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Nicola Marzot

From the spectacle's society to the society's spectacle

The urban regeneration as reclamation of the dismissed

Project for the temporary use of the squares in front of a series of industrial buildings dismantled in the Ravone former railway yard in Bologna, to accommodate the extension of the municipal summer film programming - ZOOM

Project for the temporary use of the squares in front of a series of industrial buildings dismantled in the Ravone former railway yard in Bologna, to accommodate the extension of the municipal summer film programming

The dismission of the industrial city gives us an "unproductive" waiting condition, with regard to which three different strategies can be recognized. The first, spread in Europe since the second half of the 1970s, has elegantly removed this cumbersome presence, assimilating it to a "gap”, to redeem by invoking the "authority of the past” at achieving a continuity with the morpho-typological principles derived from the existing urban layout. The second, which consolidates in the mid-1990s, sees the chance of emptiness as an opportunity to be relocated in the reference horizon of globalization, eradicating it from the local dimension in favor of de-territorialization processes which are not given a chance of control. The third, generated by the crisis of the creative finance, requires a reflection on the "landscape of abandonment", which, due to the state of affliction which the traditional subjects of transformation experience, open up to an unprecedented crisis of the discipline. The writer believes that the prolongation of the waiting condition can become an occasion for a profound rethinking of the architect's profession and his culture, provided that people know how to look at the reality for what it is, avoiding both the "fascination" for re-composition of the lost unity and the "self-satisfaction" for the equivalence of solutions, generated by the temporary absence of constraints, which the crisis liberates and entails.

A premise

The dismission of the industrial city, by its nature, gives us an "unproductive" expectation, whose prolonging beyond the times of urban physiology can determine the structural crisis of the city itself. If this has already happened in the transition from the handcraft society to the industrial one, the transition from "material" to "immaterial" culture, specific to the post-industrialization entry, has turned out to be particularly destabilizing. Related to the implications of this phenomenon, three different strategies can be recognized. The first, which has spread to Europe since the second half of the 1970s, has interpreted the "voids" generated by the relocation of productive activities into areas considered more strategic to the objectives of the "large distribution", removing its cumbersome presence. Consequently, these “voids” have been assimilated to a simple “gap” at achieving a continuity with the morpho-typological principles derived from the existing urban layout, which inaugurated the season of the so-called Neo-rationalism. The second, which consolidates in the mid-1990s, with pioneering anticipations in the previous decade, all contained in the practical-theoretical premises of the so-called Bigness (Koolhaas, 1995), captures the occasion of the "void" as an opportunity to be relocated in the reference horizon of the globalization, eradicating it from the local dimension in favor of de-territorialization processes which are not given a chance of control. This phase is fully identified with the acknowledgement that the crisis of the first industrial revolution has liberated forces beyond the technical-managerial capacity of the administration, till to destabilize the national identity.
The third phase, which we have been experiencing for at least a decade, as a result of the perpetual crisis of creative finance, requires a reflection on the "landscape of abandonment” that does not appear solvable in the terms previously outlined, due to the state of affliction which the traditional subjects of transformation experience, as well as the related potential recipients. The heritage of vacant buildings and waiting areas has in fact been enriched by the presence of buildings that no longer find an organized demand, except in the terms of a sporadic economic situation more linked to the desire to emancipate itself from its asphyxiated dimension. The stalemate of the relationship between supply and demand has two immediate effects, which question the modes of capitalist production of the city, and which see the culture of enterprise and institutional culture, paradoxically, "united and distinct" from that culture of the Plan, triumphantly inaugurated by the middle-class society in the second half of the nineteenth century. The market itself, as the ideal Mise-en-scène of the transmission belt of the perverse alliance between capital and bureaucracy, is no longer the stage on which the tired rite of mutual recognition between the object / goods / house and the subject / consumer / behavior is being consumed (Debord, 1967). The process of accumulating - resources, goods and services - that have to "meet" in the market, increasingly acquires the embarrassing traits of a blank display that cannot find any buyer. The surprisingly original aspect of the contemporary accumulation process, no longer created by the capitalist production system but paradoxically generated by its dissolution, is that it is no longer able to return any value, not even the economic one. Therefore, the Plan, that constitutes the transmission belt of that system, does not seem to need anything but to remove its cumbersome presence. Indeed, the deafening silence of the emptiness created by the crisis of the creative finance determines in particular the "bipartisan" embarrassment of having to admit that the prolonged waiting activates "unwelcome" claim processes that turn to be promoters of processes of regeneration that in the western middle-class society have always been banned. On the contrary, the writer believes that the prolongation of the suspended state between "The No-more of the gods that have fled and the Not-yet of the god that is coming”, paraphrasing Holderlin so dear to Heidegger (Heidegger, 1988), can become an opportunity to a profound rethinking of the architect's profession and his culture, provided that people know how to look at the reality for what it is, avoiding both the "fascination" for re-composition of the lost unity and the "self-satisfaction" for the equivalence of solutions which the crisis entails.

The case study

The argument in support of the underlined considerations is the case study of the Ravone former railway yard in Bologna, which was abandoned by RFI in 2010 as no longer functional for its logistic activities for the carriage of goods, and subsequently transferred to the subsidiary FS Urban Systems, with the task of taking care of its real estate valuation process. Through its articulated discussion, it is possible to recognize all the different phases of the above-mentioned urban project, mutually accelerated by the immense impact of the economic and financial crisis of recent years, assessing its effects on practice and disciplinary theory. Following a call for proposals, assigned in 2010 to an ATI composed by Studio Performa A + U, Nomisma Srl, Unipol Merchant Bank and Law Firm Delli Santi & Partners, in 2012 the Administration asks the overall to draft a new Masterplan for the whole area, which replaces a previous Particular Plan, which is no longer appropriate to the new objectives of the Structural Plan.
In this perspective, the Administration demands that the new proposal, while retaining a mixed use destination, is assimilated to the design and scale of the neighboring Porto district. It is a piece of consolidated urban fabric, whose layout dates back to the Plan of 1889, clearly set on principles split out by regular urban grid.
The Studio Performa A + U designers, taking into account the constraints imposed by the Municipality, start a preliminary critical analysis of the existing conditions, adapting them to the changed profiles of the demand. By assuming as the founding principle of the new proposal the environmental factors water, air, earth and sun, they arrive at a solution that, while not subverting the initial conditioning, radically alters its sense. In fact, through a considerable change of the scale, the new urban block, with the same building density compared to the reference model, allows a significant change of the relationship between built and unbuilt spaces in favor of the latter, promoting the conciliation of the control of public spaces, still present in the eighteenth-nineteenth-century middle-class city, with the passive exploitation of environmental factors, critically filtering the positivities of the Modern city. This also allows to bring the public green spaces inside the urban block, with high-quality furnishings by form and size, guaranteeing their indirect control, and thus overcoming that functional divide between competent actors in favor of a greater availability and security of those areas, through inclusive logics of collaboration within future residents.
At the same time, the designers perceive the impossibility of extending this organizational principle to the entire area to be valued in order to take into account changing outcomes to the original ones, such as the proximity to the Central Railway Station and the presence of a strategic stopover for the Metropolitan Railways System. Here the high density proposed, and the relative congestion of use, are supported by the prediction of hybrid buildings open to the Vast Area territory, as hoped for by the nascent Metropolitan City, whose foundation is expected to start on January 1th, 2015.
However, the continuing economic and financial crisis does not guarantee the feasibility of the proposal in its entirety. On July 9, 2014, the Municipality signs a memorandum of understanding with the major stakeholders in the transformation of the city - Agenzia del Demanio, Ferrovie dello Stato, Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, Invimit - and starts the drafting of a Municipal Operative Plan expressly dedicated to Public Estates, the first of its kind in Italy, of which the mentioned Masterplan proposal for the Ravone former railway yard becomes part. 
From the beginning, a drastic reduction of the quantitative previsions (about two-thirds) is necessary, to be implemented over the five-year period of validity of the POC, in order not to further compromise a market that is already weak and to preserve the value, which has been considerably reduced, of the existing heritage which is not used. In conjunction with the Public Administration specialists, a process that dilutes over time the input of the prevision that the Masterplan contemplates in its entirety, is being studied. This compromise solution merely pursues the minimum objective that the stakeholders pursue through the legitimate action of the Plan, or rather the preservation of the nominal values recorded in the balance sheet, but there is a widespread belief that the minimum conditions no longer exist for an intervention of valorization in the respect of the rules inherited from the previous seasons of the urban project. With reference to these circumstances, it should be mentioned that, in unsuspecting times, the designers had already proposed both to the Administration and to the client, the opportunity of using the abandoned industrial buildings and the maneuvering areas, recognizing their good maintenance status, the high flexibility and the immediate availability in front of modest improvements. 
In the awareness of the dramatic economic and financial crisis, confirming how any urban project hypothesis is, in the present time, destined for failure, the happy intuition has been confirmed as the only viable path. This allows to perceive the existing building heritage in new ways, in which it is not merely a new “gap", but it comes to be considered for what it is. That “void”, therefore, is considered no worse than the others disseminated in the consolidated urban fabric, as a real "field of indeterminacy an indiscernibility" within which to imagine a possible project of the city, a concrete opportunity for emancipation through which new subjects could fully experience their ability and will to claim a role in the future local community. Even the big real estate operators have now realized that the architecture of the ephemeral, in its programmatically experimental nature, immediately produces value, not just economic, triggering the regeneration process of the city in ways unforeseen by the Plan. It is no coincidence that the opening of the “Ravone building site” will happen by symbolically opening its gates, which by 2012 block the access to the area and by presenting its program through a performance hosted within the existing containers. This choice is conceived as the official inauguration of a practice coherent with the spirit of this time, of which the building site itself aspires to become an exemplary case at least at a national level.
All of this requires, however, a revolution in our way of thinking, and so "precedents" that can at least evoke it.

Be prepared for the present time: the figure of the bricoleur.

Claude Lévi-Strauss, in a study of capital importance (Lévi-Strauss, 1962), introduces the singular figure of the bricoleur. In spite of the "disengaged" and "disenchanted" leisure-time connotation that the term seems to evoke, the author proposes the definition to explain the operation of the so-called "wild thinking". This expression means "thinking" before its formalization as a rational category, based on principles and procedures governed by the branch of Philosophy that is called Logic. From this point of view it emerges that human beings, from the dawn of civilization, have directly selected from the surrounding environment what they intend to be functional to the needs of survive, verifying heuristically its possible instrumental validity. This unconscious behavior performs that archetypal power which is defined as "ability to do". 
The recurrence of opportunities of success between the behavior and the environmental reaction not only leads to translating that ability into a "skill", or rather an aimed at-doing or a "know how to do", but it also generates an equally fundamental "ability to think" until the ultimate achievement of the "ability to say" itself. To the figure of bricoleur Lévi-Strauss opposes that of the engineer, who instead bases his "practice" on a form of knowledge that can be termed "calculating thinking" as it is formulated on the "ability to anticipate". The two positions, thus expressed, are therefore totally irreconcilable.
On the basis of the highlighted findings, Claude Lévi-Strauss undoubtedly had the merit of having been convinced that Anthropology, as a "discourse on man", was deeply conditioned by the language, which is the legitimizing factor of that discourse, and whose implicitly rationality could compromise the real understanding of the true nature of man himself.
His effort seems indispensable in the field of architecture studies of the city, especially with reference to the present time. The crisis of the "creative finance", at least since 2007, has returned, in exponentially increasing terms, a huge estate that, sub specie of vacant buildings and places of abandonment, offers an in progress-experimentation opportunity that presents cogent analogies with the circumstances described by the Father of Modern Anthropology.
In fact, one cannot deny that the phenomenon of the so-called "creative cultural industry", in its articulated occurrence (Vai, 2017), emerges through the claim of residual spaces, promoting and guaranteeing an immediate regeneration of the city, especially in the absence of a control functionality that the persistence of the crisis is only intended to foster, with perverse repercussions on the whole community (Anderson, 2012). Facing the undoubted benefits of bottom-up initiatives that are self-organized, one witnesses the persistence of resistances and the multiplication of factors that are unfavorable to the diffusion of such practices. On a closer look, the causes tends to become clearer revealing their unconcealed tendency, as one begins to reflect on the fact that the engineer's point of view, in the terms expressed in the introduction, continues to prevail over that of bricoleur, in spite of his full-blown inability to handle the nature and the effects of the current crisis. In fact, the persistent validity of the Plan, intended as an instrument to which both the control and the management of urban and territorial transformations are delegated, is legitimized by the discipline of Urbanism, whose epistemic foundation is that "anticipating" thought, which allows the engineer to speculate on the destiny of the city. The role of the bricoleur is thus dismissed for cynical opportunity reasons and / or banal construction of pre-election consent. In this way, the removal of a contribution that is capable of casting an unprecedented light on the civil role of architecture is omitted and so is its coincident ability to build the space of the city, intended as the symbolic encounter between the community and its scene. This link is admirably expressed by the concept of the Greek polis, in which it is not possible to distinguish where the social body ends and where the construction one begins. This is an unsurpassed lesson of civilization, which we have suddenly forgotten and that the crisis of Hyper-Modernity, if understood in its intimate reasons, could contribute to recover, freeing us, once and for all, from the obsolete rhetoric of Post-Modernism, understood both as a phenomenon that as historiographic category, of which the conception and birth is still messianically expected.


Anderson C.(2013) Makers. Il ritorno dei produttori. Per una nuova rivoluzione industriale. Milano, Rizzoli, 2013.

Debord G. (2014) La società dello spettacolo. Baldini & Castoldi, Milano.

Fusaro D. (2017) Pensare altrimenti. Filosofia del dissenso. Einaudi, Torino.

Heidegger M. (1988) La poesia di Holderlin. Adelphi, Milano.

Koolhaas R. (1955) – “Bigness or the Problem of the Large”. In: Mau B., Koolhaas R. (a cura di) S,M,L,XL, Monacelli Press, Rotterdam.

Lévi-Strauss C. (2008) Elogio dell’Antropologia. Torino, Einaudi.

Lévi-Strauss C. (1964) Il pensiero selvaggio. Il Saggiatore, Milano.

Vai E. ( 2017), Creatività, cultura, industria. Culture del progetto e innovazione di sistema in Emilia-Romagna. Luca Sossella Editore, Roma.

Nicola Marzot is an Associate Professor in Architectural and Urban Composition at the Department of Architecture, University of Ferrara. PhD in "Engineering and Territorial Engineering" at the Faculty of Engineering, University of Bologna (2001) and PhD in "Architectural and Urban Composition" at the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, TU Delft, The Netherlands (2014) where he is a Visiting Professor at the Chair of Public Building since 2006. He develops his research activity in the field of complex urban transformation projects. He is vice-director of the International magazine Paesaggio Urbano-Urban Design and co-founder of the design studio PERFORMA A + U.

Identification of the Ravone former railway yard in Bologna - ZOOM

Identification of the Ravone former railway yard in Bologna