Sei sulla pagina 1di 4

Bernardo Secchi

22

Urbanistica descrittiva

Per diverse ragiooi mi rrovo ad esaminare con grande continuita una


considerevole quantita di scritti e di progetti urbanistici: di rapporti
di ricerca, di saggi e volumi che raccolgooo i risultati di ciflessioni che
preteodono ad un certo grado di generalita ed originalita, di relazioni
cecnicbe di piaoi alle diverse scale, di tavole di piano, di pianidi area
vasta come di piani relativi ad intere cina od a loro parti, di piani generali come di piani di attuazione o di progetti urbani, di norme eregolamenti cbe Ii accompagnano, di articoli che li commeotano, di
" dossiers" piu o meno chiaramente tematizzati che Ii confrontano.
Mi trovo ad esaminare una grande quantita di prodotti dell'attivita
degli urbanisti del nostro paese, ma aoche, sia pure con diverso grado di coperrura ed approfondimento, di diversi altri paesi europei.
Nella stragraode maggioranza dei casi si trana di una "folla oscura", avrebbe detto Gustave Lanson, di au tori e di prodotti; di uo insieme di scritti, di piani e di progetti che, singolarmente, non segoeranno la storia ddl'urbanisrica di questi anni, che probabilmenrenon
verranno mai considerati "eseropi esemplari ", ma che-. nd loro insieme, esprimono b cultura dell'epoca, "ii quadro della sua vita letteraria" ( urbanistica): i suoi luoghi comuoi, le sue preferenze ed i suoi interdetti.
Svolgo questo esercizio con curiosita ed interesse; resto legato all'idea dell' urbanistica e, piu in generale, della ricerca, come attivita
collettiva, non eroica, entro la quale l'apporto dd singolo riesce nd
essere fertile solo se riesce a srabilire ancbe un adeguato insieroe di
verita consensuali, di "modi" che riescano a diveoire pervasivi. Per
questo esploro con curiosit.3 la folla.
Ora cio cbe a me sembra caratterizzare la produzione conternporaoea degli urbanisti (in uno scritto di altre dimensioni potrei permettermi di portare molce prove convincenti) e la pervasivita e J'importanza che, entro la strurtura mobile dei loro tesri, assume la "descrizione". Ea rurti nota l'importanza di akuoe descrizioni nella costruzione deUe scienze sociali. La prima consapevolezza del " nuovo"
si spesso rnanifesrata attraverso una descrizione: il "Tableau de Paris", il "~pporto" del donor Kay, "Le condiziooi deUa dasse operaia in Inghilterra nel 1844", oppure le descriziooi delle diverse "Inchieste"; oel nostto paese quelle del pei:iodo post-unitario, o dell'indomani dell'uJtimo coo.flitto mondiale: l'inchiesta Jacini, l'incbiesta
Zanarddli, "l'inchiesca sulla roiseria in Italia" , "l'inchiesta sulla condizione dei lavoratori in fabbrica "....
Cio che miappare nuovo nei prodotti recenti degli urbanisti none
quindi tanto la presenza della descrizione quanto la sua importanza,
l'esaurirsi spesso dell'attivita urbanistica nella sola descrizione. Non
si tratta solo di un'importanza estensiva, rnisurabile dallo spazio che
essa occupa nei loro documenti verbali e grafici, quanlo soprattutto
di un'importanza concettuale: la descrizione sembra essere divenuta
oggi la principale forma di organizzazione discorsiva attraverso la
quale l'urbanista cerca e controlla la coerenza delle proprie proposizioni. Pet alcuni urbanisri la descrizione diviene anzi l'unica ancora
cui affrancare le pratiche urbanisciche e sociali pertinenti; i giudizi, le
valutazioni e le scdte che le stesse di continuo propongono. Sino alla
fine degli aoni sertaota, potrei arriscbiare sino al "Progetto Prdiminare per la Revisiooe del Piano Regolatore Generale" di Torino de!
1980, la vasta collezione di testi dei quali un quals.ivoglia ~rodotto
dell'attivita urbanistica e composto, cosl come l'immaginano collertivo deg)j urbanisti o relativo all'urbanistica era invece pieno di "racconti". La differenza salta all'occhio come un indicatore di rnovimenti piu sotterranei e nascosti che segna forse il passaggio da un pe-

riodo aJ successivo. E per questo che me oe occupo.


Cio che di quesca cendenza mi appare problematico e infatti ii frequente dissolversi delJ'attivita urbanistica in un descrittivismo SLerile, che passa accanto al nuovo senza rilevarlo; senza essere forse coraJmente consapevoJe delle stesse difficolta cbe la descrizione sempre
solleva. Prima di avanzare ipotesi tanto iropegnative vorrei pero cercare di "descrivere" la descrizione.
La forrna piu elementarc di descrizione e forse l'inventario, il catalogo, l'enurnerazione, il censimemo: g)j urbanisci Ii praticano da cempo, spesso in modo acritico. Gu invencari oggi si moltiplka110, sospinti da leggi, da norrne tecniche e da direttive delle amministrazioni; l'acuita sensibilita arnbientale Ii espande entro terreoi sinora inesplorati: inventario degli edifici e deiJuoghi dj notevole valore architettonico, paesistico, arnbientale, delle essenze arboree, delle zone
umide, delle risorse idriche.... L'attivita inventariale e indissolubilmente legara aUa denomiBazione e designazione, alle loro difficolta
recniche ed alJe loro aporie. "La foUa io non diro, non chiamero per
nome, ne011Deno s'io died lingue e died bocche avessi": ii cataJogo
delle navi del secondo libro delJ'Iliade rimane ii consapevole esempio prototipico delle une e delle altre. C'e forse quakosa cbe lega
questo sforzo di dire la molteplicita dd reale evitando di illuroinarla
con una regola d'ordine, con una teoria, con uo racconto, all'idea di
frammenrazione sociale eotro la quale siaroo immersi.
Piu elaborate sono le descriziooi "bio~rafiche". Di uo edificio o di
un luogo, ancora pensati come oggetti smgoli ed inveotariabili, vcogono ricostruite le vicende; in qualche caso atrraverso uo'inrdligeote
ricerca tra le fonti documentarie, molto spesso attraverso uo uso disinvolto deg)j arcluvi, sempre lasciando nell'implicito il legame co
struttivo che intercorre tra archivio ed inventario. Sembra non si possa dare oggi progerto senza che allo stesso venga anteposta una certa
quaorita di carte e di notizie storiche. Attivita inventariale e ricostruzione biografica si sostengono comulativarnente rendendo forse palese J'angoscia coUertiva per la perdita della continuita dd tempo.
Ioventari e biografie hanno introdorto uo gusto nuovo peril dertaglio, un nuovo rischio de! "dettaglio inutile". L'urbanista ricorre
sempre piu di frequente a scale di rappresentazione non abiruali nei
decenni precedenti; in modi sempre piu pervasivi fa emergere, spesso involontariamente, "la differenza". Le nuove rappresentazioni
sortopongono a severa critica ogni sistema di nominazione, ogni tentativo di Classificazione, ogni riduzione linguistica. La molriplicazione. ad esernpio, delle carte in scala 1:500 delle parti piu antiche ddle
nostte citta rnostra le difficolta di uo'analisi cipologica: la molriplicazione di carte tematiche nelle quali le informazioni fornite dall'anagrafe o dai censimenti generali vengono rappresemate per singol?
edificio o sua pane, anziche, come abituale nei decenni precedena,
per zona, mostra la fallacia dei presupposri a ridosso dei quali si era
costruita !'idea analitica e norrnativa di "zona omogenea".
Le possibilita enormemeote accresciute di ricorrere alla elabora
zione automatica delle inforrnazioni, siano esse fornite in forma nu
merica, verbale o grafica, la possibilica soprattutto di incrociare i ~
versi ti pi di elaborazione e rappresentazione, di costruire "sistemi mfonnat1vi" che consentono di cransitare con crescente facilita da un11.
carta argomentata ad una tabella a moire dimensioni, ha molciplicato, spesso sino al limite dell'esornativo, le descrizioni che accompagnano la costruzione del piano e del progetto urbaniscico; hanno costruito l'illusione di porer" dire la folla". di poteme dire i nomi, i desideri, le domande ed i bisogni. Non e infrequence osservare vere e

proprie "montagne" dj analisi, prodorre con costi esorbitanti per le


amministrazioni che le hanno promosse, partorire "topolin.i" politico-progerruali, qualsiasi sia il tiferimemo che il termine "Topolino~
richiami alla memoria. Forse, come avrebbe detto Roland Barthes,
tu no cio mostra solo l'importanza di un altro dci oostri "mfri rnoderni": !'idea che l'informazione sia necessaria, forse sufficiente. Necessaria per operare scelte corrette e democratiche, sufficiente per costrillrle. Pochi fanno attenzione aUe ipotesi teoriche implicite deUe
quali ogni informazione egravida e che si nascondono aelle convenzioni tecniche ru rilevazione dci dati, neUa melrica utilizzaca, nelle
abitudini linguistiche utilizz.ate per la loro rappresentazione e comunicazione. Pochi si rendono conto dello spazio che una carta, una tabella, un disegno, un testo norrnativo, comunque costruiti, lasciano
era le intenzioni ru chi Ii ha prodotti e la comprensione, le intenzioni e
le pratiche di chi, amministratore o cittadino, li osserva; delle diffi.
colta che si frappongono al riempire questo spazio ru parole od immagini inevitaoilmeme ambigue e cariche di giuruzi.
Akuni banno cercato di descrivere questo spazio, un tempo riempito da graoru "racconti ". Osservaodo piu attentameme i diversi
soggetti sociali e le loro pratiche, essi hanno compiuco una lunga e
minuziosa desctizione dei processi di interazione sociale attraverso i
quali una politica urbanistica si costruisce ed agisce. lnizialmente fertili e produttrici ell nuovi sguarru sull'intera attivita urbanistica, ru
nuove interpretazioni circa il suo posto nella societa, le loro descrizioni hanno lemameme costruito un atteggiameoto "adattativo" che
tende sempre piu ad interpretare ii _Rrogeno urbanistico come descrizione di pratiche ad esso esterne. E sopratrutto a ridosso o come
conseguenza dj quesro genere ru descriz1oni che il "raccomo" dell'urbanistica modema neUa sua forma canonica, la sua pretesa ru far
necessariamente parte di ogni progetto di emancipazione sociale, si e
venuto indebolendo. I diversi attori hanno assunto una rumensione
piu domestica, il conllitto tra soggetti irriducibili eapparso assumere
i connotati piu maneggevoli del rapporto contrattuale e della conversazione. L'urbanista, frustrato da tanti insuccessi, sembra parteciparvi senza "impegno"; per osservare, annotare, commentare, trascrivere ed esegillre, eventualmeme, ma sempre piu raramente, indignarsi. Benche la cirta ed il territorio siano in modo evidente segnati
da progeni che spesso hanno saputo interpretare, anticipare e moell6care i temi, i termini ed i luoghi della conversazione e dell'interazione sociale, le pratiche progettuali, nella loro speci.f:ica dimensione
recnica, vengono relegate, con strani esorcismi accademici, sullo
sfondo ell cio che non si deve evocare.
Ma non si deve ritenere che la descrizione tenda ad occupare solamente lo spazio dell'"analisi" (che gli urbanisti contrappongono un
po' rusinvoltamente al "progetto"). La gran pane dei piani urbanistici oruerni, delle carte 0 dci testi nei quali si rappresenta il loro
farsi prescrizione, non sono altro che descrizioni dell'esistente. Essi
dicono come oggi la citta efana , in pochi casi ancbe come funziona .
lnventari, censimenti, biografie hanno fornito loro strumenti descrittivi apparentemente piu potenti; il ricorso alla categoria analiticointerpretativa della "compromissione" e una nuova, generica sensibilita ambientale la giustificazione etico-politica. Ancora una volta a
me sembra possibile riconoscere in questo atteggiaroento una fondamentale visione pessimistica de! fururo: cio che ci edato fare e "conse.rvare in attesa di tempi rnigliorip quanto nei nostri invencari abbiamo riconosciuto possedere un valore, che percio abbiaroo catalogato
e ricostruito nelle sue vicende passate; cio che possiamo fare e peri-

metrare e ordinare nel migliore dei modi le aree gia "compromesse",


delle quali il destino egia definito. D futu.ro del terricorio, della citta,
del nostro spazio abi tabile e totalmente iscritto nel 1oro stato present<!; tanto mCglio conosceremo l'uno, quanta piu accuraramente descriveremo ed analizzeremo l'altro. L'esistente eassunto, oel migliore dei casi, come pietra di paragone per la modificazione e la trasformazione. La descrizione diviene cosl modo attraverso ii quale si affermano i valori della conservazione e fissazione ell uno "stato" avendo riferimento al quale si possano valutare i costi ed i benefici ru ogni
proposta di intervento che lo modi6cbi o trasformi.
,.
Ne, infine, si deve ritenere che la descrizione tiguardi solo uno
Qstile" ru pianificazione un po' vecchiotto nel quale non sia aocora
stato riconosciuto il ruolo esplorativo del progeno, della "soluzione
architettonica dei problemi urbanistici n. Anche le forme del piano
pru receoti ed aggiornate non ne sono esenti. Molti progerli urbani si
dissolvono OE;gi in Europa in un fondamentale mimetismo descrittivo: dei princ1pi inseruacivi, delle regole, della variazione tipologica,
dei linguaggi. Esso mi sembra rispecchiare un diffuso imbarazzo nell'affrontare i temi propostici daUo spazio urbano formatosi nci decenni del dopoguerra e dalla nuova culrura visiva che attraverso esso
si esprime. Propostici soprarruno daJ riuso delle parti piu aotiche
della cina, dall'eterogeneita della periferia e dalla "dispersione" insediativa di quelJa che una volta era la Campagna e cbe Ora e, in modi
nuovi, citta. Esso mi sembra dettato da una nostalgia che rimuove
problemi piu spinosi.
La maggior parte ell queste descrizioni a me sernbra sterile; a me
sembra rrascuri di rivelare il "nuovo" che una descrizione pertinente
ein grado forse di mettere in evidenza. Dcaso dello spazio periferico,
cosl come ho cercato ell evocarJo qualche tempo fa (Casabella n. 583)
e cosl come di nuovo viene indagato in questo numero, eforse paradigmatico. Trascurato da un disegno urbaoo cbe sapesse cogliervi la
possibilita, la scala e la misura ru un nuovo spazio abitabile; omogeneizzato dai piani urbanistici entro la vasta categoria dell' area ''compromessa" o dentro l'immagine del "consumo ru suolo", descritto
nelle analisi territoriali prevalentemente con le categorie ed il linguaggio dell'ecooomista o del sociologo; sostanzialmente sconosciuto nei suoi modi ru vita, nelle sue praticbe sociali, nella sua "ecologia", rappresentato nei suoi caraneri rusposizionali in termini sempre troppo aggregati per cogliere le sottili relazioni tra differenza e ripetizione, lo spazio periferico, vero territorio del "nuovo", richiede,
prima ancora che piani e progettihdescrizioni pertinenti e spiegazioni speci6che e cio, a sua volta, ric iede, da pane degli urbanisti, una
diversa srrategis. dell'attenzione.
L'artenzione eseropre ii prodotto dell'immaginazione, usando ancora una volta il termine alla Pumam, dell'elaborazione delle informazioni disponibili entro una serie di immagini progettuali e del loro
uso per illuminare e giurucare le situazioni cosi come possono essere
percepite e descritte. Cio che a me sembra ru dover constatare e la
poverta dell'immaginazione dell'urbaniscica europea, la sua incapacita ru collaborare ad una piu precisa definizione e costruzione del
nuovo, la sua accettazione di un'idea di futuro come incontro, ii suo
adattarsi a registrare, eventualmente combattere le idee anziche produrle. Tutto cio se non la causa mi appare esserefortemente associato al dilagaote ed accogliente descrinivismo.
(English digest on page 6V

23


l'P

!I

It

cally aimed at dealing with the question


of arehitectural language, starting at the
level of urban and tecritorial design and
not at that of the single architectural ob
~ and an interconnection between the
ement principle adopted and the
type of expression which takes form as a
result. There is little doubt, for elCample.
chat there exist tasks of differentiation
and constirution of an internal dialogue
of the pans which make up a specific urban or territorial intervention which Eb<,
graduate and articulate expressive hierarcbies. Within the system (altbough it
does not function as an organism, but
rather as a differenriared system), archi
te<.'tural articulation has functions analo
gous to those of details within a buildinfi:
on the contrary, architectural dera. ,
witbin the settlemenr system, has com
plex functions, often not only of omameotation buntlso of unification, of dari6cation of the overall identiy.
The number of urban an territorial
environments which history has tassed
on to us intact, or bas allowed to e entire!~ completed, is not very high. In all
of ese environments, whether we 11re.
dealing with civic magnificence or urban
decor. with expressions of a regal dominion or representations of a heavenly
kingdom, whether they are concaceoaced
in 11 comchlex manner or with hierarchies
amon:i, e pares, wbar dominates is indubita ly me architectural rule (oc bet
ter, canon) dil'tated by the whole, as a
contextual critical hypothesis. This does
not mean that we can underestimate the
modificational imhortance of architectural invention. Wit out 11ttemEting to redesign the entire city, ofccm a cw newar
chitectural projects ilre sufficient to provide a new orientation for the significance of the whole, but an awareness of
place in tbe flow of stratification is a determining element for the very constitution of such new possibilities.
To .assert that what I have attempted
to describe as elements of the urban and
territorial project can be rresented, lo
day, as the constirution o a critical dis
tance, even in the widespread coadirion
of consensus concerning the absence of
the project (which is, after all, what leav
es .room for the pro~ct of dominion), is
indubitably a hypo esis without proof,
a research without clients, an evocation
of somethin~ which is in no way present.
Beyond t e absence of ideal and civic
prospects (but certaihly not without art
awareness of all the essential costs of this
situation), we need to recognise that the
number of elementS with w ich we operate in the Seid of urban design is, in sub
stance, relatively low, and the number of
combinations, on the other hand very
high: and we mustn't forget that the experience of modernism lias contributed
ireatly to this small number of elements.
erhaps it cannot be otherwise: there are
only 26 letters in the alphabet, and seven
notes in the diatonic scale. As a great musician Qnce wrote. to make music one
needs only one little phrase, a largestruccure and the intelligence to create variations. If the "little phrase" is oil chat
which bas. to do with the identiry of the
case, the "large suuccure is chat which
creates a relation between thac idemiry
and the "forms of the discipline (the
fugue, the concerto, the sonarn and their

transformation over rime) and the ways,


in our specific case, in whicb these forms
interpret the form of the site, the very
idea of the urban. Using these two polar
ities and their rules, one can move on to
effect the variations, which are ~leasure,
invention, harmony, metamo!l? osis, the
constitution of scales and hierarchies.
movements and modifications.
Sim(rliciry, precision, discretion in the
use o materials and forms, equilibrium
in the
of.functions, in the rap~rt
between or er and variation, can,
m
this Joint of view, join to form a concret y reasonable resirion, capable of
directing a possib e conjunction between wise IDJlovatioms and common
building language. Without necessarily
having to resort to the analo~y of the bermeneutic circle so much in ashion in recent
(Husserl's notion of Umwelt
coul serve tbe b~ equally well),
there is lictle dou t . the relation berweeo the totaliry and the reality of the
specific case bas assumed (in the condirions of the consolidated ci~l, in duic
\vbich someone has dubbe the city
pl11oning of modification, a new persuasive capacit~, inasmuch as it represencs
an acknow ~ement of the existence
and diversity o the other, rendering in
terconnected, in a new way, hypotheses
and specific projects.

mixin9,

Jears

groups of architects entirely o~anially


made up of Italians. This is a J: collec
rive force, competitive with the nations
which uaditionally ~romote tbeir yo:f.
atchitccts, such as ranee and Hollan .
While young Italian architects appear to
be at a disadvantjfee, as compared to
their European co eagues, when it comes to concrete buildingaportunicles,
they demonsnate a sin ar maturity
when doing battle in the eld of comgeti.tion for ideas: as o~sed to o er
countries - especially ermany, France
and Holland - where young architecture" is identified with a tasce for tbe
avanr-garde and cechnologfcal fetishism,
for the spectacular and ~raphic virtuosiryf the work of the best talian architects
o the?i;Qunger generation a~ears to be
free o these ostentations, an stands out
for ics concrete, serious quali~. its sur
prisingi realistic conception o the work
of the esigner.
This rrend is confirmed by the architeccs who present their projeccs in these
pages: beyond the differences in scale,
programme and language evident in the
individual projects, for all of them the
primary legitimation of architectural design lies in the critical interpretation of
the conte:.n of the project. [...]
l}!e22
criptive city planning

lfhge 4
.
e new generation of [ talian a1'lhitts

Bernarlio Serchi

by PierreAl11i11 Grose/

For various reasons, I find myself examining, with great continuiry, o large quantity of city planning writings and projects: research reports, essls and volumes which gather the res ts of reflections which attempt to achieve a certain
degree of generalitt3nd originality, technical accounts of~ ns on various scales,
planning tables, p ans for vast areas such
as chose related ro entire cities and their
parts, master plans such as those for
enactment or urbanchrojects, the norms
and regulations whi accompany them,
the articles which comment on them, the
n;ore or. less precise!~ oriented dos
s1ers" which compare em. I 6n~elf
examining a ~eat quantity of p ucts
of the activities of cityckaooers in our
country but also, with
ering d~ees
of coverage and depth, in otlier uro
peso countries.
,In nearly all of the cases we are dealing
w1th an obscure crowd", as Gustave
Lanson would have put it, of authors and
products; of a complex of writings, of
plans and projeas which, taken sinfaly,
Will not change the his~ of ci~fv an
nin\ofourtime, which proba y ne
ver e thou~t of as "exemplary exampies" buc w 'ch, to~echer, express the
Culture of the era, "t e picture of its lite,
rary (city planning) life: its cliches, its
preferences and its taboos.
I undertake this exercise with ouriosiry and interest; I remain tied to the notion of urban plaMing and, more f!en~
rally, of research as a collective oct1vity
not heroic in which the contributions of
che individual can be useful only if we are
able to establish an adequate context of a
consensus of truths, of" manners" which
are capable of becaming pervasive.
This is why I explore the crowd with in
terest.

With respect to the res1 of Europe, Italy


offers very few concrete work ':J'portunities for a young architect, an lllmost
no structures for assistance and promotion: architecture competitions are few,
and nearly always futile; commissions
from municipal and regio11J1l entities are
parcelled out to interested parties in a
shameful maMer; professional associations are absent witliout leave when it CO
mes to regulating the practice and ethics
of the profession; the rare and precious
attempts of cerrain cultural groups and
m~azines - most of them on a regional
sc e ("In Architetrura , for over ten
years in Sicily, "d'A in the province of
Aquila) - to make the works of talented
>fhluof architects known are all too few.
's ack of promotional structures and
means, onl& slightly ~rrected during recent ,Years y tlie creaoon of a number of
arcbltecture awards ~ci6callv for the
youngdJeneracion (
Palladio Prize,
tbe An award for 6.rsc works, tbe Cosenza Prize, the Sarnonii Award, and
others), is a .reflection of the notorious
condition of structural weakness and decadence of architecture'V.rithin Italian soci~.

evenhcless, in this discouraging


context there are some signs of surprising vitalit~ especially if we consider tbe
unexpecte and increasingly frequent
successes of young Italian architeets in
international competitions. Among the
most evidenc examples of this generalion's affirmation are the results of the
most recent Europan competition: with
6000 architects in the under-40 age
group from 11 countries participating, of
1422 entries 88 were selected for awards,
of which as many ns 20 were projects by

Today it appears to me that wbat characterises the contemporary ~roductioo


of the cl planners, and in a onger anide I co d cite many examples as proof,
is the pervasiveness and im~rtAnce, wi
th1n tht: mobile strueture o the texts, assumed by "description". [...]
\'qbat appears new to me in the recent
production of urblln planners is not so
much the presence of description as
much as ics importance, and the way in
which much of ciry rhlanning activiry
seems to boil down, in e end, into mere
description. This is nor only an extensive
importance, which can be measured by
the space it is allotted in verbal and gra
phic documents. Above all, it is a son of
concepruaJ imkrtance: description
seems, today, to ave become the princi
pal form foe the or~anisation of discour
se, through which e cicy plannli seeks
and controls the coherence of his posi
tions. [...] Oneil the end of the 1970s, the
v11St collection of texts of whkb any city
planning product is com~sed, like the
l'Ollective im~ination 0 city rlanners,
was, on the o er hand, full of stories".
The difference leaps to the eye as an indi
cator of the most underground, hidden
movements which, perliaps, mark the
nssage &om one period to the ne.xt.
his is why I am concerned with the issue.
What appears problematic in this tendency is, m fact, the freguent dissolving
of city plaMing activity into a sterile de.
scriptivism, which bypasses the new wirhout revealing it; without bei~,
haps, totally aware or the di cu ties
which description olways provokes. But
before advanci"j such a restrictive hypothesis, I woul like to attempt to de
scribe" the description.
The most elementary form of description is perhaps the inventory, the cautlogue, the list, the census: city planners have been practicing this type of descriprion for some time, ofceri in an acritical
manner. Today inventories are proliferating, often encoura~ by Jaws, technical
regi.ilations and a inistrative directives; growing environmental sensibility
provokes the spread of tbe inventory into uocbaned zones, such as the inventory ofb~s and places of noteworthy
arcbitectur , landscape, environmental
value, of types of vegetBtion, of humid
zones and water resources... The inven
cocy activity is strictly linked to denomi
nation and designation, to their technical
difficulties and cbeir aporias; "1 will not
speak the crowd, nor call it by name,
even bad I ten tongues and ten mouths".
Perbdl,s there is something which links
this ort to speak of the multipli<'ity of
the real, preventing it from being illumi
nated by u rule of order, a theory, a nar
rative, to the idea ofsocial fragmentation
in which we are immersed.
"Biographical" description is more
elaborate. Of an edifice or a place, scill
considered as single elements whid1 can
be listed, the events are reconstructed; in
some cases through an intelligent research using documentary sources, often
with a rather cavalier use of archives, alwoys leaving the structural tics between
the archive and the inventory in the
realm ofimp~cation. Today it seems that
a project cannot exist without a certain
quantity of paper and historical "back

fter

61

62

ground". Inventory and biographical re


coostructioo support ooe another in u
cumulative manner, in an explicit eic
pression of the collective anguish regar
i:ling the loss of temporal continuity.
Inventory and biograp'i{ Wive intro
duccd a new rnste for deta , which leads
to the riskofthc "uscless detail''. lncrea
singly, the city planner resons to the use
of scales of represent:ition which were
OOl commonly used in previous decedes i
he brings ou1, in an increasingl~asi
ve manner, often unintention y, me
differences". The multiplication for
example, of maps in scale 1:500 of tlte oldest parts of hisLori.::'11 cities demonstru
ces the difficulties of ?'fh:logical analysis:
the multiplication o thematic mops in
~which the data furnishM br the recneral
census are representtd by sing e buil
d~or ports of buildings as opposed to
che ab1iual 'j;:resentations by zone of
rirevious dcca es, demonsmues the fuf .
acy of the premises upon which the ana
lyttc and regulatory notion of the "hom~neous zone" was built.
c enormously increased possibility
of utilisi::R, computers to process infoy.
mation, a cit numerical, verbal or gro
phic and, above all, to integrate different
types of elaboration nnd representation,
to construct "inform11tive systems"
which make it much easier to transfer da
ta &om the form of o theme map to that
of s multi.dimensional table, has multi
plied, often to the limit of the purely decorative, the descriptions which uccom
b1111y the formulation of the plan or ur
an planning project, has created nn illu
sion of being able to "speak the multitu
dew, to name the names, the desires, the
demands and the needs. [...] Perhjls, as
Roland Banhes would have said, this
merely demonstrates the imponance of
anotherofour "modern myths": the idea
that information is necessary, or even
sufficient. Necessary in order to make
l'Orrect and democratic choices, sufficicnt in order to build them. Few pay at
tendon to the theoreticQJ h~otheses
contained in any selection, owever
abunda.n t of do1a, and which are hidden
in the technico.I conventions of datn g11
1hering, in the techniques of measure
ment utilised, in the linguistic habits in
volved in the representation and com
municarion of findings. Few w:e aware of
the gahs which 11 map, a table, 11 drawing.
a regu atory text, no matter how they are
consrructc0, leave between the inten
tions of those who have produced them
and the com~rehension, intentions a.nd
practices of t ose administrators or citi
zens who observe them; of the dtfficul
ties involved in filling a space with words
or images which are inevitably ambi
~uous and charged with preconceivt<I
JUiements.
ut quite a few scholars have sought
to describe this spaC'C which was once OC
cupied by I~ nmatives". Observing
more closely t e differcnr social subjects
and their behoviour, they have com{ilcted a Jong and detailed description o the
firoces.ses of social interaction which
ead to the formulation and application
of ciry planningfeolicy. Initially these de
scri~tions were enile sources of new ou
tloo son the nctivityof chy planning as a
whole, of new inrerc,retanoos of its role
in society, but little y liule they ha\-e be
gun to build an "adaptational" approach
which increasingly tends 10 interpret the
cit planning project as che description.
.. .] Bue we mustn't conclude that de
scriJltion rends to occupy only the space
of ao~is", which citythlanncrs rather
nonch ant1y think o[11s e other side of
the coin &om the project. The grearcr

pan of uxLiy's urban plllllS, of the docu


mcnts with which they represenr their
cl11im 10 prescribe, ore noihing more
than descriptio.ns of what exists They
tell us how the city is made and, in a few
cases, how ir functions. Inventories, ccn
sustakinJ,, biograplucs have provided
apparen y more powerful descriptive
tools; reson to the analyricalinterpreta
tive category of "compromise" and a
new, ~eneric environmental sensibility
provi e the ethical-political justification.
Once again, I think we Clln SCIC a fundsmcnutl.ly pessimistic vis ion of the future
in this posture: our assifurent is to
"conserve while waiting or better ti
mes" all thiit, in our inventories, we have
recognised as being of value, and which
therefore we huve catalogued, am:mp
ting to reconstruct its history; what we
can do is to orde,r, in the best possible
W11y, the areas which have ulrcadv been
"compromised, whose destiny has aJ.
ready been defined. [.. ,] The existent is
taken, in the best of c-.tscs, as a basis for
comparison, for modificatiun and trnn
sformation. Dcscr;s,tion becomes the
way in which the v ucs of conservation
ore reaffirmed, the state" in reference
to which it idrsssiblc to evaluate the
costs and ben ts of anrc proposal which
would modify or rran& orm It.
Nor, in the end, must we imte;c that
description regards only a ra er out
dated sryle" of plllDning in which the
cxplorational role of design , of the "ar
chuem1ral solution for urban pl~
problems", has not yet been ack:oowl
~ed. Even the most recent and uptO
ate planning forms are not exempt, Ma
nv city planning projects in Europe to
dny brt."3k down into a fundamental descriptivc mimctism: a mimicry of settle
ment principles, of rules, of rypological
VBriattons, of longuages. This seems to
me 10 be a rcflcaion o f a widespreud cmborassmem when it comes to dealing
with the issues concerning the urban
space which has taken form during the
post-war decades, nnd with a new visual
culture; these issues have arisen, above
all due to the rcutilisation of the histori
cal ports of the city, the heterogeneity of
the peripheries and the dispersive" set
clement of that which was once the C:Ollll
rryside and which today, in new ways,
has become urban. This approach BJ>
peaJ"S to be dictated by a nostalgia which
overlooks or pushes aside the most diffi
cult problems.
From my point of viC\~tl most of tbese
descriprions appear ster e. Sterile ina
smudi as they overlook the aced to reveal something "new" , which perhaps is
Thrercquisire of a pcnincnr descr~tion,
e c-.isc of the peripheries, wbic I at
tempted to discuss some time ago (Cusa
bella, no. 58}), further explored in this
issue, is perhnps/earodigmatic. Neglec
rt<! by an urban esisn cachable of reco
gnisiag and daboranng e possibility
scale and measure of n new hobitotiont1!
space; homogenised by city planning in
side the vast e11tegory of"comfromised"
areas, described in tertitoria. analyses,
for the most pan, with the lan~age of
the economist and the sociologist: substanriallv uoclutrted in rerms of its lifestyles. iis social/ractices, its "ecology":
its character an arrangement representtd in terms which are always too a~te
gated to catch the subtle rdarions et
ween difference tlild repetition, the pe
riphcral space, the uue domain of che
new", requires. before plans und pro
jects. penineot descriptions and specific
explanations. And tlus requirement in
turn, calls for a diffcreor strategy o? at
tendon on the pan of city planners. [... )

l}j,ge 44
c horizons or the dispersed dty
Stefano Boeri 1md Arturo Lanza11i
[...] Much of this activity continues to
lost within the cenalnties of a sumrdised, anonymous version of archi
tectural aod city plannin$Jcrnctice. Nevertheless, today we can 1 entify a lloli
ted group of original ex~enccs. which
include some rent form of interrogative
::t.arding die significance of the territoi:y
o the spl'C9ding ciiy, observing its com
positionul dynamics and acknowledgln~
its autonomy. Such pro~cts - most o
which ere the work oft e latest generauon of Italian architects - are Chante
terised. above all, by thetr W&)' oi looking
at the urbanised countryside: they arc in
creasingly deuchl!d from, and less influcncccl bt, a nostal~a for the models
and examp es which t e discipline' s tradition has dC\'Cloped in large cities, L ]
~t

Three vieu. of the spreadi11g city


If we turn our attention to certain zones
of u1-ban dispersion in ltaly - t11e foothills region to the nonh of Milan, the
territory which includes the meuopoli
ran system of Padun/Venice/Treviso, the
coastal area in the Marches 10 the suuth
of Conero - we can employ three prin
cipal sm11~ of observation; rhrcc
WB)'S of loo g ar sprcadlng urbanisa
tion as a contcicc for architectural and ur
ban ~nning decisions.
A t sm1tegy of observation - especially pertinent in large-scale urban pl1111
oin~. ~onal tllld geographical projects
wi a nl"t:ionaUst mamx - considering 3 vast territorial perimeter for these
three areas, bril'lgs out certain common
grouped indicators: the presence of phcoomena of conurbation; the spread,
across the territory, of buildings, fucili
tics and infrastructures; the distribution
- within a sufficicncly vast territorial
comexr - of 11 ~ortion of the population, with emp o~ent and activity
which is comparab e to that of a large city. Taking in the whole ot a jlfance, this
strategy srrnei."1$ a hr:ithes1s of 9 progrcssive a rmatioa o :1 new urban phe
nomenology, of a neu; cilJ.
Nevenhdcss, if an inillitl attention for
certain cartographic representations gives wav to a more sdective observation
of the forms of "territorial cohesion, the
des<:riptioos and the projects which ho
pc to operate on a large scale are immediatdy prompted to greater prudence.
Obscl'VIJlg a more restricthre field of
phenomena one recognises, in the three
territories, homofreaeous areas, more u.
mitcd or larger, rom case to case, then
those suggested by an overall observa
tion; areas which, m some casesd include
both situations o( diffusion an of coocentrntion.
ln its most conscious versions, this ob
servational strategy prefers to make use
of the image of n regional dcace which
bas e.xperienccd a ~wing e-composlrion, rather than t classical image of
the Gnished. albeit new", cicJy A space
in which i1 is possible to identi local sy
stems with significon1 levels of l'OO
~ence among social, economic and set
ement fonns; systems with their own
identiry which, nevertheless, cannot be
fit into the traditional concentric urbru:i
image, but mUSt rather be interpreted in
terms of a mosaic which can become an
iorerconncctcd netWOrk. and can either
be seen as n whole or as a random combi
nation of partial elements, a labyrinth of
sites with a particular internal logic, o sequcoce of urban fragments.
A horizon characterised by the frag

meJlt3tion of cdificorlon is, aqrodoxie11lly. :&ho common 10 a sccon srrotcgy of


observation, which focusses on single.
restricted portions of the territories of
the three areas. The beuer pan of the
&rotru whkh ttctually produce the
0 scape of the sw-esdin~ry, circum
scribing a spatial 1eld wi tbe confi
nes of the perimeter of the project, are
involved with the minute scale of buil
~g typologies, with the single built obJrThis view is charncterised bfc an imbli
cir rcco~ition of an overnll ormal omogcneu:y of the territory, which is. however, generated not by aCc:ccption of
the entire fl~ure of the Ion scape. bur rathet by an mterprctarion. b)' Cl<trapofa.
rion, of single episodes of edmc-Jtion: disorderly development as the result or che
random repetition of building activity
which is free of rules of relation among
its products. In the most highly aware
plans and cfirojects, this observational
strategy lea .~ to the recognition of place
less typologies.
The obscrvnrioo of chis sequence of
FclaceJess Ct~ologics again suggests a uniorrnity o t e cha.racte.ristics of the three
regions, evoking, in this case,
uadi
tional image of the urban perip ery: the
perverse product of the encounter bet
ween the spontan('OUS a~grcgation of ob
jects and subjects and t eJ!artial realisacion of pieces of planne city: the in
dustrial zone, low-cost housing dcvdop
meats, extensive development lot zonin~, vocarion vill:fces, etc.
evtttheless it oesn't seem very useful, or convincing. to call upon the rraditional ima$e of the "urban periph$1)1~
Certain trans of the peripher.il condiuon
run the risk of obscurinl! the innovative
side of these settlements. Ifwe look more
closely, we can recognise signs of what
is often a spontaneous organisotional cf
fort whieh deserves furtber srrcncion.
A third and more limited group of ex
pericncffl finally, seems to spring from
the iruu dencics of the first cwo per
srectives: investigating the si~nific;ince
of these signs", it creates an o servario
nul strategy which is different from that
of the ar;rcgarional overview or that of
the sing e project site.
Some projecrs and research reson tu a
cartographic and conceptual perspective
whicli is intermediate, with the aim of
observing - b:Jrond the undeniable uni
formiry - the 'srinctive traits of eadl of
the thice territories of urban spread. recognising the points of contact between
the structural rules of the vast area lllld
the settlement rules which e11n be seen in
the single site.
This third suategy seems, more tlun
the others, carefully designed to :woid a
rigid system of causal connections: it
aims at not reducin~ the idea of scrtle
ment to the mere a dition of built objecis o r their topographical form; it pole
mically concentrates on the actions and
processes of sculeruenc within which
every product of edification cakes on
form 9ncJ significance.
The ~tagonists of this nppro11ch ure
1ho5C.' w arc mOSt sensitive to the cur
rents which are making in waves in th~
discipline today: an obstinate investiga
tion of the scttlemem principles through
which formal configurations come inw
being a refusul to separate the ~ of
knowledge which coombure to l e for
mulation of a urban plan or an archltec
rural ckrojcct; an attempt to reunite outsi e of funcrionallst reductions the r:rinciples of settlement geojraph}'
and :u1dscohv with the urban an regional geogrnp y dedicated to the study of

t,!

'

..

..
~