Superblocks, neighbourhood units and residential islands as fragments of the collage city

Housing estates in Italy and Spain in the 1960s


  • Carmen Diez University of Zaragoza
  • Javier Monclus University of Zaragoza
  • Isbel Ezquerra University of Zaragoza
  • Sergio Garcia University of Zaragoza



In the intense debate that surrounds modernist housing estates in Europe there is a common argument: the contrast between the high quality of urban spaces in the compact traditional city and the low quality of new mass housing developments. In our opinion, the comparison should be made not with the traditional city but with the remaining peripheral landscape. The question is: do those ‘fragments’ of the modern ‘collage city’ that float between infrastructures and urban voids have greater or worse urban quality than the so-called ‘ordinary peripheries’? In this regard, determining the level of isolation from or integration into the immediate urban tissue is a key issue. The aim of this paper is to study eight housing estates in four cities (Rome, Milan, Madrid, Barcelona) and analyse how these ‘fragments’ developed in regard to their immediate urban context. How were they designed and with what specific features, compared to their European counterparts? What role and impact did urban planning and projects have in their fragmentary development? What conclusions can we draw comparing these quartieri and polígonos fifty years later? What are the values and weaknesses of those ‘fragments’ in comparison with the urban tissues of the surrounding ‘ordinary peripheries’?