Fisher ARCHitecture: ITALY 2022
This is Bea. For the second year in a row, Eric and I are spending two months working from Italy!
We are living in the same place where we stayed last year, right above Lake Como. The place hasn’t changed a bit. Luckily, it is still as charming as when we left! The little hamlet of Almanno, in Schignano d’Intelvi (Como), features many old homes rigorously built out of thick stone. It is inhabited by a few locals – who live here all year long – and some people that visit for vacation. We have neighbors from Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, and the Netherlands… You can see we are flying both the American flag and the Italian flag from a pole in our backyard to celebrate this special international place.
GO WITH THE (WORK)FLOW
This year, we are raising our game and have added a faster internet connection through the Italian company, Eolo. With their “Study+Work” fast connection we are now working almost at (Pittsburgh) native speed. This has allowed Eric to finally get his big monitor and “Splashtop” into the Pittsburgh office. He is working from Almanno just as if he were in Shadyside.
Of course, technology is very important for our international workflow: We have an amazing, talented staff in Pittsburgh and need to communicate with them in real time – time zones permitting. We use a combination of email, “Whatsapp”, and “Goodnotes” to coordinate all of our projects. This way, no project is delayed because of our travel.
Speaking of our staff, we want to take a moment to thank Sean Echnat, Alexis Moffa, Sanzinia Nevarez, and Michael Whartnaby. They are keeping the office up and running and being our eyes and ears in Pittsburgh. We wouldn’t be able to leave for two months if they were not with us!
We are nested within a rural, mountainous environment. To this day the area features a lot of herding and pastures, with lots of vegetable gardens and small farming. Fifty-plus years ago all the forests around us were dedicated to farming and growing mostly corn and potatoes. Nowadays, you can still find lots of cows, goats, donkeys, sheep, chickens, and more. The cows are very common and definitely enjoy taking a walk around our hamlet. They come here to eat the freshly cut grass of private gardens, and get some rest from the scorching heat. (More on that aspect of this sojourn in the next paragraph).
As we explore the area by hiking and running the trails around us, we pass many buildings that are easily 200 years old, some in disrepair. This is certainly inspiring from an architecture point of view. The hilly topography made builders work really hard. Of course, this village is far from being ADA compliant, but there are many fascinating solutions. Retaining walls and small stone stairs seems to dance together, trying to fool the funky elevation changes. Many gardens are terraced in smart ways. The old roads bring you up very quickly with little regard for any modern building code. Yet, people are using them every day. If heavy rain damages a passage, it will be restored quickly, with elegant cobblestones.
As has been anticipated, there is extreme heat in all of Italy these days. Even the North, where we are, is not immune to the problem. It has rained very little since December and the water levels of Lake Como are at historic lows. The public ferry boat will have to stop its service soon if the levels go down any further. All the rivers are dry, and trucks carrying water tanks have to replenish the municipal aqueducts every week.
We are extremely cautious in using water for cooking and cleaning purposes, which is very different from last year, where torrential rains beat the towns around Lake Como, flooding many villages. It is undeniable that these extremes are NOT common and that climate has, indeed, changed.
Another change this year is that trash collection is much more rigorous. We welcome this change! Last year, we had to carry our recyclable materials quite a way in order to deposit them in the proper collection bins. This time around, we separate the compostable items from the dry unsorted refuse and leave the bags out in front of our home according to an established collection schedule. In addition, we separate plastic, paper, and glass. A note on plastic: there is VERY LITTLE of it compared to the US! The EU has banned single-use plastic products. You will find mainly paper and corn-starch bags in every store. Of course, you are invited to bring your own bag as much as you can.
The “Milan” office is busy and happy to work from this amazing place. Eric’s Italian has improved tremendously thanks to Instituto Mondo Italiano and everybody has noticed it.
Next, Bea will be teaching him the local dialect of Schignano!