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Il progetto intelligente per la città intelligente / Smart design for a Smart city

Smart design for a Smart city

A few weeks later than expected, due to the large number of scholars taking part and the rigorous revision of the contributions, two of a series of themed issues following the FAM 2015 International Call For Papers have now been published.
The Call was divided into three general sections on different themes (City, Theory, and Education) within which the same number of editors (Enrico Prandi, Lamberto Amistadi, and Giuseppina Scavuzzo) created specific sub-themes, (respectively “Smart design for a Smart city”, “Dispositio and Architectural Composition” and “Building and/is Building Ourselves. The complex relationship between architecture and education”) turning them into orientation papers, subsequently coordinating the peer review phase to finally select the articles to appear in a magazine issue (in some cases more than one), with an introductory essay.
The Call attracted a hundred or so international contributions of which 35 dealt with the “City” theme, 31 “Theory” and 29 “Education”.
Of the 35 on the “City”, 10 were accepted by revisors with a fully positive assessment; 8 with instructions from the revisors to refine/alter some parts (which the authors did); 10 contributions were rejected and the authors encouraged to revise and re-submit them in the light of some guidelines for improvement from the revisors; 5 were rejected outright and the authors urged to submit them elsewhere to more suitable journals; 2 were non-compliant, knowingly outside the topic or of poor quality.
The subdivisions of the other sections were not much different as proof of the quality and competence of the participating scholars whom we consider the magazine's main audience.

The Smart City project
The Smart City theme currently pervades and overrides any other traditional urban issue. It represents a strategic priority of Horizon 2020 in which the various regions of Europe change vein locally when it comes to research and innovation.
However, it seemed to us that despite the agreed pre-eminence of the theme, there was insufficient clarity as regards practical and operational consequences. Currently, all professional figures in charge of urban interventions and transformations, from technicians to politicians, talk about Smart Cities without a clear idea of the meaning, and above all, without knowing how to intervene in a European city to pilot its transformation. Naturally, this applies particularly to architects.
In order to bring order to the theoretical thinking on design – which, albeit a predominantly practical action, requires a substrate to act as a foundation and guarantee a generalizable application – we asked the community of scholars to reciprocate with their own insights in the form of theoretical studies or practical experience on the theme, but not without first inductively expressing our own thoughts on the matter.
After the misconception of sustainability seen as a simple superimposition of a technological code on an architectural project as pure re-cladding, a project now risks finding itself tackling further dissension over just what a Smart City is.
To avoid this, just as the sustainable project is nothing more than a set of good practices or rules of architectural and urban composition that have governed the growth of cities in line with a sequential and progressive relationship between parts formally and functionally finished in this way, similarly, also the “intelligent” project (the term “smart” has been deliberately and provocatively interpreted as “intelligent” as though to complain about the intelligence of urban design) is only such if it can unearth rules for future construction within the fabric of the city itself.
The use of technology or the latest electronic discoveries to support complex urban mechanics is more than welcome. In order that it does not become like a demotic chimera, which, to automatically manage domestic functions imposes actions on humans that reduce them to robot controllers, architecture and urban projects must seek the proper balance between structure and superstructure.
So, by admitting a certain faith in the architectural project – in the traditional sense and in its extension to embrace urban design in line with the experiences of the nineteen seventies-eighties, one of the most interesting reflections on city projects – we are convinced that it lies (and always will) at the base of any urban intervention, even one of “technological” improvement, in the passage from a city to a Smart City.

An initial selection of six contributions on the Smart City theme points to a transverse restitution of the various aspects proposed by researchers: from a definitive introduction to the theme (Boulanger) to a first generic reflection applied to a “smart” city that presages some examples (Cao and Scala) to examples of interventions on single aspects (Montuori, Tornatora) and extensions to include the smart landscape (Melis/Roccella).

What a Smart City is
Saveria Boulanger gives us a clear picture of what a Smart City is starting from the origin of the concept of smartness linked earlier to the communication needs of a car and later applied to phones with the meaning of easy-to-use. Through interpolation of meanings altered by the disciplines that employed the term, from economics to marketing, a series of characteristics have arisen. A Smart City is one that is easily “usable” by its citizens, i.e. “user-friendly”; of a strategic size for a project that could improve the population's life; in a position to “run itself”, in the sense that it can gather data and act as a result, automatically, in a “programmed” way.
Once the characteristics have been clarified, there is still the far from simple task of defining how they should be pursued, in terms of discipline, how the architectural project can help to create a Smart City materially.

In addition, the current problems of the anthropic environment (atmospheric pollution, shortage of resources, waste disposal and so forth) are muddled up with the endemic problems of the contemporary city (excessive traffic, dormitory suburbs, the depopulation of city centres, safety, etc.) imposing on the project discipline a broader reflection with respect to an approach focusing on single interventions to the extent of asking how each work of architecture can play its part in the collective construction (or transformation) of the contemporary city to make it a Smart City or Eco City.
Starting out from this indispensable presupposition of the architectural project's responsibility, necessary but on its own not enough, reflection needs to be extended to large-scale interventions (urban projects) including schemes that embrace separate lines of intervention throughout the city. Not without forgetting the wider territorial dimension, as underlined in the article by Melis/Roccella that adds to the usual smart works of architecture and Smart City the “smart landscape”, with the resultant specific nomenclature in the prefiguration of works of architecture applied directly to the control and management of fundamental aspects of the Smart City such as energy.
Meanwhile, the article by Paola Scala, through the words of Vittorio Gregotti, invites us to go beyond the hypocrisies that have characterized the concepts of “green” and “eco” in the recent past (which risk characterizing the more recent “smart” one) and to consider architecture in its potential to transform spaces, shape places, and establish relationships. As evidence of this design approach the author mentions the experience of the “Water Squares” designed by the Dutch firm De Urbanisten and presented at the Rotterdam biennial of 2005. Hence, an intelligent project must be able to use architecture's main tools to resolve the problems that afflict cities and the territory in general, but also to shift the fulcrum in a major way towards those who actually find themselves inhabiting new rearranged spaces on a daily basis.

From functional city to formal city: what's beautiful about intelligence?
The considerations of Umberto Cao draw attention to the problem of the city's shape, which he goes on to underline by measuring it against efficiency. Accepting that the city is a system which is always undergoing steady transformation (whether slow or fast) this new season of change marked by eco-logic imperatives once again raises the problem of balancing functional and formal needs.
As well as being more fascinating, ancient cities are more sustainable and more intelligent: they have taken from their site everything they ever needed. The technologies used changed according to local materials (which were, of course, zero kilometre) and the shapes followed specific functional needs. The thickness of the walls was not only calculated to answer structural technical questions but also to ensure a certain thermal inertia, a guarantee of comfortable surroundings; the shape of the roof was adapted to specific needs (to collect water or to repel snow) while colour was a more than valid ally in refracting light and heat. In torrid climes the type was the outcome of tried and proven processes adapted to need such as guaranteeing cooling using air currents and/or shade given by the proximity of the dwellings. This was the main logical explanation of houses with an internal patio or the narrow streets that make up Mediterranean cities. Architectural type and urban morphology are contextual invariants even when architecture's most sophisticated representative needs (especially public ones) have introduced a greater intricacy of demands into the project scheme.
And so we might maintain that the prime example of project intelligence is a recovery of the very objectives in the act of designing and building architecture and cities. Designing (and also transforming) in the most responsible way by analysing the problems and weighing the various needs (formal, functional, technological, symbolic, etc.) that architecture and the city have always recriminated.

The regenerated city
Regeneration is the imperative at the basis of the intervention notions of Marina Montuori who contrasts the Smart City with a renewed city consisting of a set of “good places” (the meaning of “Eutopia”) subjected to (good) practices of “adaptive maintenance” of a preventative and corrective kind. The starting point is an analysis of the fabric and a cataloguing of the historical heritage by the type of building intervention in order to renovate the structures and make them efficient in terms of quality and performance. This is done by identifying a renewed alliance between type and technology that can produce an integrated system, called “adaptive exoskeleton”, a sort of flexible metal superstructure that can be tailored to different needs. A codified project intervention logic in the direction of the Smart City through a regeneration of the individual buildings so that they can cope with the challenges of the urban future.

The dematerialized city
In its similar approach, the previous article could be placed alongside that of Marina Tornatora, which, even though starting from different considerations, tends towards the common goal of setting up an intervention procedure that is generalizable but also adaptable with respect to the characteristic conditions of the places under examination.
One important component of the Smart City is global connection, a perpetual on-line situation to make the major worldwide paradigms of the future possible: from NGN (Next Generation Networks) the network of future generations to the Internet of Things, i.e. the extension of the Internet to items of everyday use, from the telephone to the liquidizer, from television to the car. Including the Cloud, the shifting of data from local situations (our house, our computer) onto the Web, the so-called “cloud”.
Digital media, networks, and every computerized application to the city that becomes a “city of bits”, to recall William Mitchell's paradigm, is however seen by the experts as a dangerous dematerialization of architecture, if not in its look (in the collective imagination the city of networks appears as a wireframe model of the built, or as a visualization of infrastructure to which information is transferred, at least in its physical content, in the body of that heavy matter which constitutes architecture's primal archetype).
If the historical city counteracts this drift with the peremptoriness of its spaces, the completed form of its spaces, its material certainty, the suburbs appear much more fragile in the face of a gradual shift of the urban towards an immaterial projection of it (the “Postcity” defined by Purini). On the basis of these considerations, Marina Tornatora identifies in the suburbs of Southern Italy unfinished places par excellence, witnessed symbolically by buildings partially interrupted with their structural frame showing, the cross-breeding of different landscapes, an island (the third island in homage to the third Clementian landscape) as a territory in which to try out “architectural biodiversities” according to Zardini's definition.
The basic thesis is the reuse of existing architectural structures devoid of quality, and through the use of the logical device of contamination carry out transformations that can rewrite and repaginate the urban text.

As one would hope from a magazine that deals with architectural and urban design, the authors' reflections dally over the role of the project with respect to the nth challenge that the contemporary city has delivered up to architects: a challenge that needs to be tackled without surrendering and without retreating into the discipline's nucleus since, as history has taught us, the disciplinary vacuums of design are promptly filled by other disciplines. Hence, it is the architectural project's task to stand firm amid a constant renewal of its disciplinary statutes.

Enrico Prandi

y. VII - nr. 42 - oct, dec 2017
edited by: Paolo Strina
y. VII - nr. 41 - jul, sep 2017
edited by: Angela D'Agostino
y. VII - nr. 39 - jan, mar 2017
edited by: Lamberto Amistadi, Francesco Primari
y. VII - nr. 38 - oct, dec 2016
edited by: Tommaso Brighenti
y. VII - nr. 37 - jul, sep 2016
edited by: Giuseppina Scavuzzo
y. VII - nr. 36 - apr, jun 2016
edited by: Renato Capozzi
y. VII - nr. 35 - jan, mar 2016
edited by: Orsina Simona Pierini
y. VI - nr. 34 - oct, dec 2015
edited by: Andrea Matta
y. VI - nr. 33 - jul, sep 2015
edited by: Enrico Prandi
y. VI - nr. 32 - apr, jun 2015
edited by: Lamberto Amistadi
y. VI - nr. 31 - jan, mar 2015
edited by: Andreas Kofler
y. V - nr. 30 - nov, dec 2014
edited by: Enrico Prandi
y. V - nr. 29 - sep, oct 2014
edited by: Enrico Prandi, Lamberto Amistadi
y. V - nr. 27-28 - may, aug 2014
edited by: Lamberto Amistadi, Ildebrando Clemente
y. V - nr. 26 - mar, apr 2014
edited by: Mauro Marzo
y. V - nr. 25 - jan, feb 2014
edited by: Carlo Gandolfi
y. IV - nr. 24 - sep, oct 2013
edited by: Enrico Prandi, Paolo Strina
y. IV - nr. 23 - jul, aug 2013
edited by: Antonella Falzetti
y. IV - nr. 22 - may 2013
edited by: Giuseppina Scavuzzo
y. III - nr. 21 - oct, nov 2012
edited by: Lamberto Amistadi