pergola village, vined orani by costantino nivola and the sense of community

Aug 18, 2021

costantino nivola’s pergola-village project, also dubbed ‘vined-orani,’ first appeared in the american ‘interiors’ magazine in january 1953. in 2018, after a visit to the publishing house ‘ilisso’ in nuoro and the nivola museum in orani, designboom first published a few original drawings that illustrate the extraordinary but simple approach of urban intervention. beyond any disciplinary boundary between techniques, the work demonstrates the prospect of an art aimed at making visible, and thus strengthening, the social bond between individuals.

a project ahead of its time: (above, main image) article by o. guelf, ‘the pergola-village, vined orani’, in interiors, vol. 112 n. 6, january 1953, pp. 84-85, photo by designboom, courtesy museo nivola, orani.

the sardinian artist costantino nivola (1911 – 1988) designed the intervention for his hometown, and presented it with a series of drawings. the work was conceived after his stay in sardinia in 1952, at a time when he lived and worked in the united states. the idea was very simple: whitewashing the houses in the village, painting blue baseboards on each one, and connecting them to each other by means of vine pergolas. both the pergola and the white plaster finish with blue strips were elements of the local architectural tradition that nivola had already used or considered using previously.

pergolas were still quite common at the time, but the artist imagined extending them from each building to the one in front. this simple move would cloak the streets with a green ceiling that in summer would offer shade and coolness while in winter, once the leaves dried, would let the sun’s rays penetrate. the urban space would thus mimic the intimacy of the domestic environment, creating a vibrant backdrop for the collective life. only the main square would remain uncovered, emphasizing the typical mediterranean use of a large enclosed ‘room’ in the city.

vined orani (with pergolas) by costantino nivola image by designboom, courtesy museo nivola

here, in the main square, a large architectural sculpture in the form of a tower should have been built, a sort of anthropomorphic ‘nuraghe,’ that would have kept four archetypal characters of costantino nivola in its lap. the pergola-village also included a second powerful plastic figure — to be built alongside or as an alternative to the tower — made of square blocks with a small cubic head. this plastic figure intended to celebrate the ‘bricklayer,’ a classic craft of orani. costantino nivola’s father practiced the craft of bricklaying, and he had even learned the trade himself.

vined orani by costantino nivola original drawing image by designboom, courtesy museo nivola

the project was undoubtedly advanced when compared with the current interpretations of the synthesis of the arts, centered on the intersection of painting, sculpture and architecture. in this case the sculptural element is inserted in the context of the pre-existing architecture, which was remodeled by means of light structures and plant elements. the protagonist, however, is neither sculpture, architecture, nor urban greenery. instead it is something that is at once immaterial and vital in the eyes of costantino nivola: the sense of community.

(drawing by nivola, orani seen from above) image by designboom, courtesy museo nivola

despite its centrality in the path of nivola, and despite the fact that in 1987 the author had proposed its realization — to no avail — to the municipality of orani, the project itself would have remained ignored for a long time. the pergola village appears today as a reflection on the theme of the monument and its link with the urban dimension. though there are interpretations characterized as ‘nostalgia’ and ‘utopia,’ the pergola-village is neither a nostalgic nor utopian project. when compared to new york, all of italy appeared to costantino nivola as a happy combination of harmonious urban environments and relationships within its communities. orani-pergolato is less a projection into the future of a waning social ideal, and more of a demonstration of places for a democratic life, a contact in which a new civic life and a healthy civic spirit can develop.

image courtesy municipality of orani

a project ahead of its time

on the occasion of artijanus / artijanas, the three-day conference on the culture of design and craftsmanship, held in orani (near nuoro) from july 29th until july 31st, 2021, the orani-pergola village project finally takes its first steps. the event has been promoted and supported by the foundation of sardinia, with the scientific and artistic direction of triennale milano, the operational management of innois SRL, the collaboration of the cologni dei mestieri d’arte foundation, and the organizational direction and event management of tools SRL. a group of young people from orani, led by the nivola foundation, will give the first visual concreteness to the intervention carried out by the municipality of orani and developed together by a temporary group of professionals composed by milanese architect stefano boeri and the qarchitettura studio from cagliari.

stefano boeri (president triennale milano): ‘the restoration of the project conceived by nivola leads orani to be a splendid example of the regeneration of those italian villages rich in history, culture and memory, scattered throughout the entire national territory, today at risk of being forgotten. orani-pergola village is a discreet intervention, but able to involve citizens in an international cultural network and to translate the desire to experience collective and outdoor urban spaces into a project‘.

alessio bellu (qarchitettura): ‘the realization completes the urban scene and includes the already implemented redevelopment of piazza mazzini and su postu.’

giuliana altea (president nivola foundation): ‘conceived by nivola almost seventy years ago, orani-pergola village was a project far ahead of its time: an intervention of environmental art which, through the transformation of the town, aimed at transforming relationships between people. today, that utopian vision can finally confront itself with the present, and it is nice that a group of young people from orani, who believe in its social and cultural significance, have started the project’.

antonio fadda (mayor of orani): ‘the community of orani is participating in the pergola village project with great enthusiasm, a process of urban regeneration that is redeveloping the historic center, making it even more beautiful. currently over one hundred residents have embraced the project by applying to their homes a white facade and blue baseboards, as imagined by costantino nivola. our town has changed, both from an urban, social and cultural point of view, but we believe that costantino nivola’s vision is still current and contemporary’.

the intervention is part of the larger ‘geoartnet’ project funded by the sardinia region with 2.5 million euros.

recommended books: COSTANTINO NIVOLA, memorie di orani, ilisso edizioni, nuoro 1996. costantino nivola, ilisso edizioni, nuoro 2005. nivola la sintesi delle arti, ilisso edizioni, nuoro 2015.