Throughout the Modernist era, architects tested concepts and created building prototypes. Buildings were regarded as living machines, that were ought to generate well-being to its users. In Lähiöblog’s first Guest Pen (Vieraskynä) we take a deeper look at one of the utopian creations of that time: Corviale, also known as Serpentone due to its huge dimensions. The blog post is written by Francesca Geremia. It is a shortened version of an essay Francesca wrote for Tampere University’s Urban Planning and Design Theory course, to which she participated in 2021.
The Kilometre of Corviale
Corviale is almost one-kilometre-long residential complex located in the district of Corviale on the north-western outskirts of Rome. Developed by a team lead under the leadership of architect Mario Fiorentino, the complex was built during 1970’s, when Italy was facing a huge population growth. At that time, architects began to draft new ideas for the development of the suburbs. The complex, which included high-density apartments for 8000 people, a church, shops and municipal structures was one of the most prominent plans of that time.
From an urban utopia to a symbol of decay
Corviale was a utopia of “a city in a building”. It represents great ambitions of the 1960’s and 1970’s architecture, such as the idea to create an egalitarian and self-sufficient community within a building. Consisted of four, interconnected buildings, the Corviale was metaphorically compared to infrastructures by many critics. The objective of the territorial dimension pictured by Fiorentino was to stop the urban expansion while safeguarding the surrounding countryside and building a self-sufficient solution, located far from the urban centres due to the high land costs.
The IACP (“Social Housing Institute”) began construction of the Corviale in 1972. However, Rome’s political climate in the early 1980’s led to cuttings of public housing’s financial support, which led to partially incomplete construction of the complex. Management problems and lack of public control induced to illegal squatting of approx. 700 families in the building. The Free floor on the building’s fourth floor, that was ought to house public and commercial services as well as common spaces, was occupied and modified for private living.
The “Kilometre” was supposed to answer to the 1970’s housing crisis in Rome. Unfortunately, stories of substance addiction, drug dealing, and squatting made Corviale a place to avoid; it was cut off from the rest of Rome, isolating the people who lived within the district. Hence, Corviale has over time transformed into the symbol of the peripheral decay of the capital. The rigid formality of this mammoth-like architecture, combined with its modularity, raises the feeling of alienation to its maximum level. At first glance, its current state of disrepair and decay is clear, but at the same time, the power of these architectural spaces refers to the project’s utopian nature.
There are several planned and ongoing projects to rehabilitate Corviale. One of them is Renovating Corviale building by Guendalina Salimei and the T-Studio. The project, that also goes by names the Green Kilometre or Green plan, aims to rethink Mario Fiorentino’s original idea of the Free floor. By redeveloping and creating common space to the 4th floor premises of the building, the project emphasises the “Free Floor” as a breaking element in the building’s architecture and spatial organisation. Having nature as its main theme, the 4th floor is coloured in different shades of green. Special attention is paid to the meeting spaces to highlight their novelty in the reorganisation of the space. The aim is not only to make the new intervention recognisable in the context of the old building, but also to increase the well-being of the residents. On-site surveys revealed the existence of a strong sense of community that is meant to be maintained and enhanced in the renovation project.
Another, currently ongoing rehabilitation project, Regeneration of Corviale by Laura Peretti architects, aims to integrate the building better to the district by creating a clear relationship between public spaces and circulation. The project’s aim is also to identify some important urban changes that need to be reassessed to make the whole area less isolated from the centre of Rome.
The route out of degradation
Currently, the city of Rome is dealing with some serious issues concerning degradation of its architectural structures. These problems are reflected in a tough social distress that affect several suburban areas that, consequently, have become places without identity, built just to contain a great number of people and are far away from the city centre and its main activities.
We need to remind ourselves that the value of big cities is not an excuse to forget about suburbs and keep them away from social and cultural actions.
Documenting the Corviale’s present state of decay can shine some light on what it was and what it could have been. The grey concrete building sinks into the green of the suburb; the chaotic cityscape is replaced by a more rural atmosphere, made up of fields, wastelands and isolation. In addition to or despite of the endless proposals for the renovation, and some for the demolition of Corviale, community action has to some extent increased the value of the neighbourhood by setting up residents ’associations to insure the public sector to fund services, amenities, cultural and sporting activities. The whole district is slowly rising from the ashes and driving us to want a better future, for the architecture and for the people who live there.