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The Sails of Scampia

Italian techno DJ Deborah De Luca recently released this live set with Mixmag. Naturally she was playing by herself on a rooftop. Even if you don’t like techno, you may find this set interesting because of its setting. It was filmed in Vele di Scampia, which is a housing complex in northern Naples and the suburb where she grew up. But Vele is also one of the most notorious public housing projects in Italy and the world — known for its decaying brutalist architecture, its drugs and crime, and its role in housing the Camorra crime syndicate.

Built between 1962 and 1975, the “Sails of Scampia” were designed by Italian architect Franz Di Salvo and inspired by the work and thinking of architect Le Corbusier. Obviously this is a recipe that has been tried out all over the world and the results here are not entirely unique (see also Pruitt-Igoe). The complex was based on two building types: towers and tents. The towers are what you might imagine and the tents are what create the “sails” that today define the complex.

The apartments were designed to be simple. But the idea was to connect them with elaborate exterior common spaces that simulate, in a way, the many alleys and courtyards of Naples. (Does this sound like a co-living project?) There are many possible explanations for what went wrong. Perhaps the best place to look for answers is the book Gomorrah written by Robert Saviano.

But what I always wonder is to what extent was the architecture and the approach to urban design responsible for these outcomes? In other words, how much of this is a result of built form and how much of this is a result of socioeconomic factors, such as poor management, high unemployment, and a lack of policing in the area? According to Wikipedia, Scampia had an unemployment rate of about 50% as of 2004.

Le Vele initially consisted of seven buildings, but four of them have already been demolished. In the next few years two more will come down, leaving only one. Supposedly the plan is to keep this last building and refurbish it so that the history of Le Vele isn’t lost entirely. Some, including Robert Saviano, are questioning why the state would ever want to commemorate such a horrible place. But if it is repositioned and if it proves to be successful, it may actually help to answer some of my questions.

In the meantime, we’ll just have to enjoy Deborah’s set.

1 Comment so far

  1. Robert Grigg

    Beautiful in every possible way. Scampia reminds me of the Marina Baie des Anges on the French Riviera which sits at the other end of the socio-economic scale. Fascinating post as always. Keep up the good work.


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