The new Naples Civic Center, the Centro
, is visible from almost any point in Naples or from the bay. Depending on who is doing the talking, you will hear various descriptions: a futuristic satellite city of gleaming towers; a white elephant; a sore thumb.
It is --again, depending on the source-- just what the city needs, or else an unacceptable break with the urban history of the city.
Naples has a long history of episodes of explosive urban
development. The Spanish were responsible for the first such episode in modern times when they broke down the old city walls and built modern (for the 1600s) blocks of buildings, creating what today is still called "The Spanish
. The Bourbons did more of the same in the 1700s and 1800s.
Then came the
rebuilding of Naples, the risanamento,
(1885-1915) of such drastic construction that half the city had to find another place to live. The Fascists built big in the 1920s & 30s and the "economic miracle" of the 1950s & 60s was responsible for the overbuilding evident wherever one looks at the Posillipo or Vomero
sections of Naples these days.
Thus we come to the 1964 plan to create a new Civic Center
in a relatively undeveloped part of town, the east. This was to be the first effort in Naples at true skyscraper technology. The Centro Direzionale
the 1982 design of prominent Japanese architect, Kenzo Tange, whose work includes the urban plan for Tokyo in 1960, the design for the grounds of the Tokyo Olympics
of 1964, and, in Italy, the designs for the Bologne Civic Center and Fair Grounds in 1975.
The Centro Direzionale
is more than one square
kilometer set in the Poggioreale section of the city near the central train station. That part of Naples is, bluntly, the worst part of town; the Center, itself, is right next door to the large Poggioreale prison, an institution built
almost a century ago for 1100 inmates but today holding twice that number. The location, thus, presents some problems with the over-all perception of the Civic Center, quite apart from aesthetic considerations of architecture.
Occupancy, at least so far, is much lower than what one might expect for a plan that called for the displacement, sooner or later, of municipal office space from their current locations in the traditional center of town to the new and gleaming towers, plus relocation of banks and businesses and the creation of a new resident community—a "neighborhood."
One interesting plan that fell through was the idea of the
local NATO headquarters, AFSOUTH (Allied Forces Southern
Europe—currently in Bagnoli, on the far western side of Naples) to move to the new Centro Direzionale
. The plans were finished and the professional video
presentation looked good. Then there was underworld- connected arson against one of the buildings in the Center, and some member nations of NATO simply said, "Look, the mob is trying to burn it down, and it's next to a prison. We
are not moving our troops and their familes in there." (AFSOUTH, thus changed its mind and has recently broken
ground on a new headquarters so far out of town in the other direction that they may have to change the name to AFNORTHWEST PASSAGE.)
The layout of the Centro Direzionale
There are 18 "islands" of buildings, with high-rises up to 100 meters. There are office buildings as well as residential flats. It is, essentially, a small city: a pedestrian zone at ground level with shops, restaurants and hotels that are easily accessible. There is a mammoth undergound parking facility with escalators running up right into the middle of the pedestrian concourse, an area adorned with fountains, benches, greenery and even a church (photo, top right).
The Centro Direzionale
will eventually have its own underground train station; construction of the new metropolitana
line is inching its way (and if I could say "millimetering," believe me, I would) in that
All in all, the main problem is one of perception. In spite
of the modern trend towards supermarkets, malls, and all–in–one shopping, most Neapolitans still live with the idea of the local neighborhood. They do
not willingly go out of town to do their business and do not easily accept the idea of a new, built "neighborhood." That is something that grows over time; you don't just build it.