Asbestos Hats : an architectural lesson

Asbestos is a fibrous material that for more than fifty years has covered the roofs of many Italian cities of a fine white dust, invisible to the eye but an insidious danger for public health.

Since 1992, asbestos has been banned in Italy and in many other European countries, but its production has not yet stopped in Brazil, Canada, Russia, and has extended its tentacles also to China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Thailand, which welcomed it with enthusiasm attracted by its appealing low economic cost and that vaunted eternity  ( Eternit ) that has made ​​it famous – today and in ancient times – for its indestructibility. [1] Before crossing the world of construction industry in the 20th century, asbestos was used by the Greeks in the production of fire-resistant clothing, and by Persians and Romans to weave the sheets in which corpses were wrapped before cremation. Marco Polo in his ‘Il Milione’ (1298) tells that in China this material was largely employed in the manufacturing of tablecloths.

If Italy is still counting the unnoticed deaths that ‘the Eternal’ has cynically spread over the entire territory, the unroofed artifacts that this virus has mercifully left standing up, are still clearly visible today. [2] As bony bodies, they are slowly losing the strength to survive, carrying on their pillars the weight of unsolicited speculations and lust for power; they ignore the reasons for their current state of isolation and, vulnerable leave themselves be hit by a penetrating rain of invective and a cold wind of disdain. Kept away from public, they lie dormant; although only a few brave steps walk through, they still hope that Architecture will save them from a fate that seems inexorably already written. These dejected skeletons no longer have any asbestos hat to protect them, they have lost an important part of their Being, but they have been stripped of a covering not of their own identity. [3]

If the Garden Chair by Willy Guhl (1954-1980) has been enclosed in a glass case and kept safe at the Vitra Design Museum for the historical contribution that his design has given to the world, [4] Architecture cannot let a case segregate the infected artifacts in fear of a global contagion; ‘use’ is what makes a combination of forms, a locus. However an ideal glass bell might be built, one that preserves History from indifference. Architecture has acquitted asbestos from the 1930s to the 1990s, despite the danger of this product was known many years before its final removal from the European market; why should now condemn the results of this slaughter instead of accusing herself of having supported an operation considered risky and ascertained harmful? Demolition cannot help to forget, but a transformation is necessary to do so.

Architecture may still bow to the audience and tipping her asbestos hat leave the scene humbly and without applause; a new hat might revolutionize her role so that the red velvet curtains may finally open to a new story. A story that is not written by Madame Architecture, she does not perform actions rather encourages them. Architecture does not play the role of an Old Master, she does not teach an absolute truth nor explicates predefined meanings. Architecture is ignorant, she teaches what she doesn’t know; it is the Public who decides to learn and consciously write a new plot.

‘Meaning is the work of the will. This is the secret of universal teaching’. [5]

NOTES :

[1]. ‘DUST, the great asbestos trial ‘, documentary, Niccolò Bruna and Andrea Prandstraller, https://vimeo.com/69610673 ;

[2]. ‘Amianto, le morti silenziose’, documentary, RAI TV, http://www.rai.tv/dl/RaiTV/programmi/media/ContentItem-c4794081-09a5-4a6a-bf0f-31a6118767cb.html ;

[3]. Siace Paper Factory after the removal of asbestos, Catania, Sicily, https://vimeo.com/108405680

[4].Vitra Design Museum, Garden Chair, Willy Guhl, http://www.design-museum.de/en/collection/100-masterpieces/detailseiten/gartensessel-willy-guhl.html .

[5] . Rancière, Jacques : The Ignorant Schoolmaster, 1991

SIACE Paper Factory after the removal of asbestos [ Catania, Sicily ]

SIACE Paper Factory after the removal of asbestos, Sicily

Siace,Sicily 5

Siace, Sicily 4

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s