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Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes 2023 rethinks the question of sustainable habitats

Seven cabins and fixtures installed in the Villa Medici in Rome, Italy, offer a chance to experience architecture that leaves its natural habitat unsullied.

by Almas SadiquePublished on : Aug 14, 2023

Our concrete jungles, were in the past, actual jungles, resplendent with creatures of the night and of the day, of the trees and of the ground, of the air and of the water. Colonising these spaces of cohabitation, we have erected our towers, set up our bulwarks, marked our territories, and razed down all features that could invite other sentient beings into our habitats. After almost an era of administering such blueprints onto our habitats, we bear witness to the retaliation being served in response to the desecration executed by us. The evidence raised in favour of climate change is unmissable—rising temperatures, shrinking ice sheets, melting snow covers, rising sea levels, and atmospheric extremities that leave behind unsettled habitats and minds.

In a time such as this, it is essential to understand the importance of and need for co-existing and co-habiting, not only with people from different nationalities and strata, but also with living beings from other families and species. An ongoing event, Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes, attempts to softly establish the possibility of co-existing within natural habitats, in a manner that neither disturbs the existing abodes of various creatures nor limits the possibilities of novel human innovation.

  • Sculptures installed as part of Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes within the garden | Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes | STIRworld
    Sculptures installed as part of Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes within the garden Image: Lorenza Pensa
  • Groupe Niobides sculptures within the garden | Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes | STIRworld
    Groupe Niobides sculptures within the garden Image: Assaf Shoshan
  • Le Bosco, jardins de la Villa Médicis | Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes | STIRworld
    Le Bosco, jardins de la Villa Médicis Image: Daniele Molajoli

Now in its second edition, the architecture festival, open to public viewing from May 24 to October 1, 2023, encompasses small and large-scale architectural installations within the historic gardens of Villa Medici in Rome, Italy. The organisers invited architects, artists, and researchers to build seven cabins against the context of the iconic arboreal heritage of Villa Medici, which was developed by Ferdinand de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, at the end of the 16th century.

An excerpt shared by the organisers of the festival reads thus: “Ephemeral installations, micro-architectures, proto-habitats: seven original creations of 'cabins' are installed throughout the summer in the heart of the gardens of the Villa Medici with one of the most beautiful views in all of Rome. Displayed in the open air for four months, these structures, which are made of materials that are often reused or part of an eco-responsible approach, offer the public a renewed experience of the gardens of the Villa Medici and invite visitors to rethink the question of the modular and sustainable habitat, as well as that of our relationship with nature.”

The seven projects installed within the estate are designed by collectives of designers, artists and architects, namely ArchiSculpteurs, Atelier CRAFT, Atelier Poem, Aurel Design Urbain, Nelson Wilmotte Architectes, offset, and orizzontale. Through these installations, the creatives attempt to adopt approaches that are sensitive to environmental and contemporary architectural issues, while also respecting the historical lineage of Villa Medici.

STIR scans through the seven installations on view in the Roman gardens.

'Batouto' by ArchiSculpteurs

  • ‘Batouto’ by ArchiSculpteurs | Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes | ArchiSculpteurs | STIRworld
    Batouto by ArchiSculpteurs Image: Daniele Molajoli
  • The cabin placed on top of ‘Batouto’ | Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes | ArchiSculpteurs | STIRworld
    The cabin placed on top of Batouto Image: Daniele Molajoli

Batouto is a wooden cabin that defies the stipulations laid out for easily navigable and feasibly habitable spaces. With giant battens of spruce wood anchored against each other, decussating and reclining upon each other, and hiding a snugly sequestered shelter, Batouto invites visitors to navigate not only their movement but also their glances through the structure. This frenzied arrangement of one of the most commonly used building materials serves as a 'tribute to nomadism and what it brings to our way of inhabiting the world.' The cabin design functions as a metaphor for the clutter that common circumstances and spaces causate. A path of footbridges leads the visitor to the zenith of the cabin, wherein lies an observation deck overlooking Rome and Villa Medici. In Batouto’s sculptural configuration, one can draw figurative parallels to living, spent residing in the midst of this clutter (called life) and observing the happenings around us, until, after traversing through hurdles, we arrive at a vantage point (viz. the observation deck) higher than the chaos that pervades previous journeys.

"It is a garden in time, animated by the vibrations of its transformation, and reminds us that a significant part of our true happiness takes shape in our ability to maintain and share the space we occupy. It is a shelter that, through its poetic and instinctive form, seeks to hear all languages and address the imagination of each viewer. This work offers the visitor the chance to be part of the landscape, to be the landscape,” reads an explanation about Batouto—whose name is inspired by the characters Sartorius, a novel written by 20th century French writer, poet, philosopher and critic Édouard Glissant—from the press release pertaining to the architecture festival. Batouto embodies the characteristics of the artistic and the pragmatic, just like the essence that defines its creator, ArchiSculpteurs, made up of Julien Fajard, an architect, and Vincent Bredif, a sculptor.

‘Parasol Tree House’ by Atelier CRAFT

  • ‘Parasol Tree House’ by Atelier CRAFT | Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes | Atelier CRAFT | STIRworld
    Parasol Tree House by Atelier CRAFT Image: Daniele Molajoli
  • ‘Parasol Tree House’ by Atelier CRAFT comprises ducts that can collect rainwater and later distribute it in the ground below | Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes | Atelier CRAFT | STIRworld
    Parasol Tree House by Atelier CRAFT comprises ducts that can collect rainwater and later distribute it in the ground below Image: Daniele Molajoli

Made using wood from the fir tree, gavanised steel connectors, and travertine stone by Atelier CRAFT, the Parasol Tree House mimics the actual tree. The studio's Parasol Tree House is a prototype mechanical tree that offers shade with its artificial canopy, invites visitors to occupy the trunk of the installation, and collects rainwater to gradually redistribute it into the ground when the climate is drier. The installation, inspired by the geographical and historical context of the city and the gardens of the Villa Medici, serves to offer a glimpse into the 'cycle of life and the levels of the landscape.' Just like naturally grown trees come together in a garden, to become a part of the larger landscape, Parasol Tree House, too, serves as an addition to the estate of Villa Medici, built in service of its habitat and its visitors. In keeping up with their eco-responsible approach, Atelier CRAFT paid special attention to the materials used to build the installation. They intend for these materials to be reused once it serves their function within the framework of the wooden installation. 

‘La timidité des cimes’ by Atelier Poem

  • ‘La timidité des cimes’ by Atelier Poem | Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes | Atelier Poem | STIRworld
    La timidité des cimes by Atelier Poem Image: Daniele Molajoli
  • The voids between the different modules of the installation allow slits of light to fall in  | Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes | Atelier Poem | STIRworld
    The voids between the different modules of the installation allow slits of light to fall in Image: Daniele Molajoli

Built as a tribute to the sacred cluster of trees, lucus, in Roman mythology, La timidité des cimes comprises an amalgamation of several wooden prototypes, each of which represents a tree. However, much like the naturally coordinated growth in forests, where individual trees grow in a manner that remits the possibility of their tops touching each other, this installation by Atelier Poem, too, includes voids in the spaces that exist between each adjacent quarter of the installation. In doing so, the installation manages to carve a mosaic, visible from above. "The emblematic figure of reference is the pine, the species par excellence of the Roman landscape. The title of the project evokes the formal configuration of the cabin as well as the path of the users composing a second mosaic,” reads a description from the official press statement.

Placed at the entrance of the garden, La timidité des cimes serves as a threshold, a vestibular space, that leads the visitors from the driveway to the square through a pavilion that evinces walks under the shade of foliage. The fifteen modules that make up the wooden installation come together in a simple and classic geometry that fits well against the historic gardens. The slits that separate these modules bring the light in, in different patterns, through the day. 

‘Tutto Sesto’ by Aurel Design Urbain

‘Tutto Sesto’ by Aurel Design Urbain  | Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes | Aurel Design Urbain | STIRworld
Tutto Sesto by Aurel Design Urbain Image: Daniele Molajoli

Tutto Sesto, a laser-cut steel and aluminium installation that resembles a fence, is, perhaps, the most subtle fixture out of all the seven constructions in the Villa Medici. The non-intrusive device discards the idea of delivering a unique and novel experience in its own right, and instead, welcomes the visitor to take a seat under the shade of the pines and witness the grandness that already exists in its proximity. Its proportions are inspired by Renaissance architecture. “Tutto Sesto is part of a formal dialogue with its environment without ever constraining the vision towards the gardens and the Villa Medici,” its description reads. By surrendering the grandness and scale of design, in favour of enhancing the experience of the already existing green habitat, Aurel Design Urbain manages to not only insert a clever urban device within the garden but also manages to invent a means for contemplation for the visitors. In doing so, the design firm—headed by Caterina and Marc Aurel, who have collectively delved into the worlds of light, objects, matter, cities, and public spaces—managed to administer a creation on the basis of the idea that drives their work, to contemplate what the city of tomorrow should be and to give public spaces back to the citizens.

‘AWA’ by Nelson Wilmotte Architectes

  • ‘AWA’ by Nelson Wilmotte Architectes  | Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes | Nelson Wilmotte Architectes | STIRworld
    AWA by Nelson Wilmotte Architectes Image: Daniele Molajoli
  • A glimpse of ‘AWA’ through the orange trees | Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes | Nelson Wilmotte Architectes | STIRworld
    A glimpse of AWA through the orange trees Image: Daniele Molajoli

AWA is a habitable cabin, inserted in the middle of a series of orange trees. It overlooks the gardens of the Villa Medici and offers spanning views of the bells towers of Rome. An autonomous wooden cabin, AWA is a complete abode perched in a remote location within the trees of Villa Medici. The design of the structure is inspired by traditional Japanese architecture and is built in an ecologically sound manner. Holding a bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom within its compact space of eight square metres, and offering spanning views of lush gardens in the vicinity, AWA represents a space that perhaps all of us have dreamt of inhabiting.

‘Vivere Pontis’ by offset

  • ‘Vivere Pontis’ by offset | Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes | offset | STIRworld
    Vivere Pontis by offset Image: Daniele Molajoli
  • The steps incorporated within ‘Vivere Pontis’ | Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes | offset | STIRworld
    The steps incorporated within Vivere Pontis Image: Daniele Molajoli

In lieu of imaginations that emerge to reflect one’s desire of inhabiting liminal spaces, offset’s Vivere Pontis materialises, as a walkway, a bridge, that connects two adjacent squares within the gardens of Villa Medici. Holding a series of levels that invite climbing at different paces, Vivere Pontis offers changing views into the landscape around, as one moves through the bridge. It invites visitors to observe, contemplate and enjoy the spanning views of the garden. “The walkway of Vivere Pontis welcomes and composes a multitude of uses that resonate with the horticultural conditions of the gardens. Screen, seating, and stage are all ways of inhabiting the different spaces in natural immersion,” explains an excerpt from the press release.

‘Cabane 7L’ by orizzontale

‘Cabane 7L’ by orizzontale | Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes | orizzontale | STIRworld
Cabane 7L by orizzontale Image: Daniele Molajoli

Unlike the other installations in the garden that are localised to one point in the estate, Cabane 7L is placed across two locations within Villa Medici. The installation comprises a reading room and the Librairie 7L. The reading room is placed on the outside square, right at the entrance of Villa Medici, to welcome visitors in. It is designed as a suspended terrace that beckons visitors to step up, literally and figuratively, in order to acquire knowledge and observe their surroundings from a different perspective. The Librairie 7L, on the other hand, hosts a selection of literary works curated in tandem with the festival. The books placed within this space highlight the interaction between nature and architecture, through the works of architects, artists, photographers and philosophers. Librairie 7L, founded by Karl Lagerfeld in 1999, is a celebration of books and photography. Its original location in Paris hosts a book shop dedicated to new work done in the arena of visual arts, design, decoration, interior architecture, photography, fashion and more, a cultural space where artistic activities are undertaken in tandem with Lagerfeld’s personal library, and Editions 7L.

The second edition of Villa Medici Festival des Cabanes is on view from May 24 to October 1, 2023, at Villa Medici, Viale della Trinità dei Monti, 1, 00187 Roma RM, Italy.

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