Category Archives: E – Reportages

Parking, repurposed.

On Reinventing Parking, a post wonders about the possibility of turning parking spaces into something else.

A good case study is Rome: here, zoning laws and parking requirements are rarely enforced and so, as soon as the land values rise, parking spaces turn into something more profitable.

Here are a few examples:

On the other side, in Switzerland zoning laws and parking requirements are strictly enforced:  anyway, garages are still able to be repurposed.

Here is an example in Lausanne: a parking garage turned into a supermarket.

Basel, Gundeldinger Feld

Today, I’ll take you to Basel, at Dornacherstrasse 192,where an old factory has been transformed into a neighborhood center, Gundeldinger Feld.

The history of this place could be the same as many other places around the world: a 19th century factory in the inner city suddenly moving to the suburbs in order to look for more space, an urban void opening up in the neighborhood, maybe some developer buying the buildings in order to turn them into  expensive lofts… But here the story takes a different path. The architectural firm INSITU, composed mainly of people living in the area, develops a project willing to promote local, indipendent business and improve the cultural offer of the neighborhood. They submit their proposal to the factory’s administrators: a Limited Company, composed of the architects themself will buy the buildings, renew and rent them to the different businesses.

Most of the architects from INSITU have previously worked in Africa, and thus they apply here most of the principles developped in their African experiences:

  • reuse of buildings in a way that minimizes the changes in the structure;
  • use of massive materials (concreetes, bricks, wood), easy to repare and with a long lifespan;
  • possibility, for a large and diverse population, to come and enjoy the area.

Today, Gundeldinger Feld includes a mixture of activities and business, including:

The central alley. The restaurant Eo Ipso on the left, offices on the right.

Details of the central alley. Here, all the works have been a new pavement for the alley, some flower pots and some bike racks. Thanks to laws in Basel encouraging car-free projects, no parking space is provided within the area.

Flower pots are not fixed. Customers can move pots as they like, and give their own touch to the alley.

Blinde Kuh restaurant, and its Braille-labeled bottles. In this restaurant, all waiters are blind, and people eat in complete darkness. Definitely worth trying!

A hall waiting to be renewed.

Another hall, turned into a public library. Lots of the factory equipement (cranes) are still on place.

The Rock-climbing training hall. Here too, cranes and other industrial equipements are still visible.

What lessons could be learnt from this project? Here are mine:

  • sustainable development won’t be made of futuristic materials (for example, we can compare Gundeldinger Feld with this project still in Basel) or over-determined, Le Corbusier-style projects, but of simple, reproducibile solutions. (more readings on this subject are on the website “emergent urbanism“)
  • In order to be accepted from the main audience, sustainable development has to be fun: somebody will adopt it because of their environmental committment, some others just because it’s fun or convenient. And all together, all these people will make the business thrive.
  • Small business need small rents, but not too small rents. Too expensive rents will make the area accessible only to the most luxurious brands, while too cheap rents will let small business survive without caring too much of their customers. And projects like this need business who take care of their customers!

Did you like this place? Vote for it on Cooltownplaces.com!

New BRT under construction in Rome

Wandering around the web, I discovered today a good news from Rome: A brand new BRT opening in the south-east of the city. The new infrastructure will start from ANAGNINA subway station and extend further east, passing through Cinecittà Est and Tor Vergata. All details of this infrastructure are here (PDF).

ATV Map

(image: Roma Metropolitane)

Almost all the line will run along a highway, with the exception of the first kilometer, along Via Ciamarra. In this first kilometer, some interesting interventions will be made.

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(source photos: skyscrapercity)

Thanks to this intervention, a previously anonymous road turned into a sort of Spanish Rambla.

Will it become a new center for outdor activities, like similar projects in San Francisco or New York?

We’ll see. In the meantime you can give your opinion in the poll:

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 7/7

50 years after the first Unité, this model seems already belonging to another era. The strong separation between the building and its surroundings, the sensation of living in an all-artificial environment, and an almost complete identification of the Unité d’Habitation with social housing have made this model quite undesirable. The destiny of the millions of Unités scattered around the world will be one of the major problems for XXI century urbanists.

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Rome, Theatre of Marcellus, probably a model for the evolution of the Unités (image: wikimedia commons). Originally a Roman Theater, in the Middle Ages it was reused as a mixed residential-commercial building.

Rome, Corviale, 1972-1982. Just like in the Theatre of Marcellus, spaces have been reused over time: the abandoned commercial spaces have been squatted and turned into dwellings.

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Rome, Laurentino 38, 1973 (image: flickr). When it was conceived, the district followed the rules of the Urbanisme sur dalle: the road network at the lower level was supposed to be dedicated to cars, while, on the upper level, 11 elevated roads (the so-called “bridges”) were supposed to be dedicated to pedestrians and filled with shops. At the moment, shops have moved to street level (note the kiosk at the extreme left) while the upper level has been squatted and turned into dwellings. In 2006, 3 over 11 elevated roads have been demolished.

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Paris, Beaugrenelle, another case of Urbanisme sur dalle (image: flickr). Shops and activities have deserted the pedestrian level and moved at street level.

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Paris, Beaugrenelle. the street level (image: flickr).

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Paris, Beaugrenelle, shopping center (image: flickr). All the complex is undergoing a major renovation: the slabs covering the roads at the grounds have been removed, and the shopping centers have been rebuilt, with new entrances at street level. All the details about this project can be found here.

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 6/7

Promoted as a standard, easy-to-build product, The Unité d’Habitation concept spread all over the world after WWII. The first 5 units (Marseille, Firminy, Rezé, Briey and Berlin) built by Le Corbusier himself became the standard for almost all public housing project between 1950 and 1990.

The more the model was spread along the world, the more it changed from the original concept. Most examples use a simplified version, colloquially known as Panelák or Plattenbau.

Another transformation of the Unité d’Habitation was the so-called Urbanisme sur dalle (urbanisme on slabs). Instead of being raised on pillars one by one, buildings were raised in groups, with an elevated ground floor between them.

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Paris, Les Olympiades, 1969-1974. The elevated ground floor, dedicated to pedestrians (image: wikipedia).

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Paris, les Olympiades, 1969-1974 (image: wikipedia). The whole district is raised on pillars. Roads pass under the district and lead to garages.

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 5/7

Promoted as a standard, easy-to-build product, The Unité d’Habitation concept spread all over the world after WWII. The first 5 units (Marseille, Firminy, Rezé, Briey and Berlin) built by Le Corbusier himself became the standard for almost all public housing project between 1950 and 1990.

The more the model was spread along the world, the more it changed from the original concept. Most examples use a simplified version, colloquially known as Panelák or Plattenbau. From the original Unité, the Panelák kept:

  • The concept of building as indipendent, serial units floating over a green landscape
  • the absence of decorations
  • flat roof (even though they were no longer used as public spaces)
  • large windows and balconies.

On the other side, some features were discarded:

  • buildings suspended over pillars
  • multi-functional buildings (commerces and services were put aside, in small, low-rise buildings)

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Gdańsk, Falowiek, 1970. 11 storey, 850 m long, 6000 inhabitants (image: wikimedia commons).

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An example of Panelák in Prague (image: wikimedia commons).

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tower-shaped Panelák in Prague (image: wikipedia).

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Gdańsk, typical windows pattern on a Panelák (image: wikipedia).

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 4/7

Promoted as a standard, easy-to-build product, The Unité d’Habitation concept spread all over the world after WWII. The first 5 units (Marseille, Firminy, Rezé, Briey and Berlin) built by Le Corbusier himself became the standard for almost all public housing project between 1950 and 1990.

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Rome, Corviale, 1972-1982 (image: flickr). Strict translation of the Unité d’Habitation principles in a 980 m, 11 storey building. 1200 apartments, about 6000 inhabitants. Probably the biggest Unité in the world.

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Rome, Corviale, 1972-1982. The building, seen from the countryside (image: flickr).

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Rome, Corviale, 1972-1982. the internal staircase and corridors (image: flickr).

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Geneva, le Lignon, 1963-1971. The complex, 1060 m long, hosts 5581 people (image: wikimedia commons).

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Geneva, le Lignon, 1963-1971. One of the ends of the 1060 m long building (image: Flickr).

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Geneva, le Lignon, 1963-1971. the two towers, 26 storey and 30 storey high (image: flickr). The highest of the two towers hosts two swimming pools on its roof.

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 3/7

In the beginning of the XX century, steamships were crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Each one of them could carry 2000 passengers for a 15-days trip between Europe and America, and in these days it became for them a sort of new house.

The image of all these people living, loving, fighting, making business, all in this big floating superstructure entered the social imagery of the time and little by little, more and more nautical elements were integrated into architecture.

In the first building, this integration was limited to decorative elements, then it became more substantial: all steamships’ characteristical elements were analyzed and transposed into architectural elements. The result of this work was the Unité d’Habitation.

Just like a steamship, the Unité d’Habitation floats over the landscape, suspended over a series of pillars. Apartments, hotels, shops, schools and hospitals lie in rows just like cabins, while the roof (the building’s deck) hosts public spaces, sport facilities and swimming pools. Inhabitants of the Unité have whatever they need within the building, and could spend all their life without going out of it.

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MS Kungsholm, section showing the superposed decks (image: wikimedia commons).

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Berlin Unité d’Habitation, floating over a park, 1957 (image: flickr).

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Marseille Unité d’Habitation’ s hull, suspended on pillars, 1947-1952 (image by Emma Mykytyn on flickr ).

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Apartments and shops on the sides of Marseille Unité , 1947-1952 (image by Emma Mykytyn on flickr).

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Marseille Unité‘s deck, with view over the city, 1947-1952 (image: flickr).

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 2/7

In the beginning of the XX century, steamships were crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Each one of them could carry 2000 passengers for a 15-days trip between Europe and America, and in these days it became for them a sort of new house.

The image of all these people living, loving, fighting, making business, all in this big floating superstructure entered the social imagery of the time and little by little, more and more nautical elements were integrated into architecture.

In the first buildings, this integration was limited to decorative elements, as we can see in the examples here below.

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A tipycal steamship’s deck (image: wikipedia).

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Mies van der Rohe, house in Weissenhof, Stuttgart, 1927 (image: wikipedia). Note the stairway parapets, directly inspired from the Steamship’s deck.

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Giuseppe Terragni, Casa del Fascio, Como, 1936 (image: wikipedia). while the image of the buildings recalls steamships’ multiple decks, its plan still recalls renaissance palaces.

The rise and fall of the “Unité d’Habitation” – 1/7

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SS Empress of britain, pre-1924 (image: wikimedia commons).

In the beginning of the XX century, steamships were crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Each one of them could carry 2000 passengers for a 15-days trip between Europe and America, and in these days it became for them a sort of new house.

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MS Kungsholm, entrance to 1st class room, 1928 (image: wikimedia commons).

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MS Kungsholm, 1st class room, 1928 (image: wikimedia commons).

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MS Kungsholm, 1st class smoke room, 1928 (image: wikimedia commons).
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MS Kungsholm, swimming pool, 1928 (image: wikimedia commons).

The image of all these people living, loving, fighting, making business, all in this big floating superstructure entered the social imagery of the time and little by little, more and more nautical elements were integrated into architecture.