REACTIVATE THE EXISTING, RETHINK WASTE, REGENERATE INDUSTRIAL LANDSCAPES

Barbara Coppetti, PhD in Architecture and a senior researcher in architectural and urban design, takes us through her research experiences on the regeneration of industrial landscapes.


The richness of our cities and their architectures emerges by a reading of their layers and stratification over time.

Regeneration, reuse and renewal of heritage are today the greatest resource for activating processes of architectural and urban transformation.






EXPERIENCES: “Ri-formare Milano, progetti per aree e edifici abbandonati”. Politecnico di Milano, School of Architecture and Society and La Triennale di Milano



The mapping of urban phenomena related to abandoned or underused areas and buildings, the recognition of disused areas, waiting for new life, were born from an idea that develops the project within processes of adaptation and renovation of the existing. The assumption that abandoned areas can be understood as a resource for activating urban transformation processes focused on regeneration and recovery of the fabric demonstrates the centrality of the projects carried out on already existing buildings.

This process involves the rethinking of the soil already urbanized, the areas already built and the large volumes in disuse – as a reliable response to today’s environmental paradigm - which has become a key reference for any action on the city, on metropolitan areas and external landscapes.


The exhibitions “Ri-formare Milano, progetti per le aree e gli edifici in stato di degrado e abbandono”, curated in the years between 2014 and 2016, at the Spazio Mostre Guido Nardi of the School of Architecture of the Politecnico di Milano and at La Triennale di Milano, exhibited 130 projects (of which 30 are master’s thesis) of recovery and regeneration documenting the commitment of students, undergraduates, teachers of the School of Architecture in proposing themselves as the fulcrum for elaboration and experimentation project on the significant themes of the city of Milan and its metropolitan area.


The significant willingness to discuss these issues with public sectors and civil society has shown great interest in the variety of design approaches, techniques adopted, scales and dimensions of advanced design scenarios.



INDUSTRIA NEL PARCO, Architecture, Energy and Landscape in Nera Montoro – Terni Research Team Architects Roberto Spagnolo, Barbara Coppetti, Alisia Tognon, Sandra Maglio, Elena Scattolini

Ri-formare Milano, Map of the intervention areas – 2014/2017

Riformare Milano, conoscere il presente, studiare il passato, immaginare il futuro” produced movies and project explorations for the city, screened at the former Tobacco Factory, headquarters of the CSC-Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia of Lombardy, which actively participated in the research.

The movies “L’altra Milano” and the clips “Nuovi Paesaggi Urbani” enriched the sense of what it means to “Costruire nel costruito | Dialogo sul progetto” (which in Italian stands for “Building in the built | Dialogue on the project”).


The Venice Biennale 2016 with its “Reporting from the Italian Front”, the participation in the Milan Film Festival 2015, the conference “Riqualificazione urbana sostenibile. Creazione di valore e risparmio del territorio: quali strade?” at Bocconi University 2014 are just some of the invitations received for the dissemination of the project.



The projects entrusted by the T.E.R.N.I. Research S.p.A and the Italeaf Spa company, on the issues of “INDUSTRIA NEL PARCO architettura energia paesaggio”, have produced masterplans and transformative scenarios of underutilized industrial areas and an environmentally sustainable rethinking of production processes. In these places, thanks to the construction of an anaerobic bio-digester of organic agricultural waste, new recycling plants for end-of-life tires, the design and construction of photovoltaic systems within the framework of our project “FABBRICA E NATURA tra energia e paesaggio” it was possible to realize innovative forms of the industrial landscape.



The participation in the PRIN ministerial research “Re_Cycle Italy. Nuovi Cicli di Vita per Architetture e Infrastrutture della Città e del Paesaggio” has seen since 2010 the creation of a network of partners in many Italian cities and the collaboration of various research units in projects such as the one for Tor Bella Monaca in Rome, “Tor Bella Monaca: le misure dello spazio aperto, Urban-scape, Infra-scape, Agri.scape” (see our contribution published in “Rigenerare Tor Bella Monaca”, by Quodlibet).



The common keywords to this kind of work are adaptability, reversibility, and small-scale. They represent a real architectural hypothesis for the future. A major change to the usual approach.

The relevant structure is never accomplished but is connected to strategies capable of making changes feasible over time. These can be structures able to be altered, modified, adjusted as the case may be due to unpredictable evolutions and rapid changes in our societies, the behavior of the inhabitants.



PATTERNS | stretched landscapes and dilated margins


The parks in the Western area of Milan have become the field of application and a striking example of the regeneration of weak intervals in the metropolitan margins, characterized by fringe areas that are no longer cities but not even urbanized countryside, mediocre landscapes within the uncertain horizons that demand today new configurations and new identities. The design of open spaces and residual areas located ‘between’ the suburban parks creates new connections through the waterways.

The regeneration of the waterways in West Milan creates new forms of living in the expanded landscape, between agricultural fragments and natural spaces (such as the Parco delle Cave, Bosco in Città, Trenno and the Parco dei Cinque Comuni), where a new design attempts to restore order and new balance between nature and artifice. “Il progetto sostenibile negli spazi aperti dell’ovest Milano. La Via d’Acqua: paesaggi attraversati e sequenze protette” implies a broad and critical point of view in which nature and architecture are together capable of renewing the identity and recognizability of landscapes crossed by water and slow mobility.

The design of open spaces has to deal with landscapes of man-made nature, landscapes that are the result of a human operational process, in which design research is aimed at redefining the characteristics of cultural and aesthetic recognition. By shifting the attention from the architectural elements to the path and the relationships between them, the static space has been transformed into a dynamic space of the narrative, in which emptiness becomes preeminent over full. The project of a path is interpreted as a metaphor for complexity, an opportunity for choice that progressively winds along the path, becoming the public space of contemporaneity - from large poly-functional volumes to strong media coverage (such as projects for large museums...).

My interest is focused on the forms of the void, the forms of the undeveloped. Polycentric settlement forms connected to the system of infrastructural networks that express new horizons of meaning.


The landscape, a collective heritage, outlines an attitude of considering the project as a sequence of spaces, a chain of relative centralities and progression of temporary stages with multiple times and methods of development.




TRAME: Trame e Residui - Via Novara

WEST MILAN: parks, open spaces, residual areas and traces of the agricultural landscape, by arch. Elisa Sottotetti

THE SUSTAINABLE PROJECT OF OPEN SPACE IN WEST MILAN, by Marco Bovati, Barbara Coppetti – 2012


MINIMUM ARCHITECTURE | the little things, so as not to lose the strength of the sign


The work related to the process of defining the form in the architectural project can also reduce the project to minimum terms or actions that manifest a strategic purpose. Through the exploration of the relationship between architecture and plastic arts (in the past and in the contemporary world), the research I develop is aimed at rediscovering the value of fundamental gestures such as arranging, containing, drilling, emptying… Simple actions operated on elementary volumes which, if intentionally controlled, produce singular structures: the control of the consequences of a voluntary action imprinted in the matter generates specific formal characters but each time different, transformable and always provisional. The shape is a transitory outcome of the strategy and the incessant movement of the present makes it adaptable to new conditions, recyclable for new uses.

The abstraction from real conditions, therefore the distance from any existing place or context, is in this case necessary to rediscover the strength of the sign, the energy of the primitive action, the intentionality of the project which becomes a tool for the exploration of space and light.





CUBE 5: inhabiting the cube, excavation and hole, 2019

CUBE 7: Rhythm of Light, 2020


CUBE 1, CUBE 2: drill and dig the heavy mass - 2018


In seeking that continuous assertion of identity and recognizability, architectural thought intends to dry out, cut the process to the bone in these experiments, focusing on the design of a simple action on a heavy cube. The ability to synthesize plays a crucial role in the search for essentiality.


Stay tuned to read more about Learning space: Public school Updating and a case study on , VIA MALAGA – ARTKADEMY, a public space and new urban scenario for a hidden ecological corridor in the 21st century in our next issue.









Article by

Barbara Coppetti


Image Credits

Barbara Coppetti


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