previous stateCernusco Sul Naviglio in Lombardy is a city of 20,000 inhabitants near Milan. The Unità d'Italia Square is dominated by one of the many neoclassical villas constructed in the eighteenth century by the Milanese bourgeoisie in this area, the Villa Greppi, which is now the Town Hall. In the latter half of the twentieth century, this main square, built above the baroque gardens of the villa, was mainly used as a parking space, reducing its possibilities as a meeting point because of the obstacles it represented for public use. Apart from the Town Hall, there is also a school in this area and, on the western side, is a facade of buildings in the historic centre of the city.
aim of the interventionIn 1997, the Cernusco Sul Naviglio Council called for tenders in order to regenerate the urban complex consisting of the main square – Piazza Unità d'Italia – a smaller nearby square and the route joining the two. The main aim was to recover the space of the square as a setting for public life, returning it to its role as a place of social relations in the old centre as an area that both linked up with the city's history and was the site of its institutions. The basic idea of the planning of the intervention was the desire to intensify the use of the historic centre and the role of squares as places of civic exchange, this idea coming in turn from reflection about the current proliferation of a-temporal and a-spatial places on the outskirts of cities that can attract huge crowds to commercialised leisure activities. These venues, which are sometimes perceived as the only possible meeting points, have threatened the vitality of some city centres, emptying the streets and squares of people and impoverishing their public and social dimensions.
descriptionThe work carried out in the Unità d'Italia Square completed the plan of introducing the restricted zone for traffic that was envisaged for the entire historic centre and that, without obstructing access to the centre, was designed to highlight the city’s character, in particularly the Town Hall building. For a better reading of the city centre, the closing down of the school building was postponed on the understanding that maintaining the school could offer a more integrated vision of the Villa Greppi while highlighting the new relation between the school and the public space from which the car park had been removed.
The remodelling took into account the circulation of traffic – restricted access of vehicles and the city’s buses – on the northern side of the square, defining a route in keeping with the traffic restrictions and low velocity that had been established. This road was paved in stone like that which existed throughout the historic centre, and was separated from the area designated exclusively for pedestrians by a row of mulberry trees. In order to guarantee flexibility in the uses of the square, the remodelling project defined two clearly differentiated areas, one neutral area, understood as a multifunctional space, and a garden zone on the east side, slightly higher than the other area in an attempt to synthesise the ideas of landscape and cityscape given the rural and urban settings of Cernusco Sul Naviglio.
In the neutral space of the square, which is paved in river stones and different-sized stone slabs, in keeping with Lombardy’s rural architecture and with the idea of accentuating continuity in the ground treatment, different sections were destined for bars, terraces and restaurants for which temporary auxiliary structures were designed. With the dynamism and activity that was envisaged for the square, the gardens, conceived as the contemporary updating of the old Villa Greppi gardens, were designed as an area for strolling, contemplation, resting and reading. The slightly different levels of the gardens and the square were resolved with steps running along the boundary. They also served as a place to sit and look at the square while, at the eastern end of the gardens, next to the school, a tree-lined avenue with benches for sitting and resting is a deliberately more formal and organic addition.
assessmentThe remodelling of the square has returned to pedestrians a privileged public space in the historic centre of Cernusco Sul Naviglio and has rescued this representative and enjoyable inner area of the city in removing the mass of parked vehicles that, for years, had denied the square's true role as a central public space. The creation of a restricted traffic area has highlighted the value of the space that had previously been dominated by cars, now bestowing a more balanced relation between its different public uses near the city's institutional and educational buildings.
Mònica Oliveres i Guixer, architect