Even if architects and urban planners occasionally get wrapped up in their own ideas, the city is and has to be built for its citizens. In other words, the city belongs to the people and it’s design should reflect the comfort and desires of those who live in it.
And where planners can’t find a way to change things, its residents have a way of stepping forward and improvising an urban design that suits their culture and lifestyle. That is why, in a city with a strong multicultural population, the built environment often undergoes a process of transformation due to the personal touch of the social-mix.
By paying attention to the places that surround you - the buildings, shop-designs, advertising, and facilities - you can learn a lot about the cultural context of an area. The emerging issues may not be able to affect the layout of the urban fabric, but it is strongly impregnated on the design of its urban spaces.
In Milan, the contrast between its different spaces is strongly related to its multi-ethnic population and unequal distribution within the city. Moving from one street to another or from opposite sides of the city you can easily perceive the visual change.
In old areas of Milan, the population who slowly immigrated and took over some areas has expanded their own culture and traditions.
Milan’s Chinatown in the area of Via Paolo Sarpi has been slowly transformed by its residents. The window design of the shops and the writings all follow the guidelines of a Chinese street experience, adapted to the Italian context and architecture in which they are living.
At the same time, Via Padova embraces a street experience influenced by its multicultural diversity.
Opposite of the two is the new residential neighborhood of City Life. The area which has the strong imprint of Zaha Hadid's unique style, among other famous architects, seems isolated with respect to its surrounding buildings. City Life was planned to bring to the city a new model of residential living for work and leisure, providing a different layout for the urban space. Like Porta Nuova, it reinvents the silhouette of Milan's skyline and its architecture - in shape and form.
In the case of Via Padova and Paolo Sarpi, the multicultural resident population uniquely shapes the places they inhabit, adding to the design of its public spaces through their traditions and cultural symbols. The City Life Project is one example of how planners and architects attempt to shape the social standards and impose their design within a historic fabric.
Sometimes the scale of a project is not familiar with the cultural context of the city. For example, "the Copenhagen paradise" may be the Italian’s nightmare.
So the question is what makes a place “livable” and why do so many people prefer culturally authentic areas to new – perfectly designed buildings?
Credits: Images by Alexandra Serbana. Data linked to sources.