A Call to Arms

Post World War II Italy found itself in a state of shambles. The combination of physical devastation and social severance presented a stage for significant cultural and reshaping. One facet of said reshaping came in the form of housing and urban planing. Together these two elements were forged to give a sense of place, community, and residence to some 350,000 Italian workers’ and their respective families. Providing for the weary citizens of the time was an intelligent and tangible step in the direction towards healing and reconciliation. The initiative to thank for this positive movement is known as the Ina-Casa Project.

A bit after midway through the semester our group learned about this effort and important layer of Italian history more by way of lecture and site visit. After experiencing both and gaining a fair amount of information I began to form my own opinion on the architectural and urban implications of these sites. For a number of reason, I eventually came to the conclusion that this post-war housing plan was pretty spectacular. In the States we hear about low income housing built in areas of cities in order to provide a better standard of living for the less fortunate, but I don’t think that any of those instances, especially not in recent time, could be considered architecturally significant. It is pretty amazing that the Ina-Casa Project believed that just because the houses being planned for construction were for the poor did not mean that they had to poor in concept, quality, or urban intent.  What’s more, the fact that the ICP took the time, effort, and initiative to insert thought and logic into each design, thus creating housing that not only promoted basic human values but also communicated a specific Roman identity in its form.

One of the many things architecture school, if not college in general, teaches a student is how to think to draw comparisons to each individuals specific geographical location and social upbringing/background. Because of this I tried to apply the success that I had seen from Ina-Casa to my home town, Norman. While Norman is not a particularly wealthy town it is not a particularly poor town either, and because of this variable and others it might seem like like a stretch to tie what I’ve learned back to the city. However, it does make me think of the Home Creations company that builds less-than-savory houses around town. Pre-college I worked a handful of home contracting jobs and became familiar with their reputation for quantity of quality and lack of architectural panache. I would like to know how much extra money and thought it would cost to make each Home Creation house/neighborhood more architecturally and culturally significant. Rather than just off-white siding and generic, cheap brick, find some alternative materials and create a variety of forms to create an identity.

The fact that the ICP allowed architects to design with craft, quality, and imagination is so telling of the difference in both time period and culture. I don’t feel like you would ever find such experiential intent behind the design of today’s suburbs. It’s all about time, money, and moving on to the next one. Perhaps this realization can be viewed as a challenge to accept for the future as my peers and I began the transition into the real world of architecture; a world where our designs don’t just affect our GPA but have a much more important social impact on both the micro and macro level.

Mussolini’s Center of Fascism

Mussolini was quite the P.R. master. One of his many masterpieces of public imagery was the building crusade around the Mausoleum of Augutus. Every part of this project was carefully managed and calculated to make him and the fascist state look beautiful and powerful. It worked pretty well too. This area continues to be a site for current governments to display their power with the conclusion of a recent design contest to revamp the crumbling site.

If you were just walking along the street and came upon the ruin of the mausoleum you would notice it for sure. Its huge, old and dilapidated, much more so than everything else in Rome. But would you notice its surroundings? The mausoleum is surrounded by fascist architecture. The four surrounding blocks are some of the most densely fascist in the entire city. And that is impressive.

When Mussolini began his selective curation of Rome, the Mausoleum was being used as a theatre. This was one of its many converted uses throughout history. Mussolini removed this sore upon history and all of the buildings surrounding it, most of which were from the middle ages. Mussolini viewed himself as Augustus reborn into the modern world. It was his pet project to rebuild and restore Rome to its former glory of ancient times. Some old ratty buildings stood in his way, but not for long.

One of the most iconic images of Mussolini is of him wielding a pick axe and destroying an obstacle of construction not fitting with his vision of Rome, glorious Rome. This images captures what Mussolini did best, aside from ruin Italy during a thing called World War II. Mussolini carefully carved away at Rome like you would a potato, removing the ugly parts, the bumps, the dirt, the ugly skin, and leaving behind the pure flesh. It’s still a potato in the end but my, ain’t it purty? What was left in Mussolini’s Rome was a glorious history, filled with power and triumph. Some of it was even true.

Some of the lumps and bumps in Mussolini’s way were more than one hundred buildings surrounding the ancient mausoleum of Augustus. The plan was brilliant. Remove these insignificant and “worthless eyesores” and replace them with new and impressive buildings, glorifying the fascist state and all of its might. But being Mussolini’s project, this had to be done in the most impressive way possible. What is more impressive, a bunch of buildings built sequentially over a long time or a bunch of buildings built at once in record time with a gigantic workforce? The second option, naturally. Though actual figures are impossible to find it is safe to say thousands of workers labored away, on the country’s dime, at one time. Monumental buildings with sculptures, carvings, artwork, and inscriptions glorifying the fascist state went up at an astounding rate. Witnesses to this rapid construction would have been easily awestruck.

Today, the Piazza Augusto Imperatore sits with a large portion of its history removed but with  more artificial history. It is one of Rome’s most curious historical sites, with its life bookended by ancient artifacts and modern ones. It is the perfect example of Mussolini’s sweeping hand across the city’s history. History will soon be altered again as the work begins to revamp and revitalize the crumbling mausoleum into a freshly polished jewel in the city’s crown.

Authenticity and Ruin

Andreas Huyssen’s article Nostalgia for Ruins focuses on sanitized ruin experiences and questions whether “authentic” ruins even exist, i.e., when does a ruin become an exhibit, and when has it been preserved so heavily that it is no longer “ruined”, but transformed into a designed object?i

These questions colored my own experiences at Ostia Antica and later the Palatine Hill. Both are “exhibits” in the sense that you have to pay to get in, there are signs put up all over the place telling you what you are looking at, with other things of touristic and historical significance noted along with reconstructive drawings of what it would look like in Roman times, et cetera. However, at Ostia Antica you basically pay to get in and are then turned loose. There are few areas cordoned off, you are free to roam in, around, and on the ruins, and although they have been “sterilized” by the concrete caps to prevent further erosion, the level of intimacy you can get with these ruins is extremely high.

The Palatine Hill on the other hand has virtually everything of note separated from the actual walking path of the user, and is more of a zoo for ruins. Where at Ostia Antica you can actually take rubbings of bricks and inscriptions, be in the ancient spaces, use your imagination, and climb up onto the walls of buildings and look out, the Palatine Hill has a much more prescriptive nature, with the views carefully constructed, and everything interesting separated from where you will actually be walking.

However, the answer to which is more “authentic” isn’t so clear-cut as that. Yes, at Ostia it is possible to climb up and around and be inside, but the ruins are carefully preserved with the aforementioned concrete caps – the ruins were discovered and subsequently designed (through admittedly minimal intervention) to create a new entity, that of a ruins-themed park. In contrast, at the Palatine Hill only those pieces of ruin that come in regular contact with people are especially preserved, and much of it even more minimally – brick coursing around ancient pieces of mosaic to keep them in place, for example. The earlier zoo metaphor is lacking when it is noted that ancient ruins are not in fact wild animals: by sectioning off and framing sections of ruin (and it must be said that much of it is now overgrown and gone to seed), and most importantly by preventing access, they remain perceived as things of the past and not the present.

i Huyssen, Andreas. “Nostalgia for Ruins.” Grey Room, no. 23 (May 1, 2006).

Full Circle

Franco Albini was an Italian architect and designer in the mid 20th century known largely for his forward thinking furniture and interior design, as well as culturally responsive structures that are still today read as uncannily intelligent. Our class received a brief but thorough introduction to Albini via a guest lecturer, Professor Kay Bea Jones (Ohio State University) and some informative readings. In the midst of these things, in order to pair images with descriptions, I did a simple Google image search for Albini. The search yielded a selection of pictures that predominantly showed his furniture, which might lead one to believe that this is what the architect was most known for. Whether that’s true or not, I’m not entirely sure, but I do know that said furniture is quite excellent. I’m no furnishings connoisseur but I do know a thing or two about architecture, and Albini’s tastes and attention to architectural detail is prevalent in all of his designs. Seemingly simple bookshelves look like suspension bridges, armchairs like scissor lifts, and staircases with lines only a true draftsman could conjure. Just looking at furniture alone, it’s clear to see Albini’s attention to craft was no joke.

Moving along with my Albini image search, I came across his staircase in Palazzo Rosso. The images I riffled though rang true with the words from the readings, making obvious Albini’s ability to convert ideas and conceptual thoughts into tangible, physical things. The material choices, visible vertical lines created by structure, attractive angles, and overall structurally sensual composition all reenforced this. Judging only from a picture, it’s clear that Albini had a knack for presenting his conceptual ideas in the most excellent of ways.


Lastly, my search provided to me an image of the La Rinascente department store in Roma. Finding multiple views of the building were unnecessary in determining if the structure was in fact Albini’s. His design fingerprints were already visibly seen all over the structure from just one view. The push and pull with layers and the celebration of connections and materials tied this one found example of Albini’s architecture back to his furnishings and other design jaunts.


After all of these things, the readings, image search, and the lecture, I started to wonder why Albini was not as well known worldwide as some other architects who looked to Albini for inspiration while still personally blooming as a designer. It seems that if one man had such an impact on multiple fields (architecture, furniture design, interior design) why was he not as well known as others like Louis Kahn or Frank Loyd Wright, who all worked roughly around the same time. It made me wonder if dabbling in a number of things rather than focusing all your energy into just one could be considered spreading yourself too thin as a designer. But those thoughts led me to think about the fact that Albini didn’t simply dabble, he was a master in all of his trades. This fact ruled out the possibility of him spreading himself too thin and that being the reason for his lack of notoriety.

Eventually I realized that all of my thinking was based on this idea of fame. Who ever said Albini wanted that? Is that what all famous architects of that time strove for? What generates fame? Does it matter? Why should it matter? Why am I asking myself so many questions? I know that my drive and motivation to get through architecture school has absolutely nothing to do with the hopes of eventually being an architectural rockstar that transcends the community and become world renown. With this I arrived at my conclusion: it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter why Albini was what he was. Who cares why he wasn’t what he wasn’t? I think Franco Albini was concerned with one thing, and that was to do what he loved to do everyday. He seemed to be an honest man who desired to what he loved for a living and his design positively impacted those around him. Forget about the fame, that is something I will use as motivation moving forward in my career.

The machines and the gods

“The machines and the gods”? I have never considered that these two things could be related, but the Centrale Montemartini, the second exhibition centre of the Capitoline Museums, makes it possible. Actually, “The machines and the gods” is the title of the museum’s permanent exhibition. As the first public electricity plant in Rome, the Giovanni Montemartini Thermoelectric Centre was re-imagined into the museum that we see today. From the start when it opened in 1912 until it was closed in 1963, the electric installation produced electricity for much of the city. During the 1997 renovations of the Museo Capitolini, many ancient Greek and Roman sculptures were moved to Rome’s oldest industrial area for temporary exhibit. The dramatic contrast between the delicate art pieces and the old industrial productions makes the museum and exhibit unique and provides a very special atmosphere. The success of the new exhibit made it become a permanent museum exhibition space to house the classical arts.

The main exhibition space is divided into two different rooms – motor room and boiler room. In the motor room, the elegant and precious art works are located in a spacious hall, which is defined by two large motors. At the end of the hall, there is the pediment of a Roman temple. Actually, it is only several pieces of the pediment, but they are resembled in an unusual way by using industrial equipment. In the boiler room, the huge, black boiler that rises from floor to ceiling becomes the backdrop for a number of white historical artifacts.  Seeing the monumental Greek and Roman sculptures set against the vast turbines, engines, and metal walkways, the stark contrast not only illustrates the differences between ancient Rome and today, but also reflects the different identities of the city. At the same time, the contrast makes the traditional gap between technology and art a blur, so that it is hard for visitors to tell which is which. The unbelievable juxtaposition balances the machines and the artifacts visually. I believe that many people will not only appreciate the ancient sculptures, but that they will also probably spend a lot of time looking at the equipment, installations, craft objects and other tools in the museum. Therefore, the industrial building itself somehow becomes the exhibit.

The museum represents the power of different ages through the histories behind the sculptures and machines. If the art pieces express the empire’s power, the electrical plants and their machines will reflect the fascist power. As the first power plant, electricity emphasized the development of the technology and the power of the government in the fascist era. The unique contrast and incredible balance of the white marble sculptures and the old industrial building remind of what I have read in Adam T. Smith’s book The Political Landscape. In order to stress the different expressions of political power, he compares The death pit of Queen Puabi of Ur that was reconstructed by A. Forestier to Andy Warhol’s Electric Chair. He emphasizes that “landscape must be understood not simply as space or place but as a synthesis of spatiality and temporality“.[i] Enclosing the Greek and Rome sculptures in the fascist power plant depicts the power of the fascist government. The powerful and ruling machines redefine the historical and monumental pieces and create a different political atmosphere. Moreover, the link between the machines and sculptures conveys the change of power from one period to another.

It doesn’t matter that the museum established and maintained political power successfully or not; it is a complex and contradictory place that is worth visiting. The unique interpretation of the different art works and industrial equipment endows the museum a different meaning which makes the museum itself into art.

[i] Smith, Adam T., The Political Landscape, University of California Press, p. 10.

Mi Casa, Su Casa, Ina Casa

The Ina Casa projects are a curious thing. They were developed using a strict set of rules formulated to replicate the regional style of architecture that each one was built in. This was a good gesture, but ultimately something went awry. You see, when you apply rules where none existed, mimic and recreate what just happened on its own, and try to synthesize what is organic things don’t turn out perfectly. This is what happened to the Ina Casa projects.

If you don’t already know, Italy has many regional styles of architecture, with some varying more than others. Sure the construction methods are quite similar and fairly interchangeable but there is a certain overall look and feel to each one. A photographer could take pictures of towns in different regions and ask you to compare them, tell him what is different about each one, and have you analyze what you see. And you might be able to do it easily, but most of the differences aren’t just at the surface in material choices or color palettes.

Italy is a country built over centuries. Large and dense areas of rapidly built construction stick out in any part of Italy very badly. Also making these projects stick out is the city planning. While they typically have the meandering roads and non-grid based layouts that are typical of Italy, it is quite obvious that they were planned. Looking at these areas in plan or on a map makes this all the more painfully obvious. The little games designers played stand out. This lines up with that, which intersects this, which is connected to that, and these are all laid out relative to one another. That doesn’t happen here.

There is also a great deal of repetition that takes place in the Ina Casa projects. This isn’t a surprising thing. Its efficient, not only from a design aspect but also from a construction one as well. Repetition does not happen from one building to another in Italy. Most everything is one off. It is rare to find a copy of a building in the same city. So when you have a cluster of six identical three story buildings with identical and mirrored facades in a new area, it sticks out. It sticks out badly.

When we visited the Ina Casa projects in Rome they created a very eerie environment. The places were of course filled with average Italian folk going about their lives, walking their dogs while chatting with neighbors just like you would find anywhere else. However, something was off. It all seemed fake, like a set used for a spaghetti western. It was all quintessentially Italian, yet undeniably fake. They share a similar quality with gift shop trinkets found throughout all of Italy. Kitschy little trinkets that capture the essence of where you have been in the most fake and cheap way possible. No one could deny though that these synthetic distillations are born of the pure essence of the place that they are purchased at but they are not authentic, or remotely genuine. This is the same issue that seems to surround the Ina Casa housing projects. Despite the careful attempt at first to stick to strict rules regulating the methods for design and construction that follow the regional practices and history, the projects are far too fake to be viewed as authentic by even the casual and uneducated observer.

Monumental Monstrosities and their Major Malfunctions

Monsters are the antithesis of heroes. As a society, our heroes are the greatest among us, they exemplify our values and showcase our virtues. On the converse, monsters show all that a society finds evil. Monsters are comic book villains, mad scientists,  epic beasts which require slaying, ugly evil things that scuttle sinisterly in dark places, horrors which lurk just beyond our fragile perception of reality and slither, when least expected, out of our nightmares and into our world to sow discord and destruction. Monsters validate our conceptions of ourselves by standing opposite to them and ultimately falling to our heroes, who must vanquish them. However, not all monsters are entirely evil, nor all heroes entirely good, nor all monumental architecture entirely without worth.

The argument is made by Terry Kirk that monstrous things come very close to being monumental. Monumental things also invoke wonder as well as horror. A monument to something immortalizes it, somehow affirms the worth of the thing, for, if something has a monument, then surely the thing must be worthy of “monumentalization”. The Vittoriano is obviously a propagandistic attempt to legitimize the regime of the Savoyard kings of Italy. It stands ominously at the termination point of the Via Del Corso on the auspiciously named Capitoline Hill and replaces the church domes of old as the defining element of the skyline. From the church’s perspective, this was no doubt a monstrosity. It stood against their values and took what was rightfully their city, a city ostensibly of God, and repurposed it to serve a single man: a king, an excommunicated heretic who robbed the church of her oldest historic possession: Rome. On the other hand, for the oppressed Jews living in the Roman Ghetto, this might have been seen as an act of heroism. They’d been shoved into a filthy disease-ridden corner of the city and given essentially no rights except to sell cloth by the popes. The new skyline for them could be seen as a symbol of liberation. They were finally released from the confines of the ghetto and had a new synagogue built for them. To them, the popes, who were to the Jews heretics, oppressors, and idolaters of a false prophet were the monsters, the antithesis of their cultural values, though to Christians, the Church was an organization of unusual charity that helped millions of people find solace and meaning through their faith. In other words, reality is defined by perception, and when enough people reach a consensus of perception, their shared perceptions become a value, positive or negative, between them.

The point of this is to say that not all things monumental and monstrous are necessarily good or evil, worthy or unworthy. The Vittoriano is no doubt a monstrosity, it dominates the skyline and stands in stark contrast to its surroundings. It is an anomaly to the surrounding urban fabric. It doesn’t belong. However, its sculptural storytelling does affirm the cultural values of the people of Rome. Its columns, temples, and monumental staircases invoke the values of the ancient Romans and Greeks, the supposed highest virtues of mankind: reason, culture, and the triumph of mankind as the exemplar of these things on earth. They show things of essential classical beauty: the nude human form and the intricate carvings on the columns, which do lend some sense of scale to the building despite its enormous size. Its signifies an end to the autocratic rule of the popes who had been trying to selectively stifle certain scientific and intellectual progressions of mankind. This Altar of the Nation would, as far as the monarchy was concerned, mark the beginning of a new age in Italy, and Rome especially, one that would appreciate the progress of mankind and the advancement of culture. It fulfills this role particularly well as a museum. It holds exhibits on the emigration of Italians from Italy, as well as ones occasionally about art or important figures in Italian culture. In this way, it very much belongs in the city. It helps connect visitors and residents alike to the culture and history of Italy and Rome.

I personally don’t know what to make of the Vittoriano. It is no doubt a monster by the definition of Terry Kirk, but it’s also not without its worth. As a monster, it teaches us how easily mankind can overwhelm the natural and built environment with ostentatious monstrosities, but as a hero, it can teach us a little of tolerance and understanding. I personally believe it’s a little of both, a heroic monstrosity that simultaneously affirms certain values while standing in opposition to others. It’s a grey area, and not just because of the giant shadow it casts. It reminds me of Batman in a way; it’s something the city can simultaneously hate and love. It stands as an antithesis of its surroundings on the outside while simultaneously showcasing them on the inside. It’s a strange place, but one that helps to make Rome the monstrously interesting city it is.

Works cited:

“Monumental monstrosity, monstrous monumentality.” Terry Kirk. Perspecta. 2006.

Tiburtino: Diversity and Unity

Italy has always been an extremely diverse country. Even today, its regional dialects and enmities color the cultural landscape of the country and give a very different flavor from other European states. People from the North refer to people from the South as stranieri, foreigners, in their own country; Rome is part of Lazio, but Romans will never refer to themselves as Lazian and Roma-Lazio is one the biggest soccer rivalries in the league. Local and intra-national divisions like this are common throughout the country and have existed for much longer than the country itself has even been in existence.

                Throughout the Middle Ages and into the late 19th century, Italy did not exist as a country. It was just a shifting collection of duchies, republics, and city-states vying for control of more land. The North was nearly constantly under invasion from the French or the Holy Roman Empire, and Sicily was under Muslim rule until 1057 when two Norman adventurers, Roger and Robert de Hauteville, conquered the “foot” of Italy and drove them out. With so many lingual and cultural groups constantly invading and being driven out over the years, it’s no small wonder that Italy didn’t become a country (and then really only in name) until 1861. However, nationhood did little to solve Italy’s social ills, namely the rates of illiteracy and poverty that were especially prevalent in the South. Two consecutive World Wars, mismanagement by the monarchy and the Fascists, and large amounts of emigration did little to solve these problems. As a result, after World War II, Italy saw a huge disparity between the much more developed North, which had endured the brunt of the fighting in World War II and the far less developed South, which had seen almost none of the prolonged fighting that the North had endured.

                In 1949, after World War II, and in response to the social and economic problems prevalent throughout Italy, the parliament approved a new plan to construct low income housing all across the country to help alleviate the overcrowding of the nation’s underdeveloped slums and working class neighborhoods. It was called INA-Casa and was a part of the Italian National Insurance Institute. The programs for INA-Casa housing called for special attention to regionally appropriate styles and materials. These were not to be Le Corbusier-style “living machines”, they were intended to cater to local tastes and be a reasonably nice and affordable place for place for working-class people to live. Tiburtino is one of these neighborhoods and is located in Roma. It’s a strange combination of seemingly spontaneous and mismatched rooflines and colored walls. Its facades step in and out and undulate across the neighborhood’s several winding blocks. Streets that, when viewed from plan, are obviously well-laid and thoroughly planned out, appear from the ground to be paved animal paths that snake through a purely organic neighborhood that sprouted over time. Tiburtino is an intentional call back to the medieval urban fabric of Rome that was largely destroyed or unrecognizably altered by Mussolini. It does what I’d call a very successful job of replicating that pattern of city, except it exceeds its inspiration in that it also is a safe and well-provisioned functioning neighborhood that has all the modern conveniences one would expect: electricity and plumbing, (two things that were in short supply in Medieval Rome), a church, small stores, and gas stations all located within easy walking distance of the housing units.

                Beyond purely imitating and improving upon an earlier style of architecture, these units are representative of the ideal Italy. They’re an amalgamation of seemingly different and unrelated parts that come together into a beautiful and very functional whole. The neighborhood mixed together not only built forms, but also people of various social classes and professions and it worked. It continues to work to this day. Tiburtino, and INA-Casa as a whole, did not go the way of the American housing project Pruitt-Igoe or the South African black townships of the Apartheid era simply because of how it envisioned and approached low income housing. INA-casa housing was not envisioned as simply a place to stuff poor people and minorities, it embraced diversity and allowed for the intermingling, as opposed to the segregation, of various and diverse people. It symbolizes Italy in that way: it’s a place where a tremendously diverse populace can live together as a functioning and long-enduring society.

Core to Shore

Core to Shore

“The Garden Suburb of the Garbatella” by Antonella De Michelis provided an interesting perspective on a relatively successful planned community in Rome.1   An attempt in Oklahoma City to design a new community, known as Core to Shore, could draw on some of the lessons of Garbatella to create a truly functional neighborhood.  In her article De Michelis describes the desires of planners and designers for the new communities of the ICP (Istituto per le Case Popolari);

“The development of industry in Rome prompted politicians and urban planners to consider how cities might be shaped in accordance with ideals of progress and modernization, and to experiment with new solutions to urban problems.”1

In the 1920’s a severe housing shortage forced many people to live in squalid conditions on the outskirts of Rome.  Ebeneezer Howard’s utopian garden city plan (with a distinctly Roman influence) was adopted for the Garbatella neighborhood in an attempt by the ICP to provide permanent, modern housing for those living in shantytowns.  Oklahoma City’s current plan strives less to improve the lives of individuals and more on development of prime real estate, yet it is similar to Garbatella as both developments are planned and contain a mix residences.

Despite public housing’s generally dysfunctional reputation in the US, care was taken to design Garbatella with a positive sense of identity and pride. To help ease the current labor shortage local craftsmen were hired and given a certain freedom to express their craft, lending a personal touch to each project.  Winding streets relating to the topography and the unique features on each building create an intimate atmosphere and sense of ownership.  Smaller “villas” allow for more personal space and less dense living, while larger housing blocks contain a series of apartments.  Public spaces are surrounded by multi-use buildings often containing stores or services.  Additionally crime does not seem to be a huge problem in this neighborhood, despite the lower income level of the residents.  Although rising property prices threaten the identity of the neighborhood there is still a healthy mix of economic classes living in Garbatella, creating a strong community.  If I had one critique it would be that there could be a greater number of commercial spaces in the area, allowing for a tighter community.  Still serving it’s purpose and more desirable than ever, Garbatella provides a glimpse of what a designed neighborhood can provide the city, and may contain principles on designing neighborhoods that are still relevant today.

The current Core to Shore development plan is similar to Garbatella in that it contains a mix of single family residences and mixed-use developments, along with a range of public spaces intended to link downtown Oklahoma City with the channel running along the south of downtown.  Unlike Garbatella, however, the development does not stem from an acute housing shortage or a desire by politicians or developers to improve living conditions for the less economically stable residents in the area; rather, it is seemingly to invest in underutilized land and improve the image of the city.

In my opinion successful elements of the Core to Shore plan include the green corridors and the larger roads linking the neighborhood south of the channel to downtown Oklahoma City, which are in place now.  The mixed use projects contained in the plan also provide a good density coupled with local services and jobs, increasing the vibrance of life at street level.  Less successful, in my opinion, are the single family residences, which I don’t believe are necessary in this case, and use up real estate better used for multi-use buildings.  Adding more apartments of various sizes and finishes would attract people of greater economic diversity, and increase the density of the development.  Institutions that are already located in the area, such as the Independent Electrical Contractors Trade School, for example, could be offered space in a new building in roughly the same location, replacing the derelict building it currently occupies and enhancing an established service as opposed to replacing everything and maintaining the identity of the neighborhood.  Creating a series of smaller public squares framed by buildings would create eddies in the otherwise unrelenting flow of traffic and provide a space to linger.

Unlike Garbatella, refraining from describing explicitly which types of buildings should go where, a framework of codes could allow for individual developers to construct buildings and roads with a unique identity, while still functioning in the larger framework of the neighborhood.  This would allow for quicker development of the area by reducing the individual investment burden and allow for more developers to become involved rather than a few large investors.

In striving to design a progressive neighborhood for Oklahoma City hands-off planning and diverse programming could be the boon that an increase of living standards was for the residents of Garbatella.  An issue that Garbatella and many other planned neighborhoods face is that they feel fake, almost too perfect in a sense.  By providing a clear set of rules and allowing others to fill in the blank may be a compromise that results in planned cities that not only feel personal but also develop in a somewhat organic capacity.

1. Antonella De Michelis, “The garden suburb of the Garbatella, 1920—1929: defining community and identity through planning in post-war Rome,” in Planning Perspecitves, Vol. 24, No. 4, October 2009, 509-520.

– Klaas Reimann-Philipp

We Are Tradition

A distinctly Italian characteristic discovered by exploring the city of Rome is the amount of historical buildings. It is very easy to imagine what the country may have looked like hundreds, or in some places even thousands, of years ago. The abundance of classical, renaissance, and baroque architecture takes you back in time. The narrow streets, fountains, and of course historical significance of the objects surrounding you can make you forget what year it is. Yet while you’re sent back in time frequent reminders speed by like a new Fiat, tour bus, or what seems to be hundreds of mopeds. Then suddenly you remember that is it 2013 and these buildings are hundreds of years old. The question then arises: where are all the modern buildings? Yes of course we know of the contemporary architectural masterpieces like the MAXXI, the Ara Pacis Museum, and the Auditorium. But where are the real contemporary buildings? Where are the places that everyday people use every day, not monumental space frames?

It seems like Italian Architecture is somewhat trapped in a state of mind or has a fixed perception of what architecture should look like. Yes granted many of the buildings here in Rome are very old and that limits the opportunity for contemporary design ideas to be expressed. Yet many of the buildings that seem to be at least old enough to have been designed with a contemporary approach still seem to reflect the historical context. This raises another question: what is Italian architecture? Or how should context be defined and used in contemporary design? Many designers relate their designs back to local context but at what point is it okay to start do create a new context?

I recently heard that context is tradition and that made me think about design. Italy seems to try very hard to relate its tradition to it past glory and connect that with architecture. Walking around the city of Rome it is hard to find architecture that will give you an idea of what this culture’s modern traditions are and how people live today not hundreds of years ago. But to my surprise the other day I think I found an example in Rome that does  just that. After a class walk to Garbatella we stopped at an incredible building in a redeveloping area of Rome to see the new crown jewel of the area: Eatly. A huge converted old air terminal has become the mecca for all food lovers in Rome. As we walked up to the building it appeared clearly different from traditional Italian architecture. The only forms that seemed to relate to the context were the intersecting barrel vaults, but the scale was overly dramatic. The form fit its old use as an air terminal and yet it still feels extremely different. The material combination of glass and steel has more in common with designs in Germany not Italy. The huge structural trusses and glass connections were so beautiful.

As we entered Eatly we saw five different levels that run the full length of the building and gave the place a feel of horizontality. The inside felt open because of all the glazing, high floor planes, and white exposed structure. The architecture was amazing but the most important part of the space was the tradition or “food”. The spaces were laid out for designated items such as for wine, local goods, beer, meat market, fish market, restaurants, and even a cafe on the top floor. All of these spaces felt very personal and private. The well-known love that the Italian culture has with food could be felt in this building. It made me think about the conquest for contemporary Italian architecture. The search for context through tradition. This also made me think about contemporary Italian designer Franco Albini and his definition of context which is “we are tradition”. I can see what he meant in this building of Eataly. People are tradition themselves. Because the building serves the function of the people it is respecting context. The relation to classical or baroque design doesn’t mean a building is fitting tradition because the most important context for “tradition” is the people in the present not history. Eataly does that. The designer understood that the people of present and their traditions should be the context for the building. “We are tradition” should be the main context in contemporary architecture because as we see the Eataly building is an Italian building.Image