Contemporary Firmitas

Energy and Social Sustainability


Jacques Tatí, Playtime (1967)

The problem of modern urban planning has been a problem of ‘center’ and ‘periphery’: the problem of the centers of the traditional city, gloomy and smelly, which had to be ‘sanitized,’ ‘cleaned,’ or ‘disinfected’; and the problem of the new peripheries that had had to be created out of nothing, extending the efficient and productive schemes of capitalist urbanization to terrains vagues. But time, with its double entropic and good-memory impetus, has not passed in vain: it has proven to us, somewhat surprisingly, that the centers were not as dirty and inefficient as the modern planners thought they were, and neither were the peripheries as mediocre and devoid of identity as the critics of modernity believed them to be. Moreover, the passage of time has shown us another unavoidable fact: that the ‘modern’ peripheries are no longer ‘new,’ that in fact they frequently need as much renovation as do the supposedly historical centers, which, protected by heritage laws, refurbished by gentrification aspirations, and embellished by tourism interests, tend to shine more than dormitory towns, many of which have hardly been touched for decades.

This issue of Arquitectura Viva focuses precisely on these anonymous neighborhoods of residential blocks raised during the heroic years of modern planning; neighborhoods and blocks now obsolete in social and energy terms but occasionally presenting schemes of admirable geometric rigor, when not of equally admirable spatial implantation and landscaping. Out of the many examples available we have selected four buildings located in European countries, and these are presented in detail in the following pages. All show a desire to avoid unnecessary demolitions and enhance whatever virtues they already have, without shying away from the chance to make any typological, spatial, constructional, or environmental changes that would ensure that the buildings last at least another lifetime. A different way of achieving the firmitas that according to Vitruvius constituted one of the three pillars of architecture.

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