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The crisis of the city

Mario Botta reflects on the city and its crisis, in two crucial points: the center and the limit.
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The city as it is considered today, that is, in the western Christian culture – so to say – which is the one we feel ours the most, and that is part of our identity, is the structure, it’s the best, the ultimate level of civil cohabitation, the most beautiful. As yet, there is no example that collectively organises
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human life: the city remains the most intelligent form of human aggregation, the most beautiful, sensitive, and flexible in existence, there is no other form that speaks of human aggregation and of the possibility to live collectively like the city. Of course, this form which first appeared during the Neolithic era, so 5000 years ago, is a form that suffers the crisis of the contemporary, where indeed a series of values are disappearing, and so the city is in a crisis – essentially –
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it is in a crisis in its two crucial points: historically, the city has always had a centre (the crossing of a river, the intersection of communication routes), a centrality from which human aggregation was eventually born, and also having always a limit. These two conditions – the centre
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and the limit – are in crisis today: the new city no longer has a centre, because it is so widespread, therefore breaking away from the idea of centrality,
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which is not only a physical element: for millennia centrality was defined by the parliament building and the cathedral, it was religious and civil power, it was the indirect recognition of this controlling power over human aggregation, but above all it was important
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because it had doors: one would enter the city. The city was… who was inside the city had rights, was considered a citizen, there was the civitas, there was the polis and the political organization of this context. Today the limits are gone, and this means that there is a mix between what was once the countryside – barbarians, foreigners, bandits were those living outside the city – and those inside who instead had the right to citizenship. Culture and modernization have broken this barrier, which was a physical barrier but also a barrier full of other ethical and psychological meanings, and it has become the widespread city.
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So, our generation should to a certain extent rethink this form of aggregation of the city in which
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we still recognize values: “I am from Berlin”, “I am from Paris”, which perhaps are even stronger, in terms of identity, compared to those of nations; nations have suffered because they were artificial creations compared to cities, the city was bound to a territory and to an identity that developed slowly; so, this identity of the city that remains in the denomination, that remains in the cultural reference, we know that today it is in a crisis, for the levels of pollution, for the values of relationships, for the traffic, for many other reasons, but we don’t have an alternative model.
Interviewer’s question: “What is the city for an architect?”
In this video, Mario Botta reflects on the city and its crisis: the city remains the most intelligent form of human aggregation, the most beautiful, sensitive, and flexible in existence. Today, however, the city is in a crisis in two crucial points: the center and the limit.
What are the center and the limits of your reference city? Are they in a crisis? Share your thoughts in the discussion area.
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Mario Botta: To Be an Architect

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