ExCOMAC: a virtuous circle for redevelopment in Calabria

Published on Monday, 17 October 2016

Once upon a time, there was a quartz refinery which then became a manufacturer of building materials, but had since been left abandoned for long. Once upon a time, there was COMAC, now known as “exCOMAC”.

Our story takes place in Soverato, in the Italian province of Catanzaro, just a few hundred yards away from the Ionian coast. It is a story like so many others—abandoned factories, walls stripped bare, obtrusive structures left to decay—but this one had an unexpected twist. The former COMAC building, “exCOMAC”, had been on sale for many years, but no buyers were found, so this year the City of Soverato was authorised to use the building, free of charge, and then turned it over to the Associazione Superbo, led by three young  art and music lovers, entrusting the association with the task of transforming this empty, neglected urban space into a hotbed of culture and creativity.

Initially, the non-profit association Superbo had been looking for a location in Calabria to host the first edition of the Mare Mare electronic musicFestival. They soon came across the City of Soverato’s call for proposals to redevelop the exCOMAC, submitted their own proposal, and were ultimately awarded the contract. Investing their own funds and those of local sponsors, these three young women were able to put together a rich, varied calendar of events—including art exhibits, maker festivals, electronic music festivals, art installations, food-truck rodeos, and much more—to attract both tourists and local residents to enjoy a taste of good culture in Calabria.

What was once a problem—that of finding a purpose for an abandoned industrial building—thus became both an excellent opportunity and a virtuous circle. The keywords for this Calabrian success story are “redevelopment” and “networking”, and the various events on the calendar are also in line with the issues of innovation and sustainability. Within the vast space (some 1,500m2), for example, young people from Crotone will be teaching attendees how to assemble custom bikes, and the two-day GreenExpo will introduce examples of environmental excellence in the Calabria region.

The City of Soverato has shown great enthusiasm for this initiative, which has a “Berliner” flair in the breath of fresh air it has brought to the community, and yet the project has had its detractors. Critics have pointed, for example, to the lack of improvements to the building itself, and, indeed, improvements have been limited to those works that have been necessary for the safety of a temporary event—e.g. the elimination of a dangerous wooden roof, which still contained asbestos, and extensive cleaning efforts generally—but the space within the four-meter-tall walls has essentially been left untouched. Nonetheless, this project has generated interest in an area that, just months ago, had remained entirely ignored by architects and businesses that are now offering a variety of ideas for redeveloping the area and for promoting art, business, and local craftsmanship.

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