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Rozzol Melara Complex

Trieste, Italy
1 of 39

Rozzol Melara stands on the eastern edge of Trieste, on a ridge exposed to the north winds and in ideal geographic position. The building lies on the slope of the hill at the top of a valley overlooking the city and the sea. The selection of this location since the design phase - which was carried out from the late 60's to the early 70's - reflected an intention of detachment and otherness from the city. This condition was partially modified by the following construction of further social housing, along with the northern and western borders of the complex, as well as of scattered small houses on the slope of the Rozzol valley.

It was built in the 80's by the Autonomous Council Housing Institute (the so-called IACP). In the city of Trieste, this Institute has a long history. It was founded on the 14th July 1902 as a Municipal Institute for Affordable Housing (Icam) and in 1924 it became Iacp. Today, with a new name and a regional status, the Territorial Agency for Housing of Trieste (Ater) is one of the main public bodies in charge of operating low-cost housing in Italy. It was taken as an example in the drafting of the Italian legislation on council housing approved in 1903 and as a model for the foundation of the first institutes established in this Country. Throughout the 20th century, the Icam-Iacp-Ater built about one-fourth of the homes of Trieste and became the most important operator in the field of housing, contributing substantially to the construction of the city and to the definition of its urban and architectural image. Nowadays the Ater manages the 11% of houses on rent in the whole province.

The project concept

The site of Rozzol Melara was chosen by the Municipality of Trieste in 1964 with a plan ex lege 167/62 (Public and Economic Housing Plan), which envisaged the construction of a semi-intensive housing district, where several building types (from the row to the tower) had to be organised following the slope of the ground according to an organic design. Four years later, the allotment of the area to the Iacp of Trieste marks a reversal of the trend. The designers called to draw the new plan were asked to 'gather the buildings'. The design team, co-ordinated by Carlo Celli, included 29 professionals selected with the collaboration of the local Professional Association of Architects and Engineers; Guido Ferrara participated in the design of the green spaces. The initial phases of the project proceeded along the lines of the research carried out by the Social Studies Centre of the Iacp and by the International Sociology Institute of Gorizia. These studies were aimed at identifying the housing needs of Trieste with special reference to the organization of social and community services.

The project was drafted between 1968 and 1971, through a series of variants until 1974, and finally implemented in 1981. It encompasses an area of 11 hectares where the complex is accommodating 2.500 residents stands. It comprised 648 flats, a civic and social center, a health center, more than twenty shops, an elementary and a middle school, a parish center and a common garage. The shape of the residential complex is that of a large courtyard building, consisting of two juxtaposed multi-storey L-shaped units which are connected by a system of covered pathways and collective services forming a large cross in the central courtyard.

The main aim of the designers was to counter a typical suburban situation with a structure "conceived as a landmark for its quality and concentration of facilities for the organization of the associated life", but also as a "connective tissue of the surrounding homes, which enables the organization of the territory ... giving each [urban] element a function within the wide city scene" (C. Celli, "Pubblico e privato nell'insediamento di Rozzol Melara", Casabella, n.437, 1978).

The inspiring principles of the urban and housing project can be summarized as follows: the choice of high-density housing, assumed as both a typical urban feature and an element able to foster social exchanges; the building was thought as part of the urban fabric, as the generative element of "complex relations which establish a dialogue with a wider surrounding" (ibid.); in search of integration with the surroundings, the district should have played the role of polarising and upgrading the urban outskirts/ the organization of the residential complex not as an aggregate of dwelling cells, but rather as "a multiple function spatial organization", where homes and facilities should have integrated, acquiring meaning and value within their mutual relation/ the research of a unitary image through the design of the central space: a large court-square which had to be both a symbolic space of the settled community and a "place where the relation between the urban surrounding and the new settlement occurs" (ibid.)/ the separation of pedestrian and vehicular traffic with the creation of a single road axis across the courtyard serving the two-storey underground garage/ the construction of a close relationship between public and private areas, through a network of public and collective spaces, connecting and integrating the system of private living space.

The design of spaces for collective use

The large courtyard building is strongly characterized by the system of open and covered spaces for collective use, which defines an ordering grid arranged on two levels: at the lower floor it consists of a pedestrian indoor level walkway which links the most important facilities, while at the upper floor it consists of a similar walkway connected by two bridges to the outdoor promenade on the roof of the lower building; shops for day to day provisions, common loggias and the staircase lobbies open onto the internal roads. Purposefully some of these collective spaces were not planned to accommodate facilities but were imagined to be available for any collective activity autonomously run by the residents. The open space design of Rozzol Melara also drew inspiration from the quest for a different way of living and it also aimed at consolidating relationships within the community. By identifying categories of users, the project analysed their different needs, proposing the construction of leisure facilities to enable the integration of spaces dedicated to different age ranges: "a series of facilities open to anybody who dwells and 'lives' in the district without distinction, so that children, parents, teachers and elderly people can find a reference to them, so that they can become the tools of an associative life of a higher social and cultural level" (G. Ferrara, "La progettazione del verde", Edilizia popolare, n. 123, 1975).

The project paid special attention to the following themes: the design of a green connective tissue and of a network of routes which articulate open structures and spaces for different uses; the creation of an open space, marked by a theater platform placed in close relation to the social center located at the intersection of the services. It had to be the place where the social events of the quarter would concentrate; the definition of different playgrounds according to the age of the users (play yards, wild areas, etc.); the involvement of the dwellers in the creation of their living environment.

Rozzol Melara today and tomorrow

The current problems of the district are partly due to the management of the complex after its construction, partly to the lack of urban planning control of the zone where the building stands. On the one hand, we have witnessed an impoverishment of the potentials of the common places system with the abandonment of many spaces which were to accommodate different services and facilities. These instead have often found a different location just outside the residential courtyard. On the other hand, the numerous buildings built afterward around the complex by co-operatives and other bodies have thwarted some of the potential relationships with the context and the landscape which the original project had conceived. To start thinking about these problems and their possible solutions, in 2002 the Ater, on the occasion of the centenary of its founding, organized - together with the Faculty of Architecture of Trieste, the Municipality of Trieste, the Province of Trieste, the Professional Association of Architects, Planners, Landscape designers and Conservation specialists of the Trieste Province, the General Directorate for Contemporary Architecture and Art of the Ministry of Cultural Properties and Activities - an international ideas competition for the upgrading of Rozzol Melara (1).

The competition was addressed to under 40 years old participants. The opportunity was meant not only to look back to Ater's history, but also to reflect upon the role the institute has played in the growth of the city and in the improvement of its spaces, as well as to look to the future development of Trieste and, more broadly, to deal with outskirts upgrading themes. In particular, the design brief asked to satisfy the following requirements: the upgrading of the large central space of the courtyard square, if necessary even with demolition and/or reconstruction, aimed to restore its original function of meeting and relational place between the community living in the quarter and the people living in the surroundings; the redefinition of the relation between residence, basic service system and collective spaces which the original project located along the roads within the two L-shaped buildings. These latter are today scarcely used and are often abandoned; the redesign of marginal areas of the complex, in particular of those facing towards the city of Trieste, where there are some of the services 'expelled' from the central building and onto which the new residential buildings developed since the 80's face. These currently appear unable to establish a relation with the large building. Other possible project themes could concern alternative solutions to the current vehicular access system, consisting of the only diagonal road crossing the quadrilateral and of the two-storey semi-underground car park; proposals taking into consideration the design of the ground not only inside the central courtyard but also outside it.


*This text summarizes the results of a historical and design research which was carried out, together with Paola Di Biagi and Alessandra Marin, in 2002, in the frame of the centenary of Ater of Trieste founding. Elena Marchigiani is a researcher in Urban Planning at the Department of Engineering and Architecture of the University of Trieste

(1) The scientific coordination competition was done by Paola Di Biagi, Elena Marchigiani and Alessandra Marin.

Bibliographical references (in chronological order)

  • G. Ferrara, "La progettazione del verde", Edilizia popolare, n. 123, 1975, pp. 72-82.
  • "Iacp di Trieste, quartiere di Rozzol Melara", Edilizia popolare, n. 133, 1976, pp. 83-86.-"Celli- Tognon: opere e progetti", Casabella, n. 419, 1976, pp. 48-57.
  • C. Celli, "Pubblico e privato nell'insediamento di Rozzol Melara", Casabella, n. 437, 1978, pp. 36-43.
  • P. Taccheo, "I costi di Rozzol Melara", Casabella, n. 437, 1978, pp. 42-43.
  • Istituto autonomo per le case popolari di Trieste, Rozzol Melara, supplement to n. 20 of Casa Iacp, 1978.
  • Istituto autonomo per le case popolari della Provincia di Trieste, Rozzol Melara. Esperienze di una ipotesi di habitatalternativo, Trieste 1980.
  • A. Acocella, Complessi residenziali nell'Italia degli anni '70, Alinea, Firenze 1981, pp. 87-104.
  • Aa.Vv., Citta per vivere? Risposte significative nell'Italia degli anni '80, Sagep, Genova 1983, pp. 142-148.
  • F. Castro, Edilizia popolare a Trieste, Edizioni Lint, Trieste 1992, pp. 76-79.
  • P. Di Biagi, E. Marchigiani, A. Marin (a cura di), Trieste '900: edilizia sociale, urbanistica, architettura. Un secolo dalla fondazione dell'Ater, SilvanaEditoriale, Milano.
  • F. Paone, Controcanti. Architettura e citta in Italia 1962-1974, Iuav Documenti, Marsilio, Venezia 2009.
  • Laboratorio Citta Pubblica, Citta pubbliche. Linee guida per la riqualificazione urbana, coordinamento generale di P. Di Biagi, coordinamento generale di Paola Di Biagi, coordinamento redazionale di E. Marchigiani, Bruno Mondadori, Milano 2009.
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bostjan, November 19th, 2023
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