Past and Present
Having lost it’s former industrial economic base, Ascoli Piceno’s main source of regional income comes from tourism. With the hope of peeking into the past, or at least temporarily escaping the present, one comes to Ascoli to get a sense of what life might have been like here in the Middle Ages and the Quattrocento. Located on the border between the provinces of Marche and Abruzzo near the Adriatic coast, Ascoli seats at the far east end of the famed via Salaria, the mythological road what is said to be responsible for the existence of Rome which seats at the opposite west end.
Ascoli occupies a hill framed in precipitous rocky slopes that rudely isolate it from the rest of the world as they fall into the Tronto River to the north and the Castellano stream to the south. This isolated position, ensured for centuries the survival of the ancient town, at its sudden edge, unfold arresting views of the surrounding valleys and the Sibillini Mountains.
In modern times, damned by the same blessing of isolation that saved the city in the past, Ascoli was forced into an unregulated disorderly expansion. Growing to the north, on the far side of the Tronto River, an amorphous built fabric, what in Italy is called a periferia, interposed its mediocrity between one of the most beautiful the old towns in the world and an equally breathtaking countryside.
Bernhard Rudofky’s hunch of an “architecture without architects,” emerging of a people intuitively and unselfconsciously, at once savage and wise, is nowhere to be found here. Ascoli’s periferia is instead the archetypal paradise of the geometra, the Italian trade-school-construction-professional who is the human version of “architecture without architects.”
In the periferia we can only hope to inhabit one of the cheap beige-painted stucco buildings with disproportionately large balconies that line the dull streets leading from uninspired public spaces to indistinct shopping plazas and to other kinds of semi-deserted infra-urban voids.
If we think of the city as nothing but a more or less exaggerated form of architecture; as a building grown too large; as an architectural hyperbole, we realize that, just like a building, it needs to have its place. From its place, a city acquires its way of being and its reason for existing, but from the north edge of town, Ascoli’s place, embodied in the views of the Sibillini Mountains are now permanently contaminated with a wide panorama of the city’s substandard expansion. We feel time running backwards and the real, slowly becoming fake and artificial.
The Ascoli Nuovissimo project imagines the unlikely prospect of a new urban form for Ascoli’s periferia. A form rendering anew, the civic vitality of the old town. The project envisions a car presence that does not interfere with pedestrians causing congestion and pollution, a myriad of green urban spaces with an abundance of trees, and the systematic deployments of shared public works of civic import, such as sport fields an infrastructure, schools, social clubs, bars, theaters, churches, cafes, shops, etc.
The proposal includes a housing typology as healing agent between the old city and the surrounding landscape. One hundred housing towers, each 100 meters tall and with a footprint of 9x14 meters, allow the periferia to retain the current density of inhabitation while potentially transforming Ascoli Piceno into a built palimpsest of old and new. An urban tail integral to each tower houses facilities of common use and helps define a finely gradated set of urban places as it bends and curves over the territory. Territorially, the distances between towers frame views of the countryside that can be remembered and recognized paintings on a wall.
Only 50 defensive towers are left of the odd 250 the old town used boast in medieval times. The project, proposes, in the typological continuity, an urban analogy to mend a broken cultural continuity in space and in time.
Inside the housing towers, each 200m2 three-bedroom apartment is organized in three levels articulated by large cylindrical concrete tubes that manage the flows of air, water, power and people up and down the structure. Resembling giant tree-trunks, the concrete tubes separate their concrete mass from their structural neutral-axis, efficiently giving the slender buildings the effective capacity to withstand earthquake and wind loads.
The buildings of Ascoli Nuovissimo will be built in reinforced 14,000-psi concrete mixed with travertine dust and left exposed. Its openings will be enclosed in large panes of clear glass and, in the interiors the floors will be red travertine and the walls a purple plaster to complement the color of the Sibillini Mountains in the horizon.