Textile factory in Prato (2013). Copyright Fabrizio Giovannozzi/Afp/NTB Scanpix
Site Briefs provide the framework for the In Residence: Call for Intervention Strategies and Call for Associated Projects, and open up architectural questions associated to each site.
Nation-branding projects are not always calibrated with the infrastructures that sustain them. The Italian textile industry, which ranges from high-end design firms to cheap and fast pronto moda, depends on networks that could hardly be confined within the Mediterranean country. The district of Prato is one of the engines for the manufacturing of “Made in Italy” labeled products which the industry proudly sells throughout the world as a trademark of quality based on “local” standards of production. Historically developed as a textile center, both the city and this industry have grown throughout the second half of the 20th century around a characteristically Italian model of small family-owned business. Major migration influxes, coming first from the south of the country and in the last decades from China, have supported this growth. And if the first flow situated Italian production in international networks of commerce—linked to the well-known economic “miracle” of the country—the second has sustained this production as a viable project thanks to the capacity of migrant workers to cheaply and quickly transform fabric into “Made in Italy” products. The Chinese-led industries of the Italian city are currently mostly subcontractors for other Italian firms, participating in networks totally integrated in the productive fabric of the country.
Located in the vicinity of Florence, Prato currently has one of the biggest Chinatowns in Europe, with more than 50,000 inhabitants (more than half allegedly without work permits), and with strong demographic and economic links with the municipality of Whenzou, in the region of Zhejiang. The social dynamics of this population within the Tuscan city are complemented by sustained links to this Chinese region, and by very strong networks and diverse forms of familiarity internal to the ethnic community. The daily activities of these migrants are often confined to workshops where the employees not only work, but also eat and sleep. This socio-architectural assemblage has been uncritically determined by the economic and productive system — a hybrid between the factory house and the factory town adapted for global free market regimes which results from a distortion of the Pratese factory typology, as analyzed by architect Mei-Lun Xue.
Focusing on the architectures hosting these forms of labor and social relations cannot only help to render and address the particular challenges of Prato, but also to more broadly question the constituencies and localities supporting the global circulation of goods in the market, and their systems of valorization.
Reports about the sites have been commissioned from a group of international architects, artists, journalists, and other professionals. The commission for these reports is intended to challenge ideas of ‘site’ solely concerned with geometric boundaries and contextual references. Intervention strategies and associated projects do not need to respond to these reports.