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5

Angelo Renna (AR) interviews
Andrea Branzi (AB)

Sacred Animals


In 2008 Andrea Branzi took part in the competition organised by the French President Sarkozy to analyse a possible future for Paris. The Italian architect together with Stefano Boeri proposed to introduce free animals in the city. I met Andrea at his studio in Milan to talk together about his project.



Andrea Branzi in his studio, © Angelo Renna

AR - Can you tell me more about the Grand Paris project that you have developed with Stefano Boeri in 2008?

AB - For the competition held by the French president Sarkozy on the future of the city of Paris, we proposed a non-expansive program of intervention on the metropolis, based on the recovery and functional conversion of the existing situation, on the quality of interiors and the insertion of 50,000 sacred cows and 30,000 free monkeys in the parks and avenues of Paris. Our idea was to move towards a less anthropocentric metropolis that would offer “cosmic” hospitality, open to biological diversity.


Wild City 1, image © Angelo Renna

We took the model of the Indian metropolis as a reference. Sacred cows, camels, elephants coexist together with humans in the city. The presence of free animals in the urban territories creates a reduction of the stress, like elastomers inserted into a sped-up mechanism, which increase the level of unpredictability of the system and force it to slow its pace. Protected by their sacred nature, the animals interrupt routes and increase the mystery of the constructed world.
In urban traffic, a sacred cow can cross unexpectedly. It’s better to pay attention, firstly because you can get a fine and secondly because it brings bad luck according to  Indian tradition.
There are entire neighbourhoods invaded by groups of baboons, jumping, stealing, beating each other, but being sacred animals they remain untouchable. We can find temples for snakes or mice. Or like Parsee, they have built towers in stone at the entrance of the city naming such structures “Tower of Silence” - they were used for dead bodies to be exposed to carrion birds and vultures continuing the cycle of life.
We see an integral pacifism. A strategy for a “cosmic” hospitality were dead are kept together with life, the poor together with riches, sacred cows together with car traffic. There is an idea of totality and great spirituality.
In particular, the Indian philosopher Jainio of the 5th century has theorised the “integral” nonviolence way of life. It means that you cannot kill humans, not even animals, insects, microbes, ants - all living beings: “It is sacred, everything is alive”.
In the project for Paris, free animals take shape from a universal vision of existence and being.

Ref drawing Dakhma on Malabar Hill, Bombay

AR - Today a similar phenomenon in European cities is happening. Many wild animals are moving into cities and urban contexts. Here they can easily find food, but also there are forced to move in because cities are growing so fast and big that the space for free animals is reduced. Over 30,000 foxes are living in London, 10,000 boars in Berlin and Rome. Many other cities are facing up the same situation… Can we relate these phenomena to the Indian metropolis?
Fox in London © Photographer Martin Usborne


AB -Sure… even if they are phenomena with a high complexity and diversity. The Indian situation has a spiritual-religious origin, while in Occident we are having more a loss of control. Here we are facing more as unexpected phenomena, while in India they expect and accept them.
AR - So unpredictability means also dangerousness? How can we keep under control this condition?


AB - Yes, it could be. It is a diffuse and an unexpected event. It assumes a real dimension like many other events that could happen in the city.
The Indian society does not identify itself in buildings. The identity of the city is not about monuments and palaces, but it regards humans, colours of clothes, decorations… It is the "living" metropolis and architecture is not separated from it.

Boar attack

AR - Why the Indian society represents a reference point for you? What can we learn from it?

AB - It is a different “world” and difficult for us in the West to understand. It is not folklore, but it is a specific reality…a possibility that should be explored, because, for example, the idea to introduce monkeys and cows in an urban context is a possibility. These free presences become part of the living universe and the encounter with them can change yourself and what is around you.

AR - A few years ago you developed a project “Animali Domestici” (Domestic Animals) and recently “Gabbie” (Cages). Would you tell me something about these projects for animals?

AB - In the Mediterranean tradition domestic animals like dogs, cats and birds bring good fortune. Ancient Romans considered domestic animals as protective and lucky presences. In case of danger in the home, the dog dies and the owner is safe. They considered the furniture a household goblin that protected you. It is a remote and well-established anthropological origin. The Pompeian furnishing is an example which often reproduces zoomorphic shapes.
I have worked on cages for canaries - like micro architectures, they give hospitality to these birds. These small animals are part of the ancient Mediterranean tradition. In the Poggioreale prisons in Naples, prisoners often hold canaries in the cells. This is a common tradition; even in houses, shops and living environments that modernity has long ignored. They are professional animals that come from generations of canarie. 
I have worked on cages for canaries - like micro architectures, they give hospitality to these birds. These small animals are part of the ancient Mediterranean tradition. In the Poggioreale prisons in Naples, prisoners often hold canaries in the cells. This is a common tradition; even in houses, shops and living environments that modernity has long ignored. They are professional animals that come from generations of canarie


AR - Is the canary part of the design process in this specific case?

AB - Yes, of course… the animal is the centre of the project. I really like the image of animals. They are magic presences possessed by indecipherable goodness. When you introduce a fragment of nature into a project, it emits an infinite power superior to the whole geometric system of modernity, while its uniqueness makes it almost sacred.
Andrea Branzi and Angelo Renna in Branzi’s studio, © Angelo Renna 


published by Gluqbar Editions