Category Archives: saggi e articoli


Translated from  G.Strappa , Architettura come processo, Franco Angeli, Milano 2015










5a – The modern idea of a masonry language, both local and international, was born with the decline of the consolidated stereotype of a Mediterranean landscape that painters and poets had for a long time idealized in the transparent airiness of colonnades and trabeations used in basically trilithic structures, of wooden derivation.

This landscape, instead, reveals to the travelers, when the geographical and cultural barrier of Rome is overcome, its own nature of plastic, organically man-made territory. It consists of churches, monasteries, even ancient ruins, but above all of urban fabrics of great massive strength. A world of powerful walls and houses with small windows, organized in solid and continuous volumes.

The other side of classicism was also discovered: that of the large uninterrupted walls, where the openings are simple flat-arched holes that don’t interrupt their architectural continuity. Reality begins to shake off, in the European imagination, the aristocratic museum of literary representations which, on the basis of the classic tradition, had superimposed itself on the truth of the built landscape……..

click to continue reading   5. Chap. 5 Translation from -Architettura come processo-

The notion of process

Giuseppe Strappa

The notion of process ( learning form Alnwick)







Delft paper Alnwick pubblicato           click here

  1. Aims

Alnwick is a small, picturesque town in Nothumberland, on the border between ‘England and Scotland. Doubtfully it could  be of great interest to foreign art scholar for the value of its monuments or to the historian for its documental importance. The value of the book M.R.G.Conzen wrote about Alnwick and the reason why we believe it is important a new edition for the Italian readers are due to the relevant  ideas about  the city it contains, and the kind of reading it proposes, which is  generalizable.

What explicitly interests the author is, in fact, a theory on urban form. Theory (and not just method) in origin aimed to the studies in geography, but which is valid not only for other case studies, but also valuable for other fields of knowledge. In this sense, the study in the formation of a small urban center acquires an ontological value as  it deals with the fundamentals of urban  knowledge: it investigates why and how an urban form is born,  according to which laws it grows and changes to the current condition.

Analyzing the form of the built landscape not as an aesthetical product (as the surface of things), but as the visible aspect of a structure, thus  expressing its characters and transformations, the work of Conzen is somehow “architectural” just in the sense that our school gives that word. On the basis of the analysis of the Conzenian text we had made for the Italian edition, I would like to make, in this paper, some observations  about principles and definitions he employs:
1. Which of these principles are also architectural;
2  If they are working  for contemporary design.

  1. Architectural notion of “process”
    The most original of these conzenian principles for the architect is, in my opinion, the notion of process.
    Process, literally from Latin procedo, to advance, is, in the field of our  studies, a series of events related to each other leading to the formation, transformation and ruin of a territorial, urban or built structure.

But, beyond the definitions, bearing in mind the notion of process means looking at the world with different eyes: looking at things not as they just appear, but in their becoming, as a moment of transformation, as a temporary condition of passage. Nothing is immobile, even the monuments. The buildings, the urban fabrics, the city that we see are equilibrium states in the transformation of matter that becomes provisionally construction. The actual built landscape  is part of a large flow of transformations in which we must learn to recognize the origin, the  developments and the possible future changes. These possible future changes  are the project itself.
This notion of process expresses, as we see, a point of view very different from that of history. The historian, in fact, reconstructs the past as a path (as a sequence of events) aimed at the present. The history fixes steps and signs that have a direction. The same idea of modernity is a modern creation: it is made ​​to begin when it is useful to begin, with the Italian Renaissance, when the values ​​that we share today were acknowledged (freedom, individual expression, the man at the center of the universe etc.)
This also applies to the architects. The same history of modern architecture recognizes in the past the signs and stages that operate to demonstrate the need for modern forms. Le Corbusier reads  in ancient history what  is functional to point the way to the modern revolution. He see things as they appear and judges them  with his own aesthetical sensibility and beliefs. For him, for example, the Roman palazzos  are just containers  of “gold and horrors” not the result of a great urban and civil transformation. Understanding  its forming process, its character of a small town “turned”  inside, he would have interpreted the palazzo as a palimpsest of modernity . In fact, the concept of ​​process is alien to the ideals of the Modern movement: it involves not the reading of sudden revolutions, but of transformations that take place over a long time, performing a non-linear history.  It involves duration, transition states that occur in the slow passage of time.
Implies recognizing cultural areas and historical periods.

  1. The Conzenian notion of process
    M.R.G.Conzen never gives a definition of the term, but the whole book on Alnwick is a structured, rigorous, even meticulous enunciation of the concept of process, a demonstration of its validity for urban studies and, in my opinion, even a possible contribution, today, for the formation of a new architecture that overcomes the way of reading the city as space and volume “a method – he claims – which has its roots largely in an earlier architectural preoccupation with the contrast between  ‘voids’ and ‘solids’ and its aesthetic implications. ” (Conzen,1969, p.4).  The Conzenian notion of process involves all the scales of analysis, from the land plot to the city plan. See the case of the process of formation, saturation, transformation and recession of the burgage (medieval plot) through which we can understand the current form of housing types that form the central fabric of the city, from the Middle Ages, with the increase due to  the new density of the working-class neighborhoods, until the final demolition of part of the fabric subsequent to the contemporary urban renewal .  The Burgage cycle, as defined by Conzen, by producing typical forms of construction deep in the lot, and repeated in the fabric, also shows clearly specificities and  differences with other cultural areas, as in central and southern Italy, where the industrial revolution had a very different impact and single-family houses have been recast to form multifamily “in linea” houses. Conzen creates an entire universe of definitions to explain the general notion of process, where recurring terms such as accumulation of forms, persistence of forms, pattern metamorphosis, indicate a progressive development, according to certain laws of successive increments of the urban fabric. So, we can distinguish different ways of transforming the built landscape:
    – The process of transformation of the plot system [Plot pattern metamorphosis] through which the plot models produce diachronic variants,
    – The process of fusing  the lots [Plot amalgamation] that produces the growth in size of the lots or those of division and cropping.

–  The process of morphological  growth [Accumulation of forms] caused by particular social needs, economic and cultural conditions during subsequent periods more or less distinct .

Some definitions are identical to those of the Muratorian school such as restructuring cycle [Redevelopment cycle]: the transformation process in response to the economic revaluation of the central urban soil under conditions of gradual increase in the power of capital investments, with the formation of new urban tissue , followed by a phase of gradual replacement  of unitary parts. Even the most relevant and scientifically innovative of concepts introduced by Conzen, the one of fringe belt, is linked to the notion of process. I want just to remark here  its absolute actuality and how it can interpret the non-linear development of the contemporary city, their periods of stagnation and others of accelerated development, their  mixture of different types of land use, characterized from  great  fragmentation in urban fabric and diversified patterns.

The result is an “architectural” reading of the formation of Alnwick which starts from territorial routes, conditioned by the form of the soil, still identifiable (apart from the interruption of Pottergate church area), as links of the urban centers of Lesbury, Eglingham and Wittingham. A process of “knotting” is formed, in this case expressed by the central area of Alnwick, typical of all specializations  at any scale of the built environment, including building scale.  A process, I would like to point out, that should  be investigated in all its aspects as it explains the formation of many modern building  types.

The great triangle of Central Alnwick (Fig.1), resulting from intersection of routes, was originally in fact a large open area, the ancient market square of a border town that, for its size, could meet the needs of a  farming community and those of a regional center. The free market area of the Anglo period, is then transformed from agricultural and animals market in a space with shops. Starting with the first wooden structures, it is progressively saturated and solidified. While the burgage plots on the perimeter tend to repeat in succession, the node organizes having its own unitary plan, establishing a relationship of necessity between the parties. It tends to form a concluded space. The fabric  has developed spontaneously from small isolated buildings and temporary shops, through a slow process, in more compact unities, easily identifiable as market aggregates opposed to the surrounding, oldest and serial, road blocks. In conclusion, we can understand the actual form of central Alnwick as the expression of his transformation process where increasing pressure on the central spaces available will lead to the gradual saturation of the ancient triangular area of the market, resulting in the filling within the system of the three main roads and the formation of new roads and fabric within a structure previously developed.

  1. The Muratorian school notion of process

For the Muratorian school a process is the gradual mutation of urban fabrics and building types. The bearing process shall be the reference one, in that it contains the historical development of the solutions fully integrated, and therefore allows us to recognize the parallel processes, the processes of synchronical typological variants derived from diachronical transformations, which then identify mutations intrinsic to each place and development stages of each city.

Taken for granted the evident similarities between the theories of Conzen and those of the Muratorian school, it must be said that there are also evident specificities. Consideration should be given to the fact these their theories are not abstract ones applied to the built landscape, as Platonic ideas identified from time to time in individual cases, but on the contrary, principles of general validity extracted from the analysis of factual case studies (Caniggia, 1976).

The ideas of ​​organism and organicity are therefore specific to the Italian school (Strappa,1995; Strappa,2003) as they were born from the studies on a very different urban landscape.  Alnwick has been formed and is readable today as a serial structure, in which each element maintains its own specificity even in the aggregation. Even in fusions of burgage building types remain serial. In the Italian city units blend  together (or de quantified) to form new types of buildings , tending to organize themselves over time as a new organism.

Some examples. The small town of Castel Madama, east of Rome, for example, consists of a fabric formed by  courtyard houses separated by ambitus that organically formed even the city wall. Over time, the courtyard houses have been divided into smaller units, giving rise to new building types (pseudo row house or single-cell house), while the open space of the court has generated access routes to new city gates, due to the progressive worthlessness of defensive  walls (Camiz,2011). In this sense, perhaps the clearest expression of an organic forming process is the Italian palace, generated as a transformation of the fabric.

The apulian palazzetto, small palace, (Fig.2) derives from the transformation and recasting of housing units.
From the Ninth, Tenth century a type of palace derived from courtyard houses is formed in Apulia, identified by buildings such as Palazzo De Luca in Molfetta, De Lerma in Bitonto, Baldassare in Altamura, Beltrani and Palagano in Trani.  (Carlotti, 2010; Strappa et al., 2003).

In other areas the permanence of the court is even more evident. We cannot understand the facade of a Venetian palace, for example, but as a transformation of the original domus, where the central tracery, the  polifora light and transparent, is the heritage of the courtyard open space (Strappa, 1998).

And we cannot understand the Roman palazzo, as well, if we don’t recognize it as the result of a row houses recasting process in which the traces of the original modulus are retained on the facade.

Palaces as Lancellotti or Altieri are the clear product of a process that transforms a portion of tissue in a new building.

  1. Use of the notion of process in architectural design
    For the architect, the notion of process makes sense if it is “working”, if it is capable to have a real effect on the built environment. Reading, as the project, is always a critical operation and involves the responsibility of the designer. Let me present, as my interpretation of  what is said above, the processual design of a building for public services in a small Italian town. As the proposal is based on the continuation of a historical process of transformation of the city still going on, the reading of the forming process is a substantial part of the project . This reading is based on two ideas:
  2. The collaboration of housing to form thespecialized buildings.In particular,in the project,the notion of “palazzo” is used as a synthesis of the processof union betweenthe differentunits.Theproposedsolution is anupdatingof the existing fabric(residential and rural buildings currentlyabandoned)with virtually nodemolition. Reemployingexistingbuilding not only will help in defendingthe charactersof the built landscape, but will also produceasignificant economyin thecost of the intervention, and an energy savingdue to the considerablethicknessof theexisting wallsandthe shape, locationand exposureofold buildings.
  3. All the partscomposingthe townarelinked to each otherby a specificratioof necessitythatconstitutesthe main character of the urban organism.These relationships,made​​legiblethrough architecture,form thestructure of the newproject.The new buildingis formedas a newurban node, a knotting of the courses that establish the new public spaces.

The existing buildings to transform have characters that plainly indicate the derivation from three original courtyard houses, according to a type common in many other small historical towns of consolidated rural traditions. We hypothesized the evolutionary phases of the transformation process typical of these buildings:

The first formative phase is characterized by the presence of a fabric of elementary courtyard house, with access from the route;

– The second formative phase in which a partial filling of some of the courts is developed, with the construction of secondary rural buildings;

– The third formative phase (the current one) in which some of the large courtyard houses, originally owned by a single owner, are split up to develop a  new tissue of smaller pseudo row houses;

– The fourth formative phase (hypothesized on the basis of the ongoing process), in which the recasting of building cells is developed around a common court, and knotting of routes to form a new specialized building according to the palazzo building type

The fourth and final phase corresponds to the project, proposed as the result of a continuous process of cooperation between unities. The new building (Fig.3) will have the representative character of the palace, evidenced primarily by the space of the courtyard, where the paving expresses the hierarchy of routes, connected  to the main urban areas, tied together in an  internal square  which will be a new Carezzano civic center. The new space, bordered by old buildings reused, paved with stone slabs, will be used for public events, along with the space connected to the Piazza S. Eusebius and the Town Hall Square, in which the material and the design of the paving express a clear link.

  1. Conclusions

We developed this project not as practice work, but as a test of a designing  method in a site until then unknown to us[1]. So we did not absolutely expected to win, also because the spirit of the competition  implied the demolition of the existing buildings and the renewal of the old center trough the  input of contemporary ”mediatic “architecture. The fact that, instead, we unexpectedly won the competition is, in our opinion, a confirmation that things are changing. We believe that the architecture of the spectacle is ending.
Maybe people are tired of buildings for no reason twisted and is worried by the gherkin shaped  skyscrapers rising in almost every city, in London, in Barcelona, in China.
We must find new ways. Also due to the sequence of economic and social crises that pose obvious problems in employing resources, it is necessary to establish new principles in architecture (logical, economic, ethic ) based on the proper ratio between the means we employ and the goals to be achieved. We believe that, against the contemporary cult of luxury and waste, this new ethic and aesthetic of measured, parsimonious use of resources should coincide, in large part, with the understanding (following the teaching of Conzen and Muratori), the updating and the wise, innovative continuation of the formative process of existing buildings and fabrics.



CANIGGIA, G. 1976. Strutture dello spazio antropico, Firenze, Uniedit.

CARLOTTI, P. 2010. Studi tipologici sul palazzetto pugliese, Bari, Polibapress.

CONZEN, M.R.G. 1969. Alnwick Northumberland. A study in town-plan analysis. London, Institute of British Geographers, 1960 (1°).

MARETTO, M. 2012. Saverio Muratori. Il progetto della città. Saverio Muratori, a legacy in urban design, Milano, Francoangeli.

STRAPPA, G. 1995. Unità dell’organismo architettonico. Note sulla formazione e trasformazione dei caratteri degli edifici, Bari, Adda Editore.

STRAPPA,G. 1998. The notion of enclosure in the formation of Special Building Type, in Typological Process and Design Theory (Proceedings of the International Symposium held at M.I.T., Cambridge, on march 1995), Cambridge.

STRAPPA,G. IEVA M, DIMATTEO M.A. 2003. La città come organismo. Lettura di Trani alle diverse Scale, Bari, Adda Editore.

STRAPPA,G. 2003. La nozione caniggiana di organismo e l’eredità della scuola di architettura di Roma, in: G.L.Maffei (ed.), Gianfranco Caniggia architetto, A.Linea, Firenze.

STRAPPA, G. 2006. Lettura e progetto dell’organismo urbano di La Valletta, Bari, Polibapress.

STRAPPA, G. (ed) 2012 Studi sulla periferia est di Roma, Milano, Francoangeli.


Images captures

  1. Holdings in the central triangle of Alnwick, 1567 (from Conzen, 1969) .
  2. Formativeprocessof the Apulian “palazzetto”from courtyard house, to pseudo rowhouses, to specialized building (from Carlotti,2010).
  3. Recasting design ofcourtyard housesfor a newcivic center in Carezzano(design team: G.Strappa, project leader; A. Camiz, P.Carlotti, G.Galassi, M.Maretto, designers; N.Boggio, P.Ciotoli, M.Longo,collaborators).


Giuseppe Strappa – Università di Roma, “Sapienza”

A Arquitetura como organismo e processo



R e v i s t a d a R e d e L u s ó f o n a d e Mo r f o l o g i a U r b a n a  2019 – Volume 7 – Número 1

A Arquitetura como organismo e processo

Giuseppe Strappa. Università degli Studi “La Sapienza” di Roma, Itália.

Tradução: Higor Ribeiro da Costa. Universidade Estadual de Maringá, Programa de Pós-Graduação em Arquitetura e Urbanismo, Maringá, PR, Brasil. E-mail:

O texto a seguir foi publicado no livro ‘Nuovo Realismo/Postmodernismo. Dibattito aperto fra Architettura e Filosofia’ (fig. 1), de Paola Gregory (Roma, Officina Edizioni, 2016, pp. 163-172). Seu autor, Giuseppe Strappa, é hoje um dos nomes mais proeminentes da escola italiana de morfologia urbana. Neste texto, Strappa demonstra como a arquitetura faz parte de um contexto amplo, em que as edificações e as cidades são geradas por meio de processos formativos em diferentes escalas, e que é necessário compreender e sintetizar o legado arquitetônico que recebemos do passado, e os novos materiais e tecnologias que surgem a cada dia (nota do tradutor).

87-Texto do artigo-306-1-10-20190815


Attualita’ della proposta di M.R.G. Conzen

Attualita’ della proposta di M.R.G. Conzen

Giancarlo Cataldi, Gian Luigi Maffei,  Marco Maretto, Nicola Marzot, Giuseppe Strappa

Presentazione del libro L’analisi della forma urbana (Franco Angeli, Milano, 2012) edizione italiana del libro di M.R.G. Conzen, Alnwick, Nurthumberland. A study in Town Plan Analysis Institute of British Geographers, London 1960
















L’edizione italiana dello studio su Alnwyck riveste, a nostro avviso, un significato che va oltre la documentazione dell’analisi esemplare di una piccola città inglese ai confini con la Scozia, per acquistare un senso più generale.

Con la fondazione dell’Isuf (International Seminar on Urban Form), nel 1994, gli studiosi italiani di morfologia urbana hanno scoperto il patrimonio di conoscenze della scuola geografica inglese che fa capo a M.R.G. Conzen, illustre geografo di origine tedesca autore dello studio che qui presentiamo, e dei suoi continuatori, J.W.R.Whitehand, T.R. Slater, P. Larkham, K.Kropf, oltre al figlio Michael Conzen.

Non solo ne veniva riconosciuta l’affinità con molte delle proposte sviluppate dalla scuola italiana, sulla scia dell’insegnamento di Saverio Muratori, ma, soprattutto, se ne costatava la reciproca complementarità ponendo finalmente le basi concrete, dopo tanto parlare di rapporti interdisciplinari, di un lavoro comune attraverso il quale geografi e architetti potessero condividere, all’interno di uno stesso terreno di studi, metodi di ricerca e, ci si consenta il termine, “vocazioni” comuni. Perché, questo è il punto, il lavoro di M.R.G. Conzen dimostra una spiccata propensione a interpretare la città e il territorio come sintesi vitale di un flusso di esperienze storicamente individuate. M.R.G. Conzen ha compreso in modo operante, in altre parole, quello che per noi costituisce la sostanza stessa dell’architettura: che ogni forma (del territorio, della città, degli edifici) è il risultato di un processo, della progressiva associazione organica di parti, e che ha senso scomporla e indagarne le componenti solo se si tiene conto della sua sostanziale unità e indivisibilità. Possedeva, dunque, una nozione di organismo urbano e territoriale che, mai espressa attraverso esplicite definizioni, ha operato come un sostrato profondo nel dare coerenza “architettonica” alla struttura teorica della propria indagine.

Questo dato costituisce uno dei grandi motivi d’interesse dello studio su Alnwick, ma anche, riteniamo, la ragione dell’attualità della proposta di M.R.G. Conzen: lo sforzo di comprendere la forma delle cose non per quello che sono, ma nel loro divenire storico permette, infatti, di leggere anche le condizioni di lacerazione della forma del territorio contemporaneo come stato di transizione, momento provvisorio di una trasformazione continua il cui carattere è, in questo, non troppo diverso da quello città medievale in perenne cambiamento, ed è informe solo per chi non sappia leggerne la latente aspirazione alla composizione e all’unità. E’ proprio questa aspirazione a riunire il molteplice, più che l’unità in se, a dare forma alle cose e senso al progetto.

In questo senso la lettura di Alnwick è l’individuazione di una teoria: la storia perfetta di un piccolo borgo narrata nelle sue fasi formative fino alla condizione contemporanea. Fasi ricondotte a provvisorie unità da un singolare “epos geografico” che individua, rende cioè unici e irripetibili, comportamenti generali che la lettura riconosce come patrimonio comune di molti altri insediamenti e territori dove la forma del suolo e il lavoro dell’uomo stabiliscono una solidarietà riconoscibile come “tipica”.

E’ di natura architettonica, inoltre, una delle principali innovazioni nella lettura del territorio introdotte da M.R.G. Conzen, quella di fringe belt, che ha a che fare direttamente non solo con la documentazione che il cartografo riporta attraverso convenzioni, ma con la lettura critica, che coincide con il progetto delle trasformazioni.











Si tratta di una nozione complessa, cui è impossibile associare un termine italiano, tant’è che nella traduzione abbiamo dovuto impiegare una perifrasi ma capace di fertili traslazioni dall’ambito strettamente geografico a quello progettuale, contribuendo a cogliere, oggi, alcuni caratteri fondanti dell’instabile metropoli contemporanea. In realtà le idee affini di “perimetro” e “confine” sono state da qualche tempo alla base della lettura di qualsiasi forma del costruito, in particolare nel campo degli studi urbani condotti da architetti, mettendo in luce, tra l’altro, la storica contrapposizione tra città e campagna e il suo disgregarsi nel magma dello Spratly urbano. Eppure esse sono capaci di cogliere solo uno degli infiniti stati di transizione, semplificando le letture ma anche riducendone il significato. Propongono, in altre parole, uno sviluppo discreto di un processo in realtà continuo e che procede, nondimeno, per fasi di accelerato sviluppo seguite da altre di rilevante stasi. La nozione di fringe belt coglie invece le trasformazioni intermittenti del perimetro nel loro fluire: non solo come confine, ma come premessa di una nuova struttura dapprima fluttuante e incerta (liquida, si direbbe oggi) che si consolida, viene demarcata e diventa più stabile nel tempo. Compresa a fondo, l’innovazione terminologica e metodologica conzeniana permette di interpretare la frammentazione delle periferie urbane non semplicemente come caotiche, e per questo indecifrabili, lacerazioni, ma nel loro significato autentico di strutture in formazione, delle quali vanno riconosciuti caratteri evidenti e potenziali.

Questa innovazione, rivolta alla realtà dei fenomeni in atto, sembra oggi tanto più attuale, quanto più le analisi urbane si vanno distaccando dallo sviluppo dei fenomeni concreti.

E’ in questo senso che l’edizione italiana dello studio su Alnwick ha il significato, come si diceva, di una proposta alternativa: individua un fronte comune contro la deriva astraente di molte delle riflessioni contemporanee sull’architettura alle diverse scale del territorio, della città, degli edifici. Ci confrontiamo oggi, infatti, con una crisi dai caratteri ignoti nelle grandi fasi di transizione del passato, dove la lettura indiretta e mediatica del mondo costruito va sostituendo la conoscenza diretta della realtà, svincolando la forma progettata dalle relazioni organiche che dovrebbero tenerla unita agli altri aspetti dell’uso del territorio. Smarrendo, in fondo, le basi che permettono di leggerne la reale complessità e di cogliere l’istanza a quel vicendevole rapporto di necessità tra le parti che il grande flusso delle modificazioni del paesaggio costruito, forse più che nel passato, oggi ci pone.  Senza la nozione di organismo urbano, senza la forma data da un confine pur mutevole e strutturante, la lettura di una condizione in rapida trasformazione, gli spazi dei margini irrisolti della città contemporanea acquistano il significato, suggestivo quanto inutilizzabile, di grandi schegge in conflitto tra loro. Lo spazio delle nostre periferie finisce così col ricadere nel grande mare del pittoresco metropolitano, dei territori “ibridi e vaghi”: la città reale come combinazione fortuita, uno dei tanti casi del possibile.










Si vedano, per convincersene, le interpretazioni della città contemporanea (da Virilio a Koolhaas) che hanno conquistato intere generazioni di architetti, dove la metropoli diviene un luogo della mente che racchiude personali rappresentazioni delle trasformazioni in corso, livelli sovrapposti di “architetture eventuali”, layers di realtà possibili e discontinue, secondo una cultura disciplinare che organizza, di fatto, il consenso alla crescita della metropoli contemporanea per addizioni ininterrotte e seriali.  E’ evidente, se solo si alza lo sguardo al di sopra delle contingenze, come la funzione dell’architettura sia ancora quella dell’arte borghese, ancora quella tafuriana di “allontanare l’angoscia introiettandone le cause” che racchiude, anche, l’ambizione di progettare la casualità del molteplice letto nei suoi frammenti separati: l’evocazione della complessità contro la sua soluzione. Scomparsa la pertinenza con la propria fase storica e con la propria area culturale (tolte dal loro tumultuoso contesto economico e antropico) le forme si trasformano in oggetti di evocazione. Una tecnica di seduzione, dove le contraddizioni sembrano di volta in volta, illusoriamente e paradossalmente, sciogliersi nell’eccesso dello spettacolo.

Non è, dunque, un caso che lo studio su Alnwick, e la proposta di metodo che contiene, siano proposti al lettore italiano proprio oggi, quando la produzione neoromantica dello star system internazionale pone quesiti sul ruolo stesso dell’architetto, sulla sua funzione anestetizzante di mediazione culturale e politica.

Comprendere il testo di M.R.G. Conzen significa scoprire (o confermare) una via d’uscita: leggere il territorio e la città contemporanei non come semplice, apparentemente neutrale constatazione di come essi ci appaiono, ma come processo operante e conflittuale, che permette di interpretare, scegliere, disegnare in continuità col grande flusso di trasformazione del costruito e della sua storia.





SUBSTRATAMorphology of the ancient city, beyond its ruins

by Giuseppe Strappa

in U+D Urbanform+Design n. 9/10 – 2019














  1. The issue

As part of the efforts we have been making for years now to renew the research methods used in the field of Urban Morphology, I believe that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to considering new topics; rather, we should take a fresh look at the matters with which the process-based school has always traditionally dealt (STRAPPA 2018). For example, we should review the ancient origins of many modern-day developments: the foundations, the material sediment and deposits of memory upon which we have built and that we use to build.

The morphology of the built environment is not a soulless discipline. We must have imagination, we must take the powerful and mysterious ancient deposit that underlie our architectural work and give them a synthetic form. This ancient layer is not dead: its living nature manifests itself through the changes that it causes, above the archaeological level, in the materials and shapes that are reused in construction or in our consciousness. It is because of this, of its generating power, that we cannot allow ourselves to merely examine it using the tools of mere perception that often lead us to create a myth around the Ancient based on its distant splendour.

Instead, we should reconstruct its developmental process in order to understand its living substance, using reason, because experience – our direct, concrete relationship with things – cannot but be partial and therefore misleading in this case. We need to make renewed efforts to distil the information at our disposal.

Despite the repeated affirmation of the principle of continuity between modern cities and their historic fabric and the definition of the Middle Ages as a time that was not at all a step backwards compared to ancient times, in actual fact the archaeological part of cities is still interpreted as a legacy of traces and foundations imparted to newer buildings in an episodic way, without the use of a general method that can condense multiple aspects into one single unified interpretation. ‘Unified interpretation’ does not mean recognising ancient remains in the appearance of modern cities, a field of study that, as we all know, has produced a quantity of researches, often with significant results. Instead, the term wishes to highlight how some tools used in morphological investigations of the built environment mostly limit themselves to considering the late medieval period, when going over the phases that lead back to its matrices, without systematically tracing them back to what generated the forms of its buildings and cities using the concepts of organism, process and type. Equally, the process through which ancient matter becomes material and turns into parts of new organisms, or the way in which spolia have been recognised as new elements to be reused, have not led to a truly systematic investigation in the field of urban morphology. This is true, at the same, when it comes to development processes considering the primary dwelling types, where, at least in Italy, we have gone no further than the housing type with external profferlo staircase. Where do these types come from? What did the ‘second nature’ of ancient ruins create? How was it used to expose the cryptae that could be inhabited, how did it generate the basic domus terrinea, and as a result the domus solarata, essential steps in growing complexity that led to new forms of dwellings (HUBERT 1990), not to mention the medieval palatium, domus maior and turris as the dawn of a new form of public building that developed in the late14th century (STRAPPA 2015)


































  1. Imperial age fabric in the Trastevere area (MURATORI 1963).
  2. Overlapping of the medieval fabric (V-XII century) to the imperial age substratum in the Trastevere quarter after the phases of urban contraction (V-VII century), evident in the abandonment of the southern part of the pre-existing fabric, up to the late medieval reorganization processes and recasting of the previous structures during the growth phase of the XI-XIII centuries (MURATORI 1963)
  3. Imperial fabric of insulae along the Via Recta, with indication (B) of the area of Palazzo Lancellotti, formed recasting row houses generated by the consumption of insulae (MURATORI 1963)
  4. Formation of block B of the previous plan in the reconstruction of Gianfranco Caniggia. From above. Current state, where the substrate cell of the ancient fabric is recognizable. Block substratum formed by elementary cells arranged around the open court space. First consumption phase of the ancient substratum with the reuse and superelevation of the substrate cells (CANIGGIA 1963)

It is a process in which it is often impossible to detect the intangible aspects imparted by the substratum (forms and their types) and the  physical and tangible aspects (matter and materials). Perhaps the perfect example of this are the objects produced during the long artistic life of the Cosmati family, who not only used marble and stone from ancient monuments from the 12th to the 14th centuries, but also ‘created’ forms and patterns from them for mosaics, ambones and floorings. The same consumption of the ancient city’s form also began with its self-destruction: ‘…in a certain sense we may say that the history of the destruction of Rome begins with the reign of Augustus, who undertook to transform the capital of the Empire from a city of bricks into a city of marble’ says Lanciani (LANCIANI 1901),quoting Suetonius (‘Marmoream se relinquere, quam latericiam accepisse’). Therefore the oldest substratum that has disappeared can only be understood through the form it created: it is a morphological problem and it can be tackled by turning to the notions of organism and process.

Gianfranco Caniggia raised the issue with his seminal study on the city of Como, which he used to build up a method of interpreting the change from a domus to a modern residential organism using type-based phases: ‘tabernisation’, infilling, development from single-family to multiple-family house (CANIGGIA 1963). In the same years that Saverio Muratori listed the criteria to be used when examining the cultural characters that make up the built environment (rational-cultural, economic-technical, ethical-political, aesthetic-historic), identifying four different ages of change, of which no less than two (Royal – Republican and Imperial) concern the development of the ancient city. Muratori was particularly referring to Rome(MURATORI 1963), though it is well known that he believed that the method he proposed was generally valid (and it is in keeping with that spirit that the comments we will make on Rome should be understood, in the wake of his guidelines). Studies concerning existing city layouts outside Europe, for that matter, have shown how an analysis of the historic layers  proves to be an important resource even in areas that are culturally very different (WHITEHAND 2016).

I believe that we should keep these precedents in mind so as to rebuild a scientific understanding of the way in which the layered forms of history have been transmitted to modern cities. Or rather, of the way in which modern cities have interpreted ancient forms: not the city of Alberti, Palladio and the other treatisers who reverentially approached the legacy of the past to create a learned architectural language, rather, the city where a distant basis of matter allowed the concrete reinvention (the rediscovery) of everyday architectural ‘speech’.

I think we should start by attempting to talk less of ruins. The term is as romantic as it is overused, from the picturesque explorations of the Grand Tour to contemporary revisitations, to the point where it has exhausted the possibility of proposing definitions useful to morphological studies. I think the most appropriate term we should assume (STRAPPA 2015) is substratum.

5. The Pompeus Theater in the reconstruction of Rodolfo Lanciani, s.d. (Gatteschi coll.)

6. Fabric formed by the consumption of the Pompeus Theater (surveys by Centro Studi di Storia Urbanistica, 1962)







2. Definitions

Unlike a ruin (from the Latin ruere, to collapse), a substratum (from sub sternere, to spread beneath) is recognised as a beginning, the living basis from which new organisms can spring. It is the part underneath the current built environment that no longer has any purpose but can nevertheless contribute to the life of new fabric, creating up to date building types: the distant and fertile foundation that gives rise to a new organism.  We cannot, anyway, reduce the complexity and richness of our ancient heritage to universal interpretational patterns that classify types and processes in a kind of taxonomy of the Ancient. That is true for any built environment. Instead, the identification of a few common criteria that allow us to interpret these phenomena through an architect’s eyes, tracing the many outcomes back to the general rationales that produce them, can prove useful to morphological studies.

From this point of view, we can define a ‘substratum’ as the combination of elements that once belonged to a building organism which, despite having lost both their the relationship of necessity that bound them together (their purpose and original organicity), and the continuity between the different phases of change and development, still nevertheless tranfer specific characters to the buildings springing from them . The set of these characters, transmitted in a typical and recurring form, can be defined as a ‘substratum type’.

When ancient organisms are practically reused with a new function (such as the churches of Santa Maria ad Martires, Santa Maria degli Angeli or the Pantheon),we cannot properly talk of a substratum type. Instead, the domus becomes a substratum type when it breaks up into ‘pseudo-row houses’, single-family single-facade houses aggregated around the space of the atrium that becomes a public area. Similarly, the orrea and portici structures become the substratum type of nodal public buildings when the central courtyard becomes the node, the main inner room (served, supported, central) of the new layout through a ‘knotting’ process.

The analogies with linguistics are evident, a discipline where ‘substratum’ is understood as the layer that precedes and influences the overlapping of a new language, as occurred, for example, with Etruscan and Latin or the Celtic and English. However, we should note how the term, when used in architecture, indicate the basis of an action. It implies the presence of critical consciousness, the ability to interpret and choose and, therefore, an identification of what has already been given, of what ‘lies beneath’: i.e. the sub-stantia, the substance, the essence of a thing.

This term therefore not only contains the notion of rootedness and transmission; it also refers to the means, the tool we can use to reach the essence of form, of its universal being. This universality, a quality that the actual building did not possess due to the very fact that it was constructed, constitutes a fertile abstraction: an identification as well as a design, the way in which we give a new unity to the multiple and scattered forms of the remains we have inherited. It was, furthermore, an idea rediscovered thanks to the medieval revival of the metaphysical Aristotelian concept of substratum. In other words, it is a design action, as demonstrated by the possible allotropic forms derived from the interpretation of a single substratum. Proof of this is the built environment, the way in which the material legacy of an ancient, multifarious and composite city was interpreted in a unified way by the new buildings erected in the late Middle Ages, in accordance with a particular design idea of the Ancient that surmised the existence of an original, primary substratum we can trace. It is a kind of matrix of the forms the past imparts to us, the πρτον of the Stoics you might say, or even the common original substratum of the universe, the primary layer that binds all things, a common idea in the early Middle Ages that Solomon Ibn Gabirol attempted to translate into a theory. It is then that we grasp the new, general meaning that this definition involves: every construction, at any scale, is an invenire, a finding and an invention; all fabric is a reconstruction, every building a rediscovery.

A new city’s formation, therefore, occurs with the recognition of older building organisms, what can be described as pre-formed matter that already possesses a form of its own, placed at the end of an entire life cycle and the beginning of another. I believe we can usefully distinguish two different processes in the tangibly continuous formative phases.

  • The first, the consumption process, consists in the use of buildings that make up the urban organism until the original features (constructive, distributive, spatial) belonging to their type are lost. In this sense, the substratum is an advent that marks a phase of crisis, the start that establishes the initial structure of things; or rather, can establish it, because it is obvious that the concluding phase of consumption introduces a pair of opposite, yet complementary concepts: the essential concepts of cancellation and duration that we cannot go into here. Nevertheless, the consumption of the Ancient is never in itself a dissipation, it is not due to the mere economic necessity of avoiding the importation of materials from outside of the city. The heritage is always considered to be too precious to be squandered, even in periods of great poverty and distress. Just take Abbot Suger’s plan to transport the gigantic columns found lying in the Baths of Diocletian to Paris, considering the economic and technical conditions of the early 12th century, so as to use them in the reconstruction of the Basilica of St. Denis. Apart from that, even as far back as the time of Theoderic, the symbolic importance of Roman antiquities was so great that the enormous effort of moving columns from the Domus Pinciana to Ravenna was considered justifiable (GNOLI 1971).
  • The second, the layering process, involves the diachronic development that lays down consecutive strata, each of which inherits features from the previous one and transmits others to the next. This phase continues until a new building is constructed which, over time, is also destined to contribute to the layering process. In this sense, the architect’s work contain an its own hermeneutic centre, which consists in searching for the general latent design, using the particular traces left behind by the consumption process (STRAPPA 2018). A latent design that is valid even in its contemporary condition.

It is worth stressing, by the way, how it is not easy today to propose a working method that starts from the particular and works towards the general, towards the abstraction. It is no coincidence that this work, which lies at the heart of every architectural theory, has been generally abandoned by Italian faculties of Architecture.

7. Umbertino-age consumption of the Terme di Diocleziano exedra. The new urban pole orients the fabric based on the Via Nazionale restructuring route, which is superimposed on the ancient one oriented by the Vicus Portae Quirinalis











3. Principles

it is worth highlighting that we can detect two essential principles at work in both phases.

  • A principle of belonging whereby each substratum has its own predisposition towards a form and every form contains its own substratum. This principle, whereby the new form and substratum belong to each other in a reciprocal relationship, can be applied in general, and to design in particular, as the concept of substratum can also be applied to the combination of intangible contributions (which are intrinsic to a civic community, to a particular historical phase or a cultural area) and are realized (becoming reality) thanks to the concept of type. In the case of cities founded on ancient remains, the substratum physically transmits its layout (its way of providing a single, shared form) to the new buildings. Take, for example, the many redevelopments that took place in Rome after the unification of Italy, such as Piazza della Repubblica, which completed the transformation process of the ancient structures that began with Michelangelo’s conversion of the the basilica hall in the Baths of Diocletian, then redefined at an urban scale by the conversion completed in 1898 by Gaetano Koch, including the remains of the Baths exedra and preceding the axis of Via Nazionale.
  • A principle of organicity, whereby the substratum generates a modular series network that sometimes reflects the original hierarchy, but at times overturns it, as has often happened to grand complexes, particularly those dating from the imperial age (take, for example, the Theatre of Pompeus or the Balbus Crypt), giving rise to new basic buildings (houses), creating typical proportions that elsewhere are linked to the land partition, which here are linked to proportions identified in ancient structures. As far as the urban fabric formed by base buildings is concerned, we can clearly perceive their organic modularity (when we are not dealing with the consumption of public complexes), mostly derived from buildings such as insulae, apartment houses for rent, consisting of groups of rooms, usually square of around 4/6 metres per side, distributed by balconies, sometimes over six storeys high and partially built in wood when it comes to the upper floors. The characters of this type of housing demonstrate the organicity of the transformation process. Indeed, they accounted for most of the ancient fabric and had even greater influence than courtyard houses in forming the medieval fabric. In Constantine’s era, the Curiosum Urbis Romae Regionum XIIII only lists 1,790 domus, which were probably still single-family dwellings, compared to the 44,300 densely inhabited insulae that occupied the large swathes of land set aside for multi-family house for the poorer classes(LUGLI, 1941). The insula, as a physical manifestation of a building type, was to disappear during the Middle Ages in Rome, leaving an urban network that was potentially open to an infinite number of interpretations. Nevertheless, it is worth noting how the almost total desertion of the city did not actually constitute a clear historical break as regards subsequent phases. The skills that were to be rediscovered inherited most of the ancient knowledge, albeit in new terms. For example, some features of the insula were transmitted to subsequent buildings, particularly construction features (such as the vaulted roof of the ground floor ceiling and the wooden ceilings of other storeys) or the connection between houses and shops (taberna), often consisting of a sales area with a mezzanine living space, as in late medieval shops that inherited the size of the elementary cell from the insula. These ancient base buildings were built in modules along routes that were to be inherited by the later medieval city and transmitted to modern one, starting from the urban penetration of territorial roads, such as the Via Flaminia which led to the Via Lata. We can see the same modularity in the buildings appearing along other roads derived by the permanence of planned axes that continue to connect large urban polar areas, such as the Via dei Coronari, which continues to orient the structure of Rome’s urban fabric from Via Recta to the east up until the Pons Neronianus to the west, from the Tiber to the north until the Circus Flaminius and the Porticus Pompeianae to the south, with slight twists and turns, beyond which the fabric is oriented by the roads (particularly the Via Triumphalis) that connected the Forum Holitorium, emerging from the ancient river ford of Tiberina Island to the great porticoed buildings (Minucia, Octavia, Gallatorum) and the Theatrum Marcelli in Pons Neronianus (CATALDI 2016). Or such as the roads of the Trastevere district, which are not only based on the territorial route of Via Portuensis, but also on the axes of the Aurelia Vetus, determined by the Pons Aemilius to the east and the AurelianGate to the west, and by Via Septimiana, which linked the focal point occupied bythe Meta Romuli and the Circus Neronis (which was to create the Vatican complex) to the area where the complex of Santa Maria in Trastevere, a new pole of the city beyond the river, was to develop.

When it comes to ancient building types, moreover, their particular characters in themselves allow for a myriad of different outcomes from medieval renovations. Muratori wrote: ‘[Imperial] building types are easy to adapt to a number of functions thanks to the serial layout of porticoes and tabernae and the courtyard layouts arranged on the constant structural lines of later insulae’ (MURATORI1963). A perfect example is the evolution of the Basilica of San Clemente, which reached a stage in morphological maturity during the XII century, in which the geometric importance and proportions of the serial rooms of the buildings dating from the Flavian era were unified within the hierarchy of its aisles. The intermediate Paleochristian church, which was in direct contact with the ancient substratum and upon which today’s church was built, identifies a building type that was to be developed throughout the V century, updating the proportions of the aisles (narrower, longer, higher), whilst maintaining the essential characters of the original basilica (KRAUTHEIMER 1986), proof of the long morphological life of the remains buried under the new buildings. Another good example is the Church of Saints Cosma and Damiano, built using the remains of the southern part of the Basilica of Maxentius as early as the first half of the V century.

Sometimes the ancient matrices are influenced by the changed alignment of the new layout, as in Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Other times, it is the past of previously existing colonnades that almost directly transmits the old modularity to the new organisms above it, as noted in a large number of Roman churches, such as San Nicola in Carcere at the Forum Holitorium, built on top of the peripteral temple of Juno Sospita. We can also surmise that the modularity of the substratum was transmitted to new buildings even in less obvious cases, such as the III century colonnaded organism (perhaps a civic basilica) that imparted its proportions to the church of San Martino ai Monti, which was partly built reusing ancient materials, or as in the remains that were definitely still in existence in the V century on the Mons Superagius in the Esquilino area, left behind by a large courtyard building (perhaps the Macellum Liviae) when Sixtus III built a basilica that reused 42 old columns, imparted to subsequent renovations that later gave rise to Santa Maria Maggiore, completed by Ferdinando Fuga’s facade. It is a modularity that the substratum sometimes imparts in complex forms, such as in the Savelli buildings on the Marcellus Theatre or Palazzo Massimo on the Odeon, or the various buildings of the Insula Mattei that were built on the area of the Balbus Theatre, which were forced to deal with the difficult geometric influence of the radial substratum below them.

8. Basilica of San Clemente. I-III century AD substrate consisting of a special serial building, perhaps belonging to the ancient mint and then to a Christian community center (KRAUTHEIMER 1986), formed by serial rooms organized around an open courtyard.
9. San Clemente. Early Christian IV-XI century basilica, obtained by "knotting" (STRAPPA 2015) the serial structures by re-using the substrate rooms around the court space

















The  phases

The process that leads to the construction of new organisms built on a previously existing substratum, varying in the different historical phases, has very different features from that which originate from the transformation of nature: here, matter is, in some way, pre-formed, it already has a shape, placed as it is at the end of an entire life cycle and at the beginning of another. The recognition of this form, linked to the historical and civic environment that created it, is the origin of a new design and constitutes its critical substance. That is why the phases we can identify in this transformation are dialectic: they should be interpreted as far as the interaction between the intentions of the ‘subject’ and the potential of the ‘object’ : they are not strictly chronological.

We can suppose an initial phase of invention, of the invenio involving the random, unplanned relationship with the object being renovated or rediscovered. This occurs when the last phase of a substratum organism’s consumption has ended, sometimes in the distant past, becoming the matter whose characters and attitude to receiving a new form are recognised by the new architect/builder. This first, logical phase therefore concerns the transformation of ‘encountered’ matter. Even before this matter is actually used, it has, at least in part, to do with the builder’s awareness in recognising the substance of which the old spoil is made and therefore to being transformed from matter into material (STRAPPA 1995).  Therefore the medieval builder who constructed on ancient ruins and from ancient ruins viewed it as materia signata: the substance of which the substratum city is built and that, despite having lost its significance, is transformed into meaningful heritage. This action is not only a cancellation, but a continuation too, an acknowledgement marked by an identification, followed or not by the passage from the simple use of “found” materials to their transformation. While the term ‘material’ still indicates matter’s suitability to be used in a new building, either in its original form or in a new form, this definition also fits the work of the calcarari (lime kilns workers) that recognised the suitability for construction in the second nature of imperial deposits, cancelling a significant part of our built heritage for centuries. In keeping with the masonry-plastic characters of Roman and Romanised cultural areas, the elements that were produced, apart from linear ones of Greek origin, typically featured two dimensions that prevailed over a third (flat or curved elements) and easily remained continuous, omogeneus and organic with the other elements of a structure.  As well as, on the fabric scale, the serial persistence of the base fabric and the singularity of the special organisms continues in other forms. The acknowledgment of the characters and of the building susceptibility of what the ancients have physically left to the new city, therefore, takes place at all scales. It is a metabolization process through which the city consumes the Ancient, regenerating itself, proof of the resilience of the plastic city of which Rome was the greatest expression.

The second phase involves the selection/specialisation, the decision of what role the substrate material (no longer merely matter) will play in a new structure. The selection phase, mainly based on economic and technical considerations, therefore coincides with a acknowledgment of the element ‘encountered’ in the ancient fabric, as an ‘eloquent legacy’, used with a new meaning in a new context. It is a phase that already had significant precedents in Roman times. From a constructive point of view, the choice of elements that could be obtained at different levels mainly involved:

  • the size (from the large blocks taken from the remnants of special public buildings to the decorative features reused with a new tectonic purpose);
  • the mechanical qualities, particularly their hardness: soft rock like sandstone, chalk, volcanic tuff, or hard rock like marble and granite; next their duration, their ability to stand over time, a feature that gained new symbolic importance in Christian Rome;
  • the workability, a feature often opposite but complementary to that of hardness and duration.

However, it also concerns the new typological effort spent in reusing ancient substrate layouts, with the widespread dequantification of special structures and their return to base types functions.Take, as example, the return to base fabric of the Pompeus Theatre (in this issue we are presenting the important study that one of our PhD students, Cristian Sammarco, is conducting on this subject, with the reconstruction of the base building organism originated by the ancient layout’s consumption, through the drawing of the cadastral maps mosaic).

The third, ethical phase, election/designation, concerns the action, the behaviour (θος) contributed by a critical consciousness of the act of reassembilg with which the builder completely considers the problem of the construction element’s meaning within developing urban and architectural structures. As well as through re-employment, the recognition of the ancient structures of elements is evident through the recovery of typical building systems.

There is no doubt that the reassembly of fragments of spolia involves an element of organicity (features such as proportion and congruence) borrowed through the custom with pre-existences. This consideration is even more obvious at the scale of the aggregative organism, of fabric where the continued existence of ancient buildings and urban structures indicates organic and typical proportions (take insulae for example). As mentioned earlier, this way of transforming existing urban lanscape has significant precedents as far back as Ancient Roman times. The reconstruction of the Porticus Octaviae commissioned by Emperor Severus Alexander in 203 A.D. involved the reuse of elements from the earlier Augustan construction. When chosen and rearranged within a new structures, however, they established a new relationship of necessity between elements.  This is an early, real ‘nomination’ and ‘designation’ operation, as was to occur extensively after the fall of the Roman Empire. This act of renaming things– which was widely practiced during the fifth century by Theoderic as a political act of reconciliation with the Roman civilitas and saw its first conclusion during the early XIII century– imbued each element with a role in new organisms that was equally structural, symbolic and political. Proof of this is, for example, Pope Honorius’s reconstruction of the Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura, where architraves and columns taken from ancient buildings were rearranged in a new structure where, specifically and tellingly, the winged victories of two typical capitals dating from the Antonine era, used to celebrate the victory of Christian martyrs over their persecutors (DE LACHENAL 1995).

The fourth phase involves the symbolic and spatial reorganisation/repositioning of ancient objects, done with a total awareness of the phenomena of building and urban transformation. This corresponds to those great moments of aesthetic distillation, where the substratum also becomes a depository of memory generated by the familiarity with its reuse, clearly demonstrated not only by Baroque revisitations but also by the more pragmatic urban reconstructions of Rome during Umbertino  time and even more recently. An obvious example is the construction of Via Nazionale, which took its cue from the city square designed around the great exedra of the Roman baths. But, in general, it is testified by the whole approach to the renovation of the historic city even in restructuring routes that, by their very nature traumatic, were traced with a sensitivity towards substratum constructions that, except for Viale Trastevere, is unequalled in Europe. Take, for example, the case of Corso Rinascimento and the entire renovation programme carried out on the Stadium of Domitian.  These interventions, carried out in a climate of widespread fascist rhetoric,  would today be considered unacceptable, but nevertheless often capable of reinterpreting types and layouts in a modern way and, at the same time, in keeping with (‘in concordanza di fase’ as Muratori would say) the weight of their history.

10. Ghetto fabric overlapping the remains of the Octavia Portico























In conclusion, I believe that we can surmise a morphological, process-based method of interpreting the substratum that gave rise to modern cities based on cyclical phases of change, analysed, using the tools that architects possess, as meaningful heritage. The effort made to synthetically grasp the processes by turning to morphological methods, which we are by no means suggesting should substitute the essential work of archaeologists and historians, could have a fundamental value for the architectural design by indicating the ways in which not only history has generated new forms, but also how the present, so to speak, flows in the past. This powerful legacy of guidelines – absolutely not oriented towards imitating the past–could support, if we are able to recognise them, the work of contemporary architects: a substratum of multiple, shared meanings, in contrast to the individualistic trend of architectural design. A legacy stratified over time, to be deciphered and interpreted with new eyes identifying within it a new and fertile organicity, as in every phase of the great civil crisis.


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