Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Living sustainably, in harmony with people and nature. This is what the “Solar Ecovillage” is all about.

Jacopo Fo, an Italian artist and writer who founded the Free University of Alcatraz in Central Italy and whom has made of sustainability his modus-vivendi, has now began the construction of an ecovillage in Umbria, just off Alcatraz. 

by Cecilia Anesi 

Free University of Alcatraz lanscape. Photo by Eleonora Albanese.

The Free University of Alcatraz is literally what you would define a ‘green heaven’. It is an amazingly beautiful four-million-square-metres of flourishing nature enclave which hosts a cultural centre directed by Jacopo Fo, an Italian artist and writer, son of the famous Italian theatre player Dario Fo. 

Alcatraz is placed just off Gubbio, a city of Umbria – a region considered to be the green heart of Italy. Alcatraz took substance from the dreams of Jacopo Fo thirty years ago, and is today known as one of the most interesting and beautiful places to visit in Central Italy. It surely is a place any person who likes green practices would want to be in, both for living and holidays. 

Jacopo Fo at Alcatraz. Photo by Eleonora Albanese.

In 2010, Alcatraz was awarded the “friend of the climate” recognition by the main environmental association of Italy, Legambiente, for its long-lasting devotion to protection of the environment and its biodiversity. 

The same year, Alcatraz has also become energetically self-sufficient due to green technologies employed to produce sustainable energy. Solar panels, for a total of 27,5 kilowatt, are used to produce electricity and soon there will be a new 50 kw plant. Moreover, five solar thermal plants provide the almost totality of warm water, and heating is obtained with two wood boilers and two high-efficiency gas boilers. In order to cut water waste, people at Alcatraz use flow reducers and a dual flush toilet system. They also reuse or recycle 80% of their waste and use compost in the land they cultivate. Products of their land are their main food supply, not just for the inhabitants but also for the restaurant, which is open to the public. 

Over the years, Jacopo Fo and the rest of the Alcatraz’s community managed to recovered with olive groves, orchards and pasture 400 thousand square meters of derelict land and reforested another 370 thousand square meters.

Free University of Alcatraz lanscape. Photo by Eleonora Albanese.  
Alcatraz has demonstrated an incredibly successful model of sustainable living, one of the few in Italy. For it, Jacopo Fo has decided to build an ecovillage within Alcatraz property, which houses can be sold to anyone interested in co-housing and sustainability. 

“At Alcatraz, which is a community, we now got to the point of producing more energy than we the one we consume and we have been recognised by Legambiente as a model of sustainability. This why we now propose a new model of living with the “Ecovillaggio solare” (solar ecovillage). This ecovillage won’t be a community as Alcatraz, but it will still follow both a green and a commons philosophy”, explains Jacopo Fo. 

The Solar Ecovillage of the Free University of Alcatraz. Photo by Eleonora Albanese.
“We propose cohousing, which means each inhabitant will have its private property but will also share common spaces. The village will be have 70 houses, some of which will come out of recovered local stone-made houses (although modified for energy efficiency) and some other will be brand- new houses made with insulated glulam. They will obviously all be built with non-toxic materials, with great thermal insulation and floor heating. Each house will have 2500 square metres of private land, with a garden and a piece of olive grove, orchard and wood. Then there will be 270 square metres of communal park with a swimming pool and a 165 metres square room for cultural activities and free time. Moreover, there will be some common services such as shared irrigation system and shared laundry, in order to minimise expenses and maximize ecology. 

A house of the Solar Ecovillage of the Free University of Alcatraz. Photo by Eleonora Albanese.
“The idea”, keeps on explaining Fo “is that this advanced type of cohousing allows people to save money, by producing more energy than what is needed, becoming an income more than a cost. It is a sustainable way of living in harmony with nature and the others, which for me”, concludes Fo “is the real alternative to metropolis.” 

Many of the houses are still unsold and still to be constructed, although the first 17 houses will be handed in autumn to the first inhabitants.

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