Immaginare Corviale. Osservatorio Nomade
Corviale is a 958-meter-long popular housing building inhabited by about 6000 people. Located in the south-western periphery of Rome, it is surrounded on three sides by intact countryside. It was designed by Mario Fiorentino between 1972 and 1975 and completed ten years later. It is an emblematic place for architects and urban planners, systematically evoked by the Italian press with regard to the real or presumed evils of the suburbs. Today, after 30 years, it is finally possible to re-activate the reflection on the significance and impact of an ideology of urban planning and public housing that in the ’60s and ’70s informed the activities of intellectuals, politicians and technocrats, and was then neglected without even reaching the people for whom it was intended. The unsustainable modernist utopia that produced Corviale and the representation of the housing complex that national media nave diffused in the last twenty years have transformed Corviale in to the symbol for all the social problems of Italian inner cities. This has prevented the development of a positive and dynamic image of Corviale, both for its residents, for the city and for the general mediascape. The challenge is to recuperate a sense of awareness among the residents that they live in an exceptional place. With the project Immaginare Corviale, we want to reconnect the threads of an interrupted history and dismantle this paradoxical stereotype, never losing sight of the inhabitants’ individual relationship with the building. The request made by the residents of Corviale is the creation of a new image for the housing complex. This request for a new and yet more pertinent imaginary is however totally intertwined with the need for a physical renewal program for the complex. Immaginare Corviale is triggered by the will to understand how the building’s spaces and the surrounding areas are lived in, imagined and transformed. The residents’ collaboration has made this exploration possible, suggesting new directions for investigation. Immaginare Corviale has become a multidisciplinary laboratory on urban space in which participatory planning practices and artistic and multimedia production come together. The choice to work in the field is a difficult one and can generate diffidence, but it ensures that the individuation of spheres of intervention is not the fruit of an extraneous artistic intuition, but the reflection of real, living, rooted needs. From a dialogue with the residents, at times stimulating and at other times conflictive, three dimensions on which to concentrate emerged: the real and subjective experience of the place, the image of the place, and finally the imaginary and memory of the place. These three dimensions inform the three platforms created for the project: ON/field, ON/univerClTY and ON/network.
Text from The [un] common place, Bartolomeo Pietromarchi.
Fondazione Adriano Olivetti and Actar, 2005
A project curated by Fondazione Adriano Olivetti (Flaminia Gennari and Bartolomeo Pietromarchi with Maria Alicata)
Promote by Comune di Roma, Assessorato per le politiche per le Periferie, per lo Sviluppo Locale, per il Lavoro; Dipartimento XIX – Politiche per lo Sviluppo e il Recupero delle Periferie.
In collaboration with the Laboratorio Territoriale – Corviale Roma Ovest
The Importance of Being Corviale. Peter Lang
July 23, 2005
Architecture has a particular emphatic way of stumbling through history, reaching different cadences with the change of technologies, metamorphosing with every new scientific advance, jumping course with the first sign of political about face. Unlike its more tame and pedantic sister professions civil engineering and construction sciences, architecture behaves most recklessly, making revolutions, turning reactionary, or prostituting itself for fame and fortune.
The contemporary history of architecture, however, reads like a mediocre comic strip, with unbelievable heroes, a stiff cast of supporting characters, and a plotline about an endless quest to save the world through some daring feat of superpower creativity. In this cartoon world the evil villain is played by the horrible land speculator, the architecture critic is played by the mad scientist, and they continuously try to thwart the just efforts of the super architect. In each of these cheap adventures there is the mass of little people, the ones that are always getting vaporized by the ray gun or simply crushed under the debris of collapsing buildings. These represent the helpless public, in permanent awe of the superhero, but unfortunately the collateral damage necessary for any half baked wonder boy story.
What is particularly tragic about this foolhardy representation is the horrifying truth that life actually plays out this way. The World Trade Center saga is only the latest version of this cheap fiction: the great architect’s buildings do collapse on top of the innocent masses, lots of faceless people get killed. But all that happens next is another version of the same old story: another super architect, another evil speculator, another mad critic come back to haunt us. We seem doomed to repeat our worst nightmares.
But there are other possible alternative endings, that could put a stop to this Nietzschian cycle and the uber mensch syndrome. In this alternative universe, the masses of humanity no longer get smashed under a collapsing architecture, the architects no longer impose their impossible dreams, and the evil speculators and mad critics turn into repentant foundations and good curators. It should not come as a shock that this version has been fermenting already for some time, and there really are no lack of observers or participants who are not drawn magically into the fold.
This is the Corviale project. It may not have reached a point of absolute perfection, there may be but a few unresolved issues, or a handful of contradictions. But the big shift has occurred. The Stalker spawned ON urban laboratory in conjunction with the Commune of Roma and the Olivetti Foundation, have tackled one of the great enigmas of our time. What happens to a colossal piece of seventies architecture, one of the largest megastructures of its kind, after the architects have left the scene, the profiteers have cashed their checks, and the critics have gone back to other matters. What, after all, happened to all the thousands of people who became the flesh and blood community of the steel and concrete block on the top of the hill?
Though this might appear an obvious question, the plain truth is that the aftermath of an architectural vision is rarely ever revisited. Architecture schools do not make these artifacts part of their ongoing research; governments do not maintain an active presence; and hardly anyone is concerned with how these structures fare five, ten, or twenty years after. Worse, the only institutionalized treatment for these large-scale projects are bulldozers and dynamite, packaged together with what constitutes the new housing vision of the present, cheap family homes scattered wastefully across vast terrains…
The Osservatorio Nomade project is first a lesson in architecture. Instead of teaching students how to make fantastical buildings in void-like settings, Corviale is a user’s guide to how a community lives, adapts and transforms a highly abstract architect’s invention. Together, this novel set of interactive strategies establishes the fundaments for a sensitive architecture closely modeled on actual living conditions. Taking Corviale as a living landmark, one can imagine a new architecture that is programmed to respond to the needs and desires of a community in evolution. It’s a way to get beyond the closed conception of the aesthetically abstract monoblock.
Secondly, Corviale introduces a new paradigm for cooperation, setting in motion a whole context for institutional interaction, between community collectives and government participation. Here the question is not how to prop up a failing social system, but instead how to positively reinforce and build within a society through educational and social structures that compliment the needs of its inhabitants. The structural symptoms of failure, the unfortunate list of situations that include the abandonment of public services, the degrading infrastructure and the common lack of maintenance of elevators, public corridors, and staircases, create in their ensemble incredible hardships for the inhabitants. These are the setbacks that remain emblematic of an overall negative attitude towards public housing and contribute to the general degradation of the complex. Yet piecemeal repairs and inconsistent cash infusions hardly go to the core of the problem. Only a clearly articulated network of cooperation between the inhabitants and the public administration can truly begin to renovate this typology of megastructure.
Finally, Corviale is a model for a new form of conceptual project, one in which the world of contemporary media and visual arts, architecture and landscape architecture can be brought together to assist in the development of a community’s core identity. Representing and broadcasting a world that has been scarred by years of neglect and abuse, converting a negative portrait into a landscape of wonderment, creating a sustainable living environment for future generations is truly a noble task that counters superficial media stereotypes and transcends the logic of existenz-minimum social housing. The intractable blemished reputation acquired over time, an unfortunate biproduct of the very lopsided and ill considered formulae that generated Corviale in the first place, can only be countered through a sensitive public campaign geared to readdressing the capillary network that stretches to each individual inhabitant. It’s a necessary step to dissolve the facelessness condition of anonymity, introducing back into the public realm the individual characteristics of every day life.
The architect of the future can no longer be constituted like the lone ranger, a cartoon superhero that works his or her strange powers in a social and urban vacuum. The architect of the future is a collective, an interdisciplinary band of artists, thinkers, curators, and fellow travelers. Buildings no longer go up in ecstatic feats of daring, or coming crashing down in horror. Instead, we build towards a critical mass, seek a consensus between partners, develop an ecology of harmony and cooperation that can rescue, better than any superhero ever could, the troubled world we now live in.