[Image 1] Former
financial EUR Towers
Image by the author (2018).
From phantasma to fantasy: How to give new interpretations to modern heritage in between existing and new narrations
by Fanny Ciufo
Abstract: Rome is the capital of fantasmas and fantasy. It was built from the beginning, in continuity and opposition with the ghosts of the past without renouncing them to imagine a new vision of the future. Ghosts are everywhere and they are citizens not less important than the physical ones. The beauty of Rome appears in this dialogue. The article suggests that architecture, conservation policy, and urban planning should consider the power of narrations, the stories already written as the ones to envision. From this perspective, it encourages us to look at the modern ruins in the city as a resource for the citizens to embrace fantasy to continue the existing narration. The “folie” starts from the Ligini ex-finance towers, abandoned concrete skeletons at the South gate of the city that could be transformed into a crazy experimental laboratory of participatory design.
 Sorrentino (2013).
The Great Beauty of Rome is certainly known to everyone who has ever visited the city.
The colour of the sky, the light, the bricks, the marble, or the small plants growing in every available slot in the walls are just some of the features that make this city special.
For her inhabitants, Rome is the most beautiful city in the world and it is indeed in everyday life that you can catch her essence and connect with her.
It doesn’t really matter if in the centre or in the periphery, a roman citizen will know and wait for June to admire the city magically turning pink during the sunset a colour that reconciles with all the fatigue of the day.
Talking about Rome it may be irrelevant to try to make order or hierarchy in this collage.[Image 2] The city is an intricate palimpsest of memories, attempts, past glories and hopes. In her fabrics it is possible to read its economic, social, political and architectural history. As the visionary mind of the director Paolo Sorrentino manages to capture, the Great Beauty  is the scene behind contradictions, desire of God, failure, aspirations, magic and decadence.
In between this stratification of layers, there are phantasmas  from the Ancient Greek etymology, “appearance image, spectre, vision”, a word with the same root of “fantasy”. Both the words share the same semantic area, which is both passive and active, “to have a vision” can be a revelation but it can also be a creative act.
Rome is the capital of fantasmas.
It was built from the beginning, in continuity and opposition with the ghosts of the past without renouncing them to invent a new vision of the future. Ghosts are everywhere and they are citizens not less important than the physical ones.
This article seeks to analyse the vicissitudes around the life and the death of one of these fantasmas: three abandoned office towers, born under the edge of the capitalistic dream of the 1960’s Italian economic miracle (boom economico), and quickly left as a monument of decadence and failure [Image 1].
The new ruins in Rome are as talkative as the old ones, and many contemporary buildings lie unheard as ghosts with many stories to tell.
FANTASMA OR WHAT APPEARS
The Ligini ex-finance towers are a complex of three abandoned skeleton high-rise buildings. They are so-called Little Beirut as the damaged towers after the war in the capital of Lebanon, and they stand as the threatening gate to the city coming from the sea.
The complex is located in the EUR residential and business district, south of the city centre. The area was designed by the Fascist regime as a commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the March of Rome with the name E42, as it would have been the location of the 1942 World Fair. Even if the Expo never took place due to the defeat of Mussolini, EUR was finished for the 1960 Olympics, and it is still an interesting mixture of Roman imperial urban planning, rationalism and Stile 900 (simplified classicism) .
The towers, designed by Arch. Cesare Ligini in 1961, were inspired by Mies Van Der Rohe’s Lake Shore Drive Apartments in Chicago, and they were used as offices for the Ministry of Finance. During the 1990s the complex was abandoned with the idea of transforming it into a hotel. In 2007, the facade was dismantled, and there was the political will to completely demolish it . Ultimately, the mayor of Rome rejected the proposal to regenerate them as offices. Surrounded by a high fence and inaccessible to people, the towers are now considered an example of junk space, the residue and the trash of the magnificent and progressive fate of Modernism [5, Image 3].
On the one hand, the abandoned finance towers as contemporary ruins are the symbol of the economic crisis and the fall of the dreams of the 1960s. On the other hand, several attempts to transform them into hotel or office buildings have failed due to the difficulty of choosing a single function for such a large structure.
Recently the phenomenon of contemporary ruins has grown dramatically in all Italy, and the discussion about the future of these concrete skeletons is still open as these non-places are asking desperately for a new identity . The situation is so critical that, recently, an artist group called Alterazioni Video defined in a manifesto that this incomplete architecture may be the most important contemporary architectural style in Italy .
They mapped 750 uncompleted buildings in Italy, to which it would be interesting to add others that were finished, used for a limited amount of time, and then left deserted.
In Rome, these vacant buildings, such as the EUR ex-finance towers, the Calatrava Sport Centre, and the new Convention Centre and Hotel (so called the Cloud, by Fuksas) can compete with the Colosseum in their dimension and ability to capture the imagination.
FANTASY, OR WHAT CAN BE IMAGINED
The proposal is divided into two phases: occupation and expansion.
In the first phase, the towers are occupied by people who organise the function and the division of the space. In the second phase, it is imagined as an expansion with ETFE bubbles popping up from the concrete structure with services and installations.
To avoid the alienation of the current construction process from occupants, and to involve everyone in designing the space, the towers are transformed into a digital fabrication lab with movable robots that can customise walls on site according to the specific and personal needs of occupants. The design of the towers is a palimpsest of different layers designed by the bricoleurs, a variety of people with different backgrounds, age, religion and beliefs. To achieve this, new digital construction techniques are fundamental as they really promote differentiation and freedom of shape as well as participation. An assemblage of machines and people design, produce, and build the future of the towers [Image 4].
The occupation of abandoned buildings by squatters is becoming more and more common, especially in countries with a difficult economic situation where the State can not afford regeneration plans.
This starts from the need and right of the people to have access to decent housing and to reuse space otherwise destined to degradation. In Rome, the most interesting example of occupation is the third floor of the Corviale building, a social housing experiment developed by the radical architect Mario Fiorentino during the 1970s.
The individual contribution that each occupant gave to the building makes Corviale a more human and cosy space, with the corridor as the real manifesto .
The people manage to give colour and identity to a never-ending grey streak in the skyline. The plants are taking over the structure, giving back life to the concrete
After the Modern Movement, structures in concrete have been manipulated, humanised and adapted by the inhabitants living inside. This is a natural, spontaneous process where standard architecture is modified and customised according to the needs of the users.
The use of digital fabrication techniques completely revolutionises the occupation process. The bricoleurs are not limited to small changes such as adding colours or putting plants on the corridor. They can design spaces, walls, and furniture in a freestyle manner.
In the towers, the use of the 3D printing technique is affordable, fast, cheap, able to overcome standardisation, and at the same time, able to promote an infinite variety of solutions. The three materials used are cheap and easy to make; they are differentiated according to the level of transparency, from the solid and opaque concrete for the walls, to the semi-transparent ETFE for the windows, to the completely open mesh mould for terraces.
The use of concrete was already successfully experimented with in Milan for the Salone del Mobile 2018 Design Festival. Arup and CLS Architects unveiled 3D Housing 05, printed in concrete on-site by a portable robot in just 48 hours effective time .
Moreover, 3D concrete print houses can be the challenge of the future because they are fast to realise and cheap, especially compared to bricks. In the USA, the startup ICON (which specialises in 3D print construction) and the non-profit organisation New Story, (which is fundraising for more inclusive urban planning) are currently collaborating on an ambitious project to create cheap houses for homeless people around the world.
The first homes were built in El Salvador, each one built in less than 24 hours and costing $4,000 . Finally, universities all over the world, including in China and Eindhoven, are testing this fabrication technique.
There is hope that in a few years this method of rapid concrete construction will be more widespread and easier to use.
To create an equitable division of space, there are some guidelines in the occupation of the towers.
Each floor is divided into units, occupied by a single person or group of people.
The 3D concrete printed walls are built on site thanks to a movable machine that is brought up by a mechanised system along the outside of the stair tower. There is no need to follow the orthogonal existing structure in the division of the space, but rather, it encourages the use of curves. The transparent part is ETFE. In phase one, these transparent cushions typically follow the geometry of the towers.
The idea of the vertical village, from the Tower of Babylon to Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse and MVRDV’s recent studies, is an attempt to respond to the necessity of building high density in a small footprint, without creating ghettos or dormitory neighbourhoods . It is clear that the plurality of functions, the diversity of spaces, and the need for social assistance are the main ingredients to creating a sense of community.
Another building guideline specifies that at least one of the units should be used for a non-residential function on each floor, such as commercial activities, sports facilities, religious areas or workspaces.
Ideally, all occupants should know what is happening on each floor, to encourage free mobility of people across the building.
It is fundamental to overcome the static approach of monothematic high rise buildings, where usually nobody goes to unfamiliar levels, except the living and working ones. The constant possibility of different activities is a strong proposal and encourages people to travel around the building, exploring it and occasionally bumping into new people. The main aim, in fact, is to create a sense of community and identity, and to guarantee social cohesion.This scheme aims to generate diverse groups of people, triggering an assemblage of different communities to foster integration.
Expansion [Image 7]
The Ex-Finance Towers stand as massive concrete skeletons waiting to be inhabited. The first part of the proposal focuses on this manipulation of the existing structure to transform it into a safe place for dwelling. In the first phase, the addition of elements follows the prismatic shape of the towers without altering the geometry [Images 6].
However, as one observes in Collage City, Rome has always been a city in expansion, where stratification is the result of the ongoing growth of the existing urban fabric.
Starting from this consideration, the design investigates the possibility of adding movable, flexible, light structures, which pop up from the monolithic volumes of the towers.
These transparent bubbles, from which it is possible to admire the city from above, are allocated for special services and meeting points.
The design of buildings as skeletons with movable, prefabricated, and plugged-in cabins has a long history which has been studied and imagined by many architects. There is a direct connection between the manifesto Mobile Architecture by Yona Friedman (1950), the drawings of Archigram about Plug-in City, and the metabolic experience of Kenzo Tange in Japan. Around 1960, the idea of megastructures, which expand following organic biological growth, was predicated as an absolute flexible system able to answer the expansion of the city in a dynamic way- in opposition to the sternness of council urban plans.
The metaphor of biological growth expresses the flexibility and adaptability of species in nature, that change happens according to the external environment and the internal needs. Metabolic buildings aspire to be like trees- the structure is the trunk, with smaller branches where the leaves can be plugged in at will [14 ]. Nevertheless, there is a shift between the visionary drawings of Archigram and the realised buildings of Kenzo Tange, provoked by the limitation of the industrial construction process of the 20th century. In Tokyo’s Nakagin capsule tower by Kisho Kurokawa, standardisation is the key and there is no difference between units. The prefabricated elements are inserted into the structure as conceived by the single mindset of the architect .
On the other hand, the 21st century digital revolution in the construction process finally dismantles the alienation derived by standardised architecture space.
This new process creates customised, special, and unique solutions where the users are directly involved in the design and realisation. Some recent research groups, such as Wikihouse by Architecture 00, are already promoting this new approach, using open source projects to reinvent the way homes are made using new technology and involving communities .
Starting from this theoretical background, the second phase of the project focuses on the design of ETFE units that blow up from the building, completely manufactured by the inhabitants who allocate common functions.
The design is divided into thin 3D printed concrete profiles that support the ETFE cushions at every three modules.
On the slab of the profile, there are installations, or tubes for the mechanical system where energy flows. All the technical installations are in the profiles and in the existing central internal cavaedium, they are powered by the solar panels installed on the terraces on the top floors of the towers.
Finally, there is a strong visual dialogue between the city and the typology of the towers, as they look at each other in a never-ending theatre. The ETFE superstructures are the stage as well as the stalls, depending on the point of view. From the top, the metaphysic urban plan of the EUR appears clearly as well as the remarkable individual buildings: the Fascist Square Colosseum and Conference Palace, the round Sports Palace by Nervi, the just completed Conference Palace by Fuksas, all right next to the towers.
However, the most stunning panorama is from the terraces on the top floor.
On the South side, it is possible to glimpse at the sea, while on the North side, the whole city is visible. This is precisely why there is a small balcony at the top - inspired by the one on the top of the Libera’s Conference Palace, from which you can see the Great Beauty of Rome. It is a celebration of the vertical building typology, which allows unexpected views, and gives humans the chance to see the world from an external position- far from the noise and the rattle of urban life [Images 5,6].
The proposal is, admittedly, crazy [Image 8]; it is a schizophrenic utopia necessarily connected with the world of architecture. However, to transform a phantasma into a fantasy, to listen to the story of a building and be able to invent on top of it, it may be necessary to break conventions and to try to imagine different scenarios. I’m wondering if the main problem of Rome is the ability to transform her multiple ghost dimensions into a new vision- to see, imagine, and build the città futura.
In the end, this process is repeated and embraced everyday by each one of us. We all live with our phantasmas, and we all need a lot of energy and fantasy to reinvent them as we create our identity. As long as Rome manages to keep these two “phanta” dimensions in dialogue, on one side the narration of the past and on the other the vision for the future, the urbe will continue to be eternal.
 Fantasma from Latin phantasma, greek ϕάντασμα, verb ϕαντάζω «to show», ϕαντάζομαι «appear», root ϕαν- verb ϕαίνω same meaning
Fantasy from Latin phantasĭa, greek ϕαντασία, root ϕαν- verb ϕαίνω «to show».
The former Finance Towers in the EUR district, designed by Arch. Cesare Ligini in 1961, were inspired by Mies Van Der Rohe’s Lake Shore Drive Apartments in Chicago, and they were used as offices for the Ministry of Finance.
They have been standing as empty skeletons at the South gate of the city since the 1990’s, when they were left without any new program.
The exercise will be to recognise these towers as fantasmas longing to tell their story, but also, to envision them as a starting point for a new fantasy and vision.
In this double relation between what is shown and what is imagined, another layer will be added to the palimpsest of this collage city, which is Rome.
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[Image 6] Prospective view, interior, design proposal.
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[Image 8] Elevation, design proposal. Image by the author (2018).
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Published in Issue 2022
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