Friday, May 8, 2009

Corviale: A Controversial Housing Implementation

Corviale (map)(wiki)
Corviale never lived up to its dream, a dream its architect labeled as “the city within a building." Designed in the early 1970s, the city was addressing housing needs from growing populations within the expansive city limits. As the first example in Rome of a development providing all the necessary functions for its population within the same building, the structure was met with much popular and critical acclaim but was unable to stand the test of time. Corviale is a controversial housing strategy because it is a supreme example of cohesive, monumental architecture but has never been able to achieve the social goals its architecture was so meticulously designed to reach.

Social Housing in Rome
Italy in the 20th century had a long history of changing social housing policies. The first public housing required nationally was the Istituto Autonomo per le Case Populari (IACP) beginning in 1904. During the War in 1942 the law was modified to require all municipalities to have a piano regolatore generale comunale (PRGC) (wiki), or - roughly translated - master plan. The Istituto Nazionale delle Assicurazioni (INA-Casa) (wiki), which oversaw a massive construction effort of over 400,000 new housing complexes, was formed in 1949 and lasted until 1963 in the fifteen-year, post-war span.

At the height of the so-called “Economic Miracle” in 1962, Law 167 required large municipalities to build affordable social housing and infrastructure to meet between 40 and 70 percent of the housing need in the area (
Legge 18 aprile 1962, n. 167). The law allowed, even required, local leadership to implement large-scale projects rapidly with the additional challenge of meeting low construction costs (Corviale Field Workshop 2006). Law 167 marked a shift in policy from allowing municipalities to determine whether or not to implement social housing to requiring it, mandating implementation in addition to the planning of the earlier PRGC.

Corviale, called il Serpentone by the Romans, was a part of Rome’s 1964 Piano per l'Edilizia Economica & Popolare (First Master Plan for Social Housing); however, it was not the first example of large-scale social housing in Rome, following in a long tradition begun immediately after Italian unification in 1870 in the Testaccio district. At the time, Rome’s population was booming and this growth was projected to continue, and thus Corviale was one of many projects intentionally located in the “outskirts” of the expansive Roman city limits.

Despite their similar origins from the new legislation, the projects all follow completely different strategies, for example Spinaceto (map)(wiki),Laurentino (map)(wiki), and Vigne Nuove (map)(wiki). Spinaceto, which began construction in 1965, was the first to be implemented and has grown from the originally anticipated 25,000 inhabitants. While Laurentino (1970) and
Vigne Nuove (1979) are slightly less populated. With different designers at different times, the immense differences between the communities are easily seen in the projects. Though none of the projects are directly related to Corviale, they provide a backdrop to the kinds of social housing interventions occurring at the time in Rome.

Spinaceto Image and Site Plan (Rossi)

Corviale was designed my a team of architects led by Mario Fiorentino but included Gorio, Lugli, Sterbini Valori, and Morandi in the early 1970s, but construction did not begin until 1975 and would not be completed until seven years later in 1982 (Architectour). Though one of the last projects to be implemented for the IACP under Law 167, it was the first to attempt to combine entirely residential and commercial efforts from public funding instead of mixing both public and private. All previous PRGC projects under Law 167 before Corviale
share public and private mixed residences with private control over commercial develoment, a precedent Corviale attempted to change. Located in the southwest periphery eight kilometers from the historical center of Rome, the building is situated on Via Della Casetta Mattei and Via Portuense, the route connecting Rome to the ancient Roman Port of Trajan, well away from the population nucleus of the center at the time.

The concrete building's statistics are equally as immense as its presence on the crest of the landscape in the periphery of Rome. The building is 958 meters long, 30 meters in height, and has a total volume of 750,000 cubic meters. The building is navigated
with its 74 elevators connecting 9 floors (11 including those below-ground in certain locations) that hold 1,202 apartments with 6,133 rooms designed to house 8,000 residents. The building has 60,000 square meters of parking space (Architectour). Corviale follows many of the design principles presented by LeCorbusier in the Unité d'Habitation (wiki) and is an equally important example of Brutalist architecture.

was designed to possess an entire network of mixed-use support services under one roof including seminar rooms, library, art school, state school, pharmacy, restaurant, five "green areas," certainly a forward looking idea for the time. The building "finished" in 1982, though technically has never been completed because many support and commercial areas were never completed especially on the fourth floor, cost the equivalent of $38.7 million USD (91 million lira), which was well over budget, approximately four times the anticipated cost in 1975 10.6 (25 billion lira) (Manuele).
Corviale Site Plan

Early designs were based on a stepped section used in similar projects of the time in other Italian cities, but the reverse, a cantilevered overhang is the dominant form felt in the constructed form of the buildng giving a division between the "floating" upper and "weighted" lower portions of the building. The two building(s), which can read as two separate entities placed back to back or as a single parallelpiped volume depending on the level of analytical consideration, are connected by long, continuous, narrow courtyards between the five main vertical elevator and stair circulation cores both designed to be a pedestrian promenades to encourage interaction among neighbors. The primary housing units in the building are two and three bedroom apartments that back to the courtyards where baths and storage spaces are located along the interior wall. The smaller, diagonal building contains only two bedroom apartments but shares the same organization along the vertical circulation cores. The variety of apartments following this basic logic can be seen in the floor plans below.
Corviale Diversity of Floor Plans
Corviale Sections

[For more architectural drawings - especially of the vertical circulation cores - of Corviale, view the collection of Plans, Sections, and Drawings compiled by the university of Rome.]


Corviale was supposed to be both the reaction and solution to the expansion of Rome, self-contained axes providing all of the support services any community would need within one structure, the complete opposite of the rampant speculative housing in the outskirts of Rome.
The architect successfully created a monumental structure and a supreme example of an inhabitable wall. The non-residential component of the project centered around the (piano libero) fourth floor, originally designed for commercial and public spaces. However, the area was not completed when the building was opened in 1982 and quickly became a location for illegal squatting.
Corviale Housing Project by _kb2.
Corviale Courtyard

The reality of Corviale is neither a thriving, sustaining neighborhood nor an empty, vacuous shell. Corviale is a container of a vibrant and diverse social climate, isolated from the rest of Rome. Though some critics take an extreme stance and believe the project should be destroyed, most recognize the positive ideas behind Corviale and and study why the building did not fulfill its promise. Italian planners and even Fiorentino himself do not challenge that Corviale did not live up to its expectations, given the reminder of illegally occupied apartments and the even stranger illegal occupation of commercial areas. Theorists contend the project is too ideal an architectural dream to function in an imperfect world; however, the most commonly accepted criticism is Corviale's isolation that disconnects it from Rome (Agnetti).

Interestingly, the many challenges to Corviale’s design do not acknowledge the residents of Corviale. Challengers argue that the monumentality of the parallelpiped lacks the diversity of spaces and volumes required to support a diverse, multi-faceted community. Quite the opposite developed in the 25 years of Corviale’s inhabitation. Corviale was recently used as an area in Rome as a location for attempting a census of gypsies within the city of Rome. Thus, even the highest level of national government recognizes the housing complex carries a large social diversity and numerous cultures.
The only similarity among its residents, illegal squatters, and commercial tenants is their poverty. The lack of economic diversity should not be mistaken for a lack of ethnic and diversity. However, this lack of economic stability is detrimental and viewed as being less successful than communities (ex. Spinaceto) that mix public and private housing of mixed income levels. Certainly Corviale would have liked to have achieve this integrated design ideal but the initial failure of including viable commercial space within the project never materialized.

Rather than the challenge of a too monumental design or a too homogenous typology, the most likely reason for the housing failure is the building’s isolation. The idea of a self-sustaining container within an urban realm is not a realistic strategy for a building of only low income residents. The need to become increasingly engaged, involved, and actively participating within the city should be a conscious decision of the architect. Fiorentino recognized this need, but he tried to create an artificial city, perhaps to serve as a testing ground or training facility for low income residents before becoming involved in the society which had by already placed them on the margins and fringes of everyday life. However, Corviale only continues to isolate residents, particularly as low income individuals are unlikely to have a car, the primary mode of transportation in the Roman periphery.

Doom Snake by CyberAndy.
Corviale Walkway

Controversy: Success or Failure?
The p
rinciples of Corviale are laudable and even proven as LeCorbusier's earlier Unites developed into a spacious, desirable location for professionals. The goals attempt to provide commercial infrastructure in the immediate vicinity for low income residents. They attempt to solve the problem of affordable transportation. They attempt to create a collective and powerful design for residents that would otherwise not have an impressive structure to call home. They attempt to integrate residents into a community and support structure that is distinct from the outside world that has, at least economically, rejected its residents. This attempt to achieve a social network is seen in the way Fiorentino created corridors that encourage casual, chance interaction among residents and attempted to provide a social area through the commercial spine of the building. However, the inability to achieve an economically-viable (legal) commercial center, which is unlikely given the poverty level of residents without any “outside” (financially sound) patrons of the shops, led to the failure of integration within the rest of the city. The project continues to be a socially interesting residence, but it is only housing and its isolation from other necessary services does not legitimize the project.

The design to create a supportive social network is noble but the physical design of the space though as ideal as possible was too stark a contrast to the reality of commercial needs. This flaw was likely not the building itself but rather the choice to fill the building with only low income housing. Thus, though social networks certainly developed and remain today, there is no economic safety net that can both support the commercial spaces in a more stable manner or that can expose residents to better financial opportunities (Agnetti). This reality is not assumed to be either definite or permanent and many strategies have been developed to change Corviale.

Potential Projects
Corviale continues to serve as a source of inspiration and ideas because the project cannot be considered with an attitude of acceptance. The architecture of the building is visually intriguing, but the reality of unrealized potential within the project appeals to student and practicing architects alike to develop solutions, to provide the missing piece or pieces of Corviale. If viewed as a disappointment, one seeks to design an intervention to fix the building. If viewed as a success that has yet to reach its potential, one seeks to design an impetus of improvement to move Corviale in a different direction. A sampling of interesting projects are found below.

Jake Choi, an architecture student at the Architectural Association in London, proposed the Koinoniac Church an equally iconic but contrasting curvilinear form for a church to encourage additional movement through the Corviale structure and to provide additional social programming. A different approach can be found with a building that serves as an extension of Corviale can be found from the student work of Orlando Oliver's Corviale Intervention.

A young architecture firm in Rome hopes to realize the success of social housing in the area, including Corviale. Their ideas for redeveloping Laurentino are the ma0 p.e.e.p. show. Instead of abandoning old projects and ideas, they hope to modify the structures to address problems discoverved during the first few decades, which will simultaneously update old housing, provide additional housing, utilize existing infrastructure of roads, and reduce displacing individuals and breaking up their social network (ma0).

Others have proposed modifying the building through extensive research, which was supported by the City of Rome in 2006. Studies of the fourth floor typologies (originally designed for commercial space) can be found here
and were a part of the Osservatorio Nomade (Nomadi Observatory/Stalker) study on Corviale. A fascinating and informative video montage resulting from the project, including maps of the social diversity of the project, can be viewed as the Corviale Video Progetto. [Highly Recommended]

For general views, see Corviale on flickr. Or you can see the artistic views of two photographers at Corviale here or here or here.

For more images from an academic source visit the University of Rome site.
Images Page One
Images Page Two
Also view architectural drawings, Plans, Sections, and Drawings.

For more information on Corviale, view the following academic videos.

Corviale 2004- A documentary of the building. The highlight occurs at 2.45 where a 3D model visually presents the components of the project.

One Day at Corviale- A project by Check In architecture which provides footage of the variety of physical spaces in the project. An appealing overview of the building.

Vivere l'Architettura - Puntata 1.1 - Corviale- A historical and factual introduction to the building as a single episode in a series. Watch the longer, 30 minute version here.

For a less academic, interview-driven video with residents of Corviale, view
Le Serpentone. Un ghetto communal

Images Referenced
Click on any blog image to go to image source.

Works Consulted

Angotti, Thomas. Metropolis 2000: Planning, Poverty, and Politics. Taylor & Francis, 1993.

Todaro, Benedetto. Primary and Secondary Sources in Italian. C
orso di Laurea Architettura U.E. Laboratorio di sintesi. A. A. 2007.

Legge 18 aprile 1962, n. 167. Disposizioni per favorire l'acquisizione di aree ... per l'edilizia economica e popolare. Modificata ed integrata dalle leggi 21 luglio 1965, n. 904 e 22 ottobre 1971, n. 865.

Uno Studio per Corviale. Research for Corviale. Corviale Field Workshop 2006. University of Rome “La Sapienza.”

Barbera, Lucio V. The Long Route Until Corviale. Il Lungo Percorso Fino a Corviale. First School of Architecture, Sapienza University of Rome.

Rossi, Piero O. Roma: Guida all’architettura moderna 1909-2000. Laterza 2005.

Iacovoni, Alberto. Lecture on ma0 architects. p.e.e.p. show. 6 Feb 2009.

Romito, Lorenzo. The Nomad Observatory. Facing Corviale. 2007.

Maunele, C. Corviale. The Urban Starship. 2000.

Moschinoi, Francesco. Mario Fiorentino
a Casa: Progetti 1946-81. Kappa: Rome. 1985.

Alessandra and Mario Ciammitti. Housing in Europa: 1960-1979. Bologna. 1979.

Todaro, Benedetto. C
orso di Laurea Architettura U.E. Laboratorio di sintesi. A.A. 2007.

Sherwood, Roger. Corviale. Housing Prototypes. 2002.


Elena Sommariva, ed. "5900 neighbours. Corviale, Rome." Domus 886. 2005.

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