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Barbara Angi

Amnesty for constructed reality

Hawkins Brown, Studio Egret West, Redevelopment of the complex Park Hill in Sheffield (GB), 2011.©Urban Splash

Hawkins Brown, Studio Egret West, Redevelopment of the complex Park Hill in Sheffield (GB), 2011.©Urban Splash



The renewal of the built allows to intervene at multiple scales and to tune in, with empathetic mode, to the environmental, social, economic requests of the contemporary city. The construction of the building stock has produced pollution, indiscriminate use of land, discomfort housing, criticality in the safety of urban districts.

Now it is the time of redemption by choosing a new design skills linked to issues of environmental and civil ethics.

«I never knew or have forgotten what architecture is. What I see in the cities are agglomerated into blocks. Yes, blocks of buildings all around, in and out, and all this set is called architecture. Well in the future, what will be the highest principle in architecture is the compensation of the distances. From now on architecture will be evaluated based on how quickly and easily can be wiped out. From today, the architects are forced to throw their buildings in a big recycler, to make garbage. Just push them with your thumbs! So the architects move buildings [Häuser rücken] or change them[Hausrucker]. Yes, Hausrucker! »

(Laurids Ortner, 1972, 21)

The theme of Smart City plays a cornerstone role in the international multidisciplinary debate act to the spatial, iconographic and functional configuration of the contemporary urban tissue, and it is able to trigger applied research aimed at the development of innovative strategies for the regeneration of the built, driven mainly by technological equipment capable of making cities safer, cleaner and more efficient.

There is no doubt that the studies carried out up to now have achieved excellent results from the point of view of the increase in the buildings and utilities connected performance. In particular, in the continental context, the European Union has well understood the potential investment and the industry annuity, by promoting extraordinary research programs in order to identify, and to determine, innovative synergies for the development of the metropolitan contexts and economic sectors involved.

Certainly a theme of great relevance appears the redevelopment - in a sustainable, creative and supportive key - of the residential neighborhoods made since the middle of the last Century according to constructive and functional paradigms based on obsolete technologies or on industrialization (mainly due to the heavy prefabrication), now incorporated, and in some cases metabolized, in much wider urban areas composed, the latter ones, by heterogeneous planning and functional systems.awkins Brown, Studio Egret West,

These living contexts are today, despite the short time elapsed, in a state of advanced degradation (environmental, social and economic) and require, on the one hand, effective redevelopment and technological implementation and, on the other hand, a radical rethinking of the individual and collective living spaces on the basis of patterns very often in opposition to those for which they were generated. Places devoted to family, to socialization, to trade, built for a social model now almost completely disappeared and that now have to respond to growth processes - tangible and intangible - difficult to predict, by requiring constantly adaptable spaces to changing functional requirements.

The inability to operate with strategies with zero impact, today essential to adhere to the demands of global environmental sustainability, transforms the residential and consolidated buildings in project 'materials' and confirms, once again, the complexity of the issues to be explored across the inseparable union between architecture and urban planning, so to give new meanings and suggest new features to transform the existing, in according to the human needs thank to overcoming of the conceptual rationalist models, by comparing the design proposal of requalification with real problems and now contingent more than ever.

The integrated redevelopment (structural, energetic, urban and type-morphological) of large portions of the city with residential character constitute a central concept for the development of innovative processes of growth and allow the Member States to join the Roadmap 2050 strategy with which the European Commission aims to boost the economy through the development of smart, sustainable and solidarity radically transforming the way we produce, using smart technologies in order to reduce, by 2050, CO2emissions by more than 80%.

It appears possible to achieve these goals through collaboration schemes between knowledge and disciplines sometimes very far apart, capable to increase the degree of empathy between operators and the residents of the neighborhoods, in order to "redefine what is really necessary and what is not it is, outside the regime of scarcity imposed by the market" (Pier Vittorio Aureli, 2013, 24) by focusing exclusively on the resources actually available.

In our view, the concepts presented by US economist Jeremy Rifkin (2010) in the essay titled 'The Empathic Civilization' appear useful to identify some insights that can drive the current debate. According to the author, modern man is naturally predisposed to the empathy, meaning the ability to identify with the other through so-called 'mirror neurons', in order to share the sufferings, joys and hardships. Rifkin also proposed a radical reinterpretation of human events course . If in the agricultural world the consciousness was ruled by faith and in that industry by reason, with globalization and the transition to the information age, will be based precisely upon the empathy.

For the economist the degree of contemporary progress was achieved at a high price: to grow and to thrive, increasingly complex and sophisticated companies, required increasing amounts of energy and natural resources, imposing a heavy tribute on the environment in the form of a significant increase in globe entropy, tangible and intangible.

Many applied research programs funded by the European Commission have tried, over the last decade, to contain the messy and 'undifferentiated' growth of the residential neighborhoods by predisposing plans for saving of energy resources and the use of renewable sources. Chief among them is to remember CONCERTO,Energy solutions for Smart Cities & Communitie[1]s, an initiative under the Sixth and Seventh Framework Program, which showed as the energy optimization of the neighborhoods is more advantageous compared with the reconquered efficiency of a single building, provided that all stakeholders work together by integrating different technologies in an intelligent way. Established in 2005, CONCERTO was created to encourage local communities to engage in the development of concrete initiatives towards sustainability and high efficiency performance of the built. The small towns or communities to which it is directed can be newly created or existing, the important thing is that they are interested in improving their performance, if not to revolutionize towards energy self-sufficiency, clean and renewable.

The community supported by CONCERTO strive therefore to pursue the direction of Carbon Free politics, able to harmonize the indispensable use of renewable resources with innovative technologies and systems to minimize energy consumption; the goal, of course, is to improve the quality of life of citizens. Or yet the sub-project SESAC,Sustainable Energy Systems in Advanced Cities,which focused attention on the possibility of predispose efficient local economic systems and, at the same time, to reduce CO2emissions, making clear how these objectives can be achieved through the combination of several factors: good governance of the territory, the innovative cooperation between the parties involved, the preparation of guidelines appropriate to the specific nature of the places and easy searchable by users.

The above examples show that it is possible to establish and/or redevelop neighborhoods and residential buildings by obtaining new artifacts from the high performance energy and technology through involvement at multiple levels of the different actors involved, but at the same time, showed how the approach to issues often prefers the technical construction. The proposed solutions appear so often a sort of single thought result, which puts on the first place the performance of building elements and infrastructural networks.

It should be noted as, increasingly in Europe, are ongoing some architectural research aimed at developing regenerating design strategies for the consolidated residential environment able to increase the quality of housing, and the resulting market value of existing buildings in order to accommodate applications for flexible and adaptable space for the contemporary domestic living.

Thanks to the contribution of authors such as Roland Castro and Sophie Denissof, Frédéric Druot, Lacaton Anne and Jean Philippe Vassal, the UK agency Urban Splash and the Dutch Studio MVRDV[2]the architectural aspects related to housing quality of residential buildings have been addressed very effectively, although not yet appear introjected in best practices developed within the continental research financed by the European Commission.

The concept that unites the theories and works of these authors is, no doubt, to consider a 'second life' of the buildings, following the function for which they were built, which is configured as the time of the modification, adaptation to new uses, of materials recycling and artifacts.

From this point of view the practices of transformation and maintenance of the built environment have the opportunity to detect the multiple scales of intervention in the urban organism and to discover the potential through the harmonization, in empathetic mode, with the polyphony of needs which come by its inside. It should focus attention on the spatial criticality of the residential construction and, through the act of design aimed at improving the existing, transform them into positive aspects for the environment, society and economy.

Anyway residential buildings are not responsible for nothing. They are paying the parameters (and sometimes the ruthlessness) of choices often distant in time, based on assumptions that today, even more so, we find controversial.

Yet they are a 'heritage' whose construction has also led to pollution, indiscriminate use of land, housing discomfort, problems in the individual and collective security.

Today it seems to come the time to redeem it, choosing not the "punitive" position (demolition and reconstruction, with the real possibility of repeating the mistakes of the past) but with "corrective" intervention (redevelopment, working on the good things who there already), basing on a new project related to issues of environmental ethics, to develop a 'sustainable' territory, and civil, for the growth of a 'solidarity' society. When that will happen, especially in Italy, the cities (now secure, clean and efficient) will presumably also definable intelligent.


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Barbara Angi (1976) is an architect and PhD in Architecture and Urban Design. Since 2008 she is a research fellow at the University of Brescia (scientific responsible: Marina Montuori). The research activity is established, through participation in national and international projects including the programDote Ricercatorefunded by the Regione Lombardia, on the issues of recovery of existing buildings with particular reference to the architectural upgrading by character integrated and adaptive for the residential buildings and for the built environment (adaptation morphological, structural and energy).

[1]The results so far obtained have led the way to the creation of a new European legislation in the form of recommendations of energy policy for the energy to be implemented by 2020 and in order to achieve their goals of climate change by 2050 (Energy roadmap).

[2]The authors cited have contributed significantly to the debate not only theoretical but mainly through works of considerable interest and vanguard for spatial concepts made.

Frédéric Druot, Anne Lacaton & Jean-Philippe Vassal, Redevelopment of Tour Bois le Prêtre, Parigi, 2011. ©Philippe Ruault

Frédéric Druot, Anne Lacaton & Jean-Philippe Vassal, Redevelopment of Tour Bois le Prêtre, Parigi, 2011. ©Philippe Ruault