Our Urban Living Room


The Nolli Map, by Giambattista Nolli, illustrates a part of Rome as of 1748. Within this projection , all of the enclosed public spaces are representedthrough interior plans allowing for these enclosed enclaves to be read as open civic spaces. Through a progressive change in lifestyle, the consideration of these as historically buildings, and the functional monopolization of them; today, a lot of these structures are void of public spirit. The slow abandoning of these public structures has resulted in a programmatic change for the nearby ‘piazza’ and today most of these have beenoccupied and reused as car parkings. The project argues that the contemporary city of Rome is lacking public spaces where one can engage in leisure activities. By identifying endangered piazzas, the project has established a series of collective houses within them with the aim of bringingback the spirit of social living to the historic center of Rome.


What prompted the project?

Due to the global housing shortage, a competition was launched named Rome Collective Living Challenge issuing this concept. What was interesting about this challenge was how they address the political issue of the new and collective lifestyle rather than concentrating on the shortage of housing itself. Our perspective toward this project was concentrating on how the contemporary world claims avant-garde residency and housing.

What questions does the project raise and which does it address?

There were two important concepts that were discussed in our design process, First: the concept of interferences between humans and the city, especially in a crowded city like Rome with a dense fabric and high level of tourism. Roman piazzas are considered as the ancestors of the contemporary public spaces, but nowadays some of them have lost their function in urban social interactions. We were concerned with identifying them and here the question of How to use this potential to form a community that will give back the life to piazzas raises. This issue is complemented by the debate about human social interactions in today’s segregated societies. Worshiping the history and abandoning these critical points of the city with the excuse of architectural and urban preservations is so dangerous for the future of the city and its citizens.
The second concept was to identify the optimum -and not the minimum- space required for a living space, and to form a spatial configuration that corresponds to the delicate and complicated context we were designing in.

How and to what extent did the Nolli plan define a new way to draw and talk about the city and its distribution?

Nolli in his revitalizing map represents a naked plan of the public buildings and manifests so clearly his idea of the urban public space in Rome. By doing so, he characterizes these buildings and binds them with the adjacency of piazzas. There, he not only explains the spirit of public space but also hints for the essential elements of a successful public space.

What informed this as a point of departure for the project? How pivotal was this as a tool to start to explore the city and the piazza's which you identified as being in danger?

In collective living, we are definitely concerned with the sociality of human beings and considering the context we were designing in, an understanding of public spaces and how they function was the most essential part of the studies. Understanding the manifest of Nolli in this map pushed us forward to get deeper into the current situation of piazzas in Rome. When you get to a deep level of understanding of the context, it is easier to start to think about what can be added or changed in that context to achieve what we have in mind. This was our main approach toward the concept of collective living.

What parameters did you use as a means of categorizing and identifying an endangered Piazza?

We first started with the piazzas’ adjacent buildings and checking their activities and performances to see if their performances are supporting the public life of the piazza or if they have transformed totally to another typology. Afterward, the special activities and events of the piazza were analyzed; activities like parking lots, daily markets, political gatherings, etc. then we categorized the piazzas based on their area, perimeter, number of open sides or streets, and geometrical form. Using the aforementioned data led us to the endangered piazzas.

How has public space changed in the last 10 years in Rome? How has this affected how we relate to and live in the city?

We think on asset of this issue during the last decade is that people are becoming less interested and satisfied by top-down organized activities and desire to participate in more interactive events. It seems like people tend to rip apart the intermediates between citizens and city life. This can also be seen in the way people act in public and how close it is getting to the private life of people.

How does the project address this contemporary condition?

An eventless and loose space cannot attract and gather people. In our project we try to create potentials and possibilities for people to arrange their desired events to characterize piazzas, the rest is in the hand of the citizens.

What informed the choice of a design strategy which changes the notion of the piazza from an exterior to an interior condition?

This matches to the idea we have of the new lifestyle that is being chosen by different people more and more. A big part of this lifestyle is concerning social life. A lot of time we define social spaces in our houses, but in a city like Rome with its rich and full of potential urban spaces, if we manage to bind the mentioned social part of people’s lives with the urban spaces, then we will have an intense bond between city and the collective life of the citizens.

How does the project redefine the very notion of piazza?

Throughout the project, the transformed piazzas which are changing to car parking lots will again become the center for exterior and collective events.

How do you see the project developing through time?

This project is a proposal to create social potentials and we do not have any definite vision of how it will function in the future and it depends a lot on the residents of the building and the citizens. The concept of the project is more important than the project itself, and what we imagine to happen is to expand the idea we have beyond the project trough out the whole city and citizens.


Soheil Shahnazari and Fatemeh Bahari are currently taking their master degree at Lund University. They have previously studied at University of Tehran in Iran and have done several collaborations in architectural designs together.