High-Rise Relationships In A Pandemic: Gabriele Grandi And Teletorre 19

When Gabriele Grandi founded a ‘condominium television station’ to unite the people of his apartment building.

Photo edited from Lorenzov79 / CC BY-SA

When Gabriele Grandi founded a ‘condominium television station’ to unite the people of his apartment building

By Molly Martin

When one considers condomini italiani, Milan’s ‘bosco verticale’ or the stacked, bustling buildings in Naples might spring to mind. From an external perspective, these spaces appear lively and animated (see Colanzi’s Anatomy of a Balcony). However, what does the typical condominium community look like on the inside? The term ‘condominium’ originates from its namesake Latin term, which essentially means ‘joint ownership’. These roots conjure images of community, of cohesion and collaboration.

In 2001, high-rise resident and retiree Gabriele Grandi founded a ‘condominium television station’ to unite the people of his apartment building. Grandi’s inspiration for his channel came from the story of a newlywed couple mistakenly broadcasting a home video of their honeymoon to their entire palazzo. Ever the innovator, he saw this as an opportunity to entertain and connect his neighbors. He realized he could independently produce and broadcast from the comfort of his own home.

Torre 19, an apartment building in the Pilastro district of Bologna, became home to its very own, self-contained TV station. Grandi’s story is featured in the short film Da Teletorre 19 è tutto! directed by Vito Palmieri. The film, released in 2019, follows Grandi as he attempts to rejuvenate his station. At the time of the documentary, the station had suffered a drop in both participants and viewers.

As Grandi notes in the film, the palazzo environment is different than it used to be. Nowadays, these concrete structures are often void of interpersonal connections. Unfortunately, “the spirit of sharing, of prioritizing the common good and safeguarding harmony is too scarce” in high-rise complexes (Il Sole 24 Ore). The dreaded assemblea condominiale, or what Americans would know as the Homeowners Association, is the root of much controversy and conflict. Apartment tenants often have discord with one another over responsibilities, living styles and administrative initiatives. Moreover, an increased sense of individualism that seemingly abounds in society today divides even those that pass each other in the hallways of their own homes. This is precisely Grandi’s crusade: to bond the inhabitants of his Torre 19.

Gabriele Grandi Teletorre
Gabriele Grandi – Photo by Lino Bertone, pilastrobologna.it

Palmieri came across Grandi and his creation when he endeavored to the Pilastro neighborhood in search of content for his next production. The octogenarian, a mainstay in his community, created initiatives to engage neighbors with one another, reminiscent of today’s Skype game nights and Zoom happy hours. From cooking lessons to human interest pieces, Grandi volunteered much of his time and energy to portray life in his microcosmic community. In one scene, tenants are shown making tortellini together in a communal hallway. It is these small glimpses into vita quotidiana condominiale that is at the heart of Grandi’s work. The protagonist of this story is the palazzo itself, home to human subplots within. Palmieri follows the producer and his younger counterpart, Leonardo Ciccolella, as they work to stimulate viewership within their building. The documentary ends with Grandi interviewing younger tenants in hopes of keeping his passion of (very) local entertainment — and community — alive.

The story of Teletorre 19 seems particularly relevant during this period of seeming disconnectedness and distance. Camaraderie is not the first word that comes to mind when one considers the current pandemic situation, in particular condominium camaraderie. However, in recent months, our neighborhoods have become more important to us than ever before. Whether it be to contain the disease or deliver groceries, we are dependent and reliant upon one another in an unprecedented way. The world watched in disbelief as Covid-19 spread throughout the bel paese. Suddenly, there was a chasm between coworkers, friends and families. However, the spirit of Italian ingenuity persisted. Neighbors took to their balconies to greet each other and perform music together. Windows and storefronts were adorned with lights and words of encouragement. Even Teletorre 19 experienced a new wave of creative and enthusiastic participation. These demonstrations of kinship inspired the global community to come together in efforts to stay apart.

Grandi notes in the documentary, “dalla finestra si guarda quello che c’è’ fuori e da fuori si guarda quello che c’è’ dentro” — “from the window one can see what is outside, and from outside, one can see what is inside.” These words resonate with us as we sit inside our homes and watch the world pass by. At this time, we are asked to be responsible for one another. Walkers cross the street from each other; shoppers maintain a meter’s distance at all times; families don mask and glove ensembles. We take these important measures today as we see our health, our futures and ourselves in one another. Grandi knew this well before the spread of Covid-19, and it is a sentiment that transcends time — and pandemics.

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