The 35 Year-Old Housing Complex that has had Nine Lives

From his early days as a practicing architect to his current photographic projects, it is clear that Alessandro Guida has long been fascinated with urban spaces. His most recent endeavour, Corviale, is no different.

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Corviale is a photographic exploration of a social housing complex that was built in 1982 in Rome. The concrete mass is a surrealistic urban jungle that took 10 years to build and stands at 9 stories high. Alessandro describes it as a “city within a city”, as it houses 8,500 inhabitants in 1,200 apartments.

Originally training as an architect, Alessandro naturally shifted towards architecture photography as he continuously used photography to map the urban landscape. In 2016 Alessandro co-founded a collective of photographers called Urban Reports, the group uses documentary photography to explore the transformations present in contemporary urban landscapes.

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Alessandro’s fascination with Corviale stems from the changes that he has seen over the years due to the occupation of the common space. His work with Urban Reports mirrors this interest, as it seeks to document today’s urban condition and shine a light on the effects that external societal factors can have on urban space. The results of Alessandro’s passion for urban space is seen through Corviale, it is a fascinating collection of images that showcases the twists and turns of a building under continuous pressure, yet still standing strong after 35 years.

THE PLUS: What inspired your decision to move from working as a practicing architect to working on architectural photography? 
Alessandro Guida:
I would say that it wasn’t a conscious decision. Every architect, during their training, uses photography as a tool to better understand the reality of our cities. Like sketches, the camera helps you to explore and reflect on what you see. The process took time to unfold, until I realized that I was much more interested in documenting and describing urban forms and architecture through photography then designing them.  
 
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TP: How do you explore creativity through your photographic work?
AG:
Creativity is involved in all phases of my projects but the first phase is what I enjoy the most: when I research how to approach the work I have in mind. I would say that what is important to me is the process itself. Photography,
in the end, is just one of the tools used to build a story.
 
TP: How did you discover Corviale?
AG:
I studied this project during my training at University and I always had the desire to understand more about its physical and social structure. Corviale is a social housing complex that was designed back in 1972; works began in 1975 and closed abruptly in 1982 when the company went bankrupt. The first flats were handed over in the same year, and immediately tens of families illegally occupied different units, especially on the fourth floor, which was supposed to host, in the original design, services and shops. 
 
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TP: How do you feel Corviale has transformed over time?
AG:
The building is the result of the mutations that its inhabitants carried out. The common spaces have been occupied so the original design has been twisted. The feeling is to enter a space that has never been finished; yet over the years its inhabitants, who have shaped the spaces to accommodate their needs, have transformed the space.
 
TP: What inspired you the most about the design of Corviale?
AG:
I think that more than its design, what is fascinating is the idea behind the project. Of course, the volume of the building (1 km long) is impressive but the utopian vision to build a city for almost 9,000 people from scratch makes you wonder if that was the right answer to the housing demand at that time.
 
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TP: Do you feel that the concrete, surrealist façade of Corviale reflects the use of the building up to this point?
AG:
Unfortunately, not. The facade is made with a precast system that is usually fast and cheap to assemble and most of the time the result is very poor. What is more interesting is the inhabitants who, year after year, have tried to humanize it and make small-scale interventions.

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