A year after the fall of the Ponte Morandi in Genoa, many questions about the disaster are still outstanding. An architectural historian explains what the bridge meant for residents – and for all of Italy.
43 people died when on August 14, 2018, part of the Ponte Morandi collapsed in Genoa. A year later, the remains of the motorway bridge are demolished, the construction of the successor bridge is underway. Many questions about misfortune are still open. Against 71 people is now determined. Most agree however that the arch on the Polcevera Valley was more than a bridge. The architectural historian Marzia Marandola works at the University of La Sapienza in Rome and is considered an expert of the civil engineer Riccardo Morandi, who gave his name to the building.
SZ: Mrs. Marandola, how important was the Morandi Bridge to Italy?
Marzia Marandola: She was unique. In the sixties, during the construction of the bridge over the Polcevera Valley, many experiments were carried out in Italy. Bridges had names instead of numbers, each built differently. They must be technically innovative and elegant at the same time. Morandi's design for the Genoa Bridge was remarkable.
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You were proud of it?
Absolutely. In addition, the construction of the highway has made many people work. The crippling war was over, we were optimistic about a future in which everything would become better. At that time, places were fighting for the highway to be as close as possible. Italy was an agricultural country where it was not easy to progress. Highway, which meant being able to be fast in Naples or Milan, connected to the world. The bridge represented the modern age.
And what did she mean for the residents?
The bridge gave an identity to an entire area. It was built on houses and most obviously is in the city. Not for the one who drives on it. After the collapse, I was in Genoa for a lecture on Riccardo Morandi. To be honest, I was a little concerned about this. After all, it's an incredible tragedy. But it has been shown that residents identify strongly with the bridge. They did not see themselves as poor under the bridge, but had the pride of living under a masterpiece. Few of them wanted to leave the area, even though they could afford it a long time ago. Many were also in favor of a reconstruction instead of a new building.
After the disaster, they had to move and their homes were destroyed. A new bridge is under construction. Can it become a symbol of identification again?
If I look at the drawings like this: no. But of course, it's understandable that you need a replacement as quickly and easily as possible. It can not be such an extraordinary project from the start. Many were reassured when the architect Renzo Piano was hired. Doubts have been expressed as to whether, when and how a new bridge will be built, but for many people, the piano is a guarantor because it complements its buildings.
Do you look at concrete structures today differently?
In the postwar period, this was not felt so that a concrete bridge would spoil the landscape. Today, however, concrete is considered an enemy to fight. And we, in Italy, no longer see the future as positive. Today, you build easily and safely, for which there are good reasons. But it is also a sign of lack of confidence in the future.
After the collapse, critics on the building were strong, some blamed Morandi. Several of his buildings have been checked.
Fortunately! But you can not blame the engineer for not doing it too long. Such a special experimental structure has special conservation requirements. Today, you will build differently. Finally, traffic crossed the bridge, which Morandi did not expect, even in weight. Concrete is still a relatively new material for the history of architecture. As we grow older, we only know by these bridges. Of course, this does not relieve anyone of the responsibility to keep them. How much the bridge of Genoa has been neglected, you can see it in the rubble. And this negligence was a political decision.
It would seem that Italy, with its many buildings and important cultural assets, knows the conservation.
Historical preservation is very important in Italian culture. That is why it is particularly tragic that I teach today at the university the uniqueness of this bridge. For years our researchers have stressed that they require special attention. All large buildings require constant care and control, not just St. Peter's Basilica.
With a unique bridge in Italy, we think first Ponte Vecchio in Florence or the Ponte di Rialto in Venice. Do you focus too much on old times?
It has a certain predominance in the perception of Italy by the public. Apart from the fact that these examples are pedestrian bridges: in an ancient Roman bridge, no one doubts that protection is a cultural good. But there has also been a change in recent years. In any case, research is increasingly devoted to the post-war period.
Has anything changed since the collapse?
This is my only hope to bring something positive to the disaster: to raise awareness of the importance of maintenance. Everyone could have known, even without the collapse. With the preservation of cultural assets, it is unfortunately as much as for education: it is extremely important to invest in these assets – you can not see the effect immediately.