Project Name: Upside Down Flows: Redeeming the landscapes crossed by the Olona River in Milan
Student Name: Virgilio Diaz, Karelia Diaz
Awards: 1st prize NonA Awards 2022 (Urban and Landscape Category) | Winner within the Student Competition of the IFLA World Conference 2023 Stockholm x Nairobi | Shortlisted of the Urban Design Lab Thesis Publication 2023
Excerpt:Upside Down Flows: Redeeming the landscapes crossed by the Olona River in Milan, is a Landscape Architecture Thesis by Virgilio Diaz and Karelia Diaz from Scuola di Architettura Urbanistica Ingegneria delle Costruzioni – AUIC, Politecnico di Milano, which aims to create a green revolution in the public places through deculverting of the Olona river. While employing “soft engineering” and co-participation strategies to self-maintain public open spaces, this project strives to recognise the good impacts of restoring natural capital like the Olona river into the city, improving and strengthening the mental and physical well-being of the inhabitants.
Introduction: The project investigates the potential for ‘daylighting’ the Olona River, which was buried and submerged between the 1950s and 1970s as a result of socioeconomic development in northern Italy, along the intersecting urban landscapes of the metropolitan city of Milan.
While acknowledging the possibilities that deculverting streams can provide for highly dense urban settlements, the project analyses the qualitative and physical characteristics of the ‘Upside‘ public spaces resulting from the gradual culverting of the river that have formed a constellation of ‘faceless’ fragments, liminals lacking in amenity, use, and identity, thus delivering a low ecosystem performance.
The Olona River manifests itself as a palimpsest, fusing the ‘upside‘ built fabric with the ‘downside‘ lost water landscapes, creating an experimental path to a human-landscape redemption along the public realm, acting as a catalyst for the addition of resilient green public spaces, and providing an array of ecosystem services that mitigate the current climate crisis and enhance green and sustainable strategies in Milan by 2050. This is made possible by the multidisciplinary participation of stakeholders at all levels, from municipal and regional boundaries to national and European levels, resulting in inclusive, equitable, and accessible spaces that support the needs and priorities of the community, add value, and boost neighbour and citizen ownership and identity.
The research examines the prospects that deculverting underground streams (as is the case with the Olona River) might bring along and evaluates its potential to spark a green revolution in Milan, a city that has lost touch with its distinctive waterways. The river rises in northern Italy and flows southward to Milan, where it enters the city as a culvert and ceases any interaction with the built environment and its inhabitants, becoming a living but invisible entity.
The river and the valley that it crosses have an important place in Italian history, as their characteristic rich biodiversity created the perfect location for agricultural and industrial activity that helped boost the economy of the country. But like many other rivers in the world, the history of the Olona river is a love and hate story, marked by its mismanagement at the peak of industrialization and facing significant environmental challenges due to pollution.
All of this contributed to the emergence of the “Downside,” the buried underground landscapes that resulted from the complete collapse that occurred between the 1930s and the 1970s. Parallel to this, a fabric known as the “Upside” formed, leaving behind a number of liminal areas that were similar to one another, lacked amenities and diversity, and performed very poorly in terms of ecosystem services in spite of their green spaces.
The project aims to restore the city’s lost “water spirit,” reunite residents with their “water heritage,” and create a green revolution in the public places through the deculverting of the Olona river.
In order to achieve this, four strategic pillars are seen as the main development objectives: reprogramming the green open spaces with quality and variety into the vegetal selection, providing the means to carry out “soft engineering” processes, and delivering new and rich experiences through the interaction of the senses all year long. Following that, slow-mobility strategies are employed to draw people in and establish a connection to the wider transportation network.
The project’s final product is an experimental proposal for urban regeneration, built on tactics and measures intended to remodel the urban fabric’s cross-sections with daylighting from the Olona river.
By combining nature-based solutions (NBS) and sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS), the project achieves a holistic balance between the past, present, and future while reimagining the city’s streetscape. In doing so, it builds a blue-green corridor of open public spaces that extends into the surrounding neighbourhoods and employs a number of placemaking strategies along slow mobility connections to the larger transport system.
While employing “soft engineering” and co-participation strategies to self-maintain public open spaces, this landscape architecture thesis strives to recognise the good impacts of restoring natural capital like the Olona into the city, improving and strengthening the mental and physical well-being of the inhabitants.
[This Academic Project has been published with text submitted by the student]
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