The image of the post metropolis: communicating and representing the contemporary city


We are in the post metropolis. That doset have the structure of the classic metropolis. Its a belt without the centre. A A expanse released from any hierarchies and relationships, ought to violate the stability of the living, of the neighborhood of the square. The figures are decomposed. the ones that for centuries have structured our speeches. The fixed points are far away1

Distance. In the interpretation of the contemporary city this word has no meaning when it represents, as Trione says, the distance between the urban reality of today and the canons with which is commonly read and interpreted. The international literature, from Sennet to Brenner2, shows that all that we have historically associated with the idea of the city has long been subjected to a real reconfiguration: the growing distance in fact regards also it’s physical limit, to the point of dissolving the relevance of the only centre in an articulation that tends to admit numerous elements. The characters of the urbanity are changing, what really makes the city, separated from other forms of social life.

The modern city, defined by the school of Chicago, by dimension, density and heterogeneity4, it first increased in size to become megacities (or megacity), something similar to a region, a conurbation, a large conglomerate. Subsequently, at the end of the twentieth century, it will also alter the density and the heterogeneity, conceptualized in the model of sprawl: the city is fragmented, exploded in a real multiplication of the urban and it became in fact a category no longer clear and significant3.

The contemporary city, instead, from the regional dimension and where it’s not able to distinguish between urban and non urban, is an ambiguous object, it’s description is particular complicated because it’s difficult to isolate the urban contemporary issue in stable and definitive terms from the sorrounding rest. The problem of interpretation reflects the urgent need to materialize the alarming figures relating to population growth and, consequently, of the urban centers, that the research predicts from here to the future decades. Faced with new migratory dynamics, there is a the need to rethink, even before further concrete actions are implemented, to interpret effectively the current processes of regionalization of the urban that also bring to question, in the image of the city, some of the assumptions relating to the relationship between size, density and heterogeneity.

For a long time these processes have been interpreted in terms of dispersion of the constituent characteristics of the central city, playing in this sense a model of reading of the nineteenth century that opposed the center to the periphery, the concentration of the dispersion, the heterogeneity to the homogeneity, the proximity to the distance. It seems that the literature hasn’t actually renewed the vocabulary and the concept of the city, it seems rather that it has in fact extended a grid for reading and for judgment processes that from that concept began to distance themselves: think in images such as that of the agglomeration, of the conurbation or of the metropolitan area, in fact still based on the idea of a hierarchical relationship between the central city and territories contiguous to it.

The suspicion is that the established models with which so far it has been looked at the issue of the contemporary urbanity can be explained only in a small part, mostly related to it’s physical aspect, and we have lost the interpretative power towards the inumerouses “invisible landscapes”4 that instead continue to define the identity and that complicate themselves more trough the relationship with the other elements of the urban structure. It seems rather intuitive that this interpretation of the void concernes the “different” city, new, that has developed in the last decade and that grew on the borders of the “known and familiar” city. Starting from the study of some american cities and not only, the hypothesis of the geographer Edward Soja, at the base of the definition of postmetropoli is that it’s possible to observe new social-spatial phenomenons that seemed to have cancelled or modify profoundly the relationship between urban and suburban. How to react then to the thinning of the gradient of urban density, to the progressive erosion of the boundaries and the homogenization of the urban landscape in a growing differentiation and specialization of suburban?

Trying to answer the questions above with a dissertation on Rome, there was the experiment to analyze the periphery, rather than as a unified system, as a series of unusual places, not always beautiful, but with a figurative autonomy, at times independent in the hierarchical relationship with the city center. This autonomy is considered hidden in some elements of the territory that are not usually present in defining its identity. The operation with which such elements, subsequently called “crumbs” were brought to the surface has been to create a representation, in this case individual, with the same process with which it’s created a group that can become a part of the cultural production of a society (a painting, a photograph, a literary text). This is what Pierre called Donadieu landscape: it oscillates between two poles, a real, natural, camouflage of the reality, material, objective, the other ideal, our interpretation, immaterial, subjective5.

In a moment where, citing Barthes6, the sense lives in a complete opposition with the objective data, this notion of landscape has been used to restore the connections between these two elements that, regardless of our awareness, define, in this case, the identity of Rome, which offers a perpetual conflict between the functional needs of modern life and the semantic power coming from its history.

“[…]The apparent clarity or legibility of the urban landscape. With this term we mean the ease with which the parts can be organized into a coherent system. As this printed page, if it is readable, it can be visually grasped as an interrelated system or recognizable symbols, in the same way the city will be readable, where neighborhoods, references, or paths result clearly identifiable … [ … ] we must consider the city not as an object self standing, but in the manner in which it is perceived by its inhabitants[]7.

In the words of Lynch it is possible to catch a glimpse of the guidelines that will allow to address the problems identified in the matter of new expansions, and at this image point, urbanity. The research carried out on Roma still leads to continue questions, especially testing the notion and the practice of the project. If in fact the models of interpretation will change, even the practical actions against the urban will also submit changes. The suggestion is that they are directional to a city that is readable again, even if it’s language is the one of chaos, even in the sizes that are no longer manageable by the human eye, but that are for the human, the one who lives in the city and of the perceptions we are interested, a possibility to become familiar.

University / Institution: Roma Tre University, Faculty of Architecture.
Contacts:, facebook: Giulia Bassi

Special thanks to Carol Ciccarelli for revising and helping in translation


Author: Giulia Bassi