The Disenchanted City [M2]

The studio will be a collective investigation of the subtle and intriguing relationship that exists between buildings, their form and their character, and the city considered as a cultural achievement.

Milan, in Italy, is the city where we live and work; a city which is ultimately the result of a modern transformation grafted onto a very ancient structure, a city – we could say – made of single buildings rather than grand gestures, in which modern and ancient pieces are able to fit together, a city which is a result of a very anti-dogmatic idea of “progress” and a peculiar idea of continuity. Modern Milan is a rare combination between pragmatic needs and cultural ambitions.

The American City (1973) by Ciucci, Dal Co, Manieri Elia, and Tafuri is a collection of four essays on different aspects of American architecture as seen through a European, and particularly Italian, idea of form as shaped by cultural complexities. The final essay by Tafuri introduces “disenchantment” as a key to gradually understanding the urban transformation of the American city of the XX century when governed more by economic forces than by aesthetic or ethical ambitions.

After 50 years of that book, from a very different point from Tafuri’s ideological position, we will investigate with students how a contemporary architecture could resist this disenchantment, or at least how it could be a meaningful attempt. This semester we will be busy with the interpretation, transformation, and densification of the American city, starting from the crucial relation between architectural form and urban space, investigating new hypotheses to be specific, and providing – through a single architecture – a new interpretation of a cultural continuity.

Chicago has been the birth-place of a new metropolitan architecture able to produce typological innovation through a rich combination of different uses, a sustainable architecture because of its durable image and materiality, an architecture able to be at the same time pragmatically responding to new specific needs and, in a different way, able to promote cultural continuities with precedents. We chose Chicago to experiment possible “descendants” of these two cultural trajectories, one European and one quintessentially American, within a contemporary agenda.

What is urban? Making new architectures in the city cannot be just connected with the idea of novelty and individual expression, but rather to the idea of adjustments, re-working, and combinations of different experiences and knowledges.

Odgen Avenue dissects diagonally Chicago’s urban grid. Crossing it simultaneously defines two conditions: the abstract and uniform and repetitive one of the regular grid of the city of foundation and the morphological one that defines the specificity and exceptional nature of each encounter. Odgen Avenue is at the same time a Chicago street and the beginning of Route 66 that reaches LA crossing the continent.

Our investigation will deal with a limited number of corners, where each element will react to the large scale of the road and the local specific circumstances. Each project will individually define different relationships, while together, all buildings will form a potentially wonderful urban sequence.