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Possible Worlds

Redesigning Ponte San Giacomo dei Capri in Naples

by Fanny Ciufo & Sami Yakhlef

Abstract: In a world of continuous evolution, where the lifespan of human products is insignificant, infrastructures often lie unfinished, standing out as the silent scars of a capitalist idea of Modernity and a misleading conception of progress. This article aims to investigate the phenomena mentioned above by exploring in depth the idea of the unfinished as a potential and a resource to start giving new meanings and interpretations to these ruins through a process of assimilation. It also challenges and celebrates the idea of the unfinished as a state of rebellion against the existing consumerist society, where abandoned buildings and infrastructure, and disposed viable consumer goods do not achieve their natural lifespans.

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[Image 1] Existing and
alternative paths.
Image by the authors (2022).


The key in this study is an unfinished vehicle bridge in Naples, Ponte San Giacomo dei Capri, which was planned for building in 1970 but has never been completed and is abandoned. A bridge manifests itself through the connection of two points; it fails by remaining unfinished. In the end, if you are a bridge the most important feature is to connect Point A to Point B. Ponte San Giacomo dei Capri, like many other modern infrastructures in Italy and around the world, failed its mission, remaining incomplete, abandoned, and deteriorated for political and economic reasons.


The residents in the vicinity came together in the organisation Associazione Napoli Creativa and launched a competition for architects to collect proposals to reinvent the future of the bridge. The desire of the citizens to retake the place is a form of rebellion and a real possibility to fight annihilation through the creation of new meanings. The project attempts to answer this request by reflecting on the evolution of the landscape in the Anthropocene and on the creation of infinite possible worlds and meanings over the existing fabric.


The term unfinished with the negative prefix uncommonly has a bleak connotation. It reminds us of the concept of failure and defeat and implies that finished is an achievable state [1]. In a larger sense, it implies a sense of shame and inappropriateness in the context of the expectations within a society that has success as a primary value. Yet completeness is a deceptive myth, coming from the human and mortal dimensions according to which everything has a beginning, a development, and an end. It is connected with another dangerous concept, the state of perfection, which can lead to ambiguous subjective interpretations, creating exclusion and culpability. However, according to Deleuze and Guattari, the term finished should be challenged as the nature of reality is to be incomplete and should rather refer to infinite becomings or multiplicities [2].


If the nature of reality is unfinished, the negative notion of incompleteness should be revisited and challenged. This change of perspective can have a revolutionary effect on a range of disciplines and free us from the cage of perfection, opening to multiple understandings. This reflection will be decisive in the design approach of the bridge, considering our intervention as a part of a dynamic process of evolution where it is not necessary to arrive at a perfect conclusion.


It is instructive to analyse the term infrastructures. The word is intrinsically interconnected with the idea of time and space and with the condition of Modernity. Infrastructures constitute a system of relationships that has an impact on the existing situation; they concern society, technology, and nature [3]. In addition, they are related to progress and well-being. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, ‘infrastructures are the basic systems and services, such as transport and power supplies, that a country or organisation uses to work effectively’. This definition does not do justice to the social and cultural impacts of the different levels of infrastructures, which may be tangible, and intangible.


The word was coined initially in France at the end of the 1800s, taken from Latin to explain what is ‘underneath or below the structure’. It was used to refer to the physical substructure or foundation, but quickly embraced figurative uses, extending to all the resources required for an activity. Through extending the meaning of the word, it becomes evident how infrastructures are at the centre of the history of the last two centuries, revealing how they are directly related to our everyday life and can determine inequality, injustice as well as progress and prosperity. They also are the human systems with the broadest and strongest impact on nature, being crucial in the definition of the landscape of the Anthropocene and in the expression of capitalism and colonialism around the world. Because unfinished infrastructures are shaped by Modernity [4] and represent some of the contradictions of the capitalist society, they are alive and full of meanings.


Unfinished infrastructures are part of a worldwide phenomenon, now defined as ‘modern ruins’. Recently built architectures are left abandoned for economic and political reasons, often without being used [5]. Proliferating around the globe, modern ruins are often symbols of colonialism and capitalism. Unable to cope with the pace of time, they represent the scars of a consumerist society, where buildings are already waste at the time of construction. Rather than being dead, these spaces endure, preserving identities, histories and meanings that ask for re-appropriation. It is not by chance that such spaces are of interest to local communities who see the possibility to reinvent.


While governments and political organisations see modern ruins as a failure or a problem, for locals they are a creative space for imagination and new values. They can also be seen as symbols of resistance and rebellion against the dominant system; the state of the unfinished is a form of fight and a manifesto of the contradictions of the capitalist economy. The rupture should be celebrated as a potentially creative feature where multiple memories and visions coexist and diverge and as a warning undermining a mainstream conception of progress




“The fourth advantage I see in the word ‘design’ is that it is never a process that begins from scratch: to design is always to redesign. There is always something that exists first as a given, as an issue, as a problem.” In ‘A Cautious Prometheus? A Few Steps Toward a Philosophy of Design (With Special Attention to Peter Sloterdijk)’ Bruno Latour introduces the concept of redesigning, a verb that challenges the idea of the architect as a creator or a builder [6]. He suggests that instead of imposing a vision, an architect should be involved in manipulating and transforming the existing giving new implied or explicit significance. Moreover, the reflection seems to address all human species, as an invitation to always intervene cautiously, having in mind the ethical question [7]. Reading this article, it would be easy to imagine a new man, in opposition to the western colonial narration, that concentrates on reshaping problems instead of finding predetermined solutions. The article, written in 2009, appears more relevant than ever. It suggests establishing a new set of values to change the way we impact on the planet. It decentres the human position, opening up to a complexity of agents and parameters to include in the redesign process.


On the contrary, unfinished infrastructures represent exactly the pompous and egoistic Prometheus imposing his design in such an arrogant way that it could not reach a conclusion. As re-designers how should we intervene in modern ruins, specifically in unfinished infrastructure, to open to different unfinished interpretations and infinite possible worlds, without falling into the colonial attitude? Intervening in Modern Heritage is often controversial and complex because of the celebration of outdated values such as imposition, hubris, colonisation and the exploitation of people and nature. This frozen understanding of Modernity as the representation of the western capitalist colonial narration is just one of the possible narrations; in reality history is controversial, complex, and often oxymoronic [8]. Multiple scenarios are to be considered and alternative interpretations to be explored to question Modernity and to differentiate spatial quality from history and civilisations. As architects and historians, but first as human species, we are called to answer the cautious Prometheus suggestion of redesigning stories, objects, buildings and finally, unfinished infrastructures in an inclusive and open way.


In this process Modern Heritage is a real resource and can be reimagined through the visions of different agents, such as nature, technology, society, and architects. This vision is radically in opposition to the prevailing tendency of greenwashing, where nature is imposed in a colonial way, in the desperate attempt to impede the effects of climate change. Nature then becomes a tool to create inequality and to perpetuate a system of power where the ‘green’ agenda is a label to identify the rich western elite. Nature is the desert, the rain, the tornado, the virus; our body is pleasant, but it can be absolutely disruptive. Thus designing with nature does not mean adding plants. Despite our presumption, even without architects adding plants, nature is already there, ready to deteriorate, transform or preserve buildings and infrastructures. In conclusion, ruins are the manifesto of this retaking by nature, which, beyond any romantic approach, is ultimately the destiny of us all if we do not try to carefully invert this path.


Redesigning with nature is to understand that nature is the ultimate infrastructure of our planet, and we should always redesign it with bacteria, plants, animals, winds, and soils in mind. It is important to delineate this architectural approach to differentiate from mainstream discourse, which appears to us oversimplified and often ridiculous. In this process the strength of the word unfinished clearly emerges as a rebellion and as a tribute to nature that always evolves and transforms, adapts, and differentiates, never giving a single specific solution. In the same way, the exercise of redesigning should open to infinite possible worlds and keep questioning what we are doing, for whom, and why.



Ponte San Giacomo dei Capri is an unfinished bridge for vehicles that was planned to connect two neighbourhoods in the district of Vomero, Naples. Building started in 1985. Previously, the land was occupied by community tennis courts. Residents were traumatised by the way the site changed so fast. Marianna Mastropietro, who lived close to the bridge, narrated that she was just six years old when she saw from her window how the concrete monster took the place of the fields where she had played [9]. The irony was that after some months the bridge was left unfinished because of political and land issues, leaving a non-place abandoned, unfinished and unsafe for residents . This is a phenomenon so widespread in Italy that it could be defined the style of our time [10]. The desire to return this space to the community springs from the local inhabitants and their love for the city of Naples. The enthusiasm for the project lies in this sense of responsibility and activism that brings people together to change and transform the urban environment. The communities met the GreenCare Prize Association to organise an international competition with the Napoli Creativa Association, independent of political parties and with the intention to reflect on the future of Ponte San Giacomo dei Capri.

Thus, the vehicle-based bridge, symbol of a top-down approach to urbanism imposed on a community without being finished, has the potential to become a tool to enable participation, discussion, and exchange of ideas. The residents as well as the architects engage in the future of Ponte San Giacomo dei Capri as a place for biodiversity and inclusion, where tradition, nature, technology, and innovation can coexist.


Our proposal is to imagine the Ponte as a manifesto of resistance and rebellion. The famous actress from Naples, Sophia Loren, is imagined sleeping on the bridge (or a chaise longue?) green and soft [Image 3]. The aim is to propose shared spaces that invite people to rest, slow down, exchange and create a deep relation with nature in a stressful, fast-moving world [Image 4].


To extend the various approaches to the space rather than following a single path, the bridge opens to different explorations. On one hand, the end of the bridge seems to be taking off, as an infinite parabola in the sky. On the other hand, a cut in the middle rests as a trace of the incompleteness, a celebration of the unfinished, a testimony of its first death. In this way, the linear A-B approach is abandoned; suddenly the bifurcation gives two different points of view to see the bridge. Moreover, a third path, reconnecting the upper and the lower part of the bridge, is designed as a strip of allotment gardens, playgrounds and sitting areas.


The bridge is furnished with modular, flexible, and easy to manipulate wooden structures, which are open to different uses according to the season, and the desire of the people. They can accommodate spontaneous markets, they can provide shade in summer, or they can simply be shelters where plants grow. In addition, the large open spaces are imagined as places where communities can stage and enjoy events such as music, theatre, dance. There is even a space designated for an open-air cinema to celebrate the city of Naples, with all her alleys and plazas between the Mediterranean Sea and the volcano Vesuvius. It is not a mystery why the greatest Italian director alive, Sorrentino, is from this city. Naples is a theatre where drama and comedy are on stage at the same time. The intangible culture of the city takes over the bridge: the dramatic and yet glorious image of Maradona, the habit of sitting together around a guitar to sing and dance, the spontaneous markets, the old people chatting out of the sun [Image 2].


Finally, we asked nature to help to redesign: Leopardi’s broom flowers standing against the ‘magnifiche sorti e progressive’ [11], the intense perfume of the fruit trees, lemons, mandarins, oranges. The Mediterranean scrub growing in and around the bridge is deemed a citizen not less important than the people living around it. The aim is not to define a unique solution, but to suggest different interpretations to the various agents of the design, to celebrate the identity of the place but also to invite creativity and to imagine different scenarios [Image 1]. The redesign of the bridge by a cautious Prometheus is a celebration of the unfinished as a possibility to reinvent the space in our cities, starting with the existing, tangible, and intangible contexts. In conclusion, the parabola of the failure, of the unfinished, of the unsuccessful, is inverted as the possibility to reinvent and to imagine infinite possible worlds.


Capitalism is obsessed with the idea of perfection and success and struggles to cope with failure and incompleteness. However, around us the nature of reality is unfinished, contradictory and in constant evolution. Modern ruins, in specific unfinished infrastructures, are spaces still alive and full of meanings, asking desperately to be listened to. On the one hand, they are a manifestation of the failure of capitalism. On the other, they are a symbol of resistance and rebellion against the fake idea of progress, and they can play a pivotal role in the community. In San Giacomo dei Capri, the local community’s desire to appropriate the bridge is a victory and a manifestation of the social and political potential of these spaces. In St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, there is the perfect finished Pietà (the Virgin Mary mourning over the emaciated body of the dead Christ), sculpted by an 18-year-old Michelangelo. Though young he had reached an outstanding level of precision in manipulating the marble, so that it is hard to imagine any room for improvement. However, at the age of 76, he returned to the same theme, leaving an impressive unfinished sculpture, the Pietà Rondanini. The despair is intense, and the observer is invited to finish the image in his or her way. Suddenly, the protagonists are no more the Virgin Mary and Jesus; the two human figures are now the universal representation of the suffering of a mother losing her son, or the pain and sorrow of losing the people we love. We are asked to share the human dimension of imperfection and sufferance and complete the statue by ourselves [12]. Beyond perfection there is the possibility of leaving things not defined, of setting the imagination free to find fresh interpretations, to give others the possibility of finding different conclusions to our story. The cautious Prometheus knows the risks of imposing a vision and is not obsessed with a desire to find the best solution. Instead, the project of redesigning is open to infinite possible worlds, infinite possible endings.

[1] Carse and Kneas (2019), p.13.


[2] Deleuze and Guattari (2013), pp.34-35.

[4] Edwards (2002), p.191.


[5] Alterazioni Video, Fonsbury Architecture (2018), pp.309-310.

[3] Edwards (2002), p.187.

[6] Latour (2009), p.5.


[7] Latour (2009), pp.5-6.

[8] Denison (2018), pp.38-39

[9] Mastropietro (2022), p.1.


[10] Alterazioni Video, Fonsbury Architecture (2018), pp.309-310.

[11] Leopardi (2020), p.5

[12] Vasari (1983) p.795.

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[Image 2] Ponte San Giacomo dei Capri, before/after. Image by the authors (2022).

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[Image 3 - top] The green chaise longue.
Image by the authors (2022).

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[Image 4] Urban re-appropriation. Images by the authors (2022).

All Images


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Fanny Ciufo and Sami Yakhlef are two architects based in Paris collaborating on architectural competitions and research projects as SAFA, an architectural firm operating at the intersection of architecture, ecology, and culture. The design proposal for the bridge is the result of this synergy.


Fanny Ciufo

Architectural practice cofounder SAFA
MA Architecture and Historic Urban Environments, The Bartlett, UCL, UK, 2021
BArch-MArch Architecture, Sapienza University, Rome, 2016

Sami Yakhlef

Associate Lecturer - Maitre de conférences associé, ENSAG, Grenoble, France, since 2023
Architectural practice cofounder SAFA
MArch Architecture Atmospheres and Digital Culture, ENSAG, Grenoble, France, 2015

BArch-MArch Architecture, Institute of Civil Engineering and Architecture, Batna, Algeria, 2012


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