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The Contemporary European

Urban Project: Archipelago City,
Diffuse City and Reverse City
Paola Vigan

In their introductory chapter to this section,
McGrath and Shane have defended the idea
that the European metropolis persists in
capturing the imagination of both global
architects and citizens. However, European
urbanism1 has focused in the most recent years
on the prevailing interpretation of space in
terms of the juxtaposition of fragments. At
times a place for articulating differences,
personal and individual rhythms, at others
simply the inherited, residual, terrain vague,
or again a separate and protected enclave, the
fragment has represented the concrete condition of contemporary design action, whether
in the old metropolis or in the new territories
of dispersion. This interpretation, and material condition, has nurtured design positions
that are very distant from one another. Some
have exalted the freedom of the patchwork;
others have worked in opposition to it, often
confusing an inevitably episodic and fragmented return to the various forms of the
traditional city with the real possibility of

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negating the fundamental meanings of contemporary space and practices. In response to

McGrath and Shanes formulation of the
emergence of the metacity, this chapter outlines some elements of the contemporary
urban project inside the conceptual frame of
the fragmented urban space and critically
discusses it.
Along with design and epistemological
thinking, some important theoretical images2
have located the fragment as the basis of a
new urban-territorial form that might involve
and absorb heterogeneous patches within new
spatial relationships. The city-archipelago,
the city-territory, the diffuse city are not
only descriptions of new spatial models,
phenomena or economies; they are also
attempts at redefining the field in which
the fragment might possibly be imagined
as a design component, taking into account
its still-important role in the construction of
the collective imaginary. The issue of infrastructure, of multi-scale supports that connect with contemporary lifestyles, assumes,
in this context, a renewed central role as

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designers face the different, and often layered

and contradictory forms of rationality, structure and hierarchy present in the territory.
The project3 for the city-territory, a reverse
city, first and foremost tackles this question.
The concepts that insistently recur refer to
connectivity, porosity, permeability, multifunctionality in reaction to the compact,
the impermeable and the functional simplification of fragments in many parts of the
This chapter is divided into three parts,
each of which addresses distinct issues. The
first part defines some characteristics of
the framework that provides the main motivations and justifications underlying the
contemporary spatial fragmentation. The
second refers to a specific Italian discourse,
the conceptualization of the city-territory,
stressing a connective tissue of landscape
and infrastructures. The third part seeks to
utilize the categories and tools defined in
the previous sections to provide a possible
reading selective and not necessarily
comprehensive of some of the characteristics of the contemporary Reverse City
project. All three parts contain specific
hypotheses. The first, Fragments, posits
that the most interesting contributions coming
to us from the second half of the twentieth
century concerned interpretations of fragmentary and diffuse spatial conditions as a
potential expression of the subjects autonomization process. The second, City
Territory, observes the debate in Italy that
began in the 1950s, and continued over the
following decades as a search for new interpretations and images that could absorb the
fragment within a new territorial scale. The
third, Reverse City, advances the hypothesis that the logic of fragmentation is also, and
increasingly, a logic of power and that
it should, today, be deconstructed and analyzed in depth to go beyond it. New forms
of city-territory from megacities to the territories of dispersion provide us with an
opportunity to position the fragment within a
different logic and within a new system of

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A space of fragments: Differential
space and the metropolitan
The process of Western modernization came
about as separation along with the invention
of new distances (Foucault 1982), producing
fragmented and dispersed space and a new
urban dimension. Today this logic is magnified in the Latin American megacities but
also, in more implicit and hidden ways, in
European and western territories. During the
last part of the twentieth century, many
scholars sought to reveal and relate the
mechanisms through which this kind of
space was produced by defining categories to
understand and reinterpret it as a potential
expression of the subjects autonomization.
In La production de lespace (Lefebvre
1991 [1974]), Henri Lefebvre proposes
inverting the dominating trend of fragmentation, separation and pulverization carried out
by knowledge in the name of power.
Differential space (espace diffrentiel) can
only emerge out of difference with respect to
the abstract institutional space of global
capitalism, which is not homogeneous but
attempts to reduce difference, to separate,
scatter and segregate. Translating difference
and other-ness into explicitly spatial terms,
Lefebvre supports the right to difference, in
opposition to processes of homogenization,
sectorialization and hierarchization. The
sector, in particular, an organizational device,
rather than form, of division and separation,
has been widely used in the European and
non-European city. It is largely responsible
for the episodic and fragmented nature of
contemporary space. A triumphant device
for urbanization in the modernized city
(Mangin 2004), implicit or explicit citation
of Le Corbusiers and Colin Buchanans
theories (Buchanan 1963), the sector is an
expedient for separation and exclusion, thematic spatial organization, functionalist
regional zoning and ordered hierarchization
of flows: homogenizing and fractured

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space is broken down in highly complex

fashion into models of sectors (Lefebvre
1991, 311). The urbanism of sectors, opposed
to the urbanism of tracs, eradicated Team
10s attempts to redefine a new relationship
between habitat and street, today it has provided a structure for the new and difficult
relationships between enclaves and the rest
of the territory, a change in scale involving
means of transport and a variety of actors
(Graham and Marvin 2001).
Lefebvres differential space renders visible the contradictions between abstract
space with its global aspiration and its local
fragmentation and sectorialization. The controversial aspect of this position has to do
with the fragments ambiguous role (both
social and spatial) that is simultaneously
the expression of splinters of power (even if
globalized) and the starting point for the
appropriation of space by social forces and
individuals excluded from the very same
power mechanisms.
As opposed to the figure of continuity, the
fragment leads to a topological conception
of space, to the depth of difference and
specificities of place (Secchi 2000); to incremental and specific ways of constructing and
defining space; to the irreducible difference
between subjects; to the impossibility
of achieving a broad overview or even a
comprehensive reading. The fragment seems
to facilitate an interpretation of the city after
Western civilizations first modernity: as the
rupture of an existing whole to which to
refer; as the result of a logic of separation
and distancing; but also as the expression of
freedom of choice in terms of settlement and
location. Each fragment can be studied independently as an autonomous and perfect
entity and does not necessitate, or, in any
case, inhibit a general overview.

A space of idiorrhythms
In the mid-1970s, Roland Barthes speculated
about ways of living together (vivre ensemble) and particularly about idiorrhythmic

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configurations. His inspiration derived from

the Mount Athos monasteries where each
monk lived according to his own individual
and unique rhythm within a small group.
The search for a separate space to host ones
personal rhythm is the subject of Barthes
thinking which, through such literary references as Gides La sequestre de Poitiers,
refers to certain spatial devices like the room.
The forms analysed are all expressions of
the search for autonomy of a small group
in relation to society; of an individual in
relation to a group, to society or to power; of
the search for configurations that are not
concentrated but rather dispersed.
Without opposing community to society,
as in Tnnies Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft
(1887), Barthes is an attempt to understand
in greater depth the possibility for the coexistence and the juxtaposition of different
rhythms, for obtaining a space for individual
expression within group configurations, or
the possibility for the presence of differentiated rhythms within collective conglomerates having different characteristics and
At about the same time, Colin Rowe
dedicated his thinking and teaching to the
theme of the collage city which was to
become the title of his most famous book a
few years later (Rowe and Koetter 1978).
Even in the collage city, in the city which
the modern movements grand project was
unable to reconstruct, the concept of the
fragment initially seemed to open up spaces
of freedom. The fragment, as an element
within an idiorrhythmic configuration and
the associative mode of collage allowed
according to the authors the coexistence
of heterogeneity and freedom. To think
about urban space as the result of collage,
lying at the limits of casual combinations
like those of a plan game5 was a way
of thinking about the different forms and
spaces of individual freedom within a collective environment, or, again, about idiorrhythmic space and that which can be shared
within individual habits, behaviours and

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The fragment in Collage City allows the

introduction of slivers of utopia instead of
totalizing scenarios. It allows us to think
about the city in parts each endowed with
specific form (Aymonino 1978) rather than
its general form. It allows us to avoid, or at
least not explicitly treat, the issue of the
structure eventually unifying the fragments
which, as Constant Nieuwenhuys shows us in
his collages of New Babylon, encompasses
the leftover, lobjet trouv, just as the Milton
Keynes new town includes the picturesque
and eclectic within its overall grid.

Archipelago space and the

city archipelago
If the use of collage, in reference to
Lvi-Strauss bricoleur, provided a design
technique that could modify and manipulate
a region of fragments, but not its raison
dtre or its necessity, the concept of the
archipelago explores the relationships
between the fragments, expression of multiplicity and of distance between things that
are irreducibly different. It seeks to establish
not only the spatial characteristics, but also
the social ones, of an aggregation of fragments. The intelligence of the archipelago
divides and separates (Cacciari 1997) and
places the fragments in relation to one
another. It is the fatigue of a theory that
leaves the different individualities unchanged
but which assembles them within a space
or sea of coexistence and of absence the
unity which was lost or never attained
Imperceptible and Unreachable and which
philosophy indicates as good. Islands forced
into dialogue thus archipelago space, due
to its very nature, does not tolerate subordination and hierarchical succession (Cacciari
1997, 1920). It is a space without a centre
in constant tension between the need for
dialogue and its own individuality or core.
The archipelago is the distance between
things but it is also their erasure, the opening
to unpredictable voids, the shrinking of the
city and its reduction as a result of events

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transforming its economy, demography and

social makeup. In declining Berlin in the
mid-1970s, Ungers took the process of
creating voids as a possible construction of a
different principle for urban space (Ungers
et al. 1978), generated by projects that could
be better interpreted as fragments or partial
solutions to a specific site, transcending
the logic of a comprehensive, rigid and inflexible plan (Ungers 1976). In Berlin, islands
became cities within cities resulting from the
cancellation of parts of the urban fabric that
could not be rehabilitated or reintroduced
into the current urban dynamics.
Ungers was one of the first to give visibility to a condition that was different from the
one originally faced and in which modern
urbanism was formed a context defined by
progress and by the stimulation of growth.
But the image of the green archipelago,
today reintroduced in the research on the
shrinking city phenomenon, or as a last
defence against sprawl,6 finds a range of
precedents. Scharouns plan for the reconstruction of Berlin (Sohn 2007) reorganized
the city of stone described by Hegemann
along the Spree valley, drastically reducing
density and imagining dwelling units in a sea
of urban agriculture and green space. Another
precedent is the German Stadtlandschaft
planning tradition (city landscape or cityscape, an expression coined by the geographer Siegfried Passarge, 18671958) which,
beginning in the 1920s, produced diagrams
of cells whose receptacle the liquid in
which the cells were contained remained
more or less indistinct. From the depths
emerged services, routes and voids with
different characteristics. Empty space, an
integral part of the cell concept, is the connective fabric between cells, each of which is
different and completely identifiable. Ungers
freed the enclaves the new recognizable
and singular islands leaving behind the
anonymity of the city (Ungers et al. 1978).
Between each fragment, the green lagoon
hosted collective activities and functions, the
space for important commercial and recreational activities. The city was transformed

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into a union of fragments, of cells which

strongly recalled the organic metaphor and
which did not define a unitary image but
rather a living collage (Ungers et al. 1978).
The terms cited above are but a few of the
many which interpret the contemporary fragmentary, dispersed spatial conditions as the
result of a modernization process in which
individual, group and society must rethink
the ways in which they coexist. If philosophical and sociological thought placed the
construction of spatial devices and their relations with power at the heart of rethinking
the fragment, the urban and regional project,
often referring to these theories along with
intense territorial description, has developed
some images whose value lies in what they
evoke or refer to. Images are a space of representation (Lefebvre 1991 [1974]), a new
conceptualization of reality which the imagination seeks to change and appropriate. It
overlays physical space making symbolic use
of its objects (1991, 39). In this way the
physical city (Quaroni 1981) fostered new
images that in turn, described and interpreted
the city as a design object.


City region; The new urban
The discussion regarding the new dimension
of the city, which came to the fore in Italy
during the 1950s and 1960s and later, played
an important role in defining interpretations and images seeking to integrate the
fragment within the new territorial dimension that was beginning to materialize.
The recognition of sprawl as an enduring
phenomenon was not instantaneous. The
urgency was rather to understand the changes
underway, described as original and recent,
in order to be able to shape and modify the
citys attributes. A new urban dimension, a

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new (design) scale and a new social constellation (with greater mobility than in the past)
were the three aspects underlying much
research at the end of the 1950s. Underlining
the importance of the citys new scale not
only in economic and geographic terms, the
discussion also became important for architecture and urbanism. Among the consequences of this position was the necessity to
develop design scales and tools for intervening and understanding the territory in order
to respond adequately to the new conditions.
Influenced by the Anglo-Saxon discourse of
Mumford (1938) and Dickinson (1964), the
dispute on the city-region and the cityterritory produced great and fascinating
ambiguities between description, interpretation and design. It was distinguished from
others during that same period because of
the continuity it established between architecture and urbanism, not only in the sense of
conceiving a new planning-architectural
dimension, as Gregotti, Rossi and Aymonino
affirmed at the time, but also because of the
centrality of thinking about form on many
scales and the relation between various fields
in terms of different morphologies (social,
economic, infrastructural, naturalistic, etc.).
The image of the city-region came down
from Geddes whose appellation conurbation,
coined in 1915, described a new spatial entity
an urban federation, specific to England
and representative of its lifestyle: a cityregion or a community inhabiting a vast, and
almost completely urbanized, poly-nuclear
space. But this clear definition of a territory
in which the city no longer played a fundamental generative role was quickly flanked
by other meanings and attributes that would
contradict the original locution. In the 1920s,
Lewis Mumford and Thomas Adams discussed the term regional city in reference to
New York. If they both agreed that the
menace to be eliminated was the congested
and polluted industrial city, they differed
regarding contents that defined the image of
the city region (Robic 1998). For Mumford,
it expressed a communitarian ideology represented, in planning terms, by a network

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of satellite cities. For Adams, it was the

expression of a logic reinforcing the role of
the large city as the centre of a vast region.
Communitarianism and metropolitanism,
while using similar devices (such as expansion by means of the introduction of new
urban units), differed profoundly. Giancarlo
De Carlo referred to Geddes and Mumfords
images of the city-region and linked them to
increased economic well-being, to the acceleration of social and territorial mobility and
to the consequent multiplication of choice.
Later, in the Milan inter-municipal plan,
De Carlo (1966) used the image of the urban
continuum for which, and within which, city
planning needed to identify systems and
structures. De Carlo was interested in the
structure of urban form, especially the structure of a new form of dispersed and open
urbanity. Over time, a fundamental ambiguity,
also present in his writings, was introduced
and took root in the image of the city-region.

The urbanized countryside

Samon was a great promoter of images,
which, in very intriguing ways, were located
at the confines between interpretation and
prediction. Samons images stimulated the
designers imagination and indicated a possible direction for the construction of a new
kind of space. His urbanized countryside
was one of the most powerful images portraying the new territorial scale for design. It
was born from the perception of the crisis of
the countryside and the endangerment of
traditional rural settlements throughout the
Adige Valley in Trentino. It announced a territorial project inspired by this idea. The
Trentino Plan, the result of work initiated in
the early 1960s and exhibited in the XIII
Milan Triennale (Piano urbanistico del
Trentino 1968), faced the issues of the vast
scale and territorial form and the creation of
a project for it. At the time there was significant out-migration from rural areas. Rejecting
the idea of urban concentration along the
Adige River, the design hypothesis was

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Figure 37.1 (Above) The urbanized

countryside. (Interpretation of Samons
concept sketch by Paola Vigan)

summed up in the image of the urbanized

countryside a kind of urbanization which
reconstitutes an urban settlement in the countryside to offer an array of basic choices
close to those that today characterize the
traditional urban phenomenon (1968, 50).
The urbanized countryside was offered as a
possible contemporary settlement form.
Samon entrusted to agriculture, and not
only to industrial or infrastructural growth,
the responsibility for producing urban development just as it had in the past. With the
idea of the park facility he attributed to
agriculture, along with all other open space,
the role of provocative element for the integration of the archaic and rural world within
the new urban condition.

The city-territory
Again in 1962, Piccinato, Quilici and Tafuri,
representing the Roman office AUA
(Associazione Urbanisti ed Architetti), introduced the image of the city-territory in the
magazine Casabella Continuit into the
broader Italian debate. This image indicated
not only a change in scale, but a new point of
view. The inability of planning and urbanism
to read the new phenomena was, according to
the authors, an ideological question as

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these disciplines were, at the time, involved

in generating microcosms and neighbourhood units absolutely separated from its
surrounding environment in every single
aspect (Piccinato et al. 1962, 16). Expressing
strong criticism towards the intimate solutions of neo-empiricism, the authors, instead
of facing the problem of searching for new
instruments of intervention or inquiry, maintained that the problem lay in identifying
issues and their relationships, something that
required the definition of a new structural
Like De Carlo, the AUA group began from
the consideration of increased well-being but
introduced new attention to the issue of free
time the spread of loisirs, the emergence of
the second home and the progressive
dispersion of industry that evaporated into
the territory abandoning its proximity to
the urban centre. Insistence was on the acceleration of change, territorial dynamics, on
the transformations in ways of living together.
These positions were founded to counter
the risk lying in the lack of understanding
of the transformations underway, on the
necessity of new techniques of enquiry, of
new readings and surveys and the urgency
of reformulating design tools. These were
much graver questions than ones regarding obsolete institutional and legislative
A process-oriented idea of the project,
which could no longer face the whole and in
which the individual exercised his or her own
freedom and autonomy, also took form
around the image of the city-territory. The
city territory moves its field of application
from total city planning to the identification
of elements to leverage but does not
refute, however, a territorial scale plan
(Piccinato et al. 1962, 17). More extensive
planning did not correspond to the dilation of
the scale of the urban phenomenon but rather
to the selection of the places underlying a
broad-scale planning project. In those
same years, Samon began working on the
Trentino Plan which was the first territorial
and development plan in Italy to be drafted

5633-Crysler-Ch37.indd 663


by architects and urbanists and not only by

The territory that emerged at the time was
both the result of, and stimulus for, important
changes in society (Ardig 1967). Starting
from the phenomenon of decentralization of
production, Arnaldo Bagnasco, an Italian
sociologist at the University of Turin, established a connection between the diffused
urbanization and the logic of dispersed localization of the small and medium enterprises,
in particular in the north-east and in the
centre of Italy (Bagnasco 1977). The problem was to provide a democratic direction
to the potential due to the ambition of the
new affluent society to find, in all conditions, a variety of contacts and choices
that the city has to offer (Piccinato et al.
1962, 17). The idea of a movement in the
direction of more evolved forms of territorial organization was shared by many even if
it was not clear if these forms were socially
positive or not. As opposed to the modern
movement which had proposed, and imposed,
a progressive model of development on
society, AUA underlined the impossibility of
repeating or maintaining this ambition while
focusing on the issue of the crisis in the
constructivist position. They proposed transcending the rationalist approach in order to
obtain, instead, a continuous process of
rationalization the constant verification of
the emergence of a new form of social life
and a new way of coexisting.

Design tools and concepts for

the diffuse city
Beginning in the mid-1960s and for almost
twenty years, the production of images and
the debate regarding the city-territory in Italy
seemed to come to a halt until the second half
of the 1980s when research on the new condition of urban sprawl and fragmentation
documented the transformation that had
come about (in the Anglo-American world
this was the period of Kevin Lynchs The
View from the Road (Appleyard et al. 1963),

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Figure 37.2 (Above) Contemporary

fragmentation and dispersion in Aarhus
(Denmark). In white: built areas and
roads. (GIS elaboration: N. Mathiesen,
Aarhus School of Architecture)

Iain McHargs Design With Nature (1969),

Reyner Banhams Los Angeles; The
Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971) and
the Venturi, Scott-Brown and Izenour group
research Learning from Las Vegas (1972)).
As mentioned above, criticism regarding
the fragment and Archipelago City sought
to utilize the concept of the fragment and
transform it into differential space
(Lefebvre), idiorrhythm (Barthes), locating
them within a collage (Rowe), or belonging
to an archipelago (Cacciari), all with
an emphasis on context and connection.
These interpretations fostered discussion
and debate regarding the city-territory and
its project.
In many Italian regions a diffuse city a
term introduced by Francesco Indovina and
Bernardo Secchi in 1990 and preceded by a
series of studies on northeast and central
Italy (Piccinato and De Luca 1983; Sartore
1988) had already been formed. The diffuse city is a term describing a kind of hybrid
megalopolitan spatial organization characterized by the presence of certain urban characteristics in the absence of others. It is the
consequence of the dispersion of not only

5633-Crysler-Ch37.indd 664

Figure 37.3 (Above) Contemporary

dispersion in the Veneto region: built
areas, Carta Tecnica Regionale Veneto,
2000/2007 from: B. Secchi, P. Vigan,
with L. Fabian, P. Pellegrini Water
and Asphalt, the project of Isotropy,
PRIN Research 20072008, Universit
Iuav di Venezia.

residential functions but also of other urban

activities. It is the result of both spontaneous
actions as well as policy positions. A first
wave due to the improvement in living
conditions for the agricultural populations
who passed over to the secondary services
sector was followed by a second one tied to
the out-migration from the city by a part of
its residents (middle classes, dissatisfied with
the quality of urban life) driven by lower
housing costs and by the possibility of living
in a different way.
The diffuse city is an interpretative concept allowing us to face the issue of individual and collective freedom a crucial point
for Indovina and for passing judgement on
this new phenomenon. Different from a traditional metropolitan area characterized by
vertical connections and intense hierarchy,
the diffuse city is interwoven with horizontal
relationships and distinguished by weaker
hierarchical ones. Within this horizontal
territory, which Secchi began to describe
on a European scale, filaments, platforms,

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accumulations, still unstable areas of density,

voids awaiting content a world of objects
could be recognized (Secchi 1991). Citing
Banham, Secchi suggested a new ecology
in reality, many ecologies tied, in fact, to
the different histories of the urban phenomenon in Europe, awaiting description and
design within a general framework recognizing the significant issues. If the term citt
diffusa soon became international along
with the armature of a new local political
conscience and affirmation of territorial
identity in the rest of Europe other research
was being carried out which only partially
provided true occasions for comparison but
which, in any case, contributed to revealing
the important epochal change that had come
about in the European territory.7


To what degree are the categories and images
discussed in the preceding paragraphs
involved in todays discussion on the
project for the city-territory and metacity?
Contemporary space has inverted the traditional code of urbanity; there is a new scale;
there are new and original proportions
between solid and void; agriculture and natural elements are contained within urban
space. If we look at the thinking in the
twentieth century that began to study the
characteristics of diffusion and consider them
in design work, we find some precursors
(H.G. Wells descriptions in Anticipations,
1901); diagrams illustrating the process of
the construction of the new settlement forms
and the centrality of thinking about space
(from Wrights Broadacre City to Gutkinds
centreless region); descriptions evoking
new lifestyles and ways of using the territory
(in Gottmanns Megalopolis, 1961). What
emerges is parallel thinking about the city
conceptualizing it in an inverse way with
respect to traditional thinking a reverse
city of discontinuity and distances with a
void at its centre.

5633-Crysler-Ch37.indd 665


The Reverse City (Vigan 1999) is the

space of the deconstruction of traditional
urban relationships, an elementary city in
which innovation becomes the combination
and juxtaposition of known elements and
the invention of new materials. It is an
inverse city because it negates traditional
meanings of urban space its continuities
and discontinuities and transforms them
into new forms of urbanity within a territorial
Since all of the positions previously
illustrated insist on the possibility of individuals to express themselves in a newly
conceived space, the city of fragments might
seem paradoxical if we do not also refer
critically to its role as technique and as a new
dispersed form of power. This is one of the
reasons why today a new attempt at conceptualization has become necessary, beyond
just analytically describing this fragmented
and dispersed space. So the question that
arises is the following: in what sense is the
process of individualization which characterized the contemporary era represented
by or in this space?

The European territorial project;

new tools; urban grain research
The research on the phenomenon of urban
dispersion in Europe over the last twenty
years can be grouped around some common
issues and hypotheses: the modernization
process as a producer of dispersion; urban
diffusion as an ancient phenomenon rather
than a more recent one the result of an
explicit political project in some cases, as in
Flanders, and in others implicit, but clearly
identifiable (in some Italian, Swiss and
Portuguese regions this is more clearly
manifested); the presence of a widespread
infrastructure network creating the possibility for the extensive use of, and settlement in,
the territory. Research also demonstrates that
the great mobility infrastructure does not
seem to have a direct link of necessity
and inevitability with economic and urban

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Figure 37.4 (Above) Hydrology

network in the Veneto region, Carta
Tecnica Regionale Veneto, 2007 +
Humid areas Clc 2000 from: B. Secchi,
P. Vigan, with L. Fabian, P. Pellegrini
Water and Asphalt, the project of
Isotropy, PRIN Research 20072008,
Universit Iuav di Venezia.

Figures 37.5 (Below) and 37.6

(Below right) The Ruhr and the
Veneto region: a comparison on a
square of 10 km. In white: open
spaces. (Elaboration: F. Volpiana and
S. Rasia)

5633-Crysler-Ch37.indd 666

development, although in many cases it is

associated with it; many territories of dispersion have a great underlying density of road,
water and agricultural land use networks.
However, beyond the apparent similarities
which are clear in some zenithal views and in
certain uses of the territory lie long histories
that profoundly differ from one another.
Differences emerge in the grains of dispersion, such as the coarse grain of the
French territory in which the process of separation defines a contemporary geography of
centralities. In France, the areas outside of
urban centres are often the principal place
of commerce managed by large groups who
design their own very identifiable space.
The lack of social and functional mix appears
increasingly marked from logistics platforms to activity zones, from office parks to
shopping malls. Mono-functionality attracts
investment and projects because of its ease of
realization, lack of conflict and ostensible
lower costs, but it does not take into account
the longer term effects, deterioration, decline,
social costs and control of underutilized portions of the territory.
Again, the coarse grain appears in some
German regions like the Ruhr area where
a long history of territorial-scale industrialization and heavy infrastructure projects
progressively cut up and subdivided territorial space. There are many histories, only

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apparently similar, which, when examined

separately, tell the story of the formation of the
city-territory and the resistance of differences
rooted in the land and in space along with episodes of homologation. The fine grain emerges
in regions like Veneto, Flanders or Portugal
where extensive water and road networks sustained individual initiative in the construction
of places in which to live and work.
The new dimension of the European city
equates the urban phenomenon with the great
world megacities (Sieverts 2003 [1997]) not
only due to their dimensions and growing
density but also because of increasing immigration, and social and functional segregation.
Separations, edges and confines limiting individual and collective liberties are ever more
frequently organized around fragments. Forms
of power are not static. They adapt to fragments and idiorrhythms, born against, and
outside of, centralized power. The crises and
paradoxes in the dispersed and fragmentary

5633-Crysler-Ch37.indd 667


city are tied together because today it has

become a technique and new form of power.
The common element in the research
briefly described here is the centrality of the
idea of territory not only as a place of change,
but as a place in which to imagine the future.
In other words, the territory emerges as one
of the most important contexts in which to
rethink the modern project and the project for
the contemporary city the place for the
formation of a new imaginary.

New tools; images as connectors

The importance of images emerges as a
constant in territorial design and research.

Figure 37.7 (Below) View of the citt

diffusa, the plain in the metropolitan
region of Venice. (Vigan)

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These synthetic representations unite the different glances upon, and knowledge of, a
territory, and interact among themselves.
They are sufficiently fuzzy and vague to be
considered pre-mature and so can guide more
in-depth research that might confirm or
falsify them.
Images play a key role in design, occupying a hybrid space between description and
project. They can unify the heterogeneous
points of view of the diverse disciplines
involved in territorial thought and provide a
vanishing point for the different trajectories
that they describe. Again, what unifies the
different images is an attempt to overturn the
traditional sequence of constructing a territorial project in order to propose original
sequences of urban spaces and materials, to
attempt to describe what they are and what
they might become, establishing a more-orless tense and conflicting, but dense, relationship between collective imagination and
the disciplinary one. The images of the cityarchipelago, the collage city or the patchwork metropolis have exercised enormous
influence in constructing a different view of
the contemporary city. These images are
based upon the fragment; they adhere to it
without distancing themselves from it.
However, the Reverse City, the city which
has radically modified its very form and
dimensions, requires the production of new
structural hypotheses without denying the
fragment, a new idea of continuity and relations that is different from the past. It requires
images that do not stop at the fragment but
integrate movements and dynamics in a new

New tools; multiple models

and supports
Today the project for the Reverse City is a
fundamental place for redefining the domain
of architecture and urbanism. It could not
exist without open spaces and agriculture,
along with economies and landscape. On the
territorial scale, different types of projects

5633-Crysler-Ch37.indd 668

emerge which, as a group, have formed the

contemporary space: individual and informal
projects, along with collective and institutional ones tied to the idea of decentralization
and rebalancing. If we examine them in
detail, some threads emerge. The first concerns the understanding and improvement of
spontaneous models of territorial construction. The second refers to the study of the
innovations needed to connect different situations and eliminate their contradictions. In
the Reverse City, different settlement modalities alternate and follow one another, each
using specific materials and supports and
each capable of being designed correctly and
coherently with regard to specific natural
and climatic conditions. The domain of the
design project returns as a reflection upon
models of spatial organization and their
different supports.
The new form of the city pushes us to
think more deeply about the limits of the
traditional infrastructure system that has been
perfected over the last two centuries and that
was almost always conceived for compact
and dense urban conditions. The territorial
project deals first and foremost with the
design of different infrastructural layers,
thinking about what today constitutes necessary support for the reproduction of the
social process and the welfare and risk that
need to be redistributed.
Infrastructure is not synonymous with collective investment even if it cannot be completely detached from it. The territories of
urban dispersion provide an excellent laboratory from this point of view. They are at the
same time rich in infrastructure, especially in
Europe, but having grave deficiencies in
some aspects that are not always called to
public attention (large parts of the population
not connected to public sewage systems, for
example, or lack of water purification systems and not just highways and airports).
From the territory emerges an infrastructure
model, a diffuse model which adapts and is
modified over time. It is decentralized and
not hierarchical, extensive and extendable.
The contemporary territorial project studies

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the necessary technologies and attempts to

give form to a different kind of rationality
that is coherent with diffuse settlement
patterns sun and wind energy, energy
programmes tied to cycles of water and
waste management, local facilities plants,
weakly connected networks. It is a project
that is at the same time technological, territorial and environmental, as well as being
economically and politically relevant
(Sieverts 2003 [1997]; Vigan 2001).
This important programme requires
rethinking the small-scale construction of the
territory and not only its most important
episodes from the project for the diffusion
of nature which requires space and time to
come about without great investment; to the
project for aquifer protection and recharging;
to the project for natural water purification
differently conceived for areas of dispersion
or for urban centres; to the improvement
of microclimatic conditions; to interventions
that counter the rapidly spreading desertification processes accelerated by climate change,
or risk of flooding; to the project for the
production of renewable energy sources; to
the project for mobility which takes advantage of the sponge of existing minor road
and rail routes and their capacity to connect
entire regions in a capillary manner. These
and other projects are not innovative except
for their broad, regional scale to which they
refer and which gives them their importance.
It is on the territorial scale that a project of
minute rules can produce new landscapes,
introduce new geographies and forms of
rationality that are different from the past, or
can rediscover an integrated and systemic
logic rather than a fragmentary one.


The project for territorial supports transcends
the sectoral logic of the metropolitan
construction of the city. From this point of
view, a project for a territorial architecture

5633-Crysler-Ch37.indd 669


must recover its ability to interact with the

disparate set of projects that crowd and
fragment it. Some transversal sequences
emerge from the study of strategies of coexistence, multifunctionality, re-use, reinterpretation. The citys new dimension and the
increasingly intense processes of fragmentation, place the territorial scale with its
different expressions and opportunities at the
centre of discussion from inverted relationships between solid and void, to the design of
urban sprawl, to the vast dimensions of the
transformations currently underway.
The Reverse City is a sphere in which to
investigate new spaces such as under-utilized
industrial areas which can become equipped
platforms crossed by concentrations of nature
to serve the creation of new businesses; streets
which become narrative itineraries, dense
spatial stories not only of the past but of
present relations. Land forms are territorial
forms which relate episodes and fragments,
local and territorial scales, the institutional
and the informal. They are elements of mediation between the situated project and the large
scale; they transcend sectoral policy and
administrative boundaries. If most of todays
images and projects based on the logic of the
fragment seek to absorb and avoid conflict,
the project for territorial supports inevitably
negates the intensification of the fragment and
necessitates the discussion of differences.
Some years ago, Giuseppe De Matteis
identified, in the cultural passage of the
1970s, the emergence of the subjective, of
the qualitative and the specific in geographic
studies, in opposition to the generalizing,
quantitative and functionalist current that
characterized human geography in the 1950s
and 1960s. This conflict, or crisis, in geographic studies was not perceived as negative
by De Matteis who considered it as something which allows it to represent the world as
a dialectic interaction between homologating
global tendencies and active resistance based
on local specificity (De Matteis 1992).
The condition of the project for the Reverse
City is just this to constitute, as De Matteis
did for human geography, the right place to

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observe one of todays central issues in its

multiform manifestations. If geographic
description revealed, through the production
of images and interpretative categories, latent
structures, settlement principles as responses
of local subjects and environments to stimuli,
impulses, decisions, etc. arriving from the
global network of flows (De Matteis 1992),
the territorial project is the place in which
discussion takes on an explicit form and refers
to the future. The terms of resistance and
identity are not adequate for resolving the
question. The response of the local often
becomes aggressive especially in its immobility. A new spatial policy requires deep rethinking of our idea of individual and collective
well-being, the transcendence of the limiting
localglobal, individual-society counterpoint
and fresh inquiry into the necessity of a
project for the territory, its goals, its sustainability and ecological rationality, its proposal
of a new multi-form and diffuse modernity.

6 See for example, todays use, in France, of the

figure of the archipelago (Veltz 1996) and its use as
a metaphor for the construction of regional-scale
plans (Chapuis 2003).
7 In 1993 Boeri, Lanzani and Marini, in Il Territorio
Che Cambia attempt to group together the different
dimensions of change revealed by the crisis in traditional and natural morphogenetic elements in the
search for a new geographic image. Attention to
the persistence and values of the street and road
system is accompanied by an attempt to describe the
different ways of modifying the territory, observing
the practices which are not disconnected by the
different urban spaces. See also the Italian national
research project Itaten, in Clementi et al. (1996);
Munarin and Tosi (2001); Vigan (2001; 2004);
Bianchetti (2004).
In this context it is impossible to refer to all of the
texts and authors in an exhaustive way. It is important to recall at least the research work of N. Portas
on dispersion in Portugal, of A. Font on Barcelonas
metropolitan area, of T. Sieverts on the Ruhr region,
of M. Smets, B. De Meulder and M. Dehaene on

1 While urbanism in the US most often refers to
the ways of life of urban dwellers as defined by
sociologist William Wirth in the Chicago School of
urban studies, here it refers to the European sense of
a specific field of study in architecture of the form
of cities, which in the Anglo-American context is
usually treated as separate disciplines: urban design,
city planning, regional design.
2 Here image is used in the sense of Bergson as
more than a representation and less than matter. It
has a mental reality in the sense that Kevin Lynch
describes as cognitive mapping in The Image of the
City, and the production of new images is one of the
primary roles of urbanism. See also Secchi and
Vigan 2009.
3 Project here, is used in the sense of projection,
again a primary task of architecture as Robin Evans
has described in The Projective Cast (1995).
4 The relationships between group ideology and
the small group explored in the countercultural communes in the US and Europe in the 1960s cannot be
ignored in this regard.
5 Sylvain Malfroy (2002), introduction to the new
edition of Collage City, Folio Editions, Switzerland.

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