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Slouching toward Camorra

April 16, 2010

I just finished watching Gomorrah, a movie about the Camorra crime syndicate. I liked it a lot: think of it as the Italian Wire, rather than a 21st century Godfather.

I bother to mention Gomorrah because I have a number of friends interested in urban planning and public housing, and much of the movie takes place inside Vele di Scampia, the Neapolitan answer to Pruit-Igoe.

From the outside, this Le Corbusier-inspired pile of concrete reminds one of a ziggurat or a sailboat, but in this shot I think it looks like a post-apocalyptic carnival cruise. I chose this angle out of generosity to the architect, who I am sure thought the power of modern design would alleviate all the social ills of Scampia.

But you need to watch this movie to get a sense of the surreal environment inside these buildings. Stacked open-air corridors are linked by criss-crossing staircases. Instead of front yards, residents have a depressed concrete landing that opens onto the central corridors through steel gates. Enormous caverns are hidden in the bowels of the complex. From the inside, it’s the panopticon. From the outside, an impenetrable fortress. In short, the Vele di Scampia complex seems like every warm-climate crime syndicate’s fantasy.

I don’t have much more to say – I am not at my best writing about architecture. The movie is available on Netflix’s Instant Play. If you want an interesting contrast to American urban poverty, check it out.


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  1. Jeremy permalink

    I saw this about a year or so ago, and the two most memorable scenes are the young kids shooting assault rifles in their underwear, and the insides of the project. It was like Mike Davis’ worst nightmare, the kind of thing that would have given Jane Jacobs a heart attack. I mean, talk about concrete jungle…

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