ARCHIPELAGO photography series | Interview with researcher in architecture, urban studies and photographer, Corinna Del Bianco

For the first time, the researcher in architecture, urban studies and photographer, Corinna Del Bianco shows the public Archipelago – her photographic journey through the Mediterranean islands, their architecture and cultural identities.

Corinna discussed with Melina Arvaniti-Pollatou about the starting point of Archipelago photographic journey, the correlations between habitation, culture, sea and landscape as well as about the contribution of architecture towards a more sustainable touristic model of development.

Which was the starting point for Archipelago photographic journey? 
The Mediterranean Sea is a vast and historic body of water, dotted with islands of various sizes, from the largest such as Sicily and Sardinia, to the smallest with an area of less than 2 km2. Over time, the inhabitants of these territories between sea and land have learned to live with inaccessible terrain, arid land, stormy seas and a great “isolation”, forcing them to find resources and to create opportunities in synergy with the environment.
The cultures that have resulted are among the world’s most excellent and innovative; think of the tuna industry in Favignana (Egadi Islands), the reality of steel extraction in Elba (Tuscan Archipelago), or the wine of Giglio Island produced in a way that has been described as ‘heroic viticulture’ (which also happens to be the most expensive wine in the world). Today, the islands are not known for their excellence in terms of culture, production and ingenuity, but rather for their waters and summer climate, as places to go on vacation. This is a huge loss on a cultural level. 
Archipelago is a research project that was born in 2018 precisely to document and enhance those aspects that remain, often hidden to tourists, and to provide tools to work on the awareness of inhabitants and travelers and thus lay the groundwork for the preservation of the local cultural identities and landscapes.

The project focuses on the Mediterranean archipelagos and aims to document them by 2068, thus in 50 years’ time. The project was born in 2018 when I had the opportunity to study the sea more deeply while I was training for my sailing license. Sailing allowed me to visit many Mediterranean islands that I had never visited before, and in all seasons. From this, a strong curiosity was born for what was under the surface that was sold to summer tourists, and I began to dig, to document myself. Discovering so much history and wealth which is mostly hidden and neglected made me feel a “moral obligation” to work to enhance it!

In what ways does the sea shape the morphology of the island settlements?
The archipelagos currently on display in Hamburg are a selection, formulated with the director of the Italian Cultural Institute, of those mapped to date: the Egadi, Aeolian and Pelagie Islands in Sicily, and the Tuscan Archipelago in Tuscany. On these islands, as on many others, the relationship between the sea and the land generates difficulties that inevitably have repercussions on the forms of living and that are resolved differently from time to time and place to place.
There is no single solution, but many. Just think of the houses of the Tuscan Archipelago and the differences they have with the Aeolian typologies.
The documentation that Archipelago proposes is composed of photographic reportage and schematic mapping that aims to highlight, on the one hand the “isolation” of the islands by reporting the main connections by sea, and on the other their continuity with the land by depicting the reliefs and depths. This set of documentation makes it possible to reflect on the conditions that generate peculiar responses.
Have you traced a characteristic architectural typology for each island you visited?
Each island has its own characteristic typologies, which derive from the ways of establishing a relationship with the sea and the land – just think of the differences in needs that are reflected in the houses of fisher(wo)men, workers, farmers, etc.
The project, however, aims to investigate not so much the housing typology, but instead the cultural landscape that is generated and has been developed over time in that context and in which the houses and settlements are inserted, more or less coherently.
Archipelago focuses on inhabited Mediterranean islands mixing the theme of living with the cultural and landscape heritage of each place. Habitation – Culture – Landscape: tell us more about the interconnection of these elements and how you think they affect each other.
The connection is total, each island is characterised by a specific natural landscape that in history has generated different productive and commercial possibilities. From these activities, the housing typologies and settlements have arisen.
The issue is that most of the Mediterranean islands have abandoned their prevailing activity to reconvert to a seasonal monoculture based on the exploitation of natural resources.
This not only represents a risk for the environment, which inevitably experiences a process of degradation and overuse, but also a cultural impoverishment that flattens the diversity of the islands.
In your opinion, how can architecture contribute in a more sustainable touristic model of development that will cherish the natural landscape, the history and the cultural values of each and every island?
In reality, I think that the changes in the international economic dynamics have led to the progressive abandonment of the traditional activities of the various islands, from tuna fishing, iron and steel production, to the cultivation of the most impervious lands etc. This abandonment has caused a reconversion of the main activities and, seeing that at the same time tourism was an economy in a phase of strong development, many of the inhabitants have dedicated themselves to this new market.
The problem is not tourism, but an almost total and completely seasonal conversion of the islands’ activities.

Out of season, the islands are almost uninhabited. Moreover, in most cases, the cultural identity of these islands are not really promoted and safeguarded. For example, museums or places where the history of the islands are celebrated are rare and not well maintained. At this rate, the islands of the Mediterranean, which represent a great richness from a cultural point of view, will be more and more equal and their history will be more and more forgotten.

Tourism is a great opportunity to revive the islands 365 days a year, if managed appropriately. The disciplines of architecture, urban design and planning can play a major role in this revival.

For example, it is possible to design museums and places for tourists interested in discovering the local culture; it is possible to give a new design to spaces so that they can attract different types of travelers who may be interested, for example, in developing projects themselves, in spending hybrid stays of relaxation and work. To do this, it would be necessary to work on the islands’ infrastructure and create a network and opportunities for development.

Facts & Credits
Project title  Archipelago
Typology  Photography series, Exhibition, Book
Research & Photography  Corinna Del Bianco
Exhibition  “Archipelago. Fotografie di Corinna Del Bianco”
Location  Italian Cultural Institute in Hamburg
Duration  15 December 2021 – 30 March 2022

Read more about ARCHIPELAGO photography series by Corinna Del Bianco, here!