by ANTONIO DI CAMPLI
Writing about how Coronavirus is redefining our urban condition one month after the start of the ‘lockdown’ could recall the German architect Ernst Neufert that in the summer of 1942 started design experimentations on anti-bombing housing typologies for German cities under siege. A condition considered as a ‘new normalcy’.
Many things are being said and written these days. Some things are expressed in an opportunistic and predictable way. Perhaps it is still too early to say something sensible that does not go beyond the easy rhetoric of the need to take ‘responsible and militant’ attitudes aimed at reducing the ecological footprint of human activities.
At the moment the debate is focused on two main keywords: social distancing and density. Hypotheses are formulated around these two terms in open opposition to each other.
Many celebrate the virtues of indoor dwelling and the design possibilities linked to the multi-articulated and multifunctional dimension that the spaces of our houses should acquire. We are looking for the parameters of a new existenz-minimum whose most effective reference image could be the Moriyama House by Sanaa (the ‘house as a city’). Against them, some highlight the “uncanny”, infernal condition of domestic living, underlining the importance of the category of “public space” as a place of indispensable sociality.
Many scholars take on the category of density (physical, spatial, functional), holding it responsible, 175 years after Engels, for new unhealthy conditions. They celebrate the virtues of ‘dilution’ offered by the ‘horizontal metropolis’, if not actually fleeing to rural contexts. These thinkers are contrasted by those who, on the one hand, distinguish between the ‘rich density’ of parts of cities where it is possible to find niches, work remotely and keep their distance and the ‘poor density’ of places where you are forced to live and earn a living by mixing with others. In these places social distancing causes its opposite: physical compression. Main streets might be empty, but many people, especially in the slums, are forced to share tight spaces.
On the other hand, there are those who, by relating the intensity of the spread of viral pathologies and the widespread presence of micro dust in the atmosphere in the territories of urban sprawl , support the hypothesis of densification as a design paradigm capable of bringing together urban planning and public health.