06 January 2011


As far as failed urban housing projects go, Le Corbusier's "Unités d'habitations" gets beat up on all the time. It's something of overplayed anti-Modernist cliché, innit?

Above, we have photos by Berlin-based photographer Tobias Zielony, images that accompanied his recent video project Le Vele di Scampia. The project takes its name from its subject, the "Le Vele" ("The Sails") public housing district in Naples. Designed by architect Franz Di Salvo, the project was completed and opened in 1975. Having been a reputed haven for squatters, drug trafficking, and various mafia activities over the years, the complex is apparently in the process of being gradually demolished, as it has been deemed a municipal failure.

As the exhibit's press release has it:

Only about a hundred families – the last remaining assignees and occupants – still live in the buildings, which have now been reduced to ghostlike ruins. Consisting of 7000 shots taken at night with a digital reflex camera, and edited at an artificial speed, the Le Vele di Scampia photographic animation uses the language of cinema to convey the deprivations of those who live in or frequent these places.

... As well as the subsidised-housing districts and the authorised private-cooperative “parks”, this part of the city is also home to a Rom camp – on the landings of the light-blue Vela (“housing units” for the designer) – with American sub-culture models (hip hop and breakdance, for example), which are local versions of global codes and the only means of reacting to boredom and urban decay, overlapping and interacting with a very strong local identity. ...This is why, more than in other metropolitan areas, [Zielony's] work has been influenced by the very particular characteristics of the context, which is afflicted by a staggering level of unemployment among the young (50%), in which there are both widespread forms of illegality and some sparse centres of cultural resistance which, through a pervasive system of associations, has led to social initiatives of various types.

The film also recently served as the setting for the 2008 film Gommora.

As a matter of fact, there's the Public Housing Archive blog, which appears to have stalled some time ago after a mere two posts. It's two entries? Le Vele,...and Chicago's Cabrini Green. So I suppose that means the two are/were worthy companions.

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(On a side note: Apologies for the dearth of posts recently. A couple of months ago, the opportunity popped up for me to net some desperately-needed income. I was pulled onto a publishing project, and it's kept me busy plowing through boocoo manuscript in recent weeks. That, and the holidays, plus I've been drafting some things for that guest-blogging venture I mentioned earlier.)

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