Danilo Dolci, Architect

From 1956, 1st “strike in reverse” in Partinico to 1967, March “for Western Sicily and for a New World” from Partanna to Palermo.

“I began to understand that an architect would work only for rich people, for those who had money and not for those who had no house, no money, it was therefore necessary to do another job before the so-called urban planning and architecture.”


(“Danilo Dolci between dreams and projects”, interview with Danilo Dolci by Mao Valpiana, in nonviolent Action, year XXXII, no. 10, October 1995)


“This is an architect like us, who has opted for an alternative without which architecture expires in miser profession, loses all power of ‘prophecy’, every role in civic promotion, becomes a means dejected for a living maybe comfortably, but without happiness.”


(Bruno Zevi, Danilo Dolci, and the contents of architecture in Architecture, year II, no. 21, July 1957)

Danilo Dolci (1924–1997) abandoned his studies in architecture, after passing all the exams, while he was working on the thesis and had already written two manuals on the science of buildings for students (Compendium about theory of reinforced concrete, Milan: Tamburini, 1948; Technical study of isostatic structures: Constraints, external reactions, internal actions, examples, Milan: Tamburini, 1948).

Dolci gave up his architectural studies to join Don Zeno Saltini in Nomadelfia, an orphanage for abandoned children after the war, housed in a former Nazi-fascist concentration camp at Fossoli near Modena. Don Saltini made him responsible for implementing the project of a new community near Grosseto. “For four months, in the new school of architecture of the Little Apostles, he passionately studied the project. Men, boys, women were involved. The urban planning model of the future village was born, line after line, discussion after discussion, from the collaboration of the fifteen hundred and more citizens of Nomadelfia” (Antonietta Massarotto, “Born in the middle of the Maremma the second Nomadelfia”, in Il Popolo, 23 September 1950).

This was his first project involving a training community. Already in 1952, when he left Nomadelfia, considered by him a too-closed community although wonderful, Dolci started building the Borgo di Dio (Village of God) in the poorest and most needy village he had ever seen, Trappeto, Sicily.
In Sicily, Dolci began to engage in radical and innovative activities of political and social activism, research, education, and architectural and urban planning with the inhabitants of entire communities in western Sicily. Here, he elaborated a training method that he called the RECIPROCAL MAIEUTIC APPROACH, a dialectic method of inquiry and “popular self-analysis” for the empowerment of communities.

This is how started the Center of Research and Initiatives for Full Employment in 1958 and, ten years later, the Training Center for Organic Planning in Borgo di Dio through a process of self-management.

Among the works that could be seen as built architecture, there are, besides the Training Center for Organic Planning in Borgo di Dio (1968), the “strike in reverse” (working without pay) in 1956, which is the illegal construction of the municipal road to Partinico, realised together with the unemployed population; the dam on the Jato (Diga dello Jato), which began in 1963 based on an idea by a farmer named Natale Russo; the long march “For the Western Sicily and for a New World” from Partanna to Palermo in 1967 (reproposed and walked again by Stalker in 2011 from Menfi to Palermo, along with associations and organisations working in the area today and directly witnessing the Dolci’s experience); the development plan for the areas affected by the Belice earthquake on 15 January 1968, created together with hundreds of experts and local communities and made public on 15 September of the same year.

Posing the question of Danilo Dolci as activist, architect, popular educator, and planner is today crucial and enlightening, in face of the urgency to redefine practices and tools for architectural planning action.


Stalker is a collective subject, found in 1995, that engages research and actions within the landscape with particular attention to the areas around the city’s margins and forgotten urban space, and abandoned areas or regions under transformation that are referred to here as „Actual Territories.“

Stalker promotes interventions based on the spatial practices of exploration, listening, relation and on creative interactions with the environment, its inhabitants and their “archives of memories”. These processes aim to generate social and environmental relations that are self-organised and evolve over time. The sensitive and dynamic mapping of territories and communities generated through these processes remains easy to access. These interventions promote knowledge sharing, collaborative projects and raise the awareness of communities towards their territory and their cultural environment.

From 1999 to 2002, Stalker, with the Kurdish community of Rome, squatted the building of the ex-veterinarian in Campo Boario (ex slaughter house), naming it “Ararat”, in order to experiment a new shape of contemporary public-space, based on the acceptance, hospitality and self organization.

Since 2002 Stalker promotes an interdisciplinary research network named Osservatorio Nomade. A net shaped each time around a research and action site. Just like it happened for Suilettidelfiume (2007), Campagnaromana (2006) and Immaginare Corviale (2003–2005) in Rome. Along the via Egnatia (2003–2004) from Rome to Istanbul, across the Roma world from Rome to the ex Yugoslavia, with Campus Rom (2008). Since 2009 to 2013 Stalker run three different projects, PrimaveraRomana, Arti Civiche, Museo Relazionale. On going project in Rome Walking out of Contemporary (from 2014).