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Interpretazioni di paesaggio edited by Alberto Clementi, Cover <br/> Meltemi Editore ©

Interpretazioni di Paesaggio - Review

by Patrizia Gabellini

Landscape is one of today's most widely discussed themes. For some years now there have been books, conferences, doctoral theses, schools and advanced courses, competitions and job-offers all centring on the landscape, so demonstrating and stimulating interest and a new expertise around the various activities bound up with its conservation, reclamation and enhancement. For this reason the title of the book edited by Alberto Clementi, Interpretazioni di paesaggio, seems to be particularly appropriate for various reasons: the interpretation of landscape is a problem; it is reasonable to accept a "qualified pluralism"; intervening in the landscape entails responsibility of an interpretation. I feel that the title succeeds in suggesting this breadth and complexity and effectively represents the book's approach.
In 335 pages of densely written texts with a set of illustrations at the end, it embodies the research conduct by the SIU-Società Italiana Urbanisti, the work of a large body of lecturers and researchers from eight Italian universities (there are 20 contributors) led in 2001 to a commission by the Ministry for the Heritage and Cultural Activities, with the purpose of "developing operatively and experimenting preliminary guidelines for a method of landscape planning introduced implicitly by the European landscape Convention and adapted to the Italian context by the State-Regions Agreement."
The book consists of three parts that have complementary functions. The first part explores the themes considered fundamental by the research team (methods of interpreting the landscape, legal instruments, the protection/concertation relationship, changes to the territory, methods of design, professions and training profiles). The second deals with the "approaches to method" (the method is divided into 4 phases: A "identify landscapes", B "evaluate landscapes", C "foresee changes and risks", D "upgrade/regulate the transformations"). The third part presents experimentation of the method in the territory of Cermino in the Marches, for which it proposes, with reference to the 4 phases, 8 representations called "charts" - perhaps in the hope they will acquire a statutory value - (A1 "chart of the sources of identity", A2 "chart of the functioning of the landscape", A3 "chart of the landscape heritage", B "chart of values", C1 "chart of processes", C2 "chart of plans", C3 "chart of risks", D "chart of the quality objectives"). The full introduction by the editor, coordinator and director of the research project gives a clear picture of the work and underlines its innovative connotations, forming, together with the case study, a compendium of the whole, but without taking space from the in-depth studies, some of which have clearly left their mark on the research and open up further areas for reflection and work.
Between the need to mark a cultural position and to configure a praxis of the project by translating the principles adopted into technical terms, the research measures its significance and its difficulties. There is no doubt, in fact, that demanding conditions are created by the transverse nature of the disciplines, the scale of intervention characteristic of the interpretation of the landscape and intervention in it, the attention focused on it at the institutional level, and the cultural environment in which the work is set (In Italy, the approach to landscape still embodies the concept of the "natural" and "beautiful" features reflected in the state laws nos. 1497 of 1939 and 431 of 1985). So this research deserves particular attention, both the points it develops (clarifying issues usually that are usually confused), and also the areas that it systematizes (a technical translation of principles that, by their nature, are ambiguous).

A "qualified pluralism" is the fundamental option enabling us to understand the research and even the plural composition of the academic team, which unites the collaboration of researchers of appreciably different backgrounds, ages and experiences. The outcome is evident in the theoretical framework and the exemplificative applications, which recognise the attempt to cope with the most significant disciplines and professions, those that use "objectifiable analytical instruments" and those that bring into play "intricate processes of symbolic signification", a spectrum that ranges from the natural sciences to hermeneutics. The research, driven by the operative objectives and linked to the texts of legislation, constructs a careful path to the transmissibility of the judgments it formulates and their verifiability, aiming to strip away the vague and unexpressed from the descriptive and evaluative process that supports projects and policies. In addition it makes choices instead of placing the disciplinary fields on which it draws all on a single plane: "It effortlessly presents the definitional prospects that rest on the value of historicity and testimony 'possessing a value of civilization' of which our cultural landscapes are an extraordinary embodiment. It assumes without particular emphasis the prospects presented by the sciences of landscape ecology that have emerged above all in those countries richest in both naturalistic and historical values abut not particularly convincing as totalising paradigms of a new vision of the Italian landscape. Finally struggles to cope with the complex questions of the hermeneutics and aesthetics of landscapes, which do not lend themselves easily to an operative definition of methods of intervention." (p.24) From this follows what the authors define as "a patrimonial vision of the landscape", an idea of the landscape as a "patrimony of identity resources, whose conservation requires in-depth understanding of the processes of selective accumulation that have acted in time and above all in-depth understanding of the incessant interactions between environmental, dynamic, developmental, practical frames of life and work of local societies and the cultural and symbolic values of the age." (p. 18)
This dynamic definition of the landscape as a "patrimony" (in opposition to the static definition of it as a "deposit"), as well as the assumption of contemporary thought centred on the differences and the irreducible subjectivity of the people who use and inhabit the landscapes, has some outstanding consequences, which can hardly be shared unquestioningly:
- the line of demarcation between outstanding landscapes (what is popularly meant by "landscape") and other cultural landscapes is eliminated, while recognising the existence of different degrees of integrity and significance. As the European Convention requires, it defines "integrity" as "a condition of the patrimony that takes into account the level of the completeness of the transformations undergone in time", the clarity of the historico-landscape relationships, the intelligibility of the systems of permanences, of the degree of conservation of the cultural assets", and its "significance" "in relation to the presence of elements and patrimonial systems recognised on the national or international level and/or recognised in specialised disciplinary elaborations and in relation to the judgments expressed by the local society." (p. 312. But it also notes that the two terms "should be a starting point for the process of knowledge and evaluation articulated, precise and commensurate with the specific nature of each site, rather than understood as a simplistic, synthetic and constrictive point of arrival." (p. 238);
- It affirms an active conception of protection and an interdependent relationship with the process of improvement: "a policy for the landscape that, while recognising the specificity and the significance of certain territorial environments needing rigid conservative protection, adopts a transverse approach over the whole territory, both natural and anthropised, urban and agricultural, designating differentiated practices of protection, but also of enhancement and promotion, in relation to objective strategies and differentiated problems". (p. 86) The break with dichotomic approaches is made evident by the seven strategies for qualifying/regulating the transformations: landscape as a "historico-natural document to be protected", the "ruin to be cohabited with", the "spectacular scene of global tourism (and the global economy)", the "resource to be activated for a different model of development", the "new inhabitable territory", the "network as the fabric of a structurally fragmented territory", and the "sphere that enfolds everyday life". (from p. 263);
- the hegemony of expert and elitist knowledge is no longer undisputed; instead it is forced to confront the "diversity of interpreters, namely of the individuals and populations involved" (p.28); it is no longer an oxymoron to speak of cosnervation and concertation ("conservation and concertation: a possible combination?" is the eloquent title of a chapter of the book), because without recognising its value there can be no cure, the only antidote to the proven inefficacy of many constraints.
The consequences prepared by the European Landscape Convention, whose "threefold innovation" lies in: a) the comprehensive significance (economic, political and cultural, as well as ecological and aesthetic) to be attributed to the landscape, with reference to the whole territory, not to single areas of excellence, which entails a drastic shift in attention, from objects to systems, from events to the context … and from the separate conservation policies to all the policies in different ways capable of affecting the conditions and development of the landscape; b) the innovative significance to be attributed to the action of conservation, in the transition from recognition of value to collective projects by means of which the approach to landscape interrupted by the processes of degradation can be resumed…; c) the centrality of the governance of the territory, on all scales… not only because the control of uses and of the organization of the territory is decisive for the purpose of conservation and innovation of the landscape, but also because the final political and cultural purpose of upgrading the landscape can only consist in the beauty and quality of "inhabiting the earth". (p.56)
At this point a careful study of the captions and keys of the charts, as well as the methods of representation chosen becomes indispensable to grasp in depth the range of the research.
The charts relative to identifications are the most convincing, in part because of the range of forms of representation and the integration of images with words. Those that deal with the evaluations are probably constrained by the laconic scale of values deduced from the European Convention and the Italian agreement. In fact, another part of the book offers the caution that "in the assessment charts … it is important to give not synthetic and graduated judgments … so much as articulated and detailed motivations that can then permit the adoption of plan and program choices that are more fully aware and more easily shared by the public…; not for broad areas…, but wherever possible, for every single element… and spatial and functional system." ( p. 237) The charts of changes and risks, updates and critical re-elaborations of the tried and tested "mosaics of planning", in the concern to go beyond the limits of zoning remain perhaps too abstract and uncertain. The charts of upgrading, also faithful to the State-Regions accord that identifies objectives of "active conservation", "compatible development", and "re-enhancement", need to be interpreted together with the entries relating to the single contexts (not published in the book) to reveal their pregnancy.
What remains important is the synthesis that the assembly of the charts presents with clarity, the outline of a path that can be repeated and adapted. For this reason the work seems to fully satisfy the need to lay down guidelines.