“The World Bank and UnWoman (United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and to the empowerment of women), have recognized that women are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters and climate change in contexts where their rights and their socio-economic status are not the same as those of men and that remedying this inequality and, therefore, investing in women’s emancipation is a fundamental contribution to building climate resilience; that emission reduction solutions can be much more effective and fair if an approach that integrates a gender perspective is used in design – which also means that a higher number of women must be present in national and global bodies appointed to make decisions on this subject’, says Alfonso Femia, Atelier(s) Alfonso Femia
Our planet is in crisis – from climate change to the pollution in our oceans and devastation of our forests. This year, the theme for World Earth Day 2020 is Global Waste and Climate Action. Do you think gender equality play a role?
The effects of climate change do not make differences between men and women, between different species or between animals and plants. At least in this sense, climate change is sadly democratic. However, women seem to be more vulnerable to adverse environmental circumstances. For this reason, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), includes gender considerations for each policy phase and adaptation, with the aim to ensure that adaptation programs do not accentuate gender inequalities and vulnerabilities, and contribute to ensuring effective and practically feasible adaptation.
Katherine Wilkinson, co-author of the book Project Drawdown in which she thoroughly examines possible solutions to tackle global warming, elevates the emancipation of women and girls among the main ones. Wilkinson explains that there are “areas where, at the same time, women’s and girls’ rights can be guaranteed, resilience strengthened and emissions avoided”: access to resources – from credit to education, from work tools to land rights; the decrease in the growth of the world population which would be of great help to the environment, although, clearly, the issue of birth control is very complex because it could lead to imbalances and inefficiencies in anything other than environment. But even other institutions, including the World Bank and UnWoman (United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and to the empowerment of women), have recognized that women are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters and climate change in contexts where their rights and their socio-economic status are not the same as those of men and that remedying this inequality and, therefore, investing in women’s emancipation is a fundamental contribution to building climate resilience; finally, that emission reduction solutions can be much more effective and fair if an approach that integrates a gender perspective is used in their design – which also means that a higher number of women must be present in national and global bodies appointed to make decisions on this subject.
It often occurs in environmental communication that labels are assigned to major themes. The advantage is that is makes them easier to share; the disadvantage is that there is often a risk of being superficial in dealing with them.
Climate change is a matter of life and death for us too. With high rises, felling of trees, removing of lakes and forests, and destroying nature’ reserves, where are we going?
In the report on climate change, published in 2018, IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change) had explained that if we did not invert the process of climate-changing gas emissions, through concrete actions, global temperature would rise rapidly causing dramatic damage (increasing frequency of Arctic summer, disappearing of coral reefs, soil erosion, coastal flooding, drought). To mitigate all this, we must reduce global warming in the next decade. Therefore, the commitment to be made towards the climate is urgent.
Which project gave you the biggest break in this profession?
The project for the recovery of the Milanese Ice Factory and Ice Palace, built in 1899 in a semi-central area of Milan (Italy) and originally used as a food warehouse and ice factory.
I redesigned the entire complex which is privately owned, but with a playful public and entertainment function. On the ground floor and last floor, I designed a condition of visual and perceptual permeability, transforming the Ice Palace into a large covered square capable of hosting any kind of event, cultural, fashion, sports, … On the top floor of the Ice factory building, recovering the vaulted system of the roof and setting up a representative indoor space open to the public, I created a place that stages the territory of the city of Milan from east to west, and from north to south. The new distribution system is structured around a completely white “cavity” where the elevators are positioned within the volume and that accompanies us from a dense place towards the discovery of light and sky on the fourth floor, completely transparent on all four sides. At the same time, a system of external stairs, designed as a path at height that ends with a generous and linear terrace, innate elevation on the city, takes visitors from the parking level to the top floor, redesigning from the elevation.
I am very attached to this project which represented a turning point for me as an architect, and which marked the beginning of a focus on the values that we must put at the center of our profession and our society: responsibility and generosity, two faces of the same soul that puts us in dialogue with others and with the world.
Tell us about yourself. Do you have any role model whose traits you often follow?
I studied between the 80s and the 90s. I had many options to choose from. Neomodern, postmodern, deconstructivism… In the western world, the fecundity of schools of thought in architecture during those years was incredible. But I was lucky enough to meet real, sincere teachers, which led me to choose the “theory of doubt”, made of questions, research, listening, transversal vision, opposite to the theory of certainty, made of predefined methods, definitions, pre-established languages, which were already far away from reality creating mainly self-referential figures. I believe architecture must choose reality through man, with his dreams and desires that spontaneously lead to an idea of beauty, not only aesthetic or spatial, but as an encounter between the real and the imaginary that each of us possesses, even if it often does not express or dialogue with it.
So I chose, despite having considered all theories, to forget trends and to restart, not from zero, but from the essential, from the gaze, the journey, the words, the encounters, from everything that – regardless of its historical context – created an empathic dimension and therefore a feeling with the project, with an idea of future and with the healthy effort of having to imagine it and try to build it. This means placing quality, in its complex and articulated forms, in the foreground, a typical Italian attitude; adapting the architectural project to the place, to the program and respect of the client, to the budget and the certifications that must be of service to architecture and not vice versa; to consider public expectations and design aesthetics in harmony with local imagination.
Practicing reality with poetry, dreams and sentiment, an idea of beauty that resides in the different phases of the project and that always has man as its goal.
“All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions”, Leonardo Da Vinci.