Proposal for Urban Regeneration of the Suburb ZEN, Palermo, Italy

Prof. Arch. Ettore Maria Mazzola
The University of Notre Dame, School of Architecture, Rome Studies Program

View of Piazza San Filippo Neri


The Social Housing district Z.E.N. in Palermo, today re-named “San Filippo Neri”, despite the great name of its architect – Vittorio Gregotti – is sadly famous as one of the most dangerous and “criminogenic” neighbourhoods in Italy.

In early 2011, inspired by the debate about a project I had developed for the Urban Regeneration Quarter Corviale in Rome, a group of people in Palermo asked me to hold a conference on that project in their city. Their goal was to raise awareness about what appears to be a topic of great interest in the world today: namely the replacement of degraded suburbia with "biophilic" neighbourhoods, respectful of people and the environment, thus avoiding the reiteration of the previous forty years’ mistakes.

The courtroom was packed with people, and at the end of the event the birth of the initiative "Noi per lo ZEN" (We for the ZEN) was announced. The aim was to create a group of 200 citizens, of any social class, political faith and religious belief that, after self-taxing for a symbolic reimbursement, would receive (within 90 days) a regeneration project for ZEN, methodologically similar to the one developed for the Corviale in Rome.

Despite the absence of a honorarium which would have taken into account the complexity of the project, soon the initiative met my absolute support, because it represented a unique case in Italy in terms of moral, of policy and of sociology: whereas State, local politics and the university are absent, a group of citizens decide to tax themselves in order to shift the way we plan cities, hoping to improve residents’ quality of life!

The reasons why a group of free citizens took the decision of making this proposal rest in the awareness of the lies that have taken place over time in the field of urbanism. They indeed understood that the present Z.E.N. is to be considered a typical child of that ideology, widespread in the sixties of last century, according to which “the historical centres were the embodiment of evil bourgeois", and “as such were to be abandoned because no longer appropriate to the emerging working class”.

This “anti-bourgeois” vision was translated in the sudden sprawl of cities with neighbourhoods made of concrete boxes, mono-functional zones, lack of meeting places and consequent social unrest! The only ones to benefit were (of course) speculators, landowners and contractors, and the craft sector began its downward flight to the final disappearance ... the “not-standardized” work of the artisans was too bourgeois to have a value!

The most serious thing – no one has ever had the courage to condemn it – is that all this has not been put into practice by the hands of unscrupulous mafia’s builders (as some have tried to make us believe), but by those who stood behind the lecture hall, or directed the architectural magazines, or pontificated everywhere they were given the opportunity, who came to theorize that this choice had a philanthropic goal!

To clarify this statement, should it seem a little ideological, it is useful to quote the theorists themselves of those ideas on the city: «The ultimate purpose was to materialize the idea that the historic city, an expression of those social classes that had dominated and oppressed human society, was to be abandoned to its founders, while for the emerging popular classes were to be destined new neighbourhoods and suburbs that, by joining one to each other, would generate the New Jerusalem: the city of the classless society, free, just and fraternal»[1].

The ideology then, accompanied by the presumption and arrogance of a certain group of architects and teachers, was able to do nothing but create the theoretical basis that would allow speculators to make money for their own interests.

Just to have a confirmation of the falseness of the "New Jerusalem" concept, we had a chance to listen to Gregotti himself, or rather to the theorist of "the city of the classless society, free, just and fraternal" idea who, during an interview at the TV show "Le Iene" on February 20th 2007, when asked «If you say that it is so successful and beautiful, why don’t you go and  live at the ZEN?» he answered, «what does it mean? I'm the architect, not the proletarian!»

Today this man defends his project by downloading the responsibility anywhere but on himself; indeed on May 21st, 2011, during an interview by the newspaper La Stampa regarding the initiative "Noi per lo ZEN", he said: « My project was misrepresented, it was to be a model neighbourhood [...] I am guilty of having underestimated the Mafia. There, I understood what is really crime control. At that time the mayor was Vito Ciancimino [...]».

This paper presents the problems and the articulation of the project for the urban regeneration of an inhuman social housing district into a healthy place, a kind of project to be considered a pilot project for the regeneration of all the dangerous and unliveable suburbs, as well as for reinvigorating local economies.

Fig. 1 and 2: Palermo, the District “Z.E.N.”, before and after the project of urban regeneration


The first thing I suggested immediately after accepting the request of developing the project for the ZEN, was the involvement of residents, to be made with meetings -also via web!- so that the project could be "participated", as much as possible, involving future and potential users. I also suggested that the local parish priest – one of the promoters of the initiative – would have been the right person to gather the feelings and suggestions of the residents of ZEN; finally, I proposed to use social networks, to gather all the possible inputs necessary to produce something that would satisfy all the requests of local inhabitants. Today I can say with certainty that tools like Skype and Facebook were a great help in the preparation of the final project.

Figure 3
Fig. 3: Palermo, Aerial view of the “jail-like” district “Z.E.N.”. Believable or not, the white building in the centre is the actual Church of San Filippo Neri

One of the most delicate points of the project was how to combine urban design with the development phases, carefully paying attention to the reality of the current situation. Designing a neighbourhood "on a human scale", for a population of just over 21,000 inhabitants, is not easy, especially when you work -with the scalpel’s precision- within a relatively dense urban tissue, that’s not possible to demolish as long as the new buildings are not complete and usable, ready to be inhabited by local residents.

The same attention was to be given to the existing schools and to the Church of San Filippo Neri. Moreover, it was necessary to pay attention to pre-existing roads and infrastructure necessary to be maintained. It was also necessary to develop a strategy to bring the final budget, if not positive, at least on par for Public Administration: in a moment when both Italian and world economy is in disarray, it is inconceivable to build “white elephants” weighing on public finances. Nor imaginable would be to persist with senseless “eat-energy” buildings, which also require continuous maintenance costs.

Furthermore, in this particular moment when Italian industry and economy are suffering the consequences of globalization, this project is not only to give a home to those who need it, but also should be a driving force for the local economy: a project which generates employment and life expectancy for the inhabitants of the new district San Filippo Neri. In a few words, we’re dealing with a project designed for building artisanship, that is all those disappearing jobs of fundamental importance if we want to keep alive both historical and architectural heritage: the same heritage which is going to be destroyed by the advent of industrial building process and by modernist/consumerism culture.

The urban regeneration project for the district San Filippo Neri, ex ZEN

The premise was long but necessary, and perhaps it would have been much more useful to explain in more depth the design criteria that guided this project, starting from some considerations on circulation and permeability. These considerations are intimately connected with the history of the Piana dei Colli.

Figure 4
Fig. 4: Francesco Zerilli – view of the Piana dei Colli - circa 1830

The views of Piana dei Colli left to us by eighteen century painters show the strength of the paths, shapes, layers, residential and religious areas that had been ignored when the ZEN was realized, by imposing on the pre-existing network the identity of absolute geometry, which was totally strange to Palermo.

The ZEN had only marginally considered these geographical signs, but introducing new geometries totally independent from existing agglomerations. It was a pity, because the new district could have served as a completion of those clusters and could have celebrated, rather than ignored, the existing roads, which would have been taken as the cornerstones of the new urban fabric ... Unfortunately “modern” architects, blinded by the setting for the urban grid, tend not to see the importance of other aspects of everyday life: as acutely highlighted by the American sociologist Richard Sennett, the orthogonal urban grid represents «the first manifestation of a particularly modern form of repression that negates the value of the other and of places specifically involved in the construction of the banality of everyday life»[2].

Figures 5 and 6
Fig. 5: Road system of Piana dei Colli preceding the project of ZEN 2. The area was crossed, from north-west to south-east, by two parallel axes, and perpendicularly, from an interrupted axis: in the centre are the buildings of ZEN 1, whose size, shape and arrangement did not seem to take into account anything about the pre-existing conditions.
Fig. 6: Road system of Piana dei Colli after the completion of the new ring road: the layout of the buildings of the ZEN 2 is totally out of context, no connection seems to have been even imagined neither with the ZEN 1 nor with the existing roads. The new ring road, cutting off any possible connection to existing villages, increases the "ghetto effect".

Figure 7Figure 8
Fig. 7: Main roads and current connections
Fig. 8: The ZEN, an "impermeable" neighbourhood

As can be deduced from these schemes the Piana dei Colli, within which stands the ZEN, is situated in an ideal location for a possible development of the city and represents the natural growth both of Palermo and of Mondello. The ZEN is at the point where the expanding urban fabric of Palermo and Mondello converge. Moreover the district is located close to the highway, along the connection between the capital and the airport.

The site was characterized by a system of historic villas and a series of villages, both planned and spontaneous, which should have been considered as generating elements of the new district: on the contrary, the designers chose the easy way of the tabula rasa, rather than trying to engage a dialogue with the genius loci.

The pre-existing road system, especially before the construction of ZEN 2 and the ring road, maintained a relationship between the urbanized areas of the west side, and those of the East side, as well as between the urban areas of the north side, and those of South. Today these links are totally non-existent, they almost seem to have been intentionally deleted, in order to ghettoize the residents of the shameful neighbourhood ... as if the responsibility of all were the local people, whose only crime was eventually to have been chosen as human guinea pigs for this urban experiment.

Consequently in the project of "urban regeneration of ZEN", once the need to avoid the ghetto effect was understood, it was necessary to imagine how to make it more permeable, despite the presence of the ring road, which there would be no sense to demolish.

Reasoning so in terms of urban design, of optimum dimensions of the present settlement and of the supply of services, activities and places of socialization, especially in terms of defining the urban edge, the effort was made to redefine the neighbourhood, looking also to the surrounding areas and activities.

In addition, it was necessary to find a mediation between the "dream" of designing an ideal city – which is often feasible only on the paper – and the real need for compliance with current legislation in terms of standards, equipment and distances from certain roads, as for example the ring road.

By studying the experience of the Garden Cities made by Giovannoni in 1919 - '20 (Città Giardino Aniene and Garbatella), we understand that if we want to solve the urban edges and prevent sprawl, the realization of urban parks along the boundaries of the settlement can be of great help.

In our case, due to the presence of the Velodrome (an arena for track cycling), and considering the requests of those kids and volunteers of ZEN that wish for the development of sports in the neighbourhood  (rightly arguing that sport, by attracting children and young people, can move them away from being sucked into the vortex of crime), it was thought that a green ring bordering the settlement could play the dual role of urban sports’ park and buffer zone, between the buildings and the ring road.

Moreover, the size and the population of the new settlement suggest that the future ZEN may be regarded as an urban entity, equipped with all the functions necessary to make it self-sufficient, although connected with all the surrounding settlements, including the historic centre. This is not to marginalize, but to create a polycentric city, with a social and functional mix, able to keep residents within their district, rather than obliging them to look elsewhere for places to socialize. Thus, what today looks like a medieval castle moat, could come to take the shape of a park, along which a number of activities are located, something similar to those successful ones that now revitalize the Barcelona seafront.

As we said, giving a "shape" to the new San Filippo Neri was not so easy. Indeed, it was necessary to make the neighbourhood "permeable", by making new streets respectful of the pre-existing ones and of the surroundings, but it was also necessary to create a pleasant settlement to be developed in phases, preventing social damages to residents: it is unimaginable to build the new district "by deporting" its residents - even in the short term - to places far from the ones where they were born and grew up.

Figure 8
Fig. 8: Stages of development: in brown is the existing, in red the new buildings, in yellow the demolitions

That’s the reason why the project was articulated into a process of gradual replacement of the present neighbourhood, working on the "voids". In practice, the layout of the buildings has been planned so that the demolition may take place throughout stages, and residents will move only when the new dwellings are ready to be occupied.

Thus proceeding through stages (in the drawing below, brown is for the existing, red for the new building, and yellow for the demolition) we identified 16 possible phases of progress for the urban regeneration of the entire district. Considering the prevalence of voids in the South-Eastern area, it was decided to start construction along an old route. This axis at the end of the development will assume the role of "Cardus Maximus" of the new district, and it will be rejoined in the North with another one.

In order to provide spaces for socialization and recreation, other than the piazzas, it was also decided to adopt the typical urban blocks with large courtyard gardens: they should be open to the public at least during daylight hours, and playground areas for children and leisure areas for the elderly (under the trees’ shadow) have been planned inside them.

Figure 9Figure 10
Fig. 9: The New Quarter San Filippo Neri completed
Fig. 10: The San Filippo Neri, a "permeable" district: In brown internal circulation - vehicular and pedestrian, in orange the main outside roads. The diagram also shows the new roads to the north and to the east of the district, necessary to improve the connections between the San Filippo Neri and the surrounding settlements

As soon as it is possible to proceed with demolition, an urban structure will arise in its place. It will be a road system structured on two "Cardus" (north-south main streets) and a series of parallel and perpendicular axes, whose "decumanus maximus" (east-west main street) is the continuation and reuse of an existing axis. The two central "decumanus" (east-west streets), connected to the south and west with two important roads, are extended to the east of the ring road, to be connected with another important one. The road system is supplemented by an inner ring, parallel to the major ring road that, by encircling the entire settlement, performs the function of lightening vehicular traffic in the district.

Contemporary with the phases of construction and demolition of pre-existing buildings starting from the South-East, an urban (and ring-shaped annular) park will be created.

Beyond the inner ring road and inside the park, there will be two major sports centres and a school: one of the sports centres will extend opening hours to the public beyond school hours. The two sports centres will be ideally connected to each other through the annular park, with a bike path and a jogging track, interspersed with areas equipped for stretching exercises and other sports. Obviously, the park will also host both children’s playground areas and leisure areas for the elderly, inside a most accessible context. Two small ponds for children’s entertainment and contact with usual wildlife, other than small pedal boats’ rental, will be a plus to improve the quality of life as much as possible.

The one-way streets are dimensioned in order to have a minimum width of 10.53 meters, while the main cardus and the ring-road tangent to the park, carrying two-way traffic, have a width of 16.90 meters. The ring road will also host a fast lane for public transport.

Great attention has been paid to pedestrian traffic and to places for socialization, by creating pleasant pedestrian sequences, along which a series of piazzas and small piazzas will encourage residents to stroll, shop and socialize: we are sure that most of the residents will choose local shops for daily needs, thus reducing use of cars.

Figure 11Figure 12
Fig. 11: Vehicular circulation
Fig. 12: Pedestrian circulation, pedestrian piazzas and public spaces

In addition, this prevents them "migrating" towards the historical centre looking for unavailable parking spaces! As a result of decreasing traffic both in the San Filippo Neri district and in the historical centre, the benefit to the environment will be huge. Exploiting the model of many Italian towns, characterized by one-way streets which perpendicularly intersect smaller pedestrian streets, this project tried to create an environment where both vehicular and pedestrian traffic always result tangent one another, without mutual disturbance. The only totally pedestrian area is that including the Church of St. Philip, whose piazza is tangent to the main axes.

Differently sized piazzas have been included in the project, in order to make the various urban sequences as enjoyable as possible: some of them will be wide, to host both shopping and socializing activities at the same time.

The sidewalks are also connected to the ones winding through the peripheral park and to all the public parking lots as well. Furthermore, to make the area even more enjoyable by the pedestrian, every residential block has an internal courtyard garden open to the walking public, at least during the daytime. This system of "pedestrian shortcuts", frequently used among the constructions of the ICP in the early twentieth century, is something still present in many courtyards of Palermo’s historical centre where, despite the large size of some lots, pedestrian permeability is always assured. Differently from the boring uniformity which characterizes the current ZEN, no one of the building blocks of the new San Filippo Neri will turn out to be a clone of another. Strolling through this kind of neighbourhood will allow people to appreciate its unity without uniformity, so helping to develop a sense of belonging.

Figure 13Figure 14
Fig. 13: A "permeable" district: pedestrian circulation and the system of internal courtyards open to public transit.
Fig. 14: A "permeable" district: indication of the possible lines of public transportation.

Still in the interests of pedestrians and of the environment, the main roads have been dimensioned for public transport, thus connecting the San Filippo Neri to the centre of Palermo, to Punta Raisi’s airport, to Mondello’s beach and to the surroundings.

This kind of approach, supported by easy pedestrian circulation inside the district, could really let the future residents of San Filippo Neri forget cars, to move through these places.

This doesn't mean that residents shouldn’t have the opportunity to use (and park) their own cars in the city: according to the current legislation in fact, the project includes many public car park areas at ground level, but these parking spaces are always parallel to the streets and embedded within the sidewalks. This is to avoid too wide roads and to ensure they are properly dimensioned both for vehicles and pedestrians: along with them, a lot of public and private underground parking lots are designed under buildings, courtyards and piazzas.

Figure 15Figure 16
Fig. 15: The parking system. In dark brown: public car parks at ground level; in red: private car parks at ground level; in purple: public and private underground parking; in yellow: private covered parking (boxes).
Fig. 16: Ten Minutes walk, The city of 10 minutes on foot. The circle in the center is the ideal distance of 833 meters, or that travelled in 10 minutes on foot

In this way residents will be allowed to park their cars under their own houses, even in the totally pedestrian portions of the town, as for example in the area of the Church.

Pedestrian circulation meets the needs of all residents, including the elderly and the disabled ones, as the size of the town and its distances have been evaluated not only in terms of metric, but also in terms of time: the new time unit is the so-called “10-minutes walk” (about 800 to 1000 meters in diameter). This is indeed the urban dimension which allows residents to reach all points – and services – of their district as easily as possible; this measure, either calculated or accidental, is the one that used to oversee the implementation of our town centres which, before the twentieth century, had never developed chaotically and concentrically. Our cities are the result of a development based on multiplication and duplication of the initial and self-sufficient model.

In this new, or better “re-discovered” concept of public spaces, the San Filippo Neri has been designed as a City for All, that is -first of all- accessible for the elderly and children.

Figure 17Figure 18
Fig. 17: The "Main Decumanus" measures 7.47 minutes walk or 623 meters. A sequence of  four piazzas, including the main piazza with the Church of San Filippo Neri
Fig. 18: The "Main Cardus" measures 13.28 minutes on foot, or 1107 meters. A sequence of six piazzas, including the main piazza with the Church of San Filippo Neri

Figure 19Figure 20
Fig. 19: The "Cardus of the Street Market " measures 13.19 minutes on foot, or 1099 meters. Along the axis runs a street market, similar to the ones of Palermo.
Fig. 20: The various piazzas of the new district are punctuated with an average 2 minutes walk, or about 160 meters

In this perspective, all the domestic courtyards of the residential blocks, together with other areas inside the public gardens and the park’s perimeter, are designed as spaces equipped for children's play (with slides, swings and skill paths, wall units, etc..) and for the leisure of the elderly (with benches, tables for playing cards, drinking fountains, emergency calls, areas for dancing groups, bocce fields, etc..): all paths are also fully accessible to all disabled.

Figure 21Figure 22
Fig. 21: The places of socialization: The city of children and of elderly. Playgrounds for children (yellow), areas equipped for the leisure of elderly
Fig. 22: Public, semi-private and private green spaces.

In order to create several interesting features and to invite people to remain in the neighbourhood, but also to make it safer - thanks to the "spontaneous" supervision of the streets-, it is suggested to create commercial activities, restaurants and cafés on the ground floor of the buildings along the main roads, while the ground floor of those buildings characterizing the edges of the district and its secondary streets have been thought to host craft workshops. This proposal of stores and workshops together, standing along the roads, has nothing to do with any habit of nostalgic origin.

Indeed in 1961, in Life and Death of the Great American Cities [3] Jane Jacobs, in the chapter titled “The Uses of Sidewalks”, articulated in  “Safety” and  “Contacts”, already wrote: «The functions of self-government of the roads are all modest, but essential. Despite many attempts, planned or not, it has not yet found anything that can replace a lively and bustling street […] The first thing to understand is that the public peace – the sidewalks and street peace – of cities is not kept primarily by the police, necessary as police are. It is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious, network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves. In some city areas – older public housing projects and streets with very high population turnover are often conspicuous examples – the keeping of public sidewalks law and order is left almost entirely to the police and special guards. Such places are jungles. No number of police can enforce civilization where the normal, casual enforcement of it has broken down. The second thing to understand is that the problem of insecurity cannot be solved by spreading people out more thinly, trading the characteristic of cities for the characteristic of suburbs».

Figure 23Figure 24
Fig. 23: Commercial Activities and Craft: retail shops (in red) and workshops (in black)
Fig. 24: Diagram of the Extension of the Street Market

And here is the point: «everyone already knows: a well-used city street is apt to be a safe street. A deserted city street is apt to be unsafe. But how does this work, really? And what makes a city street well used or shunned? Why is the sidewalk mall in Washington Houses (a public housing project), which is supposed to be an attraction, shunned? Why are the sidewalks of the old city just to its west not shunned? What about streets that are busy part of the time and then empty abruptly?

A city street equipped to handle strangers, and to make a safety asset [...] there must be eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street. The buildings on a street equipped to handle strangers and to ensure the safety of both residents and strangers, must be oriented to the street. They cannot turn their backs or blank sides on it and leave it blind […] the sidewalk must have users on it fairly continuously, both to add to the number of effective eyes on the street and to induce the people in buildings along the street to watch the sidewalks in sufficient numbers. Nobody enjoys sitting on a stoop or looking out a window at an empty street. ... Large numbers of people entertain themselves, off and on, by watching street activity[…] The basic requisite for such surveillance is a substantial quantity of stores and other public places sprinkled along the sidewalks of a district; enterprises and public places that are used by evening and night must be among them especially. Stores, bars and restaurants, as the chief examples, work in several different and complex ways to abet sidewalk safety».

It's terrific how mature could be this critical reading of the modernist city, even though it is a document published in 1961! And unbelievably the writer was neither an architect nor a sociologist, just an enlightened journalist. The relevance of these words should be a warning to those, who keep on planning the city by designing mono-functional zones where life is not allowed. It is unacceptable that in order "to raise money" municipalities give easy licences to build shopping-malls, thus leading towns to the gradual disappearance of local shops along the streets and to the loss of a city’s’ safety!

Hypothesizing the presence of similar activities in neighbourhoods, with an eye to the future of San Filippo Neri, is also primary for the economic strategy of urban regeneration in the neighbourhood, as we’ll see shortly. For the same above mentioned reasons, but also in view of a sustainable – and zero-kilometres – agriculture in the Piana dei Colli, which could allow local farmers to reside at the San Filippo Neri and in the surrounding villages, it was decided to develop a street market along one of the main "cardus" of the district, being inspired by Palermo's models such as Mercato del Capo, Vucciria and Ballarò.

Figure 25Figure 26
Fig. 25: Res Publica: The Buildings of Education.
Fig. 26: Diagram of the sport areas.

Figures 27 and 28
Fig. 27 and 28: Southern and Northern Sports Centres

It has been considered essential both for the life and independence of the district (as well as for the "social emancipation" of its inhabitants) that all schools’ grades, from kindergarten to high schools, according to resident population and ministerial standards should be present “in situ”. In particular, it was thought that a high school for Arts and Crafts might be the kind of professional school best suited to the new San Filippo Neri’s neighborhood as well as to the spirit of the initiative "Noi per lo ZEN”.

The ZEN’s inhabitants had required a strong improvement both in number and kind of sports activities in their district, as said: this is why two major sports centres have been proposed, complementing the existing disciplines in the area. The two sports centres will be connected by a biking/jogging path throughout the park: it is also expected that all school buildings and sports facilities of the Church of San Filippo Neri will be accessible to residents too,  after  the schools’ closing time.

The buildings proposed use the types of court and “in linea” houses, often linked by covered passages reminiscent of those in the historical centre of Palermo, so creating a dense and compact built environment: an architecture respectful of local tradition, although the newly designed buildings are more airy than the historic ones, thanks to the courtyard gardens that are wider than the original ones.

Thus it is clear that urban regeneration of Zen means not only giving respectable homes and adequate urban environment to residents, but also generating employment for residents, giving them a different life expectancy and a real promise of social redemption. This is one reason why Noi per lo ZEN's goal is to revive local crafts, whilst being sure that all this will give a strong impulse to the local economy’s general revival. The project also includes a Public Health Specialist of excellence.

Figure 29Figure 30
Fig. 29: Res Publica – The distribution of the monumental and special buildings throughout the district.
Fig. 30: Res Privata – the distribution of mixed-use residential buildings all over the neighborhood.

Figure 31
Fig. 31: The balanced distribution of public buildings, as well as of places for socialization, (Res Publica) throughout a mainly residential urban web (Res Privata), generates the Civitas ... what the urbanism of the Zoning had never understood.

The idea of craftsmanship and the local economy’s revival goes hand in hand with another problem, too little debated in both academic and political discussions, which deserves much more attention.

The recent collapses of buildings in L'Aquila, Pompeii, Rome and Barletta, have unequivocally shown the consequences of "ideological" architectural education emphasized in Universities over the last 70 years, together with a massive ignorance of construction practice in the field of conservation.

The Universities, by strictly imposing the use of "modern" techniques and materials just in the interests of the building industry, generated a class of technicians absolutely unable to restore a building constructed with traditional techniques and materials: thus we are now faced with a series of damages to our heritage which is not due to the passage of time and to neglect, but to the meddling of structures and materials whose weight, stiffness, and static behaviour are very different from those of the original structures. This also generated an extreme difficulty in finding manpower still able to work according to the rules of traditional materials and methods: this specialized and most sought after manpower (when eventually found at last), presents prohibitive costs due to the lack of competitiveness in the field.

That is why, in the era of "sustainability", it would be necessary to begin making new buildings using traditional techniques and "zero-kilometres" (local) materials again: indeed these buildings do not have maintenance costs and they rather present excellent – and constant over time! – thermo-hygrometric performances. If we build this way, we help create a widespread skilled manpower and secure gainful employment. Moreover, it would allow all of us to gain confidence in restoring correctly and inexpensively both the historical and architectural heritage, which should be our main source of national income through art tourism.

The project has been completed with a costs/benefits’ analysis. As for the costs of demolition, we carefully considered the detailed Final Report on Criteria and Costs Demolition and Recovery of Surfaces for the Elimination of the Vele di Scampia, made by the experts of the University of Naples who had followed that work, while for the costs of construction we took the average ones indicated by Chamber of Architects of Rome (higher than Palermo’s ones, to better match with reality).

The total costs of demolition and reconstruction of the ZEN amounts approximately to € 890 mln.

Figure 32
Fig. 32: A chilling picture of the Vele di Scampia

If the whole project were made by the Istituto per le Case Popolari (according to the same criteria I indicated in the project for Corviale in Rome, as well as in my recent publications [4]), that could means for the institution to be allowed to sell the exceeding units (not needed by present residents), then the final investment for public administration could be closed in positive figures! Indeed, only considering the lowest selling prices indicated by the local Real Estate Market for the different building units, the final gain should be roughly € 290 mln … to be reinvested in a similar intervention for some other dilapidated periphery of Palermo!

Figure 33
Fig. 33: view of the new Piazza and Church of San Filippo Neri

Figure 34
Fig. 34: View of the Piazza del Mercato

Figure 35
Fig. 35: Aerial view of the Piazza del Mercato. On the foreground on the left is the Market Loggia


  1. SCIASCIA A. Tra le Modernità dell’Architettura – la questione del Quartiere ZEN 2 di Palermo, L’Epos Edizioni, Palermo 2003.
  2. SENNET R., American cities: the grid plan and the protestant ethic, International Social Science Journal; XLII, 3, 1990.
  3. JACOBS J. The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) New York: Random House.
  4. MAZZOLA E. M. “The Sustainable City is Possible - La Città Sostenibile è Possibile" (Preface by P. Marconi), Gangemi Editore, Rome 2010, pp. 80-107