The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Rome: Occupation City (2013)

In collaboration with Francesco Careri (Stalker Laboratorio Arti Civiche, Roma Tre University)

Currently there are nearly fifty squat-occupied spaces throughout Rome, usually found in previously abandoned buildings which are now inhabited by communities of both Italians and immigrants who cannot afford to join the rental market. The occupations’ network is administered by highly politicised Urban Social Movements, often in disagreement with each other because of different 'visions' but sometimes collaborating too, as for instance in the latest waves of squats popping up in December 2012 and April 2013.  

Their model of resistance to mainstream urban development has lately achieved a certain success. Some occupations have managed to resist the pressures from authorities and developers and at the same time have expanded their relational networks with the city surroundings.

With the recent shift of objectives from the right to housing to the right to dwelling, through their daily activities, the squatter communities are filling up those gaps created by the disappearance of the welfare state. Not only do they offer housing solutions for people in need, but they have implemented open desks for future housing assistance and programmes for care, leisure and education activities.

Despite such efforts however, the occupations’ galaxy still remains a collection of fragments whose identities are stigmatised (when not completely ignored or denied) by authorities and the rest of Rome’s citizens. Their often invisible and fortress-like presence hardly manages to integrate with the rest of the urban fabric and turns them into gated ‘bubbles’ which develop separately from the rest of the urban realm. 

The Rome summerLab has navigated into this gated archipelago, questioning both the process of 'gating' and the possibilities of 'opening up' the squat-occupations toward the city. We have wandered through historically profound social housing models including the infamous Corviale’ as well as several current occupied environments around Rome, looking at both the wider struggles for housing and dwelling, and at the everyday reality of one of the squatter communities we immersed ourselves within.

These explorations yielded a diversity of possible strategies for a more sustainable transformation and integration of squatter communities. We have tested methodologies for practicing design that is more community-responsive, opportunistic and uncertain rather than assumed and object-driven.