From New York, in search of Futur-e

Published on Friday, 18 January 2019

The sustainable redevelopment of decommissioned sites is a key factor in re-establishing a relationship between local areas and their post-industrial heritage. This was also the driver behind the launch of Futur-e, the Enel project that aims to give a new lease of life to 23 decommissioned thermal electric power stations and a former mining district in line with circular economy principles.

The concept of circular and sustainable architecture is the lynchpin of the research projects being pursued by the students from the School of Architecture and Design at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT). The group visited five of the sites included on the Futur-e programme on a recent tour of various Italian regions designed to help them gather material and inspiration for their research into the economic and environmental benefits of industrial redevelopment for local communities.  

Headed by Professors Beyhan Karahan and Giovanni Santamaria from the NYIT School of Architecture and Design, the group started out in Southern Italy with the Bari site, which was the first thermoelectric power station built in Puglia, before heading to Central Italy to Montalto di Castro, La Spezia, the former mining district of Santa Barbara and, lastly, to Porto Tolle in the Northeast, where the “tour” wound up on 15 January.

Marco Fragale, Head of the Futur-e project, presented the programme to the students at the Manhattan campus last autumn and they have since been doing a course centred around researching possible redevelopment scenarios for Enel Produzione’s decommissioned power stations. The second phase of the programme was the visit to Italy and the tour of the sites. “This is a course in which students don’t just learn to design a project from scratch but also to rethink what has already been built from a holistic circular economy perspective that melds the redevelopment of the spaces with the ecology of the area,” explains Professor Santamaria, who believes that the Futur-e project can set a key precedent in the reinterpretation of industrial contexts. “As a designer, I feel it is necessary to preserve the memory of a past that was both cultural and productive in order to stimulate the design we are doing in the present. On this degree course, students are learning the value of structures which can be transformed into examples of redevelopment that are in tune with local identity.”  

For 21-year-old student Belinda, Futur-e is “a great idea that could become an iconic project.” The young grad student, who left her native Haiti to study in New York, describes the Enel project as an exemplary case study of sustainable architecture which she hopes will soon become her profession. A future that is closer and more real after a trip to Italy which may just prove life-changing for Belinda and her fellow students from New York.

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