Italy Turns to Flower Energy to Assist Unfold Vaccine Message
ROME – This has been an ugly year for Italy.
The first wave of the coronavirus took the country by surprise, killing tens of thousands. The second wave somehow surprised the government, killing thousands more. And Italians desperate for the new vaccine are struggling to get their hands on basic flu shots or understanding whether to be home and stay home for the holidays.
To improve the situation while Italians wait for the vaccine, the government turned to urban planner and architect Stefano Boeri. Best known for creating so-called vertical forests from Milanese skyscrapers, Mr. Boeri has tried to help his country with architectural floral power. He designed 1,500 pavilions with a primrose theme in which the vaccine will be distributed.
“The primrose is the first flower after winter, even a child knows that,” Boeri said in an interview and called his vision for building design “a strong message that everyone can understand.”
Italy ran with the proposal. On Sunday, the medical staff received the first vaccinations under posters with the country’s official slogan for the program: “With a flower, Italy will come back to life.”
Critics have noted that the government’s emphasis on Milanese design is somewhat out of place in a pandemic.
“A clown show,” proclaimed an Italian member of the European Parliament. “Idiots,” offered a prominent commentator. “I don’t want a primrose,” protested a top Italian economist, Carlo Cottarelli. “I want an anti-Covid vaccine!”
But Mr Boeri rejects cynicism. “Flowers are serious,” he wrote on Twitter and explained in an interview why the primrose was the ideal image for Italy’s vaccination program, which began on Sunday.
“It’s one thing to get vaccinated in a container or a military hospital and another to go into a luminous room in the shape of a flower,” he said.
The project started about a month ago when Mr Boeri received a call from Domenico Arcuri, Rome’s special commissioner for the coronavirus emergency. Mr. Arcuri explained that while hospitals and empty gyms are the main vaccination points, external temporary pavilions also need to be created. The program to vaccinate at least 40 million Italians against herd immunity would take at least a year and a half.
Mr. Boeri immediately agreed to help.
Like many in northern Italy, he has lost close friends and family to the coronavirus. He said as the pandemic dwarfed the year and the country, the flashes of generosity and kindness, professionalism and sacrifice made it shine even brighter.
“The demonstrations of generosity were beautiful,” Boeri said, adding that Italy’s vibrant voluntary sector “temporarily filled in the gaps in the state.” It was in this spirit that he and his team worked, who received no compensation. “It was the least we could do.”
He and Mr. Arcuri agreed that they needed a single cohesive image to get the word out and inspire people to roll up their sleeves.
Mr Boeri said he and his team worked furiously for over two weeks trying to find something. They were looking for a picture that could generally be understood as positive, “of a 4-year-old or an intellectual in the north or a young migrant”.
Dec. 28, 2020 at 1:38 am ET
He said they ruled out antagonistic images that might “promote fear,” like a simple graphic of a bar crossing the prickly virus, but also taken care not to promote the idea that a vaccine would set you free. So they made no suggestions like the picture of two young people wrapped in an embrace or a mask flying into the uninfected ether.
When the flower idea emerged, it resonated immediately.
“We started to think that the message had to be so direct that even the pavilions should look like flowers,” Boeri said.
The next question was which flower to choose, a complicated decision in a country where flowers are often identified with political parties.
“We are mad about the relationship between politics and botany,” he said.
Mr Boeri first thought of a daisy, but then he and his team remembered that it was linked to a now-defunct center-left party. They released an alpine flower, which is the symbol of the nationalist league. They flirted with the idea of the yellow sunflower, but it seemed too close to the bright yellow stars of Italy’s five-star populist movement.
But when the primrose entered the picture, it was child’s play.
Mr Boeri presented the plan to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and the country’s powerful Minister of Health, Roberto Speranza. They expressed their joy at the “positivity of the message” and thanked him for his work, he said. However, since the primrose is available in many different shades, “we talked a little about the color.”
Mr. Conte liked the fuchsia Mr. Boeri chose, but he also thought yellow would be nice, said the architect. Fuchsia was the final choice.
The government will now be making bids for construction companies and advertising firms who could make changes. But the way it is now, the pavilions should be made of wood and biodegradable fabric and have airflow, waiting rooms and light. They should invite to vaccination centers.
The promotional video for the project shows flowers blooming in thousands of places on the peninsula. On the Piazza del Popolo in Rome, the Piazza del Duomo in Milan as well as in Trieste and Naples and elsewhere, models of the round white pavilions were presented, which were embossed with pink flowers from above. The designs looked like Scooby-Doo had taken a lap of Italy in a giant Mystery Machine van and lost tires in the process.
Mr Boeri said smaller towns have flower-branded pavilions. In either case, the primrose would mark the spot where vaccines could be found. Some have even suggested that the vaccinated should wear primrose pens to identify themselves.
“The primrose is the symbol of vaccination,” said Mr Boeri. “Wherever you are vaccinated there will be a primrose.”