The mountains must be respected and cultivated, to live better. The simple lesson, very timely, of Mario Rigoni Stern it requires reflection, knowing that living in the mountains is difficult and requires a strong will. Even in the presence of a quality environmental context, life in small villages is made problematic by a lack of services and opportunities which hinder the permanence of young people and determine the aging of the population and phenomena of abandonment, particularly acute in the less ‘valuable’ areas from the point of view of the image and imagination. The Italian mountain is in fact made up of some environmental and tourist ‘excellences’ and from many substantially anonymous places. The exceptions recognized by marketing are self-promoted by economic processes that exploit their beauty and potential, the result of applied city logics that consider the spectacle of nature and sports fun as consumer products. The many less identified places, on the other hand, undergo a slow decline, as they are poorly endowed with marketable quality, infrastructure and accommodation, therefore of ‘value’. The processes of degradation of the medium altitudes also correspond to an inorganic growth of the valley flooralmost everywhere urbanized without criteria.
These and other territorial inequalities hold back the emancipation of the mountain from the subordinate role that modernity has imposed on it. In order not to give in to these dynamics and return to cultivate it as a common good, treating it with treatment and respect, it is necessary to identify other – contemporary – ways of living. First of all, distancing oneself from both the consumerist-tourist model (subordinated to the ideology of playground sporting) and from the folkloristic stereotype of picturesque alpine (enriched by the myth of the scenographic imaginary). In order to remove the unfavorable factors present in both, it is necessary to start from values other, from local specificities and from that environmental culture which has always been a distinctive feature of alpine and mountain civilization, founded on the conscious knowledge of the many differences in height present in the lived and internalized landscape.
Polar reference is the mountain which is the seat of aechistory of environmental practices and sustainable lifestyleswith inhabitants builders of a cultural landscape integrated into the natural environment and aesthetically expressive of a delicate balance between the life of nature and the life of man. If the compatibility between development and resource management is recognized as a competitive advantage, even the building stock becomes a tangible opportunity: a resource, renewable within certain limits, must be treated with attention and care so as not to lose its witness value and to use it as an active cultural asset to be reintegrated with coherence in the forms of living today.

Living in the mountains

To address the issue in a broad and shared way, correctly interpreting the structural limits and opportunities of the mountain territory and environment, in Vione, in the upper Camonica Valley, a laboratory and collaborative path of study and enhancement has been launched of a historical architectural heritage, underused but recoverable. The research path undertaken starts from the ancient buildings but intends to address the issue of contemporary living in a broader way. Generator of reflections on the characteristics and the updated meaning of the historical, real estate and intangible heritage, it aims to guide the conscious reappropriation of the sense of places by the inhabitants and to update the operators of the construction sector, essential factors for building shared projects and returning to re-inhabit the country.
Like many interior areas, Vione is in sharp demographic decline and retains a certain number of rural buildings, tangible testimony of that peasant civilization well documented in the local Ethnographic Museum. Its urban fabric, of medieval origin, preserves traditional building types in stone and wood, mainly mixed rural and residential, to which the inhabitants are very attached. Their uncertain future, threatened by the growing speculative interests of nearby tourist resorts, makes reflection urgent and the definition of credible proposals for urban regeneration.

Living in the mountains

For this we have set up a permanent laboratory (supported by the municipal administration and the Cultural District of the Mountain Community of Valle Camonica, with the collaboration of ArCA architetti camuni and the ‘Lzuf museum) which intends develop intervention models and actions aimed at preserving the quality of the building heritage from a development perspective. The first step in this process was the preparation of the exhibition Inhabit. a town, in the mountains, mainly addressed to the resident community, but not only, and built to measure for Vione. The exhibition proposes twenty-three architectural recovery projects carried out throughout the Alps, examples of method and intervention in small villages. Exemplary by type of intervention, functions, client and architectural quality, the projects I have selected are models also for their ability to trigger processes of social revitalization. Each represents a typical case for the initiation of aesthetic, environmental, social and functional redevelopments that have created new productive and relational situations and increased the quality of life.
Inhabit. a town, in the mountains it is made up of large posters, panels and stems. The posters, hung on the outside of the buildings with which they interact, illustrate each project with a blow-up commented by key words that highlight a purpose: to live again, reflect, to preserve, relive, socialize, to make community, to retrieve, engage, rehabilitate, revitalize, dialogue, retrain. The wooden steles placed along the streets and squares of the town and the panels displayed within two tabià describe the character of each architecture with photographs and brief comments, also in this case in relation to houses and barns to suggest possible intervention methods. This dialogue intends on the one hand to propose concrete and virtuous examples to the inhabitants, on the other hand to invite visitors to discover the town and to seek dialogue and connections in the alleys.
A section of the exhibition is dedicated to projects by the Ruch & Partner studio, which in an exemplary way for quality, methodological rigor and aesthetic sensitivity has recovered some ancient houses in the Engadine. The other interventions, located throughout the Alps, are work of designers united by interpretative intelligence and elegance in the solutions adopted. The quality and sense of responsibility that emerges from the works are synthesized in two strong experiences: the ten-year public intervention in Ostana, coordinated with a strategic vision by Antonio De Rossi, and the skilful commitment of Armando Ruinelli, who uses craftsmanship as a precious foundation of modern insertions. They are exposed architectures of: Hans-Jörg Ruch & Partner. Ruinelli Associati, Antonio De Rossi, Massimo Crotti, Marie-Pierre Forsans, Luisella Dutto, Daniele Regis, Valeria Cottino, Dario Castellino, Giovanni Barberis, Weber + Winterle (Lorenzo Weber, Alberto Winterle), Officina82 (Fabio Revetria, Lara Sappa), Enrico Scaramellini, Federico Mentil, Viviana Ferrario and Andrea Turato, Camposaz Collective, Sergio Ghirardelli, Riccardo Faustinelli and Marianna Rossi, Luca Sajeva. The exhibition, much visited and appreciated for its modalities and quality, will remain open until the summer.

Living in the mountains

At the same time it is in progress a series of meetings, face to face and online, all open and sponsored by various professional orders, with some of the protagonists of the exhibition and in comparison with universities, superintendence and quality construction sectors. The synthesis and comparison of reflections and experiences will allow us to write together the Vione Charter: agile manual illustrated with ideas and best practices for the operational recovery of the building heritage. Useful tool to accompany the process of raising awareness of property owners and project proposals, the document may also become a reference for other small Alpine countries. The active involvement of residents in the regeneration process can be consolidated in the next actions, among which design workshop participation and self-construction to reactivate abandoned spaces, an opportunity to start using, verifying them, the contents of the Paper.
Moving between the opposites of tight patrimonial conservation and the lassez faire the free use of building structures, we are therefore embarking on a cultural and social regeneration process that triggers compatible transformations. In this context, it is desirable that, over time, also in Vione, a modern one green community that, by activating local production chains, resume a territorial dialogue in the wake of the care and maintenance of the landscape carried out by the ancient inhabitants. The multidisciplinary skills of the historical mountaineer can in fact represent a useful reference and, if updated, translate into flexibility of doing, producing and living, renewing the plural activities that, by now, few inhabitants of Vione know how to practice. The mountain and its villages cannot be a place of specialization; recent successes of sustainable micro-activities tell of multidisciplinary approaches and professional hybridizations, often the evolution of ancient practices: new proximity shops (from multi-product shops in the country), the widespread hotel (from summer holidays to private homes), technical assistance and services (from handymen multimestieri), professional training (from the school-shop), multiworking and coworking (from parental solidarity or affinity), new bio-peasants (from the mixed economy of the farmer-breeder), experiential agritourism (from the life of the mountain pastures). With the support of connecting networks and advanced energy saving technologies, it is also conceivable (and to be built) a microsystem of new activities and functionswithout renouncing the peripheral residential opportunities possible with smart working.

Living in the mountains

How to respond to those born and raised in the mountains who want to continue to stay there both for a sense (also affective) of belonging and for a permanent project of life, work and meaning? The ancient mountaineer centomestieri can perhaps renew itself inconnected craftsman and, together with other figures and in a community context equipped with services, to become the protagonist of an experimental season based on the intersection of knowledge and in the relationship between emotional perception and built space. In this perspective, inhabited places can be re-characterized as multidimensional and polysemic realitiesopen and flexible, multifunctional and re-transformable, like the spaces of ancient buildings which, for simplicity of design, adapted to the changing functions of a circular economy.
To achieve appreciable results, it is necessary to activate creative skills and develop non-temporary solutions, using all the opportunities available to the mountains: knowledge, housing structures, urban micro-plots but also links with the surrounding environment, vital world and active theater of choices and life. On this basis, the assumption of a shared responsibility of inhabitants and institutions is a prerequisite for activating a process of integrated growth and capitalization, rediscovering in renewed forms that ecological and landscape intelligence that has characterized mountain living.
Since it is right in the practical and symbolic forms of living that shape minds and people are formed“I take care of the lawns like the floor of my house” (Roberta Dapunt) can be a way, and a symbolic attitude, to consider the mountain context as a space openin its many meanings.

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