Self Made Urbanism Rome

Author: Carl SpitzwegS.M.U.R. Workshop November 2012 / Author: Susanna Perin

Informal Common Grounds of a Metropolitan Area

Brecht’s „Fragen eines Lesenden Arbeiters“ (Questions from a Worker who Reads) asks, „Who built ‘Great Rome‘?“ Today the question can be answered so: About one-third of the settled area of the Capitol City of Italy was informally erected by its future inhabitants without permits and without connection to municipal infrastructure. The „self-made city“ phenomenon thus has a long history and a variety of expressions, from self-built emergency housing to large, speculative projects.

The Self Made Urbanism Rome exhibition examines the Via Casilina, an arterial road that leads southeast from the city center at the Porta Maggiore to the city border and beyond. This area, which a hundred years ago was still purely agricultural, fascinated the artists of the Romantic period, who experienced the open landscape as a counterpoint to the antique temples and inner city palazzi. The artists of the S.M.U.R. project travel this historical terrain using contemporary means, thus adding a novel new chapter to art history. Through exchanges with experts and city activists, they explore the self-built and self-organised city that has proliferated over the last hundred years.


The abusivismo is not merely a violation of legal regulations but is also an economic system for urban growth that is negotiated time and again between the various actors and the authorities or political parties and is recognized as integral to the city by repeated legalizing decrees. The unplanned growth and the manifold forms of informality are an expression of the city‘s singularity and urban obstinacy. The complex histoy of the cityscape of Rome, unstructured by any master plan and situated on the border between northern and southern Europe, is examplary of the development of metropolitan centres at the beginning of the 21st century.

Along the Via Casilina, one encounters a broad spectrum of self-produced city: At first, it was the migrants from the remote regions of Italy who moved into the city and began to build their own houses without construction permits. Over time, these houses were enlarged and supplemented by major housing construction projects. Other groups arriving since the 1990s have included refugees from the wars in Yugoslavia; job seekers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Morocco; Roma from Rumania; and merchants from China.

Some of the one-time informal settlements outside the city gates, whose inhabitants were looked down upon and treated disparagingly by the citizens of Rome, have since become attractive neighbourhoods. But some residents of such areas now must continue to fight for their place in the city, such as the inhabitants of the Boghesiana settlement on the outskirts and, above all, the Roma, who just a few years ago were driven out of their camps on the former military airport. Residents of a once ambitiously-designed social housing complex that has been abandoned by the authorities now must take great efforts to organise their living in the cement landscape.

After the sweeping commercialisation of public space and exhorbitant rents robbed the Roman inner city of its function as an urban centre for its citizens, the displacement of the populace intensified to the „between city,“ to the terrain of the „Campagna Romana.“

Common Grounds

In Italy, the existing practise of self-organisation is of central importance in the current discussions about and struggles for the beni comuni, the common good. In response to longtime experience with mistreatment of the commons, robust models of self-organisation must be developed to guard them against seizure by the state and private infringement. Numerous, very recent occupations of cultural arenas, such as the Roman Teatro Valle Occupato or Cinema America, bear witness to a broad social movement that yearns for change.

Self Made Urbanism Rome offers an historical framework for diverse experiences of the self-organised city – and not just of individual buildings – and thereby presents new perspectives on the future organisation of the public commons. The path that leads from the self-produced city to the self-organised collectivity of a spreading urban society within Rome’s metropolitan space requires further steps: „The metropolis is, as it were, a factory for the production of the collective.“ (Antonio Negri/Michale Hardt in Common Wealth)

S.M.U.R. project group: Jochen Becker, Carlo Cellamare, Christian Hanussek, Anonella Perin, Susanna Perin