Design Experiences for Composite Territories

Telling the Story of Spaces

From 2009, my research initially concerned the Sangone, a torrential stream that runs through the southern outskirts of Turin. Then, in 2014, it moved to include the Stura, another torrential stream which touches a larger part of the city, in the northern area, partly included in the plans of Variant 200 to the local planning scheme, which is very fragmented and associated with complex functional differentiation.

Turin, as stated in the title of one of the projects promoted by the Municipality of Turin for the restoration of the river banks of its four rivers, is a “water town”[1]. It is geographically located in an area crossed by four rivers, two of which, the Sangone and the Stura, relate only partly to the weakest fringes of the city which began to approach their banks only from the mid-nineteenth century (Fig. 3.1).

At the beginning of the twentieth century, small bathing facilities were located south of Turin, at Mirafiori, along the Sangone river, and in the northern part of the city, the sandy banks of the Stura river filled up on summer weekends with those who couldn’t afford to go to the seaside. The bathing facilities along the Po river, towards Moncalieri, resisted until the 1960s, when, with the economic boom and the construction of the Italia 1961 district, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the unification of Italy, the people of Turin began travelling to the beaches of Liguria. The landscape in the river basin which, in the eighteenth and in the early nineteenth century, was characterised by the presence of farmhouses and agricultural plots of a certain importance, retaining a natural appearance, was transformed

Turin and its rivers

Fig. 3.1 Turin and its rivers: north the Stura river as an urban limit and more in the town the Dora river; east the Po river and the hills; south the Sangone river (Source: author’s elaboration)

from the 1950s by the installation of industrial and commercial settlements along the access roads, compromising its environmental layout. Highly pollutant industrial complexes (OMA and Industrial Chemicals along the Sangone river) and the AMIAT solid waste dump north of the Stura river, considerably changed a natural layout which had stayed the same for centuries, so much so as to prevent bathing and fishing (Sangone).

The Sangone and Stura are natural infrastructures that determine territories geo-morphologically characterised by alpine and hilly environments, substantially different from one another, with a vocation for tourism at higher altitudes while being severely compromised on the plane, where there are more extensive irrigation systems, the major towns have developed and there are numerous industrial settlements. Many of these have now been abandoned, having changed the ecological balance of the watercourses and land in a very short space of time (from the 1950s).

The Sangone, which stretches for a length of 47 km from the Sangone Valley to the Po river in the southern part of Turin, in the Mirafiori district, home to the mausoleum of La Bela Rosin[2], runs through a composite landscape which is much more urbanised in the final flat stretch. Along its course there are farmhouses, Drosso Castle, farmland, industrial estates (in Coazze, Sangano, Rivalta, Beinasco, Orbassano, Nichelino and Turin), the San Luigi hospital complex and the Sito logistic centre. The Miraorti project was partly completed along its last stretch in Turin (2010). This is the product of research accompanied by a participated design procedure in support of the administrations[3] with a transformation scenario that envisages an Agricultural Park in the area between Drosso Castle and the Mausoleum of La Bella Rosin, supported with the creation of urban vegetable gardens, which are now regulated, in place of those abusively created in Strada del Drosso and near the Mausoleum, as well as the transformation of Piedmont Park and its Farmhouse into an agricultural park.

The territory along the Stura river, which stretches for about 69 km when the torrential stream is at its fullest capacity, to its confluence with the Po river, has a varied landscape which extends from the Lanzo Valley to La Mandria Park and Venaria Reale with its Reggia (UNESCO site since 1997) and reaches the city of Turin in its final stretch. Unauthorised urban allotments, gypsy camps and industrial settlements are situated on its banks, crossed by road and railway bridges which overlook a bed made up of small gravel and stone islands, as far as the confluence with the Po river on the border with Settimo Torinese. The south bank of the Stura in Turin forms a natural boundary with the residential constructions, merged with commercial buildings and warehouses, and manufacturing units, which are much more intensely located on the north bank (Iveco, Michelin, Pirelli Grandi Turbine Torino, Auchan, Panorama, TNT Traco). The structure of the tissue characterised in this way by important industrial plants is altered even more by the presence of monofunctional satellites, like the Falchera district[4] or the Basse di Stura dump, which create a complexity in which farmland provides a backdrop, as the only link connecting realities that are distant and profoundly diversified. The urbanisation that touches the south bank of the Stura river is the fragile boundary of the city of Turin, characterised by a variety of functional (residential, mass retail, recreational, productive and storage) and social constructions which determine a highly composite urban form, the product of planning rationales which adapt poorly to the need for flexible processes that are subject to time limits.

Environmental system, urbanised system and infrastructural system morphologically characterise the basins, in cohabitation with balance-related difficulties that are clearly visible in the description of these places. In the recent history of urban development, the territories overlooking Sangone and Stura have been treated not as viewpoints and environmental lungs of the city but as backyards or resources to be exploited. The floods that have caused the rivers to break their banks on several occasions, in 1962, with the collapse of the bridges at Mirafiori and Stupinigi over the Sangone, and later in 1994 and 2000 over both rivers, have drawn attention to the need to rethink these landscapes and their relationship with the buildings in the area.

The Planning Scheme of the City of Turin (1995) envisages restoration and transformation of the industrial areas of Basse di Stura and the Dump into a park. An inter-municipal park is also planned by the municipalities of Settimo, Borgaro and Turin, and this will be known as the Tangenziale Verde (PRUSST), a sort of green- belt prioritising environmental transformations, which are currently hard to accomplish, being far from feasible at a time when resources (especially public) are limited. But the connotation of the flat stretches of these river areas is primarily urban, with a territory subject to dispute between forms of sharing tied to legal and illegal and evident and hidden practices (Bianchetti 2012); private, institutional and unauthorised farming areas; manufacturing activities, many of which are being increasingly abandoned; and gypsy camps.

The large-scale territorial projects (Piedmont Region’s Corona Verde, Torino Citta d’Acque promoted by the Municipality of Turin, the Tangenziale Verde Project managed by the PRUSST of Settimo, Borgaro and Turin, and the P.E.R.A) which have involved the urban belt along the Stura and part of the Sangone, are mainly focused on themes of the urban river park or metropolitan ecological systems, shifting the vision of system logics. These projects take us from a construction of the built-up environment in successions of blocks, solids, areas with single functions linked by an infrastructural system focused exclusively on mobility and accessibility, to an interest for the connection network, greenways and potential opportunities for the requalification and definition of locations. (De Rossi and Durbiano 2006).

These strategies require public resources which are currently hard to obtain. With all of this in mind, it seems more feasible to shift attention to themes and projects that make it possible to solve problems and contingent needs, sometime of a temporary nature, but which can promote change, triggering processes of redefinition at urban and social level that are more incisive and immediate, with short or medium-term effects. The need to integrate the naturalistic ecological project with urban design (Grahame Shane 2011) and architecture now leaves space for scenarios that are transversal to the river course, where nature is the structuring element that defines the river park, becoming a detention basin to convey physical consistency and weight to certain parts of it, like in Rivalta, Nichelino and the Mirafiori area of Turin along the Sangone river or the Turin area of Basse di Stura or the Arrivore Park along the Stura river.

  • [1] Citta di Torino, Assessorato alle Politiche per la casa ed il Verde, Settore Grandi Opere del VerdePubblico. Torino Citta d’Acque is the project approved in 1993 by the Municipality of Turin whichenvisages the recovery of the riverbanks in a single river park running for a length of 70 km, witha surface area of 17 million square metres. The operation connects Turin’s four rivers (Po, DoraRiparia, Stura and Sangone) to create a continuous system of river parks connected by networks ofpedestrian and cycle paths, nature and educational trails, with the defense and enhancement, foreach river, of the environmental and architectural details. Opening up subsequently to the territorial scale, the plan envisages the creation of a transition area between the parks in the city centreand the larger parks on the hillside and in the outskirts, as far as the regional parks in the suburbanarea, connected via the “Corona Verde” with the farming and forestry context of Piedmont’svalleys.
  • [2] Built in 1888 as the grave of Rosa Vercellana, morganatic wide of the Italian King VittorioEmanuele II of Savoy.
  • [3]
  • [4] Residential district built by INA casa to a design by Giovanni Astengo (Astengo, Molli Boffa,Passanti, Renacco, Rizzotti 1952-54, with construction of the central nucleus in 1959), and thenexpanded, becoming Falchera Nuova in the 1970s, designed by Rizzotti, Bianco, Nicola andRomano.
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