Regenerate suburban districts – proposal for the “ground-scraper” Corviale in Rome

By Ettore Maria Mazzola

The University of Notre Dame School of Architecture – Rome Studies Rome (Italy)
Vice-president Gruppo Salìngaros in Italy

This project received an IMCL Urban Design Award award, click here to learn more.

During the Twentieth Century our cities suffered from the widespread use of Lecorbusierian theories on urbanism. From the Ville Radieuse to l’Unité d’Habitation, up to the Modulor, the whole world’s cities switched their scale from “human dimension” to “car dimension”.

Fig. 1 Aerial View of the present Social Housing District “Corviale” in Rome and Master Plan for the new Borgo Corviale

Fig. 1 Aerial View of the present Social Housing District “Corviale” in Rome and Master Plan for the new Borgo Corviale

This paper introduces a practical example of a plan to replace the most symbolic modernist building/district in Rome: the social housing complex of Corviale. It is a ground-scraper 1 km long, where nearly 6500 inhabitants live, or better “survive”, waiting for better living conditions. The proposal (presented to the local administration) found widespread agreement, above all among inhabitants but also among politicians.

It is a demonstration of how it is possible to replace the ground-scraper with a human-scale new-traditional district, without a traumatic moving of the inhabitants: indeed it shows how to improve life in the district, to re-launch local economy, to preserve and to improve both the landscape and the environment, and last but not least, to create some unexpected great business for local administration.

Borgo Corviale (Corviale Village)

Before addressing this project, we had to answer a few important questions:

• Is it possible to demolish a building where thousands of souls live, avoiding a forced transfer to them, as unfortunately happened during the urban disembowelments of the Fascist age?

Fig. 2 Phases of Development

Fig. 2 Phases of Development

• How to proceed if we choose to divide this process into phases, in order to create new lodgings before beginning to demolish the actual complex? It is unquestionable that people should move there without suffering from any trauma!

• How could we obtain the so-called “prize of cubic meters”, which would attract investors and their economic involvement?

• Is there anything among the preexisting infrastructures we could recover?

• What kind of urban plan could be suitable to such a place?

• How could we facilitate the integration of residents in the town, abandoned by politicians and urban planners?

• What kind of spaces should be created for children and older people, who are going to spend most of the day inside the district?

• Which essential activities should we provide for the district to consider the new Borgo Corviale a “self-sufficient” village?

• How should the road network be conceived, if we’d like to meet both pedestrians’ and cars’ requirements?

• How could we design the necessary green spaces of the district, in order to create pleasant and livable green areas (and not merely rows of trees along the streets’ sides)?

• Are we sure that the urbanistic standards are the only criterion to follow when we’re designing space?

Wouldn’t it be better to begin considering “human criteria” such as:

1) Built spaces’ articulation may happen along "urban sequences of piazzas and small piazzas";

2) The continuous research of the "containment of the space" needs to be carried on;

3) a "human scale" is a priority for new buildings and cities;

4) different functions of the buildings mixed together, and co-presence of people from diversified social classes, help a healthy human development inside the quarter;

5) the use of an "autochthonous architectural language” strongly helps to spur one’s own sense of belonging and to re-discover the “genius loci”;

6) employing durable materials prevents the too frequent expenses for maintaining public buildings ...

... doesn’t all of this sound wise?

Finally, the most difficult question to answer is: could we produce wealth for the local community? Paradoxically, the answer is affirmative!

Fig. 3. Piazza del Municipio from the school towards the town hall

Indeed, the new cities that accepted unconditionally the modern theories (those based on the model described in 1933’s CIAM and on the Ville Radieuse) have increased their management costs incalculably! By comparison, compact historical cities have smaller surfaces that need to be paved and maintained, shorter sewers, aqueducts, electric, telephone and gas lines, thus requiring cheaper maintenance costs. All of this means that Le Corbusier’s demands led to a too negative vision of the historical city, considering it inferior because it wasn’t based only on use of the car: later, the new city was shown to be the main reason for the hemorrhage of public money and of contributors pockets!

The 20th century city has left us just one benefit: thanks to the squandering of land, as resulted from the over-dimensioned great road layouts, set-backs and distances between buildings, today we have a huge quantity of land belonging to the State! In this sense it could be interesting if communes, provinces, regions and State become active subjects in a process of “re-urbanization” and “re-generation” of our cities, thus putting a brake on speculation! The Corviale complex, together with its wide surrounding uncultivated ground (now used as a local rubbish dump), could turn into the first Italian suburbia re-generation project.

We could easily use a system of 100 years ago, which “subdivided” the urban blocks into lots: this system could allow us to proceed with different firms and workers, that means reduction of unemployment, shorter construction times and healthy competition among the companies involved in the building process. A further reduction of costs would result from being in the right position to obtain European funds for retraining of building craftsmanship.

The traditional technique used for buildings would allow the houses’ walls to have a better thermo-hygrometric performance both in the middle and long term; at the same time we could have a strong development of skilled labor in competition with itself, thus reducing the costs of restoration of our precious historical heritage.

Another way to reduce, or even eliminate, the costs of social housing construction derives from another criterion used in the past to improve inhabitants’ social conditions: no more neighborhoods should be built, where residents belong just to one social class! The unfortunate social classes must be integrated and not ghettoized. Making available a combination of apartments to offer in “popular” lease, or “ransom-rent”, or to be sold, will give the State the possibility to cover the costs! Last but not least, the realization of shops and offices (which also bring life into the quarter) to be sold, could make all this operation extremely interesting, much more than any other idea of “great works” carried on by any Government in our Country till now!

The project for the new Borgo Corviale (Corviale Village), while recovering all the pre-existing infrastructures (such as sewers, aqueduct, gas lines, electric lines, etc.) articulates itself along the ridge of the hill finishing in the South on via Portuense. Also the layout of pre-existing streets is recovered and completed on the Western side (and partially on the Southern one).

Fig. 4. Pedestrian and vehicular circulations and parking lots

Fig. 4. Pedestrian and vehicular circulations and parking lots

Even though vehicular access to every building has been planned, the project was structured in order to guarantee the widest pedestrian accessibility inside the “village” and define carefully the edges of the district. The walk along the central spine has been rhythmed by inserting 5 piazzas, or small piazzas, and some porticoes: this "pedestrian spine" would ensure economical success to those commercial activities that should be realized on the ground floor of the buildings!

This point sounded to be the right alternative to propose to investors who are waiting for permission to build new shopping malls, maybe located far away from everything and everybody! This “natural” (or diffused) shopping mall could be a guaranty of clientele for shopkeepers, and at the same time should be enjoyed as a pleasant and interesting walk for everybody! People could live “their” district 24 hours a day!

We provided for a fair distribution of public and private parking lots of course, in order to protect the public walk: along the borders of the building, there should be a series of ground-level parking, while an amount of public and private parking lots can be located below the buildings and the piazzas. We also hypothesized the use of mechanized parking system, which could allow us to provide for a wider number of parking places while using small external surfaces.

A lot of essential everyday life activities have been thought to guarantee the autonomy of the neighborhood: a post office, a church, a town-hall, a local police station, a school complex offering from kindergarten up to high school. The school buildings’ typology should have a primary importance: we provided those structures with green courtyards and sport fields, so that during the afternoon and out of school periods they can be used as sporting centers for young people, and for the whole district’s benefit!

The existing library/cultural centre should be moved to one of the new piazzas; besides, we proposed a movie theatre to enrich the cultural life of the district. Finally, the whole built space of Corviale Village would be surrounded by a great park. As for the residential buildings’ typology, we chose housing around a courtyard: the new green spaces of these courts should be surrounded by different types of dwellings, according to the very different requirements of residents, from the row-house to the “casa in linea” (apartment building), to the “palazzetto” or to the “palazzina”. Inside each court, local children could enjoy their playground and court garden: the series of these gardens connected together, should create a pedestrian alternative for residents.

Fig. 5. Piazza del Mercato and market hall, Church Piazza and Lotto IV Courtyard

Fig. 5. Piazza del Mercato and market hall, Church Piazza and Lotto IV Courtyard

Buildings should never exceed the 18 meters’ height limit, and their volumes would never give the "beehive" effect!

In order to satisfy all kinds of social requirements (for single people, couples without children, large families, elderly people, etc.), the apartments’ size should start from 50 sqm up to 140 sqm: this means, “popular apartments” mixed with those for lease and/or those to be sold.

The project so conceived whould give back to agriculture an area of more than 10 hectares, also the residential area would increase and the number of residents would proportionally grow from 6500 units up to 8530.

Fig. 6. Land consumption before and after the regeneration of Corviale

Fig. 6. Land consumption before and after the regeneration of Corviale

The new popular lodgings, the special buildings, both the shops and the workshops, could be immediately sold, thus aiming to recover part of the demolition/new construction expenses; the rest of the lodgings (as the State-owner already promised) could be sold to the current tenants at a price lower than the real-estate market price. If we consider the current costs of demolition and construction, and then we even apply selling prices lower than those of the real-estate market, we could have a “marketing” operation which would allow the State-owner to close the budget with on asset of € 518,500,000,00!

After doing that, a similar amount of public money should be re-invested in similar operations all over the country: that is, to translate the very sense of all we stated above:

1)            improvement of living conditions;
2)            reduction of greenhouse gases;
3)            creation of skilled labor;
4)            preservation of historical heritage.

Fig. 7. Church Piazza and market hall

Fig. 7. Church Piazza and market hall