What does it mean to regain possession of a place? How can we ensure that the identity of a space is enhanced in such a way as to deepen the relationship between man and urban landscape that surrounds him? What strategies to adopt to allow a regeneration of abandoned places, but which retain in them a fascinating history and a vital energy in potential? These questions were answered by the Botanica Temporanea exhibition / laboratory (open from 18 June to 19 September 2021), an idea of Antonio Perazzi, landscape designer and architect, who, together with Anna Lambertini (Associate Professor in Landscape Architecture at the DIDA of the University of Florence) and to a group of students, provided a new interpretation of the disused spaces of the Manifattura Tabacchi in Florence. The exhibition anticipates the concept of Officina Botanica, the hanging garden designed on the roof of building 11 of the Factory, part of the project for the new Manifattura Tabacchi.
The boundary between garden and artistic installation is canceled in what actually is an artist’s garden, where botany becomes not only a compositional element, but also the fulcrum of the entire exhibition. On the other hand, it could only be so if the project in question comes from the same landscape architect who in his book Il Paradiso è un giardino selvatico states “the garden for me is an expression of botany for artists: because just as it is undeniable that gardens are a artistic expression, the science of studying plants has many nuances, including that of studying their character, and therefore their potential”.
Precisely these potentials make the botanical approach ambivalent, as an artistic medium and a revitalizing principle. At the base of the project some fundamental ideas: the use of plant species that require minimal management, the awareness of how spontaneous vegetation colonizes spaces, the careful spatial configuration to respect the flows of users and the continuous search to cancel the dominance of mineral surfaces in favor of green ones.
The artistic act itself isn’t found only in the composition, but in that subtle and delicate poetics that allows to go beyond the common landscape project, inspired by virtuous practices in the removal of cobblestones and asphalt, filling gaps with herbaceous and grasses, leaving time plays its role (“remove the gravel, dig a hole to find a fertile layer, bring back some soil, plant, irrigate”), in a sort of landscape Fluxus that echoes the work of Beuys in Kassel, a work which goes beyond the initial intent and construction, a manifesto for all the abandoned, forgotten, neglected and lost areas of our cities. Nature takes back its spaces and transforms them according to its rules, following the balance that has always distinguished it.
Arriving at Manifattura Tabacchi, we not only comes into contact with an urban nature that wants to demonstrate its fundamental importance, but we are hit by a wave of energy caused by the incessant creativity factory that this place represents. Inside the main garden in Piazza dell’Orologio, plant islands intersect with linear seats, creating a sort of archipelago where you can get lost among Helychrisum italicum, Verbascum olympicum, Euphorbia characias, Euphorbia myrsinites, Achillea nobilis, Achillea millefolium, Echinacea purpurea, Baptisia australis, Panicum virgatum, Salvia nemorosa and Perovskia atriplicifolia, all plants that come to this garden as welcome guests who tell their story, narrating their path and the lands from which they come, projecting images of near and distant landscapes in everyone’s mind.
If this is the place of meeting and narration, a little further on, in the Chimney’s courtyard, is the greatest expression of what can be summed up with the motto, coined by Pablo Georgieff of Coloco studio: “War to asphalt, long live gardening”. Two vegetable strips of Phyla nodiflora break the monotonous minerality of the porphyry cobblestones, expanding with elegance and apparent disorder towards the entrance and the atelier area. Seeing them, so delicate and elusive, they can remember the double helix of DNA, a sort of genetic code imprinted in the pavement, a green code, however, led to generate a new life for this place, because this is the primary purpose, which unites in itself artistic experiment, botanical research and sharing of ideas, fundamental elements for shaping the new existence of Manifattura Tabacchi.
“The wild garden becomes a tool to rediscover ourselves at the origin of our human existence and for the future of our civilization”, and so the wildness and rusticity of certain plants allows landscape architect to propose a vision for a future of sustainability, adapting the management of garden to the availability of irrigation, the quality of the soil and the future use of space, concentrating resources in the reunion between man and nature and in cogitation.
The dialogue on botany and public space continues in a separate room, in which, as in a modern alchemical laboratory, objects of the most disparate shapes are arranged on a long table: seeds and fruits, branches and shards, soil samples, ampoules and minerals, as well as models and synthesis of plans. This paraphernalia tells a life of projects, those of Antonio Perazzi, and the processes that are beyond the result; they tell of journeys, both of the designer and of plants, they speak to the visitor of ecological processes, of textures and sensations, showing how complex even the simplest project can be.
In the days of opening, a horticultural market offered various plants species that could be purchased, to spread them beyond the walls of Manifattura Tabacchi. If the garden speaks to us from a small place compared to the city in which it is located (full of private gardens, but substantially poor in the public green area), the hope is that this place will gain the same recognition of Florence, city of stone, wonderful, but made of stone, spreading a new revitalizing message, thanks to which Manifattura Tabacchi will become “the ideal soil to sink new roots that make plants, ethics, creativity and culture sprout”.