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E.V.A. from the earthquake to a DIY eco-village. Re-building a resilient community.

We reached Aquila a month after the earthquake (which took place on 6th April 2009) with a cart-tent that was to become our studio and living quarters for the following year. After a few weeks, which consisted of meetings with councilors, mayors and technicians of the Civil Protection, in search of a community project, we finally decided upon the committee for the rebirth of Pescomaggiore, a mountain village and borough of Aquila.

Pescomaggiore had been impacted the most by the consequences of the slow emergency relief, in regards to planning and rebuilding efforts.

Losing everything, even the most simple of daily routines, is most likely the worst consequence of an earthquake, leading towards what can be called, “the industry of assistance”. «Emergency can be looked upon as the disruption of democracy. Many people fall into a forced passiveness, when losing everything- even their home and their job. What does one do? One ends up living in emergency-tents, playing cards and watching TV. Inactivity becomes an addiction. You become subjected to promises and favours, and to all things that pull you down psychologically. It is the second response a human brain has towards emergency, but near Aquila winters are rough; the cold is known to awaken numbness. What surprised me the most is the cold-blooded attitude: here plans are firm, determined, built calmly (or so it seems), the idea is to find a solution together, not individually. “If it had only happened to me, I would have been alone”, says one of the victims, “but it has happened to everyone, and we give each other strength”. It is the other way the human mind can go on, during an emergency: not the militarization and the power, not the passive annihilation, but the creativity and energy of searching for new routes. Mankind can be amazing, with endless innovative resources. It is when you have to put everything at stake, in the most difficult and oppressive situations, that the most innovative and evolved solutions are found».

The citizens of Pescomaggiore were looking for ways of staying in their town; B.A.G – Beyond Architecture Group – lead by architects Paolo Robazza, Fabrizio Savini and Caleb Murray Burdeau, were looking for people ready to give space to their ideas.

The necessity to arrange temporary accommodation induced the committee to look for autonomous solutions. Therefore, we started working on the project, determining the parameters of E.V.A: setting up the relationship between the professionals, the client and the builder, through a process of participation and with the goal of building with low environmental impact and easy to assemble structures.

The project activated a mechanism of wide ranging solidarity, with over 120 volunteers coming from different European nations, who participated directly in the building process. People with different reasons for being there, brought their own personal skills and became part of the E.V.A community, which inevitably turned into a shared project. With their help, as well as the help of the citizens, we built five houses, using wooden-framed structures filled with bales of straw. Given that the houses were self-financed, both during the design phase and the building process, the operation had to focus on economization.

The choices taken in the development of the two types of houses – one of 40m2 , the other of 56m2 (net area) – were the consequence of an accurate site analysis, the needs of the population and community workshops, all leading to the inevitable involvement of the citizens in the construction phase. The distribution features of the design were in response to the initial input of the project: large windows and French doors, opening onto verandas, that would allow the occupants to quickly exit the building in case of another earthquake, whilst also taking into account the harsh weather conditions such as rain or snow which are prevalent in the region.

The walls made from bales of straw, positioned within a wooden-framed structure, have the advantages of creating a simple system of construction, which is economical, offering high thermal efficiency whilst also being easy to build. This last characteristic has proven crucial when working with novice builders.

Thanks to the effective thermal insulation properties of straw walls, they are appropriate both in winter and summer. In winter specifically, no matter the low local temperatures, the occupants will merely need a wooden stove, operating for a few hours a day. Comparing it to the traditional construction methods, this system will also achieve a decrease of over 75% of prior yearly energy consumption.

The dimensions of the building and each of its components is the result of a calculated optimization of material-use, as well as a choice dictated by the realistic availability of construction labour. It had been decided, for example, not to cut the mesh used to rig the concrete, and to avoid cutting the formwork boards as they were borrowed from a nearby site.

«The chosen bales are of a standard size of 100x45x35 cm, hence being easy to lift and position, meaning they don’t require expert skill in construction. Once the structure is built, the finish is applied with a layer of lime and sand plaster on both sides. The walls, therefore, become fireproof and isolated. It is also interesting to note how the bales of hay are economical and quick to assemble: the purchase and delivery of each bale can cost between 1.50 and 2.50 euros, such that the construction cost of a home is approximately 650,00 €/m2 . Once the emergency status is over, the estate will be adapted for social goals and the regeneration of tourism in the village».

One of the buildings has been insulated with old woollen blankets, useless for anything else. The lime mortar used for the wall coating was produced by grinding old tiles, that had fallen as a result of the earthquake; allowing the clean up of the village streets.

Photovoltaic panels installed on the roof, ensure the availability of electricity and hot water, while a system of rainwater recovery and the predisposition of a constructed wetland for the treatment of wastewater, make this housing complex a highly energy efficient eco-village.

E.V.A is still being built today, and will eventually be composed of seven homes, which will house twenty citizens in total.

It has been, to all of us, much more than a building-site or an emergency relief project. It has been an occasion to develop bonds and relationships, to extend upon them, and turn them into engines to power the reconstruction of the community. Not only have the citizens found a new home, but the means and the mode to start over.