Stefano D’AVINO (Department of Architecture University “G. d’Annunzio” of Chieti and Pescara)


The seismic event of 2016 was an exceptional occurrence in terms of the scope of the territory affected, the distinctive characteristics of the historic population centres involved and the unique ties between the architecture and its surrounding context.

There is no question that the heritage of historic structures, as is the case with all minor urban contexts, suffers from an inherent fragility attributable to a reluctance to recognise its ‘monumental’ nature, a shortcoming that places at risk the preservation of treasures which ultimately have more to do with identity than either history or architecture.

Today the (unavoidable) question of the methods of reconstruction arises: on the one hand, there is a need for rapid repair of the damage done by the earthquake, which fractured not only structures but the very self-awareness and identity of the populations that inhabited them; while, at the same time, ample portions of a stratified historic framework built up over the centuries must be rebuilt.

Should everything be reconstructed as it was and where it was? Such a proposal is doubtless enticing, though it also leaves much room for ambiguity, seeing that the concept of ‘as it was’ can lead to any number of approaches, ranging from what is known as ‘philological’ restoration to efforts focussed on mere outward appearance and symbolism, with external forms preserved while distinctive elements of the original composition are sacrificed, even though they represent an integral part of the overall architecture; whereas the ideal approach would be a restoration that attempts to maintain as much as possible of the surviving original materials, introducing minimal signs of contemporary repair, in this way creating a new and respectful amalgamation of the old and the new.

The extension of the concept of monument to broader settings and perspectives gives rise to new problems of criticism and interpretation regarding the ‘sense of place’, calling for the use of suitable tools of intervention tied to the discipline of urban development and to the methodologies of territorial planning, to be employed in addition to the specific tools of restoration. In terms of urban memory, an effort must be made to favour a process of reconstruction based on the repair, recovery and restoration of what has been saved from the earthquake, including the urban layout itself (piazzas and squares, street routes, types of habitations etc.), avoiding approaches that call for total demolition and subsequent reconstruction ex novo, inasmuch as the layout of streets and property holdings of the past constitutes a permanent, recognisable documentation, indeed, the authentic evidence of the original anthropic structuring.

The reconstruction-transformation of small-scale historic population centres, inevitably resulting in the cancellation of permanent signs, would eliminate once and for all any memory of their evolutionary development, together with a significant portion of the region’s technical culture, nor can preservation efforts be based on a process of historical selection, seeing that an  urban  population centre is, by its very nature, an historical present in continuous development, lying outside of time, within an historical dimension tied to a diachronic concept of evolution.