City, Forest, Infrastructure


In an increasingly connected world, cities represent dynamic complex systems connected by dynamic complex networks, governed by non-linear dynamics, where resilience is a crucial aspect to manage the fields of ecology, economics, critical infrastructures, and organizational behavior. Resilience frames the issue of system tightness in a non-linear perspective.
Or that, by contrast, of avoiding polarization and concentration, which have proven to be capable of compromising the system.

Italy is the country of many cities and towns, but it is also one of the countries where, surprisingly, forests lately have grown more. In the last few years, they have significantly increased in terms of size and density, devouring former cultivated areas, transforming the traditional agricultural pattern into a land of wilderness, and changing the entire national ecosystem. Today, this wilderness represents the largest part of the Apennine mountains – which are the backbone of the country – where depopulation, poverty and abandonment give pastures, cultivated fields and villages back to nature.  This condition, however, is not only limited to the internal areas of the country. Wilderness, today, also approaches the borders of the cities, entering their suburbs, and retracing their limits by difference, through a continuous, mobile, and jagged form of re-naturalization. While the city, by contrast, in its reticular and sprawled dimension, through its main infrastructures such as highways and railways crosses, intersects and fragments non-anthropized areas and cuts large part of this wilderness from any access, thus strengthening its separateness and isolation. Given this increasing co-fragility affecting the relationship of these two entities, Walden Architects’s design driven research, developed together with the students of Politecnico di Milano, therefore takes as a case study a portion of the A7 highway, which today, by connecting Milano with Genova, represents the real border between the extended Milanese metropolitan area and the Apennine wilderness.
A new and radial boundary marked by the traditional opposition between a heaviest impacting infrastructure and the more natural and wilder environment, which today can be turned into an opportunity of coexistence of different realities, in light of an improved and interdependent form of resilience. The idea is that this border, which today is just a wound in the territory, can be upgraded and translated into a more responsive and porous threshold between the wild and the city, both in terms of physical connection and metabolic exchange.
For this reason, the project focuses on the re-development of the highway’s commercial rest areas and their transformations into sorts of multifaceted bridges – or crossroads – between these two apparently opposing realities, through a new form of urbanization emerging from their mutual cross-fertilization and exchange. In this way, the highway, which is now a simple tool for reaching a specific target, will evolve as a complex device, or a permeable interface, capable of offering different and unexpected possibilities of growth and adaptation to both the systems. All this by contaminating the wilderness with the richness of relations and opportunities that are historically available just in the density and the intensity of the urban condition, and being contaminated by a biodiversity that is inherently alien to it.


The installation Highway to Wilderness consists of a light super-structure and an architectural model, located below the former. The super-structure is the exact replica, in scale 1:10, of Angelo Bianchetti’s original design for Pavesi’s highway rest areas, one of the most iconic elements of Italian peri-urban landscape, which will mark the exhibition as a giant object trouvé. Circular in plan, it rises from a recycled rubber carpet with three parabolic arches connected at the top by a circular ring, which also supports a replica of the original commercial sign, bearing the title, in this case, of the installation itself. The idea is to represent with the iconic landmark the traditional architectural element that mediates the relationship between the highway and the landscape, as well as that between the city and its limits. 
Below this structure, a circular territorial model with a diameter of two meters represents the proposal for a new relationship between the city and the wilderness: a densely wooded valley, crossed by a river and cut by a portion of the A7 highway, defined by the distance occurring between two tunnels.
On this spine, seven architectural models of different rest areas offer seven different possibilities of reconnecting the wild nature of Apennine Mountains with the roadway, which today represents the new radial border of the extended Milanese metropolitan area. A sort of catalogue of bridges or crossroads to define a new relation between these two apparently conflicting realities, which today can no longer be solved in terms of opposition but through a new form of urbanization emerging from their mutual cross-fertilization and exchange. The whole installation has a virtual counterpart accessible through a QR code, provided in proximity of the structure: it gives access to information on the research project and to an archive of resources around the relationship among city, forest, and infrastructure. Design references, bibliography, movies, and other contents are available for further research.