There was a “black hole” in the northern part of Milan. A place where madness was relegated for decades. It is the “Paolo Pini” hospital, the former asylum of the city.
Mental illness has been considered problematic, and societies needed structures to hide people affected by this problem. Today this consideration is still partially in our consciousness, but hard work on the integration of patients has been ongoing for decades.
In 1978, the Italian government approved the law act n°180, called “Basaglia Law” – named after its creator. Basaglia’s idea was to convert asylums into places of dignity and humanity. The main features of this new model were public acceptation of mental illness and social inclusion through ordinary jobs.
In 1994, a committee made of social cooperatives, municipality and directors of the hospital, decided to start a gradual requalification of the “Paolo Pini” based on these ideas. The process aimed to convert parts of the building into locations where people from inside and outside can meet.
The “breaking of the wall” started with a theatre festival in summer 1996 that brought, for the first time, the local people inside the structure. The process continued with transformations of the funeral parlour into a restaurant – ‘La fabbrica di Olinda’. This place, where people affected by mental illness can work and live, was chosen as a symbol of the “Paolo Pini” re-birth, a new community life. Nowadays, the staff members also manage a bar, a catering service, a hostel and a theatre. That place beyond the wall is no more a source of fear and sadness.
This case shows how value given to a place is a social construction. Nevertheless, it proves that the value is not set in stone, as it is possible to re-work older frameworks into new possibilities. This is the daily goal of the workers at “La fabbrica di Olinda”, a gradual renovation which allows casting a new light on a premise where once there was only a “black hole”.
The video below is produced by ‘La casa di Olinda’ and it illustrates their story.