Corviale, also called by the inhabitants of the Capital “Serpentone“, read Big-Snake, is an example of where Utopian project could drive if not properly managed.
For its dimension, Corviale is a small city without a major, it’s Rome’s biggest condominium without an administrator. Anarchy reigns in Corviale: 5000 inhabitants pay the same bill for water and electricity independently from their usage. No matter if they’re single or a numerous family, no matter if they just live in Corviale, or they also work there, in its basement (illegally, by appropriation of spaces, turned into workshops for productive activities).
The first one that wakes up in Corviale, is the one who decide for all the others. It’s a daily challenge: everyday against everyone.
Property of the Autonomous Institute for Social Housing (I.A.C.P. – Istituto Autonomo Case Popolari), the project was designed in 1972 by a group of architects headed by Mario Fiorentino (Federico Gorio, Pietro Maria Lugli, Giulio Sterbini, Michele Valori). The idea was to make a cut and send a clear message of order and organization to the housing development in Rome from the Sixties on, characterized by uncontrolled urban sprawl, lack of services and connections. This trend gave birth a dead part of the city, made by dormitory districts and fool agglomerations with the only rule of speculation.
From its beginning, Corviale ignited the debate, because of its shape, its bigness and, with some time, for its degradation and criminality.
All the responsibility for the construction part was under the same company, which suddenly failed and closed. Only the residential part was finished. The commercial units at the fourth floor were almost the first to be illegally occupied. According to the utopic ideology behind this project, the entire building (divided into two main bars) had to be one kilometre long. It was realised with a length of 958 m because of the presence of an acquedoct.
The original project was thought for be a completely autonomous building with all services and connections, green spaces and giant rooms for community use. Public services, commercial activities and cultural spaces were imagined for the fourth floor (the common one), but were never built and first to be occupied.
Corviale is often compared with two other projects, LeCorbusier’s Unité d’Habitation in Marseille that share with our Colossus the will of soaring the commercial/service floor over the ground floor. However “…though the Unité was thought as a modular and replicable solution, an element studied in its own complexity and functionality; Corviale was born like an unicum for that site, for this city of Rome” (Mario Fiorentino, video interview, 1981*)
For a comparison, let’s look at Franz Di Salvo’s project in Scampia (Naples) called “Le Vele” (trad. The sails). This project has a much more troubled history than Corviale. In fact, of the 9 original buildings, 5 have already been demolished and the recent plans of development declare the will, shared from the inhabitants, to demolish 3 of the 4 remaining. This would mean relocating the real assignee and stocking all the occupants inside the survived building. The idea to demolish Corviale, instead, was pointed out from the property of the building, but strongly rejected by the inhabitants. “Le Vele” become sadly famous after the series “Gomorra” inspired by the Roberto Saviano’s homonymous book.
During the years Corviale became a symbol of degradation and alienation, allowing the media to focus their attention on the idea of criminality and brutalization coming from it.
Spreading the idea that the inhabitants of a Monster must be monsters themselves.
Corviale is easily defined by media as a monster, often purposely stressing about degradation, criminality and degenaration. With its dimension, one of the main elements of this “monstruosity”, this building violently opposes the visitor, the inhabitants and the nature among which it stands. It prevents an observer from embracing the entire project at a glance, if not froma long distance, where Corviale show its shape from the treetops.
In the “Critique of Judgement”, Immanuel Kant defines “Monstrous” ( ungeheuer ) an object that for its bigness “nullify the purpose that constitutes its concept”, making impossible to understand the reasons why it was built. For “Colossal” ( kolossalish ) instead Kant means “ the simple exhibition of a concept that is almost too big for every kind of exhibition”, giving us a more suitable definition for Corviale.
The colossus is a very complex system, completely impossible to understand, not only for its mass but also for its grade of social complexity and organizational issues. The word “Management” is one of the more findable in the report of Mario Fiorentino, the negligence and lack of political class’ territorial authority, groups of inhabitants, together with criminal organization and micro criminality are the most certain causes of the “failure” of this Utopia.
When you come closer to Corviale, when you speak with people and observe group appropriation and micro-transformation phenomena by the inhabitants, you feel the colossus like a living thing, with a living community inside in a steadily frustrated relationship with it. They love it for the flexible houses with beautiful views, the dense agenda of cultural and artistic events taking place there and the number and quality of associations present on the territory. But they also hate it, for its degraded common spaces and dark corridors, for criminal activity, slackness and human degradation. Politics often focus their attention on the project, using the big human box Corviale as a tank of votes: coming during election campaign shouting promises of all sorts, always broken.
Recently, Corviale was interested in many re-qualification projects and activating of services from the authorities. Is present a Business Incubator, school, public library, many cultural and educative association as “Il Mitreo” and “CorvialeDomani” that are present on the territory are many years.
There have also been many initiatives activated conducted with associations and inhabitants, like the experimental and artistic work of Osservatorio Nomade conducted in the site itself, or the activation of Corviale Network, a television channel directly transmitted from the building. We can also mention “ Condominium Laboratory “, where the inhabitants speak and think about problems of complex management and self-organization. Other activities have been present on this territory since many years and constitute the witness of life, organization and good practice. Several workshops have been carried out in collaboration with the Penn State University and the Faculty of Architecture of Roma Tre, pointing out weaknesses and, most of all, strengths of a living community that is working with the shared vision of a good living.
Maybe there is still hope for the Colossus and its Utopia, but it will never turn into something real before the fixing of the several problems still menacing and before the bigger participation by inhabitants and authorities. This all mean a proper managing of the big and complex problem of the “Arcipalazzo” (like it was named from Pope John Paul II after his visit). This could happen making the land productive and the green spaces that surround Corviale useful, working on inclusion and activation of citizenship. Working in cooperation, consolidating the present link and always creating new.
Dreaming Corviale, is possible.
Cover Picture :Copyright Stefano Meluni | photographer
Osservatorio Nomade. Immaginare Corviale. Pratiche ed estetiche per la città contemporanea, a cura Gennari Santori F. , Pietromarchi B.
Progetto e Utopia. Manfredo Tafuri
Roma: nuovo Corviale. Miti, utopie, valutazioni. Nicoletta Campanella
Author: Lorenzo Bottiglieri