RhOME for denCity: innovation and architecture at the service of the community

An interview by Camilla Desideri and Francesca Benedetto, Economics and Architecture students, tells us about how the RhOME for denCity project about sustainable architecture was born.

The RhOME for denCity team is the winner of the Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 contest, an international competition based on the exposition of houses that were ecologically designed and constructed by participants in Versailles, where this last edition was hold.

Twenty university teams coming from Switzerland, Spain, Japan, France, Denmark, India, Chile, the United States, Germany, Romania, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, Thailand, Taiwan and Mexico were challenged to work on the topic of sustainable architecture. Efficiency, sustainability, capability to adapt to a given territory: these are the three characteristics that made the team from University of Roma Tre to be distinguished, among twenty selected teams, from the competitors from all over the world. RhOME for denCity is much more than a simple model of an ecological house; it is more expansive, an urban project to identify the problems of the urban community and to help to find a solution through innovative concepts involving advanced technologies at the service of the population.

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Each team had to develop a project to be adopted in their own city and the team of Roma Tre pinpointed Tor Fiscale, the roman quarter situated south-east of the city center, in the area of the aqueducts on which they concentrated their work. Tor Fiscale is a part of Rome where archeology (in the quarter the Ancient Appia, the Aquedotto Felice and the Aquedotto Claudio can be found as well) coexists with the illegal activities and violence; a neighborhood which, exactly because of its ontological ambivalence, served as base for neorealistic films such as Il Tetto from Vittorio de Sica, Accattone from Pier Paolo Pasolini and the Great Beauty, the film of Paolo Sorrentino that also won an Oscar in 2014 in the best foreign film category.

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Already from the early 1900s, many immigrants that moved in this neighborhood from the Italian countryside started the construction of real and true sheds that carry the traces of the ancient aqueducts. The reality obviously has partly changed since then, the most unstable sheds were destructed, but traces from that era still remain with the total lack of services in the territory, homes in absence of hygienic toilets or without access to the electrical networks. A reality that is even more distant from what it is supposed to be a standard of a European capital country, it seems more like living in a rustic, country environment.

The students have chosen to research and experiment the idea of living in Tor Fiscale, but there are many zones where conditions are similarly declined. The RhOME team, through the process of altering an urban area on the edge of the country, proposes a project that puts the concept of smart city sank in roman sauce into practice. It is not about upgrading or redeveloping through general destruction, through new decontextualized constructions that would stop undermining the precious social fabric, but about regenerating by constructing social accommodations in the empty urban areas that are on the edge, and doing it just after shanty town is being demolished. It would have been a mistake to propose the idea of malls, supermarkets, skyscrapers that would have pauperized the soul of the suburb.

Looking at the proposal of RhOME, we see, in fact, that it involves houses of maximum five floors, conceived to have restrained prices due to the low costs of management working with very high efficiency, put alongside services that focus on strengthening the social cohesion and promoting the development of the area without damaging the country environment.

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The students from the University of Roma Tre therefore conceived a network of services that integrate the already existing ones through a smartcard that permits the users to enjoy bike sharing, electric car sharing, urban gardens, and fab lab, true and real collective services created by people. In the winner house that was brought to Versailles the furniture is from reutilization, in order to refer to the fab lab services seen in the project. The waste of water is being reused for the social gardens, farmed by the citizens of the neighborhood. The storm-water, once it has been collected, is purified and used for cleaning the streets and watering the gardens, or inside the houses for bathroom uses.

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So once again, photovoltaic panels that function even from shatters, thermodynamic panels that produce hot water, technological innovations are being integrated with architecture. Remaining at the project, all the houses will be built in social housing construction, solving the problem of accommodations of temporary workers or students with passive student status who are becoming greater and greater and who couldn’t find a solution to their problem in the roman environment so far. The rents, the restrained prices serve for bringing the dream of RhOME economically feasible in a way so that it can offer the possibility to the citizens of the area to benefit from the project and not suffer from it, that often happens when urban reconstructing projects are realized without taking into consideration what it is good for the community.

Stefano Grassini and Flavia Cuniolo

Translated by Zsòfia Kérésky

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