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Olmo: “Don’t let Genoa languish for the sake of a beauty contest”

Genoa - “We must not let Genoa languish for the sake of a ‘beauty contest’. Beauty in a public infrastructure stems from its usefulness and its function. We should focus on urban regeneration for the neighbourhood under the viaduct,” says Carlo Olmo, professor emeritus at the Polytechnic of Turin

Genoa - “We must not let Genoa languish for the sake of a ‘beauty contest’. Beauty in a public infrastructure stems from its usefulness and its function. We should focus on urban regeneration for the neighbourhood under the viaduct.” Regarding the reconstruction of Ponte Morandi, Carlo Olmo, professor emeritus and former dean at the Faculty of Architecture at the Polytechnic of Turin, also visiting professor at universities in Paris and Boston’s MIT, is crystal clear about where the balance should lie between functionality and aesthetic/symbolic considerations. Unlike other authoritative opinions presented through Il Secolo XIX in recent days, such as the views of Stefano Boeri - Olmo clearly favours the functional side of the debate currently taking place.

“Genoa is going through a very complicated process, and the sort of public witch hunt by political elites we’re currently witnessing is hindering the needed process of sensible and calm public debate and discussion,” points out the architect, author of several volumes on the history of architecture.

“And such a complex undertaking presupposes a stress on the city and on its economic and productive fabric that cannot be overlooked when it comes to issues of how the bridge’s reconstruction will take place. Genoa is experiencing a phase of profound transformation of its economy, from an industrial power base in the past, to one in which its port and tourism have become paramount, and hence transport links are indispensable requirements.”

A clear timeline, then, is an essential element for the Piedmontese professor. “Organizing an international tender would involve years of delays, just look at what happened to the former Italsider areas at Bagnoli, on the outcome of which we’ve heard almost no news. In the case of Genoa the economic context cannot be ignored. The beauty of a piece of infrastructure, and its primary function, is that it is useful.. Structures will be beautiful in the measure that they provide a better solution to transport connections to existing ones. It’s there that the beauty of the future construction that will rise to replace the Morandi Bridge resides: in its usefulness to the city; we definitely must not let Genoa languish for the sake of a beauty contest.”

But there’s another way in which, according to the professor emeritus of the Turin Polytechnic, the cloud over the bridge’s reconstruction could reveal a silver lining, a symbolic element asserting the desire to start again and a wish for regeneration. “The hidden opportunity provided by the reconstruction debate is that of urban regeneration for that corner of the city,” argues Olmo .

“I’ve crossed it thousands of times, and I know that the area has seen a concentration of wrong choices over past decades, all under the banner of exploitation of the urban fabric. If only Genoa could show that it’s able to modify deleterious aspects of bygone development models, which the city actually contributed to, it would really send out a clear signal. A beautiful signal.”

It’s not only the ranks of Genoese engineers and architects, who in recent days have waded in on the debate, that are clearly on the side of a rapid completion timeline over aesthetic-symbolic considerations. The builders’ association, Ance, through its chairman, Filippo Delle Piane, has also defined as essential a quick timeline for the reconstruction.

“Those that keep looking for the best rather than a good solution worry me,” he explains. “We must leave out aesthetics, because the city needs a bridge, and we must meet an urgent need.” And, in the sphere of Italian architecture there are also those who are proposing bold concepts that, considering how events unfolded, seem hardly feasible.

The National Institute of Architecture, in fact, in a letter to Infrastructure and Transport Minister Toninelli, brought to his attention the idea of “consolidating what remains of the Morandi Bridge by erecting a new bridge using modern techniques on the base of the collapsed part, so as to shorten construction time and preserve an example of Italy’s industrial revolution.”

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