model, prevent abuse and adapt it to climate change and natural events by taking better care of our land. This will be on the agenda of the General Landscape Assembly to be held in Rome at Palazzo Altemps on 25 and 26 October.
Walter Mariotti: Is it feasible to create a network to protect the thousands of villages, many of them abandoned, that constitute Italy’s architectural and artistic heritage? Often they are considered minor assets, but they give the countryside its flavour.
Dario Franceschini: The approval of the Realacci law regarding small towns is good news in this regard. The regulation has strong support from the government and it provides concrete measures for the economic development and growth of small towns in a sustainable key, in order to counter depopulation. The law was recently approved, confirming the agreement between the government's choices and the Parliament’s wishes concerning this strategic point. Unison was found regardless of political affiliation. This is a great opportunity to improve and develop small towns, hamlets and entire areas that represent the heart and soul of our identity.
Without new development, the landscape does not exist. The landscape is the fruit of harmonious interaction between civilisation and nature, where humans skilfully shape the surroundings.
Walter Mariotti: Is there a model in the world that we can follow, or is the right model the Italian one?
Dario Franceschini: The Italian model is suitable for the original traits of our country, which possesses extensive heritage, the fruit of numerous civilisations that developed here over thousands of years and political fragmentation that lasted 1,500 years. Every nation has its own history, and that’s precisely where the problems of the present and the solutions of the future reside.
Walter Mariotti: What about the plan to rehabilitate the city outskirts?
Dario Franceschini: Soon the renewal of the Cerimant premises in the Tor Sapienza district of Rome will start. The Cerimant is an abandoned military area on the eastern outskirts of the capital, but it is connected by tracks to the Termini train station. Cerimant will become a potent cultural aggregator with artists’ residences, ateliers and experimental spaces. It is the first of a long series of projects that are scheduled, all initiatives that will turn the periphery into the new centres of our cities, where people will go to experiment with new creative trends. Many of these projects will be on display at the exhibition “Da io a noi: la città senza confini” at the Quirinal Palace in Rome (24.10–17.12.2017). For the first time, the Palace will be open to contemporary art with an exposition on the pertinent theme of urban outskirts.