The unMonastery: the space and co-design in Matera

The location of unMonastery residencies is Palazzo del Casale Rione Sassi, Matera, Italy (map).

The Palazzo del Casale is a space of coliving and coworking. Encapsulating the principals of coworking and the spirit of co-living. In essence, it is an unassuming, typical Italian stone houses set in a small “vicinato” or courtyard environment. But even this social unit ambiences resonate with the themes of the space by encouraging interaction among the residents and a shared approach toward overcoming challenges and everyday life.

The unMonastery is a blank canvas on which the community is prompted to co- design the space, starting from their needs. At the moment The Palazzo del Casale is under renovation and we are co-designing the space. You can follow the discussion and be part of the process: I (Andrea) am in charge of liaising with the contractors, and you can get in touch with me by clicking here. The space will be warm, inviting, steeped in heritage but fresh and modern in its flexible layout. There will be couches, tables, a kitchen, Wi-Fi, whiteboards, pens and pencils to facilitate discussions, meetings and networking. Everything mixed with living and sleeping areas. The slides below show the building and the renovation design work done so far.

But now it’s time also for you to put minds and hands on the project! Please leave your comments saying what is your idea on unMonastery space and how you want to interact with it and its design! Post links of the designs that inspire you. The inspiration could be a beautiful object, a building, a place, or anything you see as you walk down the street or eat in restaurant or have seen in other collaborative environments. So finally we will set up a design charter that will generate a design solution while integrating the skills and interests of each of us. We don’t have rules, we are open to suggestions.

Please download floors drawing in .dwg and .dxf files here!

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Andrea, thanks for sharing & caring about this :slight_smile: It’s pretty impressive already, both the space and the progress. I would not have expected that the first unMonastery would be renovated before unMonasterians move in … it’s of course much appreciated. I welcome the “reuse and recycle” approach for the furniture … fits great for the uM idea as it’s a way to use minimal resources for a set goal, just as the rest of the uM projects will be. Also, high 5 for the plants integration … properly selected, might this also solve the humidity issue in these buildings in the winter times (Ben mentioned it some time ago)?

Don’t know what input I can contribute here from a distance. However, one thing comes to mind: What’s the Internet bandwidth in the building, and how can it be distributed in the building? Wifi would be used within a room of course, but given these big stone walls in the uM space, and general poor performance of wifi in crowded spaces, I guess cabling is the preferable option for getting Internet to the rooms. For that, I see a lot of phone cabling in the floor plans … that’s great, as even if there’s no dedicated network cabling, then the twisted pair phone cabling can be reused for 10 MBit network cables. It works well in short lengths as in a house, I have done this hack multiple times in places where I live(d). An alternative would be routing the network over the power network for distribution (from ca. 30 EUR per pair of boxes).

If my application for unMonastery goes through, or before / during LOTE3 anyway, I would be up for helping to finish the network installation. Have some experience with network installations in abandoned spaces, from providing the network on an abandoned army base for a music festival :wink:

Another thing (but since I’m not officially from the uM team I will just throw the remark in the room): Is there intention for having a workshop space in the Palazzo del Casale as well? For working with raw material that is not information, like electronics hardware, wood, metal, … . (I guess this depends a lot on the selection of uM projects though, about which I don’t know.)

Oh and … what mean the big half-circles across rooms in the floor plans? Couldn’t make sense of them.

flexibility and ‘incompleteness’

Ciao Matthias, we are very glad you like the work done so far! It has been not easy but we put efforts on it! I totally agree that a collaborative space must retain a degree of flexibility and ‘incompleteness’, giving the people the ability to accommodate the changing needs of diverse individuals and small groups. I have just added this part to the prevous text “Please leave your comments saying what is your idea on unMonastery space and how you want to interact with it and its design! Post links of the designs that inspire you. The inspiration could be a beautiful object, a building, a place, or anything you see as you walk down the street or eat in restaurant or have seen in other collaborative environments. So finally we will set up a design charter that will generate a design solution while integrating the skills and interests of each of us. We don’t have rules, we are open to suggestions.” I think you can, for sure, give us a lot of inspirations! About the Internet bandwidth, we will check in the next few days if an internet antenna tower (i am not sure is the proper english word!)can give high performances. By the way we are gonna have at least 3 ethernet plug and wire (on every floor) for more stable connections and then you can route the network as you prefer and need!Really like the fact you provided the network on an abandoned army base for a music festival, can you give us more details? Any weblinks to it? last thing > workshop space! I really like the idea! The half-circles across rooms are the projections of the vaults! :slight_smile:


Hey Andrea, thanks for the answers, and the openness of the design process. When I come across inspiring objects, I will let you know. As for the Internet, having some plugs on every level is just great, unMonasterians can get the rest done easily.

As for the Internet on Festival thing, see the two images below. First is my improvised server room, second is the phone switchboard. There was a cable with 200 pairs of phone lines running in a circle in the area, patched at every of the 20 or so houses that it went through. We managed to find out what goes were, so we could distribute fast Internet connections over them with either VDSL2 point-to-point connections (using AllNET ALL126AM2) or hacked DLAN modems (cheap LAN-over-powerline modems, for about 30 EUR / pair on eBay, where we modified the device to grab the signal before the 230 V AC was added, and fed that into a pair of phone cables).


All hail the hacker :slight_smile:

Matthias, this sounds terribly complicated to a layman like myself. I guess you are saying you can wire the building up. Can this be done in time for LOTE?


Space and Culture

Revisiting the Collective Self

The presentation of the room plans has opened the discussion up nicely.   Bravo.

I suspect that my brother the architect would agree that Space precipitates vision… 

It is an amusing paradox that we are busily creating a New Tradition. 

With traditional traditions, the answer as to the why we do something, is because people have always done it this way.  With the unMonastery Primo, we don’t have this luxury of history.  In fact, we have the opposite luxury, we are free to find the deepest human needs and design a manner that nourishes their expression unencumbered by tradition.

I have a lot to say; as a theatre person we do not always deal with reality - sometimes you begin in the fiction in order to locate the most playable truths.  To do this, we often take apposing truths that then collide to distill fresh vision.  This is to say, that in order to build the best finale we first create strategic, illuminating conflicts.  And let the voices battle out the best ending…

A major attraction to the unMonastery idea has been the incredible cultural richness latent in the imagery of the traditional monastery.  In my thinking, monks and nuns live a completely different holy life than that which I meet everyday.  They choose their compromises and adopt a unique culture of a disciplined, radical life-style. 

As first time unMonasterians we must build the ritual culture of our discipline:

1)    Do we get up each morning at 0430 to do collective prayers and exercises?

—  these being visible to the town as we become known for our adapted vocal qi gong training at selected stations around the Sassi which also serve to learn key nourishing Italian phrases.

  1. On which selected days of the year do we drink wine?  I have suggested we live in two week cycles that each culminate in open theme feasts which connect our work with other social initiatives.

  2. When are we silent, in seclusion, fasting?  When do we perform community service, treat the infirm?  How many hours of the day do we really need infinite wifi internet access in every room !!? When/where do we sing together?

Assembling the elements this culture will become the primary job of unMo1.

My thinking is that one cannot make this transition with the psychology of a tourist.

If ER invites people tp evolve the new future, unMo becomes the laboratory where we live this new future.

Entering a monastery has ‘traditionally’ been a choice for life.  Therefore, I have been reluctant to accept the reality of a four month project.  This temporary commitment may reflect our unEconomy, but not the proportion of the grand idea.   If the unMo Primo is really to be the flagship of the ER idea, it should complete a full cycle: descend, flounder, renew its mission, prosper, be handed over to the local community as a viable organ.  I am repeating myself, but it is hard to see this as less than three years.

If we really believe that we can be effective in short transplanted residencies; then it is even more imperative to apply solid social pedagogics when entering unMonastic life.  The transition time must be compressed to an almost immediate initiation period - the traditional disciplines be in place upon upstart; we have little place for novices.   As one whose professional discipline is building ensembles, I see it the first step of adjustment involves grounding.  It is also likely that steps 2, 3, 4 and 5 will also involve grounding; the modern psychic nomads of Digitalia have a deep need to feel belonging.  The strength of the Materian here and now may be the architecture; it demands that we enter into dialog with the walls. 

And so, I come to the space… 

To join this traditional community is not an easy commitment.   To dedicate ourselves to collective acts of goodness, we may change our names and surrender all our previous life.  In my case, I must look for a way to pack down my life, rent out my home to a visiting professor to minimise costs, and reroute all my projects around the unMo’s frustratingly flexible timeframe that keeps sliding out into the future.

To attract participants into a life of poverty (from perhaps their life of near poverty) the unMo should offer something more than an adventure in unpredictable surroundings.  We should within one or two generations have developed a reliable recipe for spiritual acceleration …

I am most concerned about focus and contemplation.  Ideally, I would put monks in individual cells -  I doubt if our mandate involves learning to dig our own caves, but I think we need to find a compromise here.  In order to attract participants, and facilitate harmony, the sleeping situation needs to be less traumatising to people like myself; four weeks camping out in a youth hostel would rapidly drain me of all energy.  Four months would be murder.

The other uses that we need evolve are our main dancing/ celebration space:  It may be that no existing space is big enough and we will be forced outside (by tradition).  This might be the same as our singing space…  When I was there, I asked someone about the singing tradition in their family.  Naively, I thought that cave dwellers would live life with deep resonance and the vocal manifestations of harmony.  As I moved around the invisible city, I kept opening my voice to find this response.  I found some spots in the cisterns, but was very disappointed by the ultra-dead sound that bounced back in the unMo location. Can this be true, or are there perfect parabolas somewhere?

( We have already chanted together to end our Skype conference calls. – not my suggestion.  Here’s a link to the singing shepherds of Sardinia:   Tenores di Bitti.

Of course, this was the quick tour, but the question must be answered - where do we sing together /how to locate the centre of power in the meeting space ?

– one solution might be to call in the theatre people and ask Andrea Santantonio and Nadia Casamassima to do some actor’s research.

This is a lot from me – looking forward to dialog…

—  Bembo


I might not join for too many of 4:30AM morning prayers, but please count me in for occasional 4:20PM rituals :wink:

Is there an outside space at all?

From what you wrote Andrea I understand there is a tiny courtyard surrounding the building, but not a proper garden for those of you wanting to grow stuff to feed yourselves or something similar, no? just wanted to be sure i understand it right. Also, I see the unMon building is situated somewhere at the “edge” of Matera, on the side of the road and near what I’m guessing it’s an open field. Quite nice scenery!

Also, I second Bembo’s hinted question about the sleeping space and how is divided? I’m seeing 3 rooms in the plan. Are those dorms and will they be gender based? is it up to the people in the conversation to think specifically how they want the dorms designed?

Bembo you raise so many

Bembo you raise so many pertinient points, perhaps too many for me to respond to directly, so let me approach what correlates with me as shared core concerns; establishing ritual/tradition and time restraint. 

Lets start with an important caveat of sorts; the vision of unMonastery has evolved rapidly over the course of the last year and has seemingly morphed somewhat whilst the concept has spent time in conversation with Matera. If I step back though, it feels as if nothing has changed in any dramatic form, rather the framework remains the same, whilst the internal mechanics of this iteration are merely calibrating to the unique shape of Matera. I think it’s important we always mark and document our path, so we can find our way back.

I think that It’s important to remember unMonastery Matera, isn’t unMonastery the singular model, there are no fixed mechanics or one size fits all in building unMonastery. At every stage, in different locations and with each iteration - there will be the same task: to meet both the specific needs of local challenges, the desires of the inhabitants and the shared ideals around the overal concept. Each iteration will give weight to the concept, allowing for more instances to happen, each instance is an opportunity to build component parts (or pattern languages of a sort), that can be shared. But which parts will we build whilst in Matera?

With respect to time I imagine the journey, the committment to a life of unMonastery, will be distributed in nature - as nomads, even with a temporary location, it will take time to establish fixed locations but far quicker than a lone nomad. 

You say 3 years, I suggest 200 years, as decades pass we may even cease to call it unMonastery altogether, or maybe we’ll find it carved in stone across Europe. So allow me to throw a question back for furthering discussion, that might provide a route towards the issue of decentralised ritual, tradition and time restrictions; How do you co-design for a 200 year project in 4 months? 

I know that sounds a little intense, maybe slightly crazy question (to some at least) but I think it’s a useful way of considering scale and asking what is vital to this particular iteration and what we might achieve if anything. If we are to avoid top down ritual and tradition - how are we to establish structure to our days in a way that unknown future unMonasterians are able to consent?

I think it may be useful at times to work backwards towards what will make sense for unMonastery Matera, in that we discuss the ideals and approach to realising a structure within the concept of unMonastery (similar to the 8/8/8 day concept we came up with previously) and ask how can we sow the seed for individual concepts in the short time of the prototype within that location?

I don’t believe we should at this point limit our imagination to the formulaic nature of structuring a space, although it may be useful for Mimmers to do so in this context - perhaps it would make sense for half of the unMonasterians to adopt a nocturnal lifestyle, meaning we would only need half the number of beds, thus doubling the working space.Just an idea.

 Imagined lifestyles should definitely prefigure and caveat any design layout one may come up with.

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Ben !

Your English is worse than mine.

I try to keep my sentences short.  When I’m getting complex in my thoughts, I try to turn to Latin as it provides a common root.

This is good: designing the days to design the space.  My key word will be rhythm; how to give the work a pulse that defines interaction, that provides the culture of the enterprise.

If you have time/need, it would be great for you to witness Jan Ritsma’s Performing Arts Forum house near Reims.  I was there last summer for two weeks rehearsal period.  Many people came and went in the run of a year (average 15 at a time) with great variations of length of stay.  They have solved many practical problems…

Key is that everyone eat well – that the kitchen invites responsible cooperation and togetherness.

More later…


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Whats a Mimmer?

…*goes and checks Urban Dictionary:

“When large amounts of alchol are consumed it is often seen that the person who is intoxicated makes farting noises with his/her mouth”




Whats a Mimmer?

…*goes and checks Urban Dictionary:

“When large amounts of alchol are consumed it is often seen that the person who is intoxicated makes farting noises with his/her mouth”



Designers :slight_smile:

[Eimhin], “Mimers” is the name of a designers collective in Matera. They are helping the city with the renovation project. [antonioelettrico] is one of them.

Nomadic Furniture

Firstly, thank you so much Andrea for faciliating this and starting the conversation around the co-design of the first unMonastery home. The work of Mimers has been brilliant and the slideshow above does a really great job of contextualising the unMonastery space within Matera and the potential laid out so far.

I wanted to hold off commenting for a time on this post, since I’ve had a fairly heavy hand in the process so far - my gut feeling though from past experience, participation and of building co-working&living spaces, is that you can’t design in advance of the participatants. My current home in North London, now of 3 years was built 5 years ago, 15 of us live and work together but it was built with rigidity in mind and struggles now to allow flexibility for the way in which our practices have dramatically changed. As such, I believe our work and thinking suffers.

I’m wary of any form of rigidity and designated spaces that cannot be changed on a whim. Furniture, if we need any? Should be movable, collapsable and cheap in respect to being modifable. With that said, in this moment without alternative infrastructural solutions, the kitchen sink has to go somewhere.

From my experience of squatting, there is a book that became the cornerstone to our thinking around furniture and interiors, which I think is important to consider in light of the unMonastery rennovations - Nomadic Furniture. It would be interesting if unMonastery could provide the space for creating the contemporary update to this amazing book. Myself and Dougald among others started to consider what this might look like in 2009 in the form of the Nomadic Infrastructure project, which has since been parked for another time.

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Nomadic Furniture and Gridbeam

The Nomadic Furniture book looks like a variant of gridbeam? Nice. I also experiment with a variant of gridbeam for the furniture of my truck home, integrated with the wall mounting / lashing system. So I’d of course welcome wider experimentation with that in unMonastery, though I guess for a start it’s faster to just get some trashed furniture from somewhere, put it in, and start solving the city problems, as unMonastery is meant to be for that …

Ben, you know the OpenStructures project? In my view, an update to gridbeam would pretty much look like that …

For those new to the modular furniture stuff, the Box Beam Sourcebook is under Creative Commons now.

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Amazing resources as ever Matthias thank you :slight_smile:

Hah. Gridbeam yay!

Our mutual friend [hexayurt] is also a fan of gridbeam. Unfortunately it’s very ugly, but hey – in 200 years we’ll learn to associate it with some boxy, sturdy kind of beauty :slight_smile:

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I recently came across an intersesting artist collective that use gridbeam like construction for some of their thought provoking projects

Probably more relevant to this conversation is the stuff about furnitecture in this presentation by Eric Hunting who was inspired by Dante- In pasting the link to Dantes page I just noticed he’s also linked the presentation from there along with other relevant stuff :slight_smile:

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another link - bitbeam

seems sensible to keep them going ::

network design and participation process


I am a designer involved in collaborative process related to urban spaces and coworking spaces and I think your approach is great.

In my experience it is very important to combine shared spaces with extremely intimate spaces for meditation (I see you did it).

I also experienced the importance of empty and not defined spaces : it is very important in order to let emergent phenomena develop and to let people continually think about the space as something that can be transformed. I think we architect tend to overdesign when we work for collaborative spaces design.

I would like to help you in a way…

I am following the process and hopefully join you in October.


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