This project proposes a prototype for municipal workshops to be built in the extreme periphery of Rome, a territory also known as the agro romano. It envisions workshops built by the municipality and run by associations of local inhabitants as community centers. Besides hosting social and care facilities, municipal workshops offer workplaces to the nearby community. Municipal workshops are thus a response to the urgent need for spaces for “near-working,” that is, working remotely but not from home.
The prototype is tested in the settlements of Rome’s Municipio xi, an area that includes a large number of suburban settlements, most of them built illegally in the last forty years. These are the so-called “O Zones”: a bureaucratic term that identifies illegal settlements that were legalized after the fact with the payment of a fine. It was precisely the practice of after-the-fact regularization that encouraged landowners and settlers to build without formal permits. Such settlements are referred to as toponimi (literally “place names”): illegal settlements awaiting official recognition—and an official name—from the municipality. Once these settlements are legalized, the municipality provides them with only a bare minimum of infrastructure such as roads and basic services. Today, the agro romano, especially in its eastern portions corresponding to the Ager Tusculanus, can be considered an archipelago of settlements deprived of any form of social welfare. These settlements are the bare embodiment of the logic of private property as the only “right” left to people, after the state and the city refuse to guarantee any other form of social protection or welfare. The project’s municipal workshops represent the attempt to provide these settlements with a non- commercial social space that supports both productive and reproductive activities by combining them into one civic structure.
The daily life imposed by the lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic has made the need for nearby workplaces even more urgent, as many people were left with the only option of improvising their workstations in their homes, which are often unsuitable for combining living and working. Yet the coronavirus emergency has made evident a long-standing problem of many contemporary cities, which is a chronic crisis of care. This crisis is motivated by decades of privatization of public assets and economic austerity that resulted in budget cuts for everything that concerns the welfare of citizens. The ubiquity of freelance work has worsened this situation, leaving many people without any possibility of social security. Many workers are not only deprived of a proper workplace but also and especially of those social links and rights that came from collective workplaces, such as mutual support and unions. This condition has produced not only work precarity but also domestic precarity: young working families, elderly and disabled residents are left to organize their care autonomously, with dire existential (and financial) consequences.
Confronting this situation, a group of researchers, urbanists, and policymakers active in Rome has proposed to build municipal workshops in the Roman suburbs. They propose the municipal workshop as a free-of-charge and safe space with a robust internet connection and reachable by foot or bike from the surrounding houses. Municipal workshops condense into one structure workplaces and care services. In this way, by offering convertible workspace, municipal workshops can act as an active platform for the social and political organizing of freelance workers and all those dependent workers who have been forced or have chosen to work from home. Besides offering space for immaterial and material workers, each municipal workshop offers a suite of spaces dedicated to care activities (child care, elderly case, communal kitchen, medical assistance) and social services (library, meeting hall, info point for work-related is- sues). Moreover, municipal workshops offer emergency homes for homeless persons or for those who for various reasons cannot live in their home, due for example to domestic violence. By combining workstations and reproductive facilities, the municipal workshop can manifest the interdependence of waged work with all those unwaged or professionalized domestic activities that are the inevitable flip side of what we consider “work.”
In terms of buildings, municipal workshops are meant to be distributed across the city as “units” in order to cater to a pool of users that is neither too small nor too big, so that the workshops can be sustained over a long term by an active community of nearby inhabitants. While construction and repairs are the responsibility of the municipality, the daily functioning and maintenance are provided by the residents, who sustain these duties with voluntary work. In this way, municipal workshops counter the public-private partnership model that has dominated many “public” initiatives in the last decades, by introducing a public-commoning alliance between the city administration and associations of residents.
Our proposal formalizes the municipal workshop as a two-story rectilinear structure whose length can be adapted to local conditions. In plan the structure is organized as a two- bay system defined by a long supporting wall in which one bay is left unobstructed and acts as multifunctional space while the other bay is subdivided into rooms which host both work- stations and specific programs. This organization is meant to counter the trend of open space, typical of many co-working spaces, offering instead a scenario defined by a gradient of spac- es from small to large, from intimate to collective. The form of the municipal workshop is reminiscent of the longhouse, a type of inhabitation that appeared in many parts of the world at different times and whose communal organization upset the traditional coincidence of household and family. As such, municipal workshops are meant to go beyond the public/private dichotomy and become communal domestic spaces that expand domesticity outside the private home as a collective infrastructure of mutual support.
Pier Vittorio Aureli and Martino Tattara with Mariapaola Michelotto, Celeste Tellarini, Frederik Dahlqvist.