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New Life Cycles for Architecture and Infrastructure of City and Landscape

The Project

Renato Bocchi (Iuav)

Issues

In accordance with the objectives of Horizon 2020 and with the strategic policies of Europe 2020, and in conformity with the indications from the European Landscape Convention, this research intends to explore the operative impact of the recycling process on the urban system and traces of urbanization that mark the territory so that these “materials” can once again become part of a unique metabolism together with the environmental system. The idea of conservation of an “urban resource”, similar to the conservation of forests and rivers, naturalizes the phenomenon, but represents a fundamental step in the policies and the designs for the city. It recognizes the existence of a progression, from birth to old age, but also reacts to the decline by supporting the possibility and the utility of projects, policies and practices capable of activating new life cycles.

The research begins by observing the difficult condition in which Italian cities and territories find themselves today because of two contradictions: the first concerns the progressive urbanization of land and the unrestrainable process of abandonment of buildings, even recently built, the second regards the nature of urbanization and the daily conflict between it and the “environmental system”, as if the two were somehow not coincident realities. Shrinking cities that leave behind vast expanses of abandoned or semi-abandoned land, industrial activities that die or migrate elsewhere, entire communities that move on leaving behind them unused spaces, all this constitutes the occasion for recycling projects that define a completely new paradigm as far as design is concerned: to give a new sense and a new use to that which already exists, to give new life to rejected materials, re-naturalize rather than re-urbanize.

The contradictions and the problems faced in this research are the object of a true Journey through Italy which the large group involved in the project sets out to undertake with the collaboration of various institutions that have the task of monitoring the dyscrasia of the territory. The objects of the journey are urban fabrics and unfinished buildings, abandoned even before their use, existing but no longer congruent with new uses and new requirements, that produce ordinary landscapes of waste inside our cities or up against environmental structures. A map of that which has been built in the last twenty years in Italy is necessary for determining strategies that can address the urgent need for transformation of these critical territories; designs at different scales that can provide a new direction, beyond mere recovery, a new and different life; a strategic framework that can place the tools of urban planning and the processes of architecture once again in a dialogue with the other disciplines that are necessary for the definition of a single urban metabolism.

The research is oriented towards the same goals as Horizon 2020: found an idea of sustainability of the urban system starting with the reduction in consumption of the raw material “land”; optimize the use of energy and implement social inclusion; define strategies useful for rationalizing the construction system, with a move from constructing new buildings to modifying existent ones; convince companies to convert and innovate through recycling strategies and techniques. By updating the instruments of design, we want to explore the possibility that construction can be converted from a simple additive practice into a complex strategy for putting things back into circulation, from quantitative increment to qualitative development, and that through this change of course it can gain a new driving force and a new sense of necessity.

The research is structured as consequence and necessary continuation of a course that started with two past experiences: the PRIN 2007 research entitled Landscape design for discarded places and the exhibition Re-cycle. Strategies for architecture, the city, the planet, on show at the MAXXI Museum in Rome, which represent occasions of formation and consolidation of the work group.


The results and the products that the research sets out to assemble are: at the end of the first year, strengthen the relations with international partners through the conference Re-Cycle Mapping – Geografie del riciclo in order to put forward new research proposals that can participate in calls for papers of European programs; at the end of the second year, formulate a law proposal for Emilia Romagna; at the end of the third year, submit designs and prototypes on the occasion of the final exhibition entitled Re-cycle Italy at the MAXXI in Rome. Three books (one Atlas of strategies, one text illustrating the law proposal for Emilia Romagna, one manual of recycling strategies) will collect the results of the work and will act as vectors for raising awareness and as operative tools for putting into effect new life cycles for Italian cities and territories.

Objectives

Constructing an inter-disciplinary framework
One of the first aims of this research is to construct an articulated framework of knowledge on the topic of recycling, a mix of know-how and culture capable of synergistic development and offering methods, rules and regulations for acting upon the built environment. The disciplines that are most present in the project, and around which the work group has been formed, are architectural and urban design (ICAR/14) and town planning (ICAR/21), two disciplines that traditionally deal with the construction of the city and that define its transformation processes, but that only recently have found a common ground, thanks also to the contribution of landscape design (ICAR/15), in dealing with the concept of landscape. We intend therefor to initially gather research and experience developed in recent years on the topic of landscape, capable of going beyond the mere difference in scale of the design, capable of accepting the complexities of reality and of providing solutions for the emergencies that each day define the relation between urban and environmental systems, in order to lay down and define a strategy for designing cities and buildings based on the practice of recycling.

These three disciplines, that will work together with the others connected to the process of transformation of the land (technology, history, planning, agronomy etc.), are called upon firstly to reconsider their own analytical tools in order to reinterpret the Italian territory with a view to the possibilities that the existing heritage still offers: a journey through a nation that has deeply changed in the past twenty years and that needs directions of development different from those hereto imposed upon it by the continuous land consumption. Secondly, they will tend towards the definition of policies, operational dispositions, integrated practices and tactics that together will be capable of defining scenarios of change compatible with the new requirements and sensitivities of contemporary life and actions upon the materials inherited from a recent past.

Comparison with other realities in Europe
The topic of recycling buildings, infrastructures and portions of cities has become, albeit at different rates, a European priority, in part due to the limited size of the continent, its building tradition based on stratification and the will to convert the construction economy into a sustainable and environmentally aware system. The various Units will contribute their own existing connections of collaborations, structured around issues similar to those of the transformations of the urban model and the territorial structure, in order to build a vast international network, both European (to set up comparisons between similar situations that present problems, technology and legislation that are not too different) and extra-European (to verify that the same strategy can result from different problems and approaches: applied to fast-changing territories, as in Asia, or arising from the scarcity of raw materials, as in South America). The comparison, designed mainly to precisely update the state of the art, that will be particularly intensive during the first year of the research and will conclude with the conference at the Iuav entitled Geographies of Recycling, has the final objective of inciting the network of universities involved to develop European and international research projects.

Institutions, companies, administrations: the Italian scenario
Another important aim of the project is to develop a joint research with shared objectives with institutions, companies and administrations. The collaborations set up by the Units with institutions and research centers have the task of producing monitoring activities useful for the Journey through Italy, documenting the changes of the land during the past twenty years, defining the scope of the problem on a national scale and hence underlining the need for the activation of a recycling strategy.

The collaborations with administrations in the territories under investigation by the different Units are strategic for developing the research on an operational level and therefore relating continuously with the other actors in the process of transformation of the land. The collaborations with Foundations and cultural associations are supposed to gather a wealth of knowledge and promote an awareness of recycling issues, studying the effects on design in a wide sense, and then indicating it as a transformational outlook on a national level, and not as a mere freezing of the territory. Lastly, the relations with companies aim to try and integrate the technology necessary for operating and implementing the recycling strategy as a building practice impossible today due to a materialistic culture based on new constructions. The interface proposed for the project is a complementary and necessary part of an articulated research proposal in which the university reclaims its role as a propositional actor in the process of land design, in the construction of a course connected to real needs and directions, to the daily practice of building, an essential condition for finding new directions for the nation’s development.

Defining tools for building the Transformation
As well as raising theoretical and technological issues, as well as implying a cultural and technological evolution, the recycling of existing buildings calls for changes in legislation. The work group makes its research experience available and at the same time accepts the challenge of defining strategies and methods for consolidating recycling as a design practice. To reach this objective, it sets out to critically assess the legislative and judicial instruments and their possible rethinking. In analogy to the passage from design to construction, the research regards this passage as a border between academic research on the one side and public and private actors on the other, with the same desire to make openings between universities and the other structures that govern the territory. It intends to deal with the issue of regulation, by translating the strategies into rules, into law proposals, in collaboration with the IBC of the Emilia Romagna region, making the most of each one’s competence and at the same time accepting the challenge that this may define a course, a connection that is not occasional but that becomes a common practice in design research.

Recycling exercises, synthesis and communication
All of the objectives of this research tend to make the work and its results active and propulsive, in a moment when the country is looking for new opportunities, new economies. The work produced needs to be able to speak, to illustrate its own results. The intensive three-year program, together with the number of researchers involved, demonstrate the scale of the emergency and the sense of responsibility towards a territory that needs to be not simply protected but actively designed. The recycling exercises devised for the various case studies (articulated in order to fix specific situations, but also recurring problems) will be collected in an atlas entitled Re-cyle Italy. Atlas of strategies. The law proposal for the Emilia Romagna region will be summarized in another book, together with the various theories on recycling and disciplinary transversality. The various public meetings that will take place throughout the working period will be opportunities to verify the successful synthesis and communication of the results, and hence the capacity of the research to also become a cultural project.

State of the art

There are two key issues that concur in the definition of the state of the art referred to the topic of recycling: the progressive abandoning of buildings in the post-production city and the new ecological urban dimension. These two issues, strongly connected to the economic situation of the new millennium, are explored in literature coming from the United States of America into our continent with the growing European crisis. But whereas there is an increasing number of tangible applications, of completed examples of recycled existing buildings in particular contexts (encouraged by favorable regulations, as in the Convertible City in Germany, or accompanied by a particular attention to social issues as in the case of the New York High Line), there is a lack both of an articulated and coherent scientific and theoretical apparatus, and of a diffusion of this topic in the construction world. In bibliographical terms, a recycling strategy involves mainly studies in art and technology: there is a lack of systemization and especially of clarification of how it might positively condition the way we imagine and build cities, resulting in legislation, in economic, environmental and social advantages.

Landscapes of abandonment
In the last few years, the evident impotence of design in addressing the growing state of abandonment in cities and land – dated, inherited from a recent past or recently disused – represents an issue involving various disciplines. Words such as: “blanc”, “déchet”, “drosscape”, “espaces délaisses”, “friches”, “garbage”, “junkspace”, “non-lieu”, “reste”, “ruines”, “terrains vagues”, “tiers paysage”, “vacant land”, “vides”, “wasting away”, “zone” are just some of the terms used in research and literature demonstrating a broadening phenomenon. In this cultural context we also find studies on urban contraction, a multi-dimensional process that can be applied to cities, parts of cities or entire metropolitan areas, affected by specific factors of economic and social decline. The most famous research project is Shrinking cities, by Philipp Oswalt, presented for the first time at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2006. The topic is at present being studied by international programs involving various academic institutions: a research network is defining a new geography with two objectives, namely increasing knowledge in the phenomenon and its dislocation, and at the same time stimulating a discussion on strategies and policies to address the problem.

This is the case of Shrink Smart. The Governance of Shrinkage within a European Context, a research funded by the European Commission within the 7FP, or of The Shrinking Cities International Research Network (SCiRNTM), an international consortium of researchers founded in 2004 at the Institute of Urban and Regional Development at the University of California, Berkeley, and by CIRES, Cities Regrowing Smaller. In the United States, the most extreme case is that of Detroit: it went from being a metropolis symbol of productivity to an emblematic example of urban contraction, an “urban park” where green areas are spreading due to diffused abandonment. If Detroit is being recycled in spite of itself, without a precise plan but in virtue of the violent phenomenon of redefinition of its characteristic, Rapid Re(f)use: Waste to Resource City 2120 by Joachim Mitchell addresses the other side of abandonment: that is to say the progressive increase in waste. The question of refuse is viewed by Mitchell as the new frontier of construction: his work explores the possibility that new buildings be constructed from re-using rubble and waste, thus turning the problem into a resource.

Following this line of study, the PRIN 2007 research was set up and conducted, entitled Landscape design for abandoned places developed between 2008 and 2010 by the University of Genoa (national coordinator professor Annalisa Maniglio Calcagno), Venezia Iuav (professor Renato Bocchi, working unit leader), Trento (professor Claudio Lamanna, working unit leader), Reggio Calabria (professor Franco Zagari, working unit leader, with Gianni Celestini), Napoli (professor Vanna Fraticelli, working unit leader). The basis for this research was viewing landscape design as a process, capable of taking into account from the beginning the progressive data of the phenomena as they occur, and to have its own adaptive capacities in relation to the evolving context. In this sense the design dealt with the leftovers from previous or present transformations and included them in the process. The research intended to bring design techniques and methods closer to the biological processes profoundly linked to changes in the landscape: biological processes involving decay, disposal, digestion, recycling, and drawing their vital and reproductive forces from it (in a way this had been invoked and foreseen by Kevin Lynch in his posthumous book Wasting Away). The results are published in Maniglio Calcagno A., 2010 and in Bertagna A., Marini S., 2011.

Recycling the existent
The design experiences in recycling the existent define an idea of the city that is growing in importance in certain European towns due to social problems connected with the critical conditions of certain suburbs, or to the institution of regulations on land use. In French cities, in the eighties of the last century, large buildings in the suburbs had been significantly manipulated and transformed (Banlieue 89). In 2004 the Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication – Direction de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine – commissioned the architects Druot, Lacaton & Vassal to draw up a recycling strategy for the grands ensembles in order to offer more room, more technology, more energy (PLUS).

During the 2006 Venice Architecture Biennale, the German pavilion exhibited the Convertible City. Modes of Densication and dissolving Boundaries, which presented architectural interventions on existing buildings and the idea of a city that grows on itself. The German research bears witness to a change in the construction system after new regulations limiting the number of new buildings (a reflection of the precise policies of land protection promoted in 1998 by the then Environment Minister Angela Merkel). The existing buildings are considered to be matter which can be transformed and through which the idea of the city can be renewed.

During the 2008 Venice Architecture Biennale, in the Italian pavilion housing the exhibition Italy in search of a home (curated by Francesco Garofalo), several architects dealt with the problem of regulation in connection to the transformation of the city, putting forward a more conscious use of the raw material which is the land, by occupying ruins of a recent past in order to produce new urban spaces and new urban life cycles.

Following this line of study, the PRIN 2008 research was set up and con- ducted, entitled Transformation, regeneration, architectural, urban, environmental valorization of marginal housing fabrics. Methods, tools, designs applied to the western sector of Milan (professor Ilaria Valente, coordinator of the Politecnico di Milano working group; professor Gianfranco Neri national coordinator, Università degli studi Mediterranea di Reggio Calabria).

In the exhibition being held at the moment at the MAXXI Museum in Rome entitled Re-cycle. Strategies for architecture, the city, the planet curated by Pippo Ciorra with Reinier De Graaf, Sara Marini, Mosè Ricci, Jean Philippe Vassal, Paola Viganò, which represents an introduction to this research proposal, the topic of recycling is addressed through a transversal and interdisciplinary approach: it is not viewed simply in its better-known role of re-using discarded materials, but as a strategy in a wider sense. The exhibition shows completed examples of recycling of buildings, cities, landscapes, together with works of art, photography, media, and illustrates how in other countries, because there are very few Italian examples, design has turned towards a redefinition of the existent, finding new ways based on the idea of stratification, on the paradigm of ecology, on technological research. In this sense, the exhibition measures the potential of a procedure that can positively address the economic and environmental problems of our construction sector. The materials on show and the theories gathered are published in Ciorra P., Marini S. (eds), 2012.

The city and its metabolism
To view the city as something that can be recycled means to consider its rhythms, its life cycles its metamorphoses. This is how one should interpret the famous book by Jane Jacobs The Death and Life of the Great American City. The city does not follow an unchangeable biological course, it has the capacity to regenerate itself from within, to overcome one life cycle and its decline by reinterpreting itself.

The concept of life cycle has a long history in social sciences and in economics: it speaks of changes rather than stasis; of sequences and alternations; of fluxes, dynamics and processes. One can find, in the long tradition of American studies on ecology of the city, the full force of the comparison between ecosystems and urban environment. Since the Chicago School of Burgess and Park, sociologists, geographers, planners and experts in real estate use concepts originating in research in botany and ecology in order to read the city and then build regulatory and interpretive models.

The book Cradle to Cradle. Remaking the Way we Make is the manifesto for an idea of the city capable of continuously renewing itself, the paradigm of an ecology that characterizes more and more urban studies in a move from urban design to urban landscape.

The consequences of a reduction in energy consumption and of climate changes on the development of the land have not yet been sufficiently investigated. If we concentrate on grey energy, along with the already established strategies of reduction in energy consumption and production of renewable energy (including Energy recycling) then the reasons and the need for a broad and capillary transformation of the existing city through the recognition of different life cycles clearly emerge.

The current policies, the recent experiences in territorial projects and the constructions of visions for large metropolitan areas (le Grand Paris 2009; New York 2030; UE, Roadmap 2050) show that the targets of reduction in energy consumption and CO2 emission imply a profound revision of existing buildings and urban fabrics, of their grain and their density; a revision of the mobility and accessibility systems, a redefinition of the relation between urban spaces, agricultural land, water, energy, the idea of a built system, the dynamics of which are associated to those of the natural system.

In the international consultation Le Grand Paris, many of the solutions presented by designers, among which the group led by Bernardo Secchi and Paola Viganò, are based on a metabolic vision of the metropolis, outlining the possibility of recycling the urban system, a hypothesis of development “100% recycle”. The Italian team investigated the possibility of building the new homes required up until 2030 in the Paris metropolis by re-qualifying and re-structuring the existing fabric, pursuing a self-sufficient energy use through the reduction in energy consumption and production of renewable energy, by making “pavillonnaire” areas more dense and be restructuring the “habitat collectif” and the functional “mixité” of productive activities (cf. Secchi B., Viganò P., 2011).

Products/Publication and exhibitions

Three books

Re-cycle Italy. Atlas of strategies

Re-cycle Italy. Proposal of a regional law for Emilia Romagna
Re-cycle, sub-cycle, hyper-cycle. Theories of a wandering concept

Final exhibition
Re-cycle Italy / MAXXI Museum in Roma

During the last phase of the research the work group will undergo a reorganization. All the OUs will write reports, produce media that will contribute to the book Re-cycle Italy. Atlas of strategies, where all the material produced in the study of recycling procedures applied to city and territory will be collected. The text shows the work done in the first year on a national level, the update of the state of the art carried out together with the international institutions involved, the aspects of recycling declined according to the five programs and the respective effects on an analytical and design level in the single applications. Part of this material will be selected and integrated into the multimedia recounting of the various initiatives of the previous two years and elaborated into the Re-cycle Italy exhibition to be held at the MAXXI Museum at the end of the three years of research. The elaboration of the materials for the Atlas and the exhibition will be coordinated by a group of researchers from the Iuav OU.

A mixed group from the various universities, coordinated by representatives of the Iuav OU, will further study the theoretical opus developed in the previous two years. The objective of this group is to valorize the interdisciplinary nature of the project in order to explore the possible theoretical deductions of the concept of recycling and to verify the effective contributions the very diverse disciplines involved. This group will return the results of the studies undertaken by all the OUs in the previous three years together with the results of this phase of further investigation in the book Re-cycle, sub-cycle, hyper-cycle. Theories of a wandering concept.

Another mixed group, again coordinated by the Iuav OU, will prepare the proposal for a regional law in collaboration with the IBC of Emilia Romagna, based on the results obtained in the previous two years. The group will again rely on the contribution from the national and international institutions involved, this time focusing on the regulatory aspect. The results of this discussion will form the material for the law proposal and will be presented in the book Re-cycle Italy. Proposal of a regional law for Emilia Romagna, aimed in particular at kick-starting a national debate on the management and transformation of the territory. Special care will be devoted to the way in which the results are put across, so that it will be accessible to wider public, not just specialists in the field but for society as a whole.

The three books, although the result of a common research, will be based on separate foundations and will have specific methods of communication, according to the structure of the texts, in order to explore different aspects of the same strategy and hence fill the gaps in the present state of the art.