Napoli 2003

Prof. Jacques Herzog, Prof. Pierre de Meuron,
Emanuel Christ, Simon Hartmann, John Palmesino
Exercise type: “P”
Locations: Group work in Basel and in Napoli
Start: Tuesday, 21 October 2003, 10.15am at ETH Studio Basel, Spitalstrasse 12, 4056 Basel

What is a city? What are its specific characteristics? What determines its quality? How do human activities interact with its material processes? How is each city developing? The evolution of the contemporary city does not proceed in a linear movement. The transformations that mark it are directed towards often distant and concurrent goals, promoted by a multitude of actors who interact without knowledge of the overall situation. Due to this multifaceted nature, the contemporary city behaves in a dynamic and ever-changing fashion. It is the locus of a great number of different evolutionary patterns, gradual transformations, slow drifts, periodical bursts of activity in some environments, instantaneous retreats from inhabited areas, slow implementation of infrastructural systems, and a syncopated shifting of the public and private spaces. How can architecture and urbanism interact with the internal formative qualities of the contemporary city? How can they relate to the contemporary city evolution by drift and to its inertia?
After the four-year study “Die Schweiz – ein städtebauliches Portrait”, which investigated the urban condition of Switzerland as a thoroughly urbanized country, ETH Studio Basel is undertaking a new research program on processes of transformation in the urban domain on an international scale. As a fundamental and central feature in the dynamic process of determining the institute’s research activities, a series of research platforms have been created. These platforms will introduce a variety of complex topics at selected locales and in cooperation with chosen partners and intellectual circles. The platforms will draw attention to the physical aspects and implications of contemporary urban transformation throughout the world, inquiring as to differences in various urbanization cultures and the relationship between specific locales and the globalization processes.
The core of the research activities of the Institute is the detection of traces of urban change in the material space of the inhabited landscape. The research engages the issues of contemporary urban condition by describing rigorously the modalities of physical transformation in different environments and contexts. The particular model introduced experimentally in the last years of work with the students in Basel – with no real separation between teaching, fieldwork, design, and research – will be at the center of this semester’s activity, which inaugurates the new research program..
ETH Studio Basel investigates regions that are ambiguous, being both embedded in the globalization process and on the edge of a possible crisis; places that maintain a spin, for they are connected to international energy flows that continue to evolve and change, without ever exploding or collapsing; regions that are partially obscured, and have an interesting, specific history. This semester’s research deals with the current state of affairs of Napoli. This city is making robust moves towards large-scale urban transformations, without ever reaching the threshold of internationality that characterizes metropolises of a similar scale in other regions. The research will investigate the constantly mobile, semi-stable forms, architectures, economies, and techniques that are embedded in this landlocked, non-generic urban condition.
A phenomenological reading of the urban condition of Napoli is the starting point for a series of analyses that will render a deeper understanding of the contemporary city, its modalities of transformation, and the role of architecture and urbanism in the overall urbanization processes.

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