Skip to content

Territories of Recycling – Upcoming

August 12, 2012

This paper presents the results of Laboratorio integrato di progettazione, a collaborative design studio held at IUAV by Alberto Ferlenga (Architectural Design chair), Chiara Ferro (Building Conservation Professor), Claudia Tessarolo (Architectural Technology Professor), and Paola Viganò (Urban Design Chair), during the fall semester of the academic year 2010 – 2011. As part of Paola Viganò’s teaching team, I selected some students’ projects, to develop a more general reflection about the meaning of recycling the new territory of “Città Diffusa”, translated here as “Diffuse City”. Resilience emerged clearly as a main character and resource of the Veneto, due to the small actors’ capacity to play locally their role, adapting to large scale systemic change.


Baltimore. The paradoxes of the corridor

December 17, 2010

Baltimore is part of the Megalopolis (Gottmann, 1961); Megalopolis is the name given to the extensive urbanization, which includes rural, urban and suburban areas, spreading along the Northeastern Seaboard of the United States. Megalopolis has a symbolic role, it is the beginning of the Westward Course of the Way of the Empire (Emerson, 1861). In this Westward Course , Baltimore is what is left behind. It is the place where all the paradoxes of Megaloplis are most evident (Olson, 1976).
Among three branches, in the middle of the Cheasapeake Bay, on a sandy wet bank of easily workable soil, the City is where all the contradictions flow before sight. Social segregation is seen as unavoidable, sometimes also in a deeply progressive cultural environment; the city is black, close, poor, while the counties are white, open, rich. Slums are urban black holes near the world most influent State Capital.
Baltimore shows the paradoxes of the corridor. Including the major of all those paradoxes: here there is more future, because parts of Baltimore are leftovers. But this is the condition giving more opportunity to experiment a new sustainable paradigm.
My description is aimed towards two basic questions, what is the role of the urban designer and which forms of collaboration are possible among different knowledges and urban design.

• Gottmann, Jean;
Megalopolis. The Urbanized Northestern Seabord of the United States; New York: The Twentieth Century Fund, 1961

• Olson, Sherry H;
Baltimore; Cambridge (Mass.): Ballinger Publishing Company, 1976

• Short, John R;
Liquid City. Megalopolis and the Contemporary Northeast; Washington, DC: Resources for The Future, 2007

• Light, Jennifer S;
The Nature of Cities. Ecological Visions and the American Urban Professions, 1920-1960; Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.
Elements of a portrait

From Land Mosaics to Patch Dynamics

December 10, 2010

Here is a link to a presentation for Paola Viganò’s students at IUAV, Venezia. Urban Design Lab

This Is Not a Corridor, Annual Meeting, UMBC 28 October 2010

December 10, 2010

Ecoscape, Quarterly meeting, UMBC 29 June 2010

December 10, 2010

Baltimore as Crossroad – Conversation: Brian Mc Grath and Stuart Pickett

December 2, 2010

Baltimore in Baltimore
Conversation: Irene Guida, Brian McGrath, Stuart Pickett, Mateo Pintò
1. Baltimore as crossroad
IG: Baltimore tells two stories: The Northward race, from South to North; it is the story of a
desire for increased capacity and energy; and the Westward race, from East to West; the
westward manifest destiny toward wilderness. This is particularly evident in the structure of the
city: Baltimore is both part of the Megalopolis, the Northeast corridor, but Baltimore also has a
complex relationship with the County and the hinterland.
BMG: Yes, the first plan of Baltimore is designed with a cross structure: the same as Roman
Colonial cities, they have a Cardo and a Decumanus. The two main streets situates this story in
the heart of the city. The Washington Monument at Charles and Monument Streets is Trajan’s
Column with a cross shaped green carpet which slopes down to the south and the east and up
to the north and the west. Its not a flat grid but a topographical marking.
2. The grid as open structure and watersheds as waterways.
IG: Could this be the main difference between American cities and European cities? American
cities looking for an open structure, indifferent and equal, while European cities dealing with
limits, upon which the grid has been superposed later?
SP: New York and Boston were cities with limits in their first settlements, the Dutch City in
Southern Manhattan was a walled city, so it is for Boston. But other cities have been designed
with the idea of open settlement: this is the case of Philadelphia, with her idea of a open equal
grid. Or we could look at Delaware. Here we can find a strong wish to distinguish American
settlement from the European settlement. Ideally.
New York due its importance to her position on the Hudson River, allowing the ships to
go upward in the Hudson River. New York also has a different geological nature compared to
other cities on the East Coast: it has rocky deep water in the port, her shoreline was difficult to
change. It needed more work to be changed, it involved a drastical use of technology, while
other cities, as Baltimore, had their position in big sandy bays, easier to change, safe and ideal
for setting a port, and very close to waterways.
BMG: The first open grid city is Savannah. The other settlements always had the inheritance of
protected sacred places: the Spanish Mission settlements and the French bastions along the
Mississippi River.
The main difference in the new grid plan of Savannah is the idea of openness, which comes to
fruition with Jefferson: Jefferson’s idea of the grid is carried across the middle of the continent
after the Louisiana Purchase. his idea of an urban structure opening to the frontier is clear at his
Academical Village of the University of Virginia. His idea of enlightenment society was greatly
influenced by his experience in Paris as the French Ambaassador.
SP: You can perceive this Idea in the Cathedral in Baltimore: it is an open space, equal in every
direction. American founders knew that they could not compete with Europe in culture and
history, but they could compete in terms of availability of resources and space as resource. That
is why we invented the idea of wilderness.
This idea was useful in several ways: allowing us to deny any previous civilization, providing a
whole symbolic world. The main consequence of thinking space as wilderness is that
domestication, through grid and abstract patterns, destroys the streams. Is the grid more
ecological than settlements along waterways?
BMG: The grid speaks about openness. J. P. Sartre wrote two essays about New York and the
American City. He described this difference between the European city, enclosed and
unchanging in a shell,and the American City, open and ephemeral.
3. The grid as space-time structuring system
SP: Yes, the different timing of settlements also involves deep difference in their physical
structure. Many parts of American settlements disappear quickly.
BMG: The grid provides stability of street infrastructure with the dynamics of lots where
everything can change very fast. That is also why the American house has a front and a
backyard, it adds flexibility to the house. It can move within the fixed dimension of the lot. It is
also an economically efficient device: it allows to adapt to a growing or shrinking population fast.
SP: If we look at this room, it has the dimension allowed by the beam section. And due to the
abundance of wood, we have thick beams and very frequent in their distribution. The balloon
frame construction system allows a great flexibility, and adaptability, as steel does. Wood has
been substituted by steel.
MP: In Venezuela you can see this with concrete foundations: temporary settlements start with
wood, then they gradually stabilize, and it is when concrete appears, in foundations.
BMG: Yes, this is the basic idea of organic architecture not as a form but as an adaptable grid of
typological variation as Mathias Ungers understood It. It has fixed dimensions due to the material
and its abundance or scarcity provided by the site. French modern system is different from
American: their use of concrete is the substitution for wood, it involves more stability than wood
and steel construction. Saverio Muratori developed his theory stating that architecture is an
evolutionary process. Also the use of wood depends on local believes: in Thailand wood is
sacred. It has been substitued by concrete in the contemporary society. And this substitution
changes everything – the environment, the dimension of the grid and their metrics.
The American grid also contains this patchy growth within it, as the grid extends, different
social groups and land uses grow and shrink with it. Grahame Shane tells this story by
describing west London’s growth; there is not a grid, but there is a patch system that follows the
old streams and reflects the ownership pattern of the aristocracy.
5. Patch dynamics and representation
BMG: Patch dynamics within the extensive grid was altered by the privatization of mobility: the
atomization of landscape patches linked by corridors into a coarser network – Shane’s west
London at a regional scale.
The grid is not flat. Drawing sections is relevant to describe this phenomenon: this is why,
studying Gwynns Falls with Victoria Marshall, we also drew several sections, relating patches
disturbance with changeling sloping land. Both, high resolution ortho–imagery and a fine 3D
model of the land are key to relate patch dynamics with physical environment and bodily
perception of the space.
SP: Patch dynamics output representation is not unique: patch dynamics describe a model
according to a question. If the question is understanding the movement of water, then the slopes
become relevant. If the question is to describe the flows of water through canals, then the
pattern of the flows, and his distribution and capacity, become relevant. But patches could also
describe social and economic phenomena. Social patches describe the shared knowledge
among a population in a given area. This is the reason why patch dynamics are powerful tools to
understand cities, allowing city’s descriptions in multiple series of patterns. A city could be
described observing her different channeled flows, flows of people, workers, of their knowledge.
BMG: Manhattan is a rich field of observation in this sense: it allows to understand the
morphology of the grid and the impact of intensive development and flows of people, the
time-formation of this process. This involves a social aspect. In Manhattan, we could easily
observe how anthropological conditions, and morphological conditions relate within a city.
Saverio Muratori studied the evolutionary history of Venice through a fine scale analysis of the
basic elements composing the city. And he showed how complex could be the combination of a
single element. Manhattan’s grid contains row houses, stables, factories, warehouses,
churches, schools, hospitals and skyscrapers.
If we study the grid in Baltimore, we can observe that there is not only one grid: there are
different and several settlement on the harbour, different grids spread west, north and south into
the hinter land, like fingers along main roads and streams, and where they crash there is also a
symbolic meaning. It is interesting to understand to what extent those grids relate the land with
the sea.
SP: If we look at the position of cities within the Northeast Corridor, we can observe that their
position depends on the convenience of their location for easily moving large quantities of heavy
rough materials. The interesting point is how this shift from the see to the land happened. A
description of the shifting dynamics from the see to the hinterland is relevant.
Here we could see that railroads played an important role in this shifting, changing the way the
flow of rough material was driven in and out of the city. The railroad system started to be
developed in the 1880’s.
BMG: Yes, this relates also with the farming structure which fed the city.
4. Grids and corridors
IG: Baltimore’s grid also tells another story: the openness of the grid can be deceived by other
means to segregate social groups. It is not confirmed anywhere. The paradox of the grid; the
grid allows its own deception.
SP: The way we represent the city is problematic. The scale is important because you can
describe different phenomena with several means. Patch dynamics can be an useful tool to
describe transformation during time and at different scales. The patches describe different
phenomena depending on the question of the observer. Patch dynamics can describe
succession of populations, disturbance between different species inhabiting the same space.
6. Streams, channels, railroads, and highways.
SP: If we look at the development of the streets, the older ones developed along the streams
toward the see, and so did the farming structure. But with the railroads, the orientation changed.
So the system of the streets and the system of the watersheds started being conflictive
BMG: Yes, the idea of the older farmer roads looks the same of the Baroque radiating boulevard
but it was built as market roads not as a symbol radiating power. Burnham tried to turn
Chicago’s market roads into City Beautiful Avenues.
As Evans shows, the corridor is a Victorian idea.The enfilade system of walking from room to
room was transformed to separating public and private spaces along a connecting corridor. We
can see the transformation of the American city from grid to highway strcuture as a Victorian
shift for the privacy of the nuclear family.
Easterling describes the Appalachian system as a parallel system to the megalopolis. It
limits the growth of water and road based Baltimore hinterland, but the railroad connects the city
into the heartland of the country by crossing the Appalachias
SP: The Hudson River is for the early settlements a representative corridor, the main
infrastructure and the main buildings are settled along the Hudson River.
There is a succession in the infrastructure system: the Canal Earie, the Hudson River, the
railroad, Interstate 95. The fracture happens when the railroads interrupt the watershed system.
BMG: In Bangkok there is a strong need for shortcut canals in the North-South direction, and
lateral connecting canals in the east-west direction.
SP: The symbol of the fracture between the watershed and the railroad is the Stone Bridge in
Jones Falls.

From D. H. Thoreau Journals – Earth as living body

October 25, 2010

September, 12, 1851

A man should feed his senses with the best that the land affords. At the entrance to the Deep Cut I heard the telegraph wire vibrating like an Aeolian Harp.


A human soul is played on even as this wire  which now vibrates slowly and gently so that the passer can hardly hear it and among the sounds swells and vibrates with such intensity as (…) far as the elasticity and tension of the wire permits – and now it dies away and silent – through the breeze continues to sweep over it, no strain comes from it – and the traveler hearkens in vain.


The Earth I thread is not a dead inert mass. It is a body – has a spirit – is organic – and fluid to the influence of its spirit – and to whatever particle of that spirit that is in me. She is not dead but slept. It is more cheering than the fertility and luxuriance of vineyards – this fundamental fertility nearly to principle of growth.


Even the solid globe is permeated by the living law. It is the most living of creatures. No doubt all creatures that live on its surface are but parasites.