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Francesco Gastaldi, Federico Camerin

Dismissed military areas, not yet converted [1]

An institutional spectacle not very effective

Imm.1: former Baggio military warehouse, (Milano, Italy). Photographer Federico Camerin (2015)  - ZOOM

Imm.1: former Baggio military warehouse, (Milano, Italy). Photographer Federico Camerin (2015)

Following the international geopolitical changes after the Berlin Wall fall and the Army Forces radical reorganization, from the end of the Eighties significant amounts of land, located in urban and peripheral areas, have been freed of military functions.
Although dismissed military sites could theoretically provide an opportunity to define new rules for urban growth and to be able to work effectively for territorial reorganization, in Italy there are found several factors that are contributing to the deterioration and obsolescence of these structures. 
Until today the abandoned military areas are still not converted to civilian uses and it is not existing an adequate reflection about the difficulties that local governments have been faced for the construction of virtuous reuse processes as well as for the re-introduction of the former military heritage inside the economic cycle. It is a kind of understudied “empty urban space” that needs to be rethought with a view toward regeneration, such as a development and competitiveness potentiality factor.

1. The production of a new type of “empty urban space”: the disposal of military sites

Within Italian cities the abandoned military properties are not the only types of urban void to be reused: former railway yards, factories, warehouses, hospitals, general markets, slaughterhouses and energy plants represent other types of decommissioned sites. Since the Nineties, the reuse of former industrial areas, even as a “spectacular” key, has been a main driver of structural renewal of many cities through the implementation of “festivalisation” urban policies (Venturi, 1994), contributing to define a new type of architecture, the “iconic landmark building”, which has quickly expanded worldwide (Jenks, 2005). Regarding former military sites there are clear difficulties to build and implement converting processes and to re-introduce them into the economic cycle as well there is still not an appropriate study about the difficulties that local governments have been faced in the construction of reuse virtuous paths. It is a type of understudied “empty urban space”, although there are potentialities within a view toward regeneration and promotion of sustainable development projects (Ponzini, Vani, 2012; Bagaeen, Clark, 2016).
The first and second generation of general Italian Town Plans classified military areas in “F” category as “areas designated for equipment and special character systems (military facilities, barracks, etc.)” [2], while in the new generation Plans military areas are almost always identified as “areas of transformation” in the way to offer a wide and diverse range of possible evaluable valorisation options in terms of potential building as well as existing recovery. More in detail, military barracks often occupy central and symbolic urban areas, and they were mainly constructed in the period between the unification of the Italian State and the second World War previous years: the location of the barracks has always been linked to the proximity with the railway stations and the main communication arteries (Cappelletti, Turri, Zamperini, 2008). Military settlements, as well as representing historical identity sediments of particular relevance in the urban systems, they have within them buildings considered as “architectures of value”, that are subjected to protection and preservation constraints by the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage.
In terms of architecture, the former religious and convent buildings which had been converted into barracks were flanked by new structures built accordingly with coded models, repeated in many territorial contexts and based upon the European experience in field of defense systems. These constructions are related to architectures where have been applied technological and organizational transformations of the building construction, such as the introduction of reinforced concrete structures. Moreover they show architectural innovative languages and styles, characterizing the historical period of realization (often thanks to highly skilled designers and engineers, technically and culturally acknowledged). They are recognizable buildings endowed a self identity, bearers of a common history, architectural witnesses of the technical culture and memory of the places: above all, buildings that survived the time (Turri, 2010).
As well as abandoned industrial areas, unused military landscape constitutes a laceration item inside the urban texture; however, even more than abandoned industrial estates, the inherent characteristics of this kind of empty urban areas make their reuse rather difficult. Some obstacles are the lack of relations between a military site and its context (whose border is the wall, understood as “insurmountable barrier”), the problems of soil and subsoil pollution, the very conservative attitude of the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage on constraints buildings (which often does leave no space for action nor for creativity on re-use projects) and a lack of information about the maintenance status of the areas (the so-called “military secrets”, which until a few years ago, it has implicated the ouster from topographic maps such as aerial and satellite photographs). Today, behind the impenetrable walls of the former military spaces there are hidden forbidden places, where very often nature has gradually taken over the existing installations. It is a true “spectacle” of abandonment (picture 1, 2 and 3).
To make matters worse, to these elements are added extrinsic others, which contribute to the continuation of the abandonment state and the consequent structures and open spaces degradation and decay. Firstly, it is found a typical Italian phenomenon of spectacularisation at the legislative and institutional levels. 
The heterogeneous laws, variables and fragmented over time, overlapping roles and responsibilities of different State and local institutional actors (Gastaldi, Camerin, 2012). From the first 1989 draft law submitted to the Senate concerning “Modernization and territorial redistribution of barracks and military infrastructures by providing an extraordinary ten years funding and through exchange and alienation of properties, not anymore needed for defense”, it has been registered an impetuous law season regarding the decommissioning of abandoned military buildings, but with poor outcomes in terms of projects. Particularly, in a context dominated by public finance targets and budget deficit reduction, in order to generate new income for Public Purse, an action line has been promoted predominantly focused on military assets privatization [3], identified by special decrees by the Ministry of Defence [4], that was unsuccessful.

2. Problems and opportunities in the reuse process of former military sites 

From the second half of the first decade of the New Millennium it is noticed a change of approach in setting the decommissioning processes that put in foreground the operations of real estate valorisation before to be followed by a possible alienation [5]. However, the crisis of both the building industry and the real estate market, the ongoing contentiousness between the many administrative levels, the persistent lack of State public resources, the constraints imposed to Local Authorities by the Stability Pact and a new legislation between 2008 and 2013 about valorisation and military decommissioning, have shuffled the cards on the table, making the framework within which to act even more complicated and braking the operations previously set.
Basically, it is quite common to observe many cases in which cities, despite of the wide presence of army settlements long abandoned (including barracks, hospitals and military courts, accommodation for the army, warehouses, powder magazines, shooting ranges), could not use these goods, already decommissioned or to be decommissioned in the near future, as an opportunity of urban regeneration and regional development: the negative impacts arise, by the missed opportunities. The spectacle of this issue also lies in the political-administrative debates following one to another over the past 25 years, often utopian and too optimistic, helded within both state and local venues decisional tables. In the cases (not too frequent) when there are basic conditions in order to decide about the new use of a good, the owner (the State Agency in the form of State property, local authorities or real estate investment trusts) turn to an “ideas competition” sometimes of international character [6] as a method of rake and collect “tips” about how to transform the former military areas, sometimes without any clear urban strategy at the local level.
Within a context characterized by a lack of a stable national legislative framework and the scarcity of economic resources to invest in real estate by public and private entities, the turn of several military sites into civilian uses and their redesign as textures of a more comprehensive urban strategy is one of the most relevant and actual issues for the government of the Italian cities. The barracks were generally location of business that generated an induced local economy, consequently their closure or relocation have produced negative effects on employment, because they often have not been replaced by other activities that could provide income and development processes. The reinterpretation of the forbidden military areas should focus on both the concept of space-identity, understood as a heritage of collective memory and sense of belonging to the community, and on the definition of new functions and intended use where public spaces and private investment would find a moment of synthesis and of mutual benefit and co-existence. On one hand is relevant how the “immobility”, in terms of military conversion has not led to the so-called “urban banalisation” (or “urbanalisation”) of urban and peri-urban landscape (Muñoz, 2008), so it did not generate phenomena of local identities zeroing neither transformation of districts into artificial attraction places or new conflicts, tensions and imbalances. On the other hand, it is remarkable the missed return of several military areas to the public city under the shape of new equipment for common use. By the procedures introduced since 2007 and modified in recent years (PUVaT, state property federalism [7] and memoranda of understanding) and “innovative” projects of the 2014-2015 biennium (art. 26 of the Decree “Sblocca Italia” about recovery projects for the purpose of public housing and self-recovery initiative [8], and Federal building for public offices rationalization and efficiency [9]), should be possible to intercept both the needs of the local society, and the ideas and suggestions of public and private subjects, involved in the formulation of a feasible recovery. The urban reuse projects of former military empties should move in these directions in order to trigger positive benefits for both the organizations that promote them and, above all, for the entire community, which should be stimulated to become the leading actor of this process.

IUAV University of Venice. Authors: Francesco Gastaldi and Federico Camerin, 2017,  European Social Found 2014-2020. Development of human potential in research and innovation for a smart growth - Employability axis D.G.R. n. 2121 30/12/2015 Code Project 2122-11-2121-2015. Title: The reconversion of dismissed military areas located in Veneto Region: new opportunities for building as well as urban regeneration. Copyright: Regione del 

[1] The paper was set up and carried out in collaboration by the two authors, however in that context the paragraphs 1 is attributed to Francesco Gastaldi, while paragraph 2 to Federico Camerin.
[2]  D.M. n. 1444/1968, art. 2, paragraph 1, letter F.
[3] Among the various events that occurred between the Nineties and the first decade of the New Millennium it is noted the establishment of the company “Immobiliare Italia spa” with Law 35/1992; the introduction of public real estate funds according to Law 86/1994; the establishment of the company “Patrimonio dello Stato spa” by D.L. 63/2002 and securitization transactions sponsored by D.L. 351/2001 denominated respectively SCIP 1 and SCIP 2.
[4] An initial list was provided by D.P.C.M August 11th, 1997, about the “Identification of real estate in the availability of the Ministry of Defence to be included in the decommissioning program provided for in Article 3, paragraph 112, of Law December 23rd, 1996, n. 662” that contains a list of 302 real estate fit to be decommitted potentially. Subsequently, following the Armed Forces latest assessments on structural and infrastructural needs, the list has been amended several times, with insertions/deletions of assets considered or not decommissioned by the same Ministry.
[5] In 2007, the implementation of Law n. 296 of 27 December 2006 (Finance Act 2007) the “Country Value” program has been promoted, which includes the Valuation Unitarian Programs, (PUV, from 2012 PUVaT). The basic hypothesis was that, once established a sufficient critical mass of properties and shared an urban intervention perspective, PUVaT could be the trigger of a private initiative capable to finance the conversion of properties and that would guarantee the payment of the license fee to the State. Since 2008 have been entered memoranda of understanding between the Ministry of Defence and local governments of the main Italian cities (Milan, Piacenza, Rome, Turin, among others) to achieve operations of rationalization, swaps and valorisation to which have to be followed variation planning agreements regarding town planning tools. Finally, with D.L. 85/2010 was introduced the federalism state property, concerning the “devolution phenomenon, accessory to fiscal federalism, that means the transfer to local authorities of state-owned property”, among those no longer useful to the institutional purposes of defense.
[6] As the recent cases of urban planning and architectural competitions at international level already concluded in 2015 one for Montelungo barrack in Bergamo ( and another for Guido Reni barrack in Rome ( During 2016 in Florence there are reported a competitive procedure for the definition of the planning regulations of the former military hospital in San Gallo Compendium ( and an international ideas competition for the construction of a new settlement in the former Lupi barrack area (
[7] It has been blocked in 2011 and taken over in 2013 by Article 56 bis of the so-called “Decreto Fare” (D.L. 69/2013).
[8] Contained inside the Law 11th November 2014, n. 164 of conversion of the D.L. 133/2014 establishing “Urgent measures for opening of construction sites, realisation of public works, the Country digitization, the bureaucratic simplification, the hydrogeologic emergency and the productive activities resumption”.
[9] Initiative promoted under Article 24 of D.L.66/2014 about spending review.


Bagaeen S., ‎Clark C. (2016), Sustainable Regeneration of Former Military Sites. Routledge, Londra e New York.

Cappelletti V., Turri F., Zamperini E. (2008), "Il recupero delle caserme: tutela del patrimonio e risorsa per la collettività". Territorio, 46, 72-84. 

Jenks, C. (2005), The iconic building. The power of enigma. Frances Lincoln, Londra.

Turri F. (2010), "Dismissione e valorizzazione delle caserme". Costruire in laterizio, 135, 19-22. 

Gastaldi F., Camerin F. (2012), "Immobili pubblici e aree militari dismesse: ‘occasioni’ per le città italiane, fra ritardi e incertezze”. Quaderni Regionali, 3, 441-460. 

Muñoz F. (2008), Urbanalización. Paisajes comunes, lugares globales. Gustavo Gili, Barcelona. 

Ponzini D., Vani M. (2012), "Immobili militari e trasformazioni urbane", Territorio, 62, 13-18. 

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Francesco Gastaldi, (1969), is associate professor in town planning at Università Iuav di Venezia. He has been researcher at the same university during the period 2007 - 2014. He achieved a degree in architecture at the University of Genoa, a Ph.D degree in territorial planning and local development at the Polytechnic University of Turin in 2001. He has been research fellow (2004-2007) at the Polis Department of the University of Genoa and lecturer of official courses at the University of Parma and at the Polytechnic University of Turin. He has been lecturer in master and Ph.D courses.

Federico Camerin, town planner, obtained the 2-year graduate degree in inter-University Graduate Degree Programme in “City and Environment: planning and policies” + European postgraduate degree in “Planning & policies for cities, environment and landscape” at DiPAAC, Deptartment of Design and Planning in Complex Environments, IUAV University of Venice. He is a fellow researcher in the same Department. Nowadays he is an Early Stage Researcher in the frame of the European Joint Doctorate "urbanHIST" at Instituto Universitario de Urbanística, ETSA of the University UVA of Valladolid (Spain).

Imm.2: former Tommaso Salsa barrack, (Treviso, Italy). Photographer Federico Camerin (2015) - ZOOM

Imm.2: former Tommaso Salsa barrack, (Treviso, Italy). Photographer Federico Camerin (2015)