De Magnalibus Urbis Mediolani
Claudia Consonni & Martina Fabris
According to the United Nations, in 2015 only, there were about 260 million international migrants, people who left their birthplaces to live in a different geographical or social reality.
Of these, 65 million were forced to leave their homeland due to wars, neglection of human rights, poverty or climate distresses that made impossible to conduct a dignifying life. (source: Global trends 2015 Unhcr) The relevance of such a phenomenon is now undeniable, considering the enormous number of people involved.
Governments issued several laws and guidelines that tried to manage the problem, regulating migratory flows both on a national and European level. Nevertheless, these measures often do not include the idea of immigrants integrating within local communities, as they only aim to push away the problem instead of finding a permanent solution.
The plan approved by European leaders during the summit held in La Valletta in February 2017, which was meant to stop the incoming migratory flow from Libia, such as the Minniti-Orlando decree, are just two examples of this institutional myopia.
Cities represent the main “entrance gates” to European countries; in fact, immigrants’ aspiration is to reach the biggest cities, as they hope to find hospitality and more chances for a brighter future there. In Italy, Milan is the most attractive destination for migrants, due to its major economic and working opportunities, but also to the higher level of social integration. Cities should be able to propose themselves as welcoming spots, where immigrants should be perceived as a source for social, cultural and economic enrichment rather than a problem. Further commitment towards this goal should derive from the existence of a right for the city, as written by Henri Lefebvre, which consists in the right to access, both individually and as a group, to urban resources.
Milan, despite being entitled of the so-called “Milan model” for hospitality, recently showed signs of rejection towards incomers, as shown by the police blitz that was executed in Milan Central Station on the 2nd of May 2017, or by the reduction of available places in the Hub located in Via Sammartini. Once acknowledged the intolerance mood afflicting the city, while keeping in mind the unavoidable need to find suitable locations for migrants who are escaping wars and persecutions, the need for a definitive solution emerges clearly; this solution should be able to accommodate both immigrants and locals’ needs. From this came the idea to reserve a new spot for guests, separated from the city and positioned above-ground, which does not follow traditional building rules for urban structures, but rather proposes itself as a soft urbanization model where life is detached from capitalistic logics.
Research for the project examined radical architecture thinking, which showed the contradictions of global capitalism and consumerist society through projects such as Superstudio “Continuous Monument” and Archizoom “No-Stop City”. Further analysis included Archigram considerations about cities and the condition of continuously moving mankind, which were claimed by Constant’s New Babylon too, but also Yona Friedman utopian proposals and very concrete manuals aimed at offering a house to everyone and R. Buckminster structures for the realization of big indoor spaces.
The final goal of the research is not to create a feasible project, but rather to stimulate thinking and provide material for a debate regarding one of the most important and urgent themes of this era.
The proposed solution may seem dystopic to some and utopic to others. The outcome consists of two superimposed cities, separated physically but depending on each other and visually linked by observation “towers” that also testimony the presence, or hope, for a possible connection between the two.
The new city, which hosts migrants, reflects the condition of its inhabitants: it is mutable and undetermined; a three-dimensional fixed grid can be cladded or freed depending on specific necessities, giving life to an always different conformation of the surroundings, immersed in green areas.
Life will follow natural rhythms and be based on subsistence economy, accommodating daily and season cycles. Urbanization will be soft, characterized by the absence of roads and infrastructures, which will be limited to structures required for energy sustainability: in fact, the city is designed as a power station, able to provide enough energy to fuel itself but also the underneath city of Milan through an isotropic grid of pillars that physically bears the structure but also allows energy transportation from the top floor to the bottom one. The central parts of Milan become a huge indoor space, separated from the rest of the metropolitan area through screens that, projecting the image of the sky, provide the impression of being in open-air. All the environmental conditions of this indoor space are mechanically managed: air is continuously purified, solving pollution problems and artificial light is always available, allowing society to pursue the 24-hours-a-day productivity goal, typical of modern society. Doing so, atmospheric conditions will not affect city activities anymore, as they will become perfectly controllable, granting Milan the chance to become the capital of events. Public transportation, hung on the grid and separated from urban traffic, will be more efficient and will drive the abandonment of private transportation means, providing huge contribution to the reduction of traffic. The costs deriving from energy supply may be avoided thanks to self-sustainability of the upper city.
The two cities, despite being physically close and depending on each other for some aspects, would live an autonomous and totally separate life. To separate them, an inhabited wall that does not overlook the indoor central city, but rather looks at the suburbs, providing a sense of continuity with the overhead grid. Therefore, the wall both separates (the indoor space from the outside) and unifies (the outskirts and the grid), inserting itself among roads that were specifically selected to become exchange-points between the existing cityand the new one. The connection between these two parts could transform the suburbs in a cohabitation space, where locals could meet newcomers, but could also inevitably make it a conflict-zone. In fact, outskirts generally offer chances for lifestyles and social interactions that are different from the ones of the central city; however, they also often represent a place where the needy and the migrants fight with local citizens, as they do not enjoy the privileges deriving from juridical systems and working incomes.
Consequently, an environment characterized by three different realities emerges: an indoor city that is safe and overlooked, realm of finance and events; a subsistence city, totally free, where newcomers can be hosted, and a disconnected peripheral city. The project provides the right to the city to everyone, supporting and taking to the extremes the tendencies of the different classes, committing a specific space for each social and economic context. Despite the presence of separated areas, each inhabitant would always be considered a citizen of “De Magnalibus Urbis Mediolani”.
Who influences you graphically?
Our inspiration comes from different ages: the radical experiences of the ‘60s, such as Archizoom and Andrea Branzi, Superstudio or Archigram, but also the more recent works by Dogma, Fosbury, Baukuh and Stijn Jonckheere.
We are also really interested in the drawings of young architects and students, because they have fresh and original ideas which we re-elaborate, giving a personal interpretation.
What defined the type of drawings through which you articulate the proposal?
The aim of the project was to tell a story, therefore, we decided not to use the classical technical drawings, but rather to suggest the taste of an illustration.
As the proposal is quite strong and impressive, we opted for delicate and unreal colours, which underline the dystopia of the project.
Nevertheless, the real feasibility of the structure was verified: this is why we paid an almost obsessive attention to details.
This is clear in the drawings of the pillar or the main elevation, that traces real situations, just like the one of David Tower in Caracas.
What is your take on paper architecture?
Paper architecture allows to explore ideas that could not be examined in real condition. Therefore, thanks to theoretical architecture, you can hazard utopian or dystopian projects that don’t have the ambition to be feasible, but rather try to stimulate debate and discussion on important and urgent themes, such as migration.
Thus, for us, architecture – and particularly paper architecture- is an opportunity to do research and think.
How do you see the contemporary architect as operating within this condition? If you could look at the situation in realistic terms where and at what scale would you intervene?
The theme of migration, and consequently of hospitality, is such a wide issue involving so many spheres that an architect cannot aspire to face it by himself: first and foremost, it would be necessary to modify the immigration laws and policies.
Nevertheless, the architect could give his own contribution, not only through theoretical proposals but also by more concrete and smaller-scale projects which operate in public spaces – where the hospitality should take place – or in abandoned buildings that could be re-used.
However, in order to be efficient, all the interventions should be inserted in a wider and organic framework.
To what extent do you see the architect as bound to work within a continuum?
In the present situation, the architect is called to assume the responsibilities connected with his role, together with a gaze at the economic and social issues.
Regarding the migration theme, the architect has the goal to mediate between the host and the hosted needs, trying to propose a project that is economically sustainable, uses the existing buildings and at the same time satisfies the demand of the final users.
The architect has to be “silent”, reasonable and responsible, acting especially for the humans and their “habitat”.
Claudia Consonni and Martina Fabris graduated in Architecture at Politecnico di Milano.
They are particularly interested in exploring the effect of a tight collaboration between art and architecture, both in large and small-scale interventions and they try to convey their ideas through original and personal graphic works derived from continuous research and exploration.
They believe in the possibility of architecture to have an impact on the social context and to trigger virtuous processes that could improve our society, also starting from debate and discussion originated by theoretical proposals.