LE VELE DI SCAMPIA

Architektur B.A. projekt / Wintersemester 2017 / 18

Naples – Urban Porosity
In 1925 Walter Benjamin and Asja Lacis described Naples as a porous city where “[b]uilding and action interpenetrate the courtyards, arcades, and stairways. In everything they preserve the option to become a theatre of new, unforeseen constellations. The definitive, the fully-formed is avoided. No situation appears to be intended forever, no figure asserts its ‘thus and not otherwise’. […] Porosity results […] from the passion for improvisation which demands that space and opportunity be preserved at any price.” The city of Naples – located on the western coast of southern Italy, currently boasting a population of approximately one million – features one of the largest ports in the Mediterranean Sea basin. The metropolitan area, with over three million inhabitants, has the highest population density in Italy and is dominated by the presence of Mount Vesuvius – the only active volcano in mainland Europe. Since 1995 Naples’ Centro Storico (historic city center) has been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. Walter Benjamin und Asja Lacis conveyed a specific appreciation of the architecture of Naples’ historic city center, where everything merges together and no figure is definite, where “[b]uildings are used as popular stages. They are all divided into innumerable, simultaneously animated theatres. Balcony, courtyard, window, gateway, staircase, roof are simultaneously stage and boxes.” Today, however, economic downturn, unemployment, crime and social inequalities together with major problems in the management of an outstanding architectural and archeological heritage define a complex and challenging realm in which urban-architectural tasks common to many European cities – like the transformation of the peripheries – are entangled with specific issues, one of which is the impact of organized crime syndicates on the city fabric.

Le Vele di Scampia – The Sails of Scampia
In the district of Scampia, located north of Naples’ historic city center and developed as a dormitory suburb in the 1960s, lies the Vele – a mass-housing project built as a result of Law 167, which was passed in 1962 and also led to the construction of the Nuovo Corviale in Rome and the Zen in Palermo, among others. Designed by Franz Di Salvo, following Le Corbusier’s housing unit principles, the plan for the district was based on two building types: the tower and the tent – thus providing the dominant impression of sails. Since most of the service facilities – like shops and kindergartens – were never realized, le Vele became characterized by homogenous zoning as well as solidified borders and quickly fell into disrepair. Today the Vele reflects the effects of various causes, among which the illegal occupation after the earthquake in 1980 definitely played a crucial part. The Vele set the stage for the Camorra syndicate as one of the main centers of the drug business. This process is well portrayed in popular media, above all the book, movie and series Gomorra, and from a less sensational perspective in documentaries like (R)esistenza, focusing on local residents and their struggles to make a living amidst poverty and decay. The area was cleaned up by heavily armed police forces in 2008 and is no longer the center of organized crime to the extent it used to be. Currently a process is underway to vacate the residential units within the complex: as soon as some inhabitants leave flats, staircases, and walkways – starting from the top floors of the buildings – are being demolished to avoid their re-occupation.

Brutalist Architecture in Jeopardy
Three of the originally seven Sails have already been demolished and the respective sites redeveloped. The implementation of new multi residential buildings as well as a laboratory building for the University of Naples Federico II in this part of Scampia has been realized with the intention of increasing social diversity in the area. Local architects, political activists and academics have started initiatives to preserve the built heritage of the Vele. The debate which has arisen from this position puts le Vele in the global discussion about Brutalism: as for other large-scale housing projects from the same era – the season of Megastructuralism that produced highly renowned complexes, such as the Smithsons’ Robin Hood Gardens in London, currently undergoing a comparable process. Nevertheless, due to the symbolic value and the irreversible reputation of the complex, local associations fought for the demolition of the remaining four Vele, achieving the compromise of taking down all but one Vela – as a built trace of collective memory. The tender for demolition, awarded in 2017, is supposed to be carried out in early 2018. The process leading to that decision was embedded in a communal participatory program, during which the requalification (redevelopment) and future of the site was discussed. 

Le Vele di Scampia – Porous City
The project site of 11 hectares today contains four Vele. Connections to the adjacent Parco di Scampia and the eponymous nearby metro station, as well as to the street level along Viale della Restistenza are dysfunctional and have to be improved within the project. As a first step in the transformation, the planning authority intends to supply local inhabitants with temporary housing facilities in the area which they consider their home. Eventually, a modest total of 350 family flats are planned for the site. In addition to these, a diverse program of public institutions is envisioned. Assumptions about the intensity and density of built use should to be critically reviewed during the design project. One remaining sail – Vela B – is earmarked for reuse as a public building. Starting from these premises, the project seeks to develop concepts for the transformation of the Vele and its interface to the urban context. Can the narrative of a porous city – described in Benjamin's and Lacis’ characterization of Naples historic center, and which has become a strategic objective of architectural urbanism – be reconsidered as a design approach to transform the Vele? The design project aims to draw new urban scenarios able to challenge the intensity of use by incorporating residences, public and productive facilities, as well as new open spaces intertwining the urban texture, where the layering and mélange of spaces, the perforation of borders and the ambiguity of thresholds creates specifically urban qualities that are indispensable for the complexity and adaptability of urban spaces. Le Vele di Scampia – Porous City understands Porosity as a necessary attribute of urban spaces at all scales. Significant urban spaces as well as, simultaneously, a dense interweaving and use of these spaces is required. The design studio seeks to experiment with new paradigms for the transformation process of le Vele, looking at their specificity and at the same time their potential to inspire reflection on porosity from a broader perspective.

Quotations taken from: Walter Benjamin, “Naples”. In: One Way Street and Other Writings, London: Verso. 1985: 169. Originally published as: Benjamin, Walter; Lacis, Asja (1925/1991): „Neapel”, in: Rexroth, Tillmann (Hg.), Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, Bd. IV–1, Frankfurt/M., S. 307–316