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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum
Posted By: Maria Luisa Gentileschi
Date: Friday, 25 June 1999, at 12:21 p.m.
Key words: adobe houses, building techniques, cultural identity.
INTRODUCTION: The adobe technique (sun-baked bricks made of a mixture of clay and finely cut cereals stalks) used to be widely employed in southern Sardinia, in the alluvial plains where stone was lacking and the peasants? poor means did not allow the expensive transportation of stone from the hills. Therefore, many villages and small towns of this part of the island still have a fairly high number of traditional adobe houses, which were still being built in the early fifties. Unfortunately, the wave of rapid acculturation which began after the second world war and grew stronger in the sixties, caused a widespread rejection of the traditional house among the Sardinian peasants; the adobe house becoming a symbol of a backward and poor society. More modern types of architecture became fashionable, both in regards to the size and design of dwellings, as well as the materials used in their construction and other technical aspects. In a short time, either the traditional house changed its aspect and became less visible in the renewed rural built up landscape, or it was pulled down and rebuilt according to modern style.
However, in the last ten years, intellectuals and later on the general public, developed a new sensitivity, which made people aware not only of the fact that the traditional adobe house ensured better insulation and sound-proofing, but that it was also preferable to new housing from a cultural point of view. Even its durability was re-evaluated, since it was demonstrated that, provided the house was adequately maintained, and due attention was paid to the village's drainage and refuse waters network, the houses proved to be durable. The Regional Government financed the study of traditional houses and accorded loans for their restoration. Recently, local authorities included in this project, adobe houses still existing in the historic village centre, forbidding their demolition and pushing their owners to restore them and renovate roofs, courtyards as well as minor architectural details.
Therefore, it can be said that nowadays a different attitude towards the traditional adobe house has been established, both as a result of measures undertaken by the Regional Government and the local communities, as well as a consequence of an ageing population that is becoming more nostalgic as regards to the old way of life.
According to the proposed list of characteristics, we can tentatively classify the action described above in the following way:
LONG-TERM BENEFIT: The adobe houses restored or rebuilt according to the traditional technique are a permanent feature of the rural landscape; when adequately maintained, they are durable.
CAPACITY BUILDING & INSTITUTIONAL STRENGTHENING: The technique will be preserved thanks to renewed interest and it may even interest other Mediterranean people.
SUSTAINABILITY: Their construction relies on local materials: sun-baked bricks, made of local clay and vegetable stalks, roofs made of brick tiles, roof framework made of cane.
TRANSFERABILITY: The building technique is common to other plains in the eastern Mediterranean countries and to Africa north of the Sahara, not to speak of other parts of the world.
CONSENSUS BUILDING: The technique originates in simple peasant handicraft and is inexpensive in terms of materials employed. However, its cost in terms of paid manpower is considerable.
PARTICIPATORY PROCESS: The restoration of old buildings can be undertaken on a participatory basis, by a family or village inhabitants.
EFFECTIVE AND EFFICIENT COMMUNICATION PROCESS: Times when the traditional adobe house was depreciated are bygone; nowadays an imitation and acculturation process is giving new life to this technique.
CULTURALLY RESPECTFUL: The origin of this building technique is long-since forgotten. The design of the rural house in the southern plains of Sardinia is probably based on the Roman villa model.
GENDER AND/OR SENSITIVITY ISSUES: Women used to work with men on the house construction. When the house had several courtyards, one of them was reserved for the family, especially for the women and children, and became the centre of menial jobs like grain sorting, the preparation of meats, vegetables and bread. Coming back to this type of housing also means the reinforcing of family ties through a space, the central courtyard with roofs, in which every member of the family, young or old, can find room for his/her activities.
STRENGTHENING LOCAL IDENTITIES: The area in which this type of housing appears can also be identified through the prevalence of cereal and wine growing, as well as a type of open-field landscape, a special variety of Sardinian language and other minor features. It is therefore considered an important cultural feature of the Campidano subregion.
LEGAL NATIONAL POLICY: On a national level, the Sovrintendenza ai Beni Ambientali is willing to acknowledge the importance of saving the adobe house in Sardinia, by allowing access to a special loan programme in order to meet restoration expenses.
REGIONAL DIMENSION: Saving the adobe house is part of the plan to save traditional rural architecture on the whole island.
DOCUMENTATION: The study of the adobe house is fairly advanced, including the inventory of the most valuable houses (each village compiling a list of the houses which are to be preserved). Local scholars at the University of Cagliari include anthropologists (Giulio Angioni), architects (Antonello Sanna) and ancient building restoration experts (Tatiana Kirova).
EVALUATION: It is possible to test this practice in order to check whether it fills the required characteristics. It should be noted that the revival of the adobe house in its style and materials is inspiring today's tourism architecture, especially tourist villages, bungalows, small villas, restaurants. Therefore, it lends a local flavour to modern sea resort developments.
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