Torino Internazionale | Metropolitan Urban Center


Carlo Olmo, City Architet / Director of Urban Center

Is it really possible to discuss, guide, and control the formation of urban quality? This is a subject which, if anything, appears all the more contradictory today. While urban sprawl, the entrenchment of rhetorical stances on complexity, the relativism (at least on the surface) of any expression of aesthetic judgment, would seem to keep debate on the subject at bay, businessmen, politicians and financiers never lose an opportunity to underline the importance of the quality of the environment in which we live. Such quality, however, would seem paradoxically to reside more in urban marketing than in territorial or social policy. It is nowadays very difficult to conceive of widespread quality in the urban environment as a whole, i.e. not just of one building or architectural type, without dealing with the question of what, today, does constitute res pubblica, of just what are the limits the individual citizen is ready to accept for the sake of reaching a shared value. If it is true that a city such as Torino, with its metropolitan spread, intends to tackle this issue, then it needs to prepare itself for the challenge, first and foremost in conceptual terms.

The quality of urban fabric is constituted through the definition of places of discussion before, during and after the process of change, tying architecture and buildings to a historical memory that is continuously reinterpreted, involving economic and social actors, as well as educators and mentors, in the discussion on the nature of the quality that has to be achieved. This is the only way to ensure that choices, including decisions regarding the physical characteristics of any transformation, will be made as the results of debate between the parties involved and to guarantee that attention will be focused not only on the project per se but also on how those elements that find consensus will be put into practice.

The Metropolitan Urban Center was founded with exactly just this rationale, with the aim of taking an operational role in the possible reflections on the city and its metropolitan territory. The Center aims above all to act as a bridge between the complex matrix of transformation and citizens, in the widest sense of the term, with the intention of promoting communication which raises awareness of what is happening and what will happen.

Among the already highly complex range of organizations that construct strategic guidelines today in Torino, the goal of the Metropolitan Urban Center is to focus on themes that have received scant attention so far, such as the physical form of urban transformations. Preliminary research on a territorial scale into the ideal use of, and limits present in strategic areas provides the Metropolitan Urban Center with the material to produce reference scenarios for the processes of transformation as well as the definition of morphological prefigurations. The goal here is not to deal with issues of aesthetics or form, but rather to propose political tools capable of triggering processes in which the very images of change become aids in governing the territory, as well as the basis for confrontation, indeed, conflict, between the actors involved.

Through the Metropolitan Urban Center, the recent divestment of a large slice of the Fiat Mirafiori area, for example, may become an opportunity for the city to explore a number of possible prefigurations. Opening up the factory wall also opens up a number of new scenarios for Torino that involve not only the dynamics of industrial production but also new opportunities to create places to live and to exert an influence on the very shape of the city. While it is true that any hypotheses regarding the future use of the area must be the result of political confrontation, it is no less true that their physical form can be subject to preliminary thinking and elaboration, meant to serve as tools in the decision-making process.

Establishing roundtables for discussion is thus one of the fundamental facets of the Metropolitan Urban Center's role which constitutes a space where those actors involved in guiding change can convergence. The Center not only promotes assessment and confrontation around the physical form of individual interventions, it also acts as a bridge between the different levels (local government, institutions, operators, end-users) at which the processes of territorial change and development take shape. The goal is to provide administrative bodies - the City of Torino and the municipalities in its metropolitan area - with a tool to attempt to overcome the current reductive thinking for the implementation of large-scale actions at supra-municipal level. The role the Metropolitan Urban Center has set itself is to initiate reflection on infrastructure-related themes - hence, on the where and how of living - that are strategically important to the metropolitan area, such as the proposed transformation of Corso Marche for the western part and of the Gronda Est decongestion axis on the eastern side of the hill.

By the same token, and on more pertinently urban matters, the city council has commissioned the Metropolitan Urban Center to monitor a number of transformation projects that concern important parts of the city, whose historical and architectural value - and often symbolic value, as well, for those who live there - call for the adoption of clear guidelines that from the outset of the project will guide operators and planners. This is the case in the conversion of a number of industrial buildings carried out in wider transformation projects, such as the Lancia plant in Borgo San Paolo, the Fiat buildings in Corso Dante, and the Officine Grandi Motori in Corso Vercelli, for which the Metropolitan Urban Center, in concert with the other actors involved, has already begun to shadow and monitor the projects.