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Back to the future. Looking back at the factory town to explore renewed relationship between production and space


“Back to the future” has a special meaning for us: it is our commitment to the places where the city expanded and transformed the most when urbanization, development and industrialization were proceeding hand in hand.

There was a time when the city was expanding due to the needs of a growing modern economy, backed by powerful industrial elites and ambitious visions for the urban future promoted by local administrations. The city of industries was the future back then (indeed, not long ago: after WW2 and until the early 1970s it was a general period of optimism towards future in Europe and the US). Cities and citizens were confident that their present and future identity was bound to industry and the new urban forms related to it.

When the first oil crisis hit hard in 1973, the optimistic dream started to fall apart. A time of industrial reorganization followed, with relevant impact on cities and particularly on those former ‘new’ neighbourhoods. All in all, growth was not forever. Major cities started to lose population in core areas, other productive models emerged that were not so connected with the ‘old’ traditional cities, and new regions of the world benefited from such redistribution. Technological innovation opened up new frontier of growth, but to many it was hard to capitulate to another idea of progress. In this phase of transition, a number of critiques addressed the way cities were conceived, planned, designed, and built. The unfairness and dysfunctional aspects of cities were questioned. Many of those works are still worth of our attention when we have to deal with urban transformations. They do not tell us ‘what to do’, but are critical to what has been done before. (J. Jacobs, H. Lefebvre, H. Marcuse, D. Harvey)

Other phenomena contributed to reframe urban paradigms. Population growth rate started to stagnate, particularly in major cities. Entire pieces of cities became obsolete and were left idle. A season of urban reuses started in the 1990s, in which functions were substituted on an occasional basis, without discussing too much about long term prospects and structural changes. A multitude of guidelines and best-practices provided reasonable recipes to navigate contingent situations. In the ineluctability of the 2007 financial crisis, such economic and cultural weakness became apparent. (B. Albrecht, F. Indovina)

In our times, the resources and forces that ‘make’ our cities are not so obvious. The very definition of what the city will be in the future, and who is entitled to decide for the better of the urban majority, is questioned. What is urban design to do in this framework? Civic design and public processes are requested to contribute their part in the upgrade and regeneration of the built and infrastructural stock. Willy nilly the underused and precarious spaces of the actual city provide the angle from which the urban future is made visible.

Here is the premise for our urban design studio. We will see spaces that are privatised even if intended to be public, contested processes that would aim to the ‘common good’, punctual investments and opposite trends of neglection. All these processes can be read by a careful and subtle understanding of the built space and of the spaces between buildings. Project design is used as a means to explore the built fabric as well as the context of decision-making and different sorts of public controversies. (A. Yaneva, C. Bianchetti)

Torino perfectly matches this brief reconstruction. Modern Torino has been built to satisfy the urgent needs of massive heavy industry. Torino was known as the city of FIAT car manufacture, not only because of FIAT productive plants in the city, but because of the cultural, educational, social, economic, and urban structures that supported the presence of that industrial system in our region. When the industrial productive processes reorganized, such Fordist model became a burden. Obsolete and neglected areas are both the unnecessary plants and some residential areas in the periphery of the city that were designed to fit the socio-economic model of the past.

Torino reinvented her imagery as the rejuvenated city in the 1980s – thanks to large scale urban projects -, the Olympic city in the 1990s, the cultural and university city in the 2000s. Yet the industrial city of the past is still there. Instead of large scale and centrally-driven projects, what is transforming the industrial legacy of Torino today is the multiplication of small interventions on fragmented spaces and, rather frequently, short expectancy of life. It is not necessarily a disvalue, considering that punctual actions operate on otherwise vacant areas: the concerns move from systemic right and wrong doing to the optimized option for a specific places in a precise and contingent moment. But the map of values in the urban space reshuffles in a way that overcomes the distinction between centres and peripheries. (A. Bagnasco, C. Olmo)

The Urban Design Studio will explore the future of the ex-industrial city with a focus on some selected places in the Torino area. The studio will propose specific exercises to understand spatial issues and processes of transformation. In the beginning students will work individually, and they will form groups only in the second part of the Urban Design Studio, when spaces will be designated to apply techniques and tools of urban and spatial planning for developing together a building programme and a design proposal. Project-based learning provides an excellent opportunity to integrate and apply knowledge and skills to real situations.



Manifesto – Urban Design Studio 2016/17

Undergraduate programme in Architecture

Politecnico di Torino


Supervisors: Francesca Frassoldati e Ianira Vassallo

Assistants: Agim Kërcuku e Simona della Rocca


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