Snakes of Cement


Building is a snake that eats its own tail. That devours itself. At the entrance to a city we are welcomed by a forest of cranes as opposed to walls and gardens. In the roads, new exit roads, roundabouts and underpasses. Third and fourth lanes. The villages invest the municipal budgets in building works. ICI { L'Imposta Comunale sugli Immobili = local tax based on property} is the new engine for bricks.

Houses are taxed to build houses. Second houses, third houses. Empty industrial sheds for sale, for rent are strung out along the motorways for scores of kilometres. Cables appear like an enchantment between woods and mountains. Construction isnít for living in, for a real need. Itís to make money.

To ďinvestĒ. Stability and the fall in prices is a risk, a problem, a disaster. But for whom?
Every new construction occupies space, resources, and destroys the territory. Italy seen from on high is a boot of cement with a bit of green all around.

Italian provinces are full of abandoned houses to be restructured and of new houses that are empty. Italian cities are full of empty offices (or empty of full offices) and overflowing with new buildings being constructed. Thereís an orgy of cement. But cement produces nothing. Rather, if itís not necessary it simply destroys.
The request for new construction licences should be granted only if existing alternatives are not present. Give incentives to restructure existing houses. How many offices, apartments, buildings are empty in Italy? How many are being constructed? Construction is justified because it makes money, because bricks are safe. But itís a game that massacres the territory.

And economic resources that could be destined at least on the part of the public administration, to the territory, to services for the citizens. Whatís the sense in investing in cubes of concrete rather than in research? There must be some sense while we are waiting for the buildings bubble that is coming soon. A wind is blowing from the other side of the Atlantic. Towards Europe. After that we can invest in demolition and the recovery of the territory. Snakes that eat their own tails.

PS ďFabbricare fabbricare fabbricare {Build, build, build}
Preferisco il rumore del mare {I prefer the sound of the sea}
Che dice fabbricare fare e disfare {That says build, make and unmake}
Fare e disfare Ť tutto un lavorare {Make and unmake is all work}Ē (Dino Campana)

Posted by Beppe Grillo at 10:23 AM in | Comments (30)
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I agree with both of you Raffa and Noel,

Land is destroyed,housing problems are increasing,rents are hight and "manutenzione" of old buildings is costrly; where does that lead us??
Any sugestions?? Have we reached a dead end??

Posted by: paola filinesi | September 17, 2006 04:15 PM

What I'm trying to say is that the roman downtown is the very wide area inside the walls, in this area there are no buildings from 50s, 60s and 70s but only old buildings, most of them late 19th century or early 20th, the typical "Umbertino" style. Many of them are much older, from middle age.
Those building you are meaning are in the suburbs.
The problem in Rome is not replacing them with new buildings, but to shake off the property speculating, which is strangling the market and doesn't allow people to find proper and cheap housings.
As for Berlin, the hugliest building are obviously in the east zone, but I was meaning also the new buildings in the City, most of them are not integrated in the old environment. I always criticized this choice, but obviously it's only my personal taste, I know many people who like it very much!

Posted by: Raffaella Biferale | September 17, 2006 03:26 PM

Alex, you say that...
"another problem is that landlords have practically no right to kick tenants out, even if they don't pay. So, understandably, many prefer not to rent at all."
True, this is a problem that needs to be addressed, but I would not like to see Italy switch to the British norm where security of tenure is removed completely.

Paola Filinesi said...
"Unfortunately the abuse of land is done in the outskirts of the cities where there is no law that compels any kind of respect to the land."

Surely planning law applies everywhere? Even if it does, there is no guarantee that it will prevent the destruction of the environment in the name of profit. Witness Ireland, whose 'economic miracle' derives almost completely on the huge amounts of cash made from artificially inflated housing costs and planning applications seemingly passed with a proverbial 'nod and wink'. Vast swathes of countryside are giving way to new housing developments - without the necessary infrastructure to properly support them.

Bricks and mortar are perceived (I believe wrongly so) to be safe investments, and nothing is allowed to get in the way of the almighty construction god.

Finally, just to wade into the cement vs concrete debate...
Cement is what goes between blocks of concrete in smaller constructions and is also a component of concrete (concrete is cement and aggregate).

Posted by: Noel | September 17, 2006 02:54 PM

You are certainly used to be surrounded by a different kind of buildings, and I am not even saying that the few ugly "Mussolini" buildings that exist should be pulled down, because they represent an "epoca", a trend of those days...
However, you cannot disregard that there is a big housing problem in Rome, that with the exception of the historic centre and a few nice "quartieri", the rest are "condominii" built in the 60s and 70s.
Of course they could be replaced by newer more efficient ones.

I have been in Berlin before the Wall and the ugly buildings were on the east side of the city...unfortunately I cannot comment on the architecture now but from looking at a few photographs it cannot be that bad...:o)

Posted by: paola filinesi | September 16, 2006 09:20 PM

Actually, I wasn't not talking about Berlin at all. I haven't been there in many years.

Posted by: Alex | September 16, 2006 08:52 PM

Alex: I lived in Berlin and I know it very well, I know what you mean, for eample the Sony Centre from Renzo Piano and other beautiful masterpieces of contemporary architecture. But the most of the city is not like that, unfortunately, and the new buildings look like grey boxes of reinforced concrete, popping out in the middle of beautiful 18th century buildings
I don't like it at all.

Posted by: Raffaella Biferale | September 16, 2006 06:08 PM

Paola, exactly.

It's not either all black or all white. There are many shades of gray.

The choice is not between tearing all old buildings down--or none at all.

Current legislation makes it very difficult to do anything about buildings in Italy. Even buildings of no historical, architectural or artistic value. Such choices just increase housing problems--unnecessarily.

I would also add that new buildings do not necessarily have to be ugly.

You don't like the ones in Berlin? Then do different. But do!


Anyway, for those affected by the housing problems in Italy, some respite is likely to come. The housing bubble will collapse at some point (which I think is not too far off). And with that, prices will tumble.

Posted by: Alex | September 16, 2006 05:45 PM

I think there is a misunderstanding here....
We are talking about two separate kinds of buildings.
I agree with Alex that abandoned buildings of the 50s 60s etc should be taken down and in their place modern IN GOOD TASTE edifices should be build.
But as far as most Italian cities and countryside houses are concerned, this is quite difficult. Buildings there date from the 12th, 13th century onwards and others before that; so taking them down is out of the question!!!

Housing problems might be solved either by imitating the London example and create a "City" in each capital where all mininsties,embassies,Pubblic Authorities, stayed in the centre and people commuted every day to the centre or vice versa.

Posted by: paola filinesi | September 16, 2006 05:24 PM

Yeah, why not!

After all, whatever they do in Italy is fine with me.

Posted by: Alex | September 16, 2006 09:42 AM

I love the thought on snakes. Good stuff. I think you might find my blog on what people do and why to be of some interest. Check it out at Dont be shy.

Posted by: JC | September 16, 2006 08:15 AM

your comments are so true! Old buildings are a vital part of our cultural heritage. They are also irreplaceable because the wonderful workers that made them so beautiful are not with us anymore and nobody can master those techniques now. Adaptive re-use of existing structures can preserve the essential characteristics while introducing the elements of comfort essential to modern life. Contemporary tincan or precast architecture is costly to maintain and has a very limited lifespan making it wasteful of our resources.

Posted by: Enrico Rossi | September 16, 2006 02:48 AM

Raffa, living in Italy is like living in history...
Very few buildings would have no history to show, being that architectural or historical.
So what they do in Rome is absolutely correct. Actually keeping the facade and taking down the rest of the building and having it rebuilt with all the modern features concealed behind the historic facade is very cleaver.
This way you get all the advantages of modern technology and at the same time keeping the identity of the city.

Unfortunately the abuse of land is done in the outskirts of the cities where there is no law that compels any kind of respect to the land.
The scenery is destroyed and monstrous buildings are erected.
I think it is there that the relevant authorities should intervene.

Posted by: paola filinesi | September 15, 2006 11:13 PM

Cari lettori di Beppe Grillo,

vorrei aiutare un'artista a trovare lavoro, lei Ť pittrice e restauratrice di statue lignee ed affreschi.

Potete scrivermi all'indirizzo

Grazie e Bravo Grillo!


Posted by: Giuseppe Panizza | September 15, 2006 09:59 PM

Alex, I don't agree with you. In Rome, where I live, is strictly vorbidden to build new buildings downtown , and I agree with this prohibition. Elsewhere in the world I saw beautiful old cities full of new buildings that look like an eyesore.
You are talking about Germany. I saw monstrosities over there! Fortunately, they are changing the course, about all in Berlin, they are prefering to renovate wonderful old building downtown instead to build those square monsters!

Posted by: Raffaella Biferale | September 15, 2006 09:03 PM


I think one of the main reason for the housing problem in Italy is that it is difficult to take down old buildings and build anew.

It is much more costly to fix up than to build something new.

A new building is likely to yield many more units, since it can be planned at wish. While a renovation is constrained by the structure of the old building, which was probably built for completely different purposes.

A renovated building is also likely to be less energy efficient than a new one.

So, in my opinion it would be better to allow people to take down old buildings if they choose to do so. (If there is a historical interest, then the Ministry of Culture should buy the owner out or compensate the owner for not allowing demolition.)

By the way, this system works very well in many countries. You don't see any crumbling houses in the countryside in Germany (where I am now). They regularly take them down and build new ones. Why not copy?

Also, another problem is that landlords have practically no right to kick tenants out, even if they don't pay. So, understandably, many prefer not to rent at all.

If owners could easily get tenants kicked out if they don't pay, there would be many more apartments for rents. And, as a consequence, the rents would become less expensive.

Posted by: Alex | September 15, 2006 03:08 PM

Even if the translation requires some "plucking" because of linguistic inaccuracies, the message is all there for us to ponder.

I wonder what you think on this issue. Personally, I agree that there should be more incentives for those who wish to restructure an old house rather than build a new one. I see many abandoned country houses though, too many. As years go by, these buildings reduce themselves to ruins, becoming eyesores.

There are also a lot of derelict and unfinished new buildings... what can Local Councils do? Are they legally empowered to expropriate such properties in order to restructure and use more sensibly?

I know that in Italy there is the notorious law of Uso Capione [hope I got the word right]. If this is a form of solution for private individuals [even if very debatable sometimes], are Local Councils in a position to requisition ruins for restructuring in order to make better use of the properties and manage land more wisely?

Perhaps someone more knowledgeable than me on the matter can shed me some light.

Posted by: Joselle Camilleri | September 15, 2006 01:08 PM

Thanks Alessandro upstair:-)

Posted by: evakulnura | September 15, 2006 12:23 PM

I'm not the Alessandro below.

Anyway, "false friends" are those English words that sound similar to Italian words but have a completely different meaning.

Posted by: Alex | September 15, 2006 12:06 PM

What is this,the Cambridge Professor Society Club?! concrete,cement,same family,are we picky?!who are the" false friend" Alessandro?

Posted by: evakulnurae | September 15, 2006 10:28 AM

I say tank you! Tank you very grazie!

So what!

Posted by: Marzio Curzio Porzio | September 14, 2006 11:39 PM

ci vuole un ponte di cemento che connette la sicilia con la calabria cosi la mafia puo andare avanti e indietro piu velocemente, e nel cemento si possono mettere le vittime della mafia, poi se il ponte crolla....cazzi loro

Posted by: giulio porta | September 14, 2006 07:59 PM

concretizziamo la nostra posizione con la pozzolana, i romani hanno inventato si la malta che il concreto o il cemento, erano i miei antenati.....

Posted by: giulio porta | September 14, 2006 07:55 PM

se dice "so what?"

Posted by: giulio porta | September 14, 2006 07:52 PM

Excuse me...

...and how do you say "embť" in English?

Posted by: Marzio Curzio Porzio | September 14, 2006 04:28 PM

ahh, ma si dice scarpe di cemento o scarpe di concreto?
It's cement shoes or concrete shoes?
Are you concreti?

Posted by: giulio porta | September 14, 2006 01:54 PM

Alessandro Colizzi- cement is the powder (polvere) used to make concrete. It does not mean "colla" - colla is glue. "to cement" means "fissare un oggetto in una posizione, posto etc"

Posted by: Banjo Patterson | September 14, 2006 12:18 PM

Sorry - I meant building

Posted by: Banjo Patterson | September 14, 2006 12:09 PM

Nota linguistica: cemento non Ť 'cement' (che vuol dire colla) ma 'concrete'. Chi controlla le traduzioni? Amichevolmente / ac

Posted by: Alessandro Colizzi | September 14, 2006 12:09 PM

Quite right Alessandro. And "footing" means the concrete foundation of a builing or house NOT to go "jogging" like it's used in Italy.

Posted by: Banjo Patterson | September 14, 2006 11:52 AM

In inglese cemento si scrive "concrete" non "cement"; non fatevi fregare dai "false friend" che poi all'estero ci pigliano per il c..o .
Buon Lavoro

Posted by: Alessandro | September 14, 2006 10:48 AM

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