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Privatiser le ciel ? Les gratte-ciel dans le paysage urbain : le cas de Turin

Privatizing the sky? Tall buildings in the historical urban landscape: the case of Turin
Guido Montanari

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1With the return of high rise buildings in Europe at the turn of XXI century it is necessary questioning the preservation of heritage cities. The conflict between tall buildings and historical urban landscape risks to destroy identity and memory in a general process of globalization (Tavernor, 2007, Appert, 2008, Appert, Montès, 2015). The reasons stated by supporters of tall buildings in historical cities include the accusation of anti-modernity against those who defend the consolidated landscape. Skyward growth is, in other words, deemed an unavoidable consequence of the processes of economic growth, the expansion of the services' sector in central areas and the maximisation of land values. This rationale is generally echoed by public opinion, as inferred by letters from readers of the local pages of national dailies, and it is also repeated by specialised adverts (Il Giornale dell’Architettura, 2008). The ambivalent discourses on modernity or modernization bring about by skyscrapers seem to hide the deep political and ethical difference between material and moral progress of humankind and technological updating processes. This paper try to shed a new light in a long running debate starting from the “dead of the skyscraper” (Huet, 1975) to the current high-rise boom, focusing on the case of Turin (Montanari 2010).

2During the post-industrial crisis and the frenzy of the Winter Olympics in 2006, the City of Turin gave permission to build tall buildings in the so-called "urban transformation" areas. This decision triggered the opposition of citizens who established the Committee “Non grattiamo il cielo” (Let's not scratch the sky)” which organised public assemblies and petitions against skyscrapers. The Administration refused to open a public debate on the issue, and also rejected the proposal of a referendum. The local editorial boards of national newspapers such as La Stampa and La Repubblica published several papers on the event, however allocating very little room for the reasons of those who support moderate heights. The dispute has been reported according to two prevalent rhetorical approaches, the conflict between modernity and tradition, and respect for the height of the Mole Antonelliana, a masterpiece of 19th century engineering that became a symbol of the city. Instead, essential themes like urban landscape quality, relations between the new building with its historical design and the environmental backdrop, its social and energy-related sustainability have not been studied in detail, though they are essential to reflect on the recent transformations experienced by both architecture and the city in the age of globalization (Cohen, Damisch, 1993; Heynen, 1999; De Magistris, 2004).

Tall buildings: high-rise modernity

3Without delving into the details of the concept of modernity in all its complex nuances, the term etymologically derives from the adjective “modern” (from the Latin modus, now), that is topical and typical of the present. From the late middle ages, the term has acquired a positive significance with regard to its time, and in contrast with the past. Based on this awareness, which has grown over the centuries, every historical period has its own vision of modernity that has, from time to time, been processed according to the economic, cultural and social developments of its time (Sadun, Bordoni, 2015).

4Hence, what does modernity mean in a contemporary period? Following the trend of a thought that has acquired extensive consensus in literature, I am convinced that, starting from the 19th century, modernity has been closely related to the rationale of Enlightenment as summarised by the ideals of the French Revolution in the triad Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. These principles, which have been progressively adopted by both international legislations and all democratic states, are the founding pillars of the indefeasible rights of every human being, such as the right to life, health, education, freedom of thought and action, applied with respect for the rights of others and even the “right to pursue happiness,” as stated by the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America (1776). The contemporary age witnesses modernity rooted in the social and economic progress of society, proceeding by developing knowledge and applying the scientific method, leaving behind the phantoms and obscurantist religious beliefs. Consequently, contextualising the concept of modernity today means agreeing with the concepts of freedom of individuals, wellbeing of populations, equal rights, redistribution of wealth, preservation and fair distribution of resources. Only if we agree with these principles can we judge the events of our time as examples of “modernity.” (Montanari, 2007)

5It is quite another matter to talk of “modernization,” namely the phenomena of scientific and technological updates that are not necessarily factors of progress and development for society overall. We could consider, for instance, the production of weapons or of mass consumables, a source of huge profits for a limited elite of people with either scarce or no positive effects whatsoever for most populations, besides rapidly depleting the planet's resources. The spreading of architectures that reach considerable heights, totally disregarding social needs and context, constructed to enrich some magnate or to celebrate a multinational, or a political regime, as long as they present technological innovation, should therefore be considered as a modernization phenomena rather than modernity (McNeil, 2002; Melograni, 2015).

6It is commonly known that the history of skyscrapers commenced in Chicago when the city was reconstructed after the 1871 fire. The upward drive triggered by the high cost of land generated significant structural and plant engineering innovations but architects, who come from a Beaux Arts educational background, long concealed these innovative solutions with traditional design and decorative features in an attempt to deny the “assault against the sky” of these works.

7At the international exhibition that was held in Paris in 1898, Gustave Eiffel exploited the new structural potential achieved by bridge and viaduct construction technology to the utmost by building a steel tower that was over 300m high. Once again we notice the attempt to conceal a technological conquest that is also a modern project for its strong content of innovation that has a social responsibility. Therefore the four arches that connect the bases are statically pointless and were added at a later date but they propose the traditional image of the arch of triumph. Despite these devices, the tower met with strong criticism from intellectuals and artists who demanded the demolition of its bulking mass without acknowledging its technologically innovative importance and the powerful impact on the landscape which has, in the course of time, turned it into the symbol of Paris or even France.

8Rejected in Europe, tall buildings spread in the United States in the 1900s but, however, consistently with tradition. As a matter of fact, the winner of the international competition for the Chicago Tribune's new head office (1922) refers to the gothic cathedral. Moreover, the circa three hundred projects presented included citations of medieval towers, of Giotto's bell towers in Florence, or of classical columns, such as the Doric one proposed by Adolf Loos.

9The tall building became the symbol of modernity, and artistic avant-garde movements recognised it as progress that marked a break with tradition. The futurist Antonio Sant’Elia designed gigantic complexes traversed by elevator shafts, intersected by roads and railways connected to airport runways. In the framework of Russian constructivism, Vladimir Tatlin designed a spiral tower, whose 400 m tall steel structure controversially opposed the bourgeois Parisian tower and was intended to host government offices of the new Soviet State in transparent volumes. In the framework of research conducted by German expressionists, Mies van der Rohe designed tall buildings for offices that already proposed an all-glass shield.

10The theory that tall buildings express modernity is adopted by the first movies. Suffice to consider Metropolis (1927) by Fritz Lang, with its city of the future dotted with skyscrapers that form the urban setting described with awe by sci-fi literature and cartoons.

11Research on tall buildings also fascinated the protagonists of the Modern Movement. Le Corbusier proposed removing the historical fabric of cities in order to build tall buildings separated by green areas and wide streets. But his model of city is not very liveable, as proven by the experiences of Chandigarh and of Brasìlia, whose monumental spaces designed for the use of cars turn out to be segregational elements for the residents.

12The CIAM Tall houses, low houses? held in Frankfurt in 1930 opened the debate on the best way to construct good quality houses for workers at a low cost while making the most of the areas. Walter Gropius proposed tall steel-structured buildings carefully oriented with regard to the sun and the landscape but the problem did not find a common solution. Meanwhile, the Siedlungen, residential districts with moderate heights designed for social services, green areas and aggregation sites provided the best conditions for people to socialise and interact with the environment.

13In the United States, with the exception of the capital city Washington, cities dedicate the central area, downtown, to tall buildings that are mainly used as offices and are associated with the image of every owner companies. The most famous ones, such as the Chrysler Building, were built in the 1920s-1930s, towards the end of the “great depression” as the expression of capitalism that, despite the crisis experienced, announced a new image of recovery and power through symbolic elements that were genuine technological jewels. The Empire State Building was constructed in six months, and ranked as the world's tallest building for fifty years.

14The Modern Movement's skyscraper model was designed after World War Two, a basic refined parallelepiped lined with glass, like the Seagram Building (1958) by Mies Van Der Rohe, which expressed a new aesthetic quest for technological details. The 1960s expressed modernity by challenging heights and displaying technological feats. The charm of high tech, which was also influenced by the utopian visions of British Archigrams and of Japanese Metabolists, took shape in many works, such as Chicago's Sears Towers by Bruce Graham and the SOM, the head office of Lloyd’s of London by Richard Rogers, or the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank's head office in Hong Kong designed by Norman Foster.

15In the late 1970s and early 1980s the relationship between tall buildings and history is once again the focus of attention, as we notice in Philip Johnson's IT&T in New York, which is once again tripartite, covered in stone and crowned by a broken tympanum, or in Michael Graves' unliveable skyscrapers that do not allow light to penetrate, as long as this return to tradition is underscored.

High-rise modernization

16Recent construction trends for skyscrapers proposed, regardless of the setting, are inclined to overcome structural and construction-related limitations in order to achieve a record in terms of height, while also proposing unusual and provocative shapes. We find such examples in Dubai stage of high-rise modernization as in its Burj Dubai skyscraper (despite being over 800 m tall, only the first 500 m can actually be used), a symbol of waste and decontextualised gigantism (Davis, 2009), or in the convoluted and atectonic shapes of certain proposals by Peter Eisenman or Daniel Libeskind (Dellapiana, Montanari, 2015).

17Against such a display of muscle and form, there are also socially responsible studies centred on the themes of environmental and energy-related sustainability (Yeang, 1996, Ferrier, 2007, Contal, Revedin 2009). These research works suggest solutions ranging from the production of renewable energy from photovoltaic, wind and geothermal energy systems to ventilation and natural air conditioning techniques, and the use of green walls and roofs. But results seem to be modest, compared to the high energy consumption associated with construction and management, demolition and reutilisation of high buildings. It is quite obvious that conveying materials to considerable heights is counterproductive in energy-related terms. Moreover, the growth in height implies an exponential increase in surfaces required for the structural and plant engineering elements and for vertical connections (i.e. stairs, lifts, elevators). When a certain limit is exceeded, space allocated for service elements is more than the space left for usable surfaces. It is equally difficult to reconcile the large construction volumes required to build in height with the increasingly acknowledged need to have work and living environments that are filled with natural light and are in contact with the ground to guarantee reasonable wellbeing for people. Furthermore, tall buildings tend to increase pressures on natural resources, not in the city but elsewhere. So any quest to make it locally sustainable is doomed by environments nuisances elsewhere.

  • 1 Some examples of urban population density: Manila (41,014 inhab./km2), Paris (20,164 inhab./km2), S (...)

18A highly topical theme associated with the expansion of urban areas is urban intensification which could translate into the construction of tall buildings to reduce the consumption of ground space. The development in height apparently allows to save ground space and this seems a very sensible topic, considering the growing awareness of the finite nature of environmental resources. However, it does not suffice to study the details of the quality of life ensured by a vertically developed city when social relations are difficult, and the greater surfaces required on a wider scale for the problems of shading and for the various service functions (roads, access routes, parking spaces) are not given due consideration. The "tall" city, conversely to what a superficial analysis might indicate, is one that consumes a lot of space because the concentrated functions need large portions of surrounding surface for infrastructures, with the well known effects of congestion, pollution and consumption of ground space. This is proven by the fact that the living density of a historical city like Central Paris is higher than that of a city of skyscrapers like Shanghai1. Hence, the skyscraper is not a “modern” answer to the architectural problems of the city, not only because it is a well consolidated construction type that seems to have completed its technological evolution, but especially because it expresses a season of thought and of implementations that are bound to the past, to a time when people were convinced that technology could solve all the problems of mankind, and that economic growth could be limitless with endlessly available resources. Starting from the 1970s, the awareness of the “limit of growth,” which are now extensively proven by climatic changes and by the difficulty to manage natural resources, has required the approach to the architectural and territorial project to be reconsidered in terms of “environmental sustainability” (Meadows, et Alii, 1972). Furthermore, in the historical urban context, tall buildings with their standardised image and economic importance were the protagonists of gentrification processes that expel the low income population from urban centres, destroying cultural and economic relations. They were the expression of total disregard for the richness of socialisation and the memory of citizens (Semi, 2015).

19All this makes us believe that the development in height is not suitable, especially in historically and culturally important landscapes, to express the intrinsic innovative and social progress that is linked with the term modernity.

Genius loci vs globalisation. The case of Turin

20Turin is an old city that was established in Roman times. The original nucleus (2nd century BC) comprises the quadrilateral of the Roman castrum (ca 700 m per side), situated a short distance from the river Po and oriented along the cardinal axes with a 26° declination. For about 1,500 years this small village, which kept a low profile in historical events of the time, maintained its Roman layout, which can especially be noticed in the decuman (called via Garibaldi today) along the East-West axis, despite progressive transformations implemented during the medieval period. Only after the Cateau Cabrésis Treatise (1559) did the small town rise to an important role in the international scene as the starting point for the birth of the Savoy State. The reorganisation of the small city, which commenced by modernising the defence system, took place in the 17th and 18th centuries through subsequent expansions and the construction of a series of royal residences, thus generating a genuine capital city of absolutism on par with leading European capital cities (Comoli, 1984).

21We notice a special original feature in the fact that the layout of the new expansions tends to prolong the chessboard-like road network of the original Roman system, reproducing it, even with larger blocks of houses, beyond the ancient walls, and projecting it towards the surrounding areas. The directional axes of expansions are made up of the principal commercial and strategic links of the city, related to the geomorphologic context that sees Via Po to the east with the river and the hills, the Rivoli Castle and France to the west, Nice and the sea to the south, and Venaria Reale to the north, towards Milan. All ideally depart from the core of the Royal Palace but can be noticed in the urban fabric as a genuine linear telescopic perspective on a wider scale. The current Corso Unione Sovietica stretches in a straight line for about 10 km, connecting the urban centre with the Stupinigi Hunting Lodge. From the Basilica of Superga to the Rivoli Castle, the visual link is defined in the city by Corso Francia, which probably formed the longest linear telescopic perspective of the Baroque period (ca 12 km) ever created (Mumford, 1961).

22The design of the quadrangular blocks of houses starts from these principal axes, interrupted by large squares that are stiffly organised by the orthogonal grid oriented along the cardinal points, based on the Alpine ridge, the hills and the river. This particular feature of the “capital city” has been preserved in time, and provides the structure for additional expansions of the 19th century city designed to become, for a brief period, the capital city of United Italy (1860-1864) and, later, the city of the 'big industry.' Even the railway axis with its stations and the large new industrial facilities, such as the Lingotto (1914-1921), still comply with the historical road network, and so do the new residential districts that, despite certain diagonal cuts that are necessary for the road network, adapt to the type of courtyard blocks and to the orthogonal layout of the grid.

23This process, which is regulated by expansion plans that embrace peripheral areas and new towns, which are built outside the customs barrier, established the city's structural layout throughout the last century, contributing to determine a strongly regulated urban design, studied on a kilometre scale and characterised by the regular grid of the roads and by the extraordinary baroque visual axes (Cavallari Murat, 1968). The city's skyline, therefore, features the level design of architectures dotted by the emerging bell towers and domes of sacred buildings that stand out against the Alpine ridge and the hills, with the exception of the Mole (1889) by Alessandro Antonelli that proudly presents a 167 m steeple. The substantial homogeneity of this landscape was only interrupted in the 1930s by the Littoria Tower that was authorised by the fascist regime as the symbol of the new power and the main element of the renovation of Via Roma.

24A brief skyward construction phase took place after World War Two when the new town-planning scheme drawn up by Annibale Rigotti and approved in 1959 was adopted. In the frenzy of speculative reconstruction, thousands of planning applications were approved during this period, and some small skyscrapers were also allowed in the historical centre that had been devastated by bombs. These buildings with their modest architectural quality clutter the landscape and often fail to follow the continuity of the high-density brick-faced buildings, thus creating inconsistent recesses or minor demolitions, but they are metabolised by the strength of the historical urban layout. The period does not lack a few tall buildings, like the BBPR tower in Corso Francia, the skyscraper of the RAI (Italian television network) designed by Domenico Morelli and Aldo Morbelli, and the one for the offices of the Telephone Company (Sip), where the Metropolitan City of Turin is now based, by Ottorino Aloisio. These works invade the scene of the city but express the high quality design culture of their protagonists and an attempt to establish a dialogue with the historical contest using specific materials and shapes.

25The commitment of the 1970s' urban culture on rent control and on providing social services, schools and green areas can be observed in Turin too. The city, ruled for two mandates by left wing councils headed by Diego Novelli, implements a policy focused on directing urban development and on investing in public services, triggering a season of regional studies on cultural and environmental assets, on the transport system, on production and settlement dynamics that announce the implementation of the now obsolete town-planning scheme (Radicioni, Lucco Borlera, 2009). However, the hesitation of these administrations and the intensity of speculative pressures on urban areas anticipate the u-turn made in the 1980s. The new political era characterised by the neo-liberal approach of Reaganism and by Thatcherism, centred on the elimination of “fetters and constraints” to private initiatives, is rooted in a country that has historically never succeeded in applying a modern policy of territorial control. (Salzano, 1998)

26This process grew out of proportion in Turin during the industrial crisis, forming the cultural background for the creation of a new political class that has been in power without interruption for twenty years, and has abandoned all attempts at controlling urban land revenue and regional territorial planning (Belligni, Ravazzi, 2014). The new town-planning scheme defined by Vittorio Gregotti and Augusto Cagnardi (1995) interprets the feasibility of transforming the huge heritage of disused production sites in an attempt to buffer the industrial crisis and place the city in the new urban international marketing scene promoted by the successful candidacy for the 2006 Olympics and by funds for the related construction works. (Spaziante, 2008)

27In the wake of the enthusiasm for the Olympics, in 2006 the Municipal Council led by Mayor Sergio Chiamparino approved several amendments to the town-planning scheme, elevating the height of certain buildings envisaged on the new central axis of the Spina from about 70 m (maximum height of buildings in the city, excluding the Mole Antonelliana) to 100 m, then 150 m and, finally, eliminating all height limits. Tall buildings are expected to rise in various sites with no urban design at all, as a result of the request for “density” that administrators believe would increase land value. In practice, as occurs in other places in Italy, the city chose to harness the increases in land value. (Berdini, 2014).

28Hence, the current phase commences, characterised by a town-planning scheme that has been 'emptied' by the approval of more than three hundred amendments that meet the demands of land owners, property developers and financial investors, in an attempt to fill the municipal coffers that were emptied by Olympic debts and continuous cuts to local finance implemented by the central government. The submission to the profitability of mainly financial capital has become the new decisional frontier of the administration that is, by now, at the mercy of “urbanisation fees,” revenue that is essential to maintain for both current expenditure and investments in a city on the verge of bankruptcy (Pagliassotti, 2012 and 2014).

29Hence, the modernity claimed by the recent urban transformation, and extensively advertised by highly compliant press is actually the success of neo-liberal policies, reorganisation of all public services, the abolition of service standards, the sale of public property assets and companies. This means making the territory produce income. (Balocco et Alii, 2015)

30This is the context that has led to the construction of Banca Intesa San Paolo's skyscraper (2006-2015) designed by Renzo Piano, and allowed in deference to the leading local bank with which the city had a major debt and whose namesake Foundation had sponsored key cultural and welfare projects in the city. A second building, whose plan has still to be defined, is supposed to rise beside this one. This skyscraper has been built near the historical city centre and hinders the main telescopic views between Turin and its mountains, both along the historical tree-lined avenue Vittorio Emanuele II, and from the central Castello Square, from other streets of the historical nucleus, and from the most conspicuous external viewpoints, such as Monte dei Cappuccini. The skyscraper, which presents a trite repetition of construction and technological modules already used by its designer, reaches a height of 165 m, little below the Mole Antonelliana, but it does not take into account the fact that Antonelli's masterpiece constitutes a comparable mass only for about 80 m, above which it presents a slender steeple with a volume that is certainly not comparable to the new skyscraper.

31The other skyscraper built to date in Turin is the new head office of the Piedmont Regional Administration (2006-2016) designed by Massimiliano Fuksas. Events related to its construction, which was first supposed to take place in the disused industrial area “Spina 1” and was later implemented in another area, precisely in the southern quadrant of the city, reveal the project's total disregard for the setting. The building, a glass and reinforced concrete prism that is about 200 m tall, constitutes a new landmark of the city for visitors coming from the south. Though it does not affect the view to and from the historical centre, it affects some of the most significant scenic views of the city. For instance, it interferes with the view of the riverside from the north as they stretch between green banks and historical architectures, like the “murazzi” and the Church of the Great Mother of God against the backdrop of Mount Viso. Obviously, the local authority who gave permission to the building did not consider that the landscape would be harmed despite the rich historical urban plan (Faraggiana, 2005).

32Could we say that these skyscrapers express the same “modernity” as the Mole Antonelliana and the Tour Eiffel, which were both contested by intellectuals and by part of the population? The answer is no. The Mole was the highest construction ever built at the time with a bearing structure made of masonry. It is a gem of technology and scientific research, on par with the same-aged Eiffel Tower, which was the highest construction ever to be made of steel at the time. Both provide exceptional material evidence of a specific period of studies and of experiments that, in the course of time, have become the acknowledged emblems of their city. They cannot be compared to contemporary skyscrapers, which are serial products, whose repetitive shapes depersonalise historical urban landscapes. Moreover, the current awareness of the importance of protecting the historical heritage and the landscape expresses a more mature and sensitive approach that is typical of our age, and which cannot be compared to that of the past. The actual culture about conservation try to study the historical context preserving material testimonies of men, of his mentality and actions. Once again it is the expression, precisely, of “modernity” (Settis, 2010).

Which modernity for the city of the future?

33In the current economic crisis, which also marks a crisis of values and of cultural references for the population at large, it would seem that the destruction of environmental resources that would also ruin entire populations could be avoided by reviewing a development model that is not sustainable anymore (Gallino, 2013). We must return to the principles of the Enlightenment, preserve natural resources, redistribute wealth, promote social growth and occupational opportunities. Cities can play a pivotal role in these initiatives by stressing the value of local traits, their cultural and environmental wealth. We need to recoup cities as the protagonists of the civitas, extraordinarily liveable places presenting spaces tailored to meet human needs, the scene of intense social exchanges, witnesses of memory and history.

34The layout of the historical city, which was at times geometrically regulated to interpret the intention of the prince, and at other times sinuous and complex to follow the orography based on a combination of functions and activities, with its delicate ratio of the height of houses and the width of roads (not built for cars), with wide stretches and market squares designed to encourage socialisation (and not to park cars), with views of the natural landscape, and spots that acted as a filter between constructed and non-constructed areas, between high quality and service districts, still acts as a precious stimulus to design for the needs of current everyday life (Montanari, 2008).

35The decision to develop buildings in height that are identical to many others throughout the world allows to increase land value of districts (Appert, Montès, 2015) and make them attractive for the market but this also destroys the “genius loci,” the rooted construction modes, the memory and the social fabric, as proven, for instance, by the demolition of the hutong in China to make room for mass high-rise developments. Whether they are the creation of a star architect who wants to achieve shocking effects or internationally standardised products, tall buildings are inclined to delete the historical urban landscape. This destructive process can also have negative economic consequences, as we notice in the increasingly powerful attraction of artistic historical city centres and of museums for international tourism.

36When the European Landscape Convention (approved in Florence in 2000, applied in Italy in 2008) defined the landscape as a synthesis of nature and culture, acknowledging the right of the community to see its landscapes protected and upgraded, it does not propose an aesthetic principle but, instead, states one of the principal and indefeasible rights of every person, which is already established by article 9 of the Italian Constitution (1948).

37the landscape is not something subjective that is not only related to an individual aesthetic concept but a genuine “asset” of a community, something “that cannot be disposed of,” and which must be preserved as a common asset. We are liable to future generations to take care of the landscape and hand it down as the expression of the life and culture of generations.

38Hence it is of no consequence to discuss whether a skyscraper should be within a certain height or not, or what its shape and technology should be, but rather to examine whether it enhances the quality of a landscape and whether it meets collective requirements. Conversely, we run the risk of building identical "non-places” worldwide, sites that are distressing in their standardised presentation, estranging in their impersonal features, thus losing the wealth of the different identities and traditions (Augé, 1992). Preserving the multiple cultures and landscapes that have chiselled their characteristics in the course of time, and which now bear witness to them, not as untouchable monuments but as works, whose integrations and transformations must be gently and sustainably implemented, must be deemed essential, like protecting the biodiversity of the natural environment.

39Just as the awareness of the need to protect certain food products and the related production lines associated with places, know-how and special traditions is being disseminated, as we also face the issue of protecting intangible cultures (UNESCO Agreement 2003), likewise we must set ourselves the task of conceiving an “architecture of places” rooted in our territories, in our educational facilities and in the local cultural and social decisions that can meet the needs of the community and not only the requests of land owners and large construction firms.

40Building skywards in western historical cities is a basically wrong approach for the landscape, social and environmental impact discussed above, and also for the lack of an actual need for new buildings, considering the extensive areas that have been abandoned as a result of the redefinition and reallocation of industrial production. Reuse of abandoned sites should be the first step towards a responsible urban policy. When the need for new buildings has been proven and the option of tall buildings is considered, studies should be conducted to assess where they should be placed, taking into account settings, their visual and social impacts to protect the “historic urban landscape”. The very concept of urban landscape has still to mature and be assessed, despite the historical interpretations based on a perceptive matrix (Lynch, 1960 and Cullen, 1961), and a debate that has spread in Europe since World War Two. We find evidence of this in the inadequate approach adopted by conservation areas where the rich historic context was destroyed by the lack of protection culture and rules.

41Experiments in progress today on preserving urban landscapes combine the protection of specific visual emergencies (landmarks) and lenient building regulations that lay down height limitations in certain parts of cities. The cases of London and Paris provide examples of such two approaches. The former has left ample room for private initiatives in the city centre, limiting landscape protection to views centred on certain symbolic monuments. The town centre has been revolutionised by construction works that commenced in the 1970s, overwhelming the historical fabric by overlapping a new image that can, at times, even be fascinating in its schizophrenic dialogue with monuments of the past (Appert, 2012). Paris has protected the historical city quite effectively, despite the infamous Montparnasse Tower (1973). The decision to concentrate tall buildings in the La Défense district, which is specifically identified as the continuation of the historical perspective triomphante and visual axis that runs along Avenue des Champs-Élysées, passing the Arch of Triumph, manifested the typically French ability to control the urban layout at a wider scale. We can agree with this decision but it does not seem to fully protect the city from recurrent proposals to construct huge impressive buildings in its very centre as the Court of Justice by Renzo Piano or the “Tour triangle by Herzog and de Meuron.

42Successfully protecting and ensuring the quality of territories, maintaining the differences between parts of the world to encourage a mutual dialogue and, particularly, turning cities into hospitable sites for the people of the future must be a priority choice of town planning policies and culture. Preserving and regenerating historical city centres as models of quality of life, protecting them against destructive decisions centred on standardisation, such as uncontrolled skyward buildings, is a - current - choice of modernity.

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1 Some examples of urban population density: Manila (41,014 inhab./km2), Paris (20,164 inhab./km2), Shanghai (16,364 inhab./km2), Portici (12,097 inhab./km2), Tokyo (10,087 inhab./km2), Mexico City (11,700 inhab./km²), Naples (8,500 inhab./km2), Milan (8,319 inhab./km2), (Turin 6,647 inhab./km2), Buenos Aires (2,179 inhab./km2), Istanbul (1,878 inhab./km2). See the websites of the individual cities.

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Guido Montanari, « Privatiser le ciel ? Les gratte-ciel dans le paysage urbain : le cas de Turin »Géocarrefour [En ligne], 91/2 | 2017, mis en ligne le 15 mars 2017, consulté le 29 novembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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