Sunday, August 08, 2010

Failure on a civilisational scale


Just reading a thing about permanently unfinished municipal projects in Italy.

There are a lot of them.

They do these things differently in Italy. Or rather, fail to do them. Failure on the epic scale is an everyday Italian experience. It's as if they were in competition with the ancients, bent on creating instant ruins to rank alongside the Colosseum and the Roman Forum. Motorways, viaducts, stadiums, swimming pools, museums, multi-storey car parks, theatres, railway stations... there is almost no type of public building that, in the past half century, the Italians have not given up on halfway.

A new survey of Italy's unfinished building works found 360 scattered around the country, with 160 in Sicily alone.


A couple of kilometres up the road, a municipal swimming pool and a so-called "polyfunctional centre" containing an open-air theatre, both of them sink holes for investments of tens of billions of lire and many years of work, stand unfinished, vacant and half-wrecked. A multi-storey car park in the town, under construction for a generation, was completed only a couple of months back. So was the town's hospital, after 40 years on the stocks, but as one local man told me, "It was born old. And although it's been opened, now they are closing it down again, as part of the rationalisation of Sicily's health service." Meanwhile, the town's theatre, begun nearly 60 years ago, and a children's play centre (intended 20 years ago to be the main attraction of a local park) have yet to be completed.

Local people offer explanations for these failures, but it is hard to know whether or not to take them seriously. In the case of the polo stadium, I was told that the architects had made a mistake in their calculations and given the stands too steep a rake, breaking the legal norms. Meanwhile, the technicians involved in building the swimming pool supposedly made it 49 metres long instead of the regulation 50 metres.

Can such idiocy be credited?

...I might add that when the Italians do finish something, they do such a colossally bad job of it, the thing they build has to be torn down in ten years as a public safety hazard.

...and then isn't.

A friend of mine posits that Italy is a country in retirement. It has pretty much done everything it set out to do:

Conquered the world. Check.
Become the cradle of post-Imperial Christian civilisation. Check.
Rediscovered the writing of the ancient Greeks and started the Renaissance. Check.
Invented banking and money. Check.
Produced the greatest painters and sculptors the world has ever seen. Check.

And now, as the American bumper stickers say, it's spending its kids' inheritance as fast as it can.

Except that there aren't any kids.



Simon Platt said...

There's a story that Leeds Central Baths were designed to Olympic dimensions, but when they fitted the tiles ...

(Perhaps the story might even be true.)

Andrew Cusack said...

You're ascribing to the modern Italians the achievements of the ancient Romans! Fail! The Italians couldn't even hold on to Ethiopia for a respectable amount of time.