Juan Baraja started taking the photographs that make up the Utopie Abitative series in 2018. The series is part of his research project on residential estates and public housing in Italy, selected by the Real Academia de España en Roma. It is a long-term project and is currently in progress. The photographs were taken in four Italian housing developments: Corviale, in Rome, Il Serpentone, in Potenza, Le Vele di Scampia, in Naples, and Rozzol Melara, in Trieste.
In all of these schemes except Trieste there is a radical clash between the initial premise – the construction of a popular residential community according to the ideals of the Italy of the nineteen seventies – and the current marginal condition. This perspective, in the context of the country in the period from the late nineteen sixties to the early eighties, has come to be summed up by the expression ‘the years of lead’, coined by Margarethe von Trotta. During those years of conflict, radical left political movements such as Lotta Continua and Movimento Studentesco, and even armed factions such as Prima Linea and the Brigate Rosse, faced opposition on all fronts from neo-fascist groups such as the Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari and Ordine Nero. The clashes, often bloody, with a number of bomb attacks, saw the rise of far-right terrorism – terrorismo nero – and a phase of Italian politics, with Marxism-Leninism in the background, characterised by extreme tension and frequent changes of government.
In the case of Corviale, on the outskirts of Rome, designed between 1972 and 1974 by Mario Fiorentino for the Istituto Autonomo Case Popolari and completed in 1984, the urbanistic challenge centred on how to accommodate a community of eight and a half thousand people. In contrast to the mass of concrete, in the lee of the building areas of great vitality sprang up, with vegetable gardens and chicken coops, created by the residents over the years using recycled waste materials. The bankruptcy in 1982 of the scheme’s managers and promoters and its abandonment by the public authorities resulted in the degradation of the facilities, with many of the apartments being squatted by people at risk of social exclusion. Between 2004 and 2005, the urban laboratory Stalker/Osservatorio Nomade developed the Immaginare Corviale project, structured as a multi-platform community channel, to enable the residents to construct their own narratives and dismantle perceptions entirely based on deprivation and its stigmas.
Designed and built in 1971 by the architect Antonio Costabile and the engineers Maurizio Leggieri and Carlo Roccatelli, Il Serpentone, in Potenza, with a height of more than forty metres and a length of almost five hundred, is a kind of horizontal skyscraper and a manifesto of the neo-positivist utopia.
The Vele di Scampia development in Naples – designed by Franz Di Salvo on the basis of the 1962 Zona 167 housing legislation – is composed of three triangular concrete and steel ‘sails’ (vele in Italian, hence its name), built between 1962 and 1975, in line with the principles of Le Corbusier’s unité d’habitation. It was intended to house between forty thousand and seventy thousand people. In 2016, having declined into a ghetto plagued by social problems, the local authorities announced that the complex would be demolished – except for one of the ‘sails’, to be converted into a museum – and the eviction process began.
Rozzol Melara is a brutalist social housing building designed between 1968 and 1971, and finally completed in the eighties, promoted by Trieste’s IACP municipal public housing authority. The design team of twenty-nine experts and professionals coordinated by the architect Carlo Celli worked in line with the principles of the Modern Movement. In planning terms, the urban vocation of this building for two and a half thousand residents was to prevent the suburbanization of a peripheral area of the city some four kilometres long, with special attention being paid to the creation of landscaped areas for the whole community.
Although some of its communal areas now betray significant levels of degradation, Rozzol Melara has been the subject of international architecture competitions promoted by the local authorities and the University of Trieste to restore and update its spaces. In fact, the complex has fulfilled many of the objectives that prompted its construction and has given people on low incomes access to decent housing without becoming a ghetto.
Alfredo Puente, FCAYC