Walking, resting, absorbing the Italian way of life… the Highlands-based architectural designer immerses herself in the local attitudes and pace
Andato, riposo. This is the rhythm of my short summer scholarship to study Florence’s crannies and crevices. Walk, then rest – especially in the heat of the day, which, with a bambino in a heatwave, is between 11 and 4. The Italian riposo, that long lunchtime break, confused me, a Highland-dwelling Englishwoman used to cooler climates and a more ‘efficient’ working day. But Italians don’t mind stopping time to eat, sleep and relax with family. Rest and interruption form part of their culture – things take longer to say, sentences longer to form, words drawn out by an excess of vowels. Their motto is ‘Pazienza!’ – they think generationally, and they don’t mind interruption because it’s a space for something from that alternative dimension of ‘rest’ to manifest – and I like all that. It’s natural that the Renaissance, or ‘re-birth’, occurred here; beauty is birthed from the womb of rest. Certainly, there is always labour involved: great works require hard work. But there are also gestational periods of becoming where little appears to be happening except when viewed over time.
The Dark Ages, with rural friaries safeguarding bygone Classical knowledge, was such a gestational period from which the Renaissance emerged. As monasteries urbanised, their ideas, rescued from Antiquity, came to term as Florence’s economy boomed – thanks to the merchants and the Medici. To me, riposo is a daily dark age, where temporality collapses and the order of the working day falls like Rome merely because of the sun’s heat. The morning’s ideas slumber and dreams begin rearranging them. The body is nourished and the mind thus replenished, and logos can progress within the rapport of dialogue and family conversation. In that context of the communal, values are re-established before one returns to the flow of horizontal time, and ideas that slept can be ‘renaissanced,’ emerging afresh. Renewed in body and spirit, I resurface into the streets for my afternoon wanderings: andato, riposo, andato…
While gestures of andato and riposo form Florentines’ daily habits, they also form the urban fabric. Andato: these are the bridges, streets, cloisters, the long, narrow places of movement: corridors, crannies. Riposo: these are the churches, cafés, the tabernacles hallowed from the streets, the artisans’ dwellings hanging from bridges, cells teetering over cloisters, places of rest, craft, contemplation: recesses, rooms, nooks.
Back home and exhausted by the first trimester, I find myself wishing dearly for a riposo. But merely appropriating riposo is not the point. We must appropriate the attitude from which riposo arose: attending to climate. And not ‘climate’ in some grand-yet-vague global sense, but rather simply attuning to the local. Florence co-operates with its context, rather than attempting to dominate. It was built from the ground it sits upon (an old trick easing costs and logistics). The buildings breathe: out with the heat, in with the cool. The omnipresent green shutters are closed throughout morning excursions, with windows ajar: you return for riposo to a cool flat. Deep eaves cast long, cool shadows across the facades. Thick walls absorb heat during the day, releasing it at night: you stay temperate as you sleep. The attitude in both daily habit and urban fabric, temporally, spatially – is one of collaboration with climate. An attitude of latitude.
This is something we can appropriate in the UK, where we expect strawberries year-round and work the same hours daily regardless of sun, moon and season. Seasonality seems permanently out of season and the sense of a vernacular that emerges from the local is disappearing. How to make ‘home’ – an architecture and lifestyle rooted in person and place? This is for me the ‘take home.’