For six immersive weeks, I immersed myself in the infamous Roman neighborhood of Corviale, a colossal utopian social housing project that looms large on the outskirts of Rome. Built in the early 1980s, this architectural behemoth stands as a poignant symbol of both unfulfilled aspirations and the challenges of urban development.
My lens focused on the heart of this community—the local youth—who navigate their lives under the shadow of this failing ’80s social housing project. Through this evocative photo series, I aimed to shed light on the intricate relationship they have with their surroundings—the concrete jungle they call home.
These poignant images capture the essence of daily life, emotions, and resilience that thrive amidst the imposing architecture. From moments of joy and laughter to the weight of uncertainties, the photographs offer a glimpse into the multifaceted existence of Corviale’s young residents.
Join me on this visual journey as we explore the human spirit, perseverance, and the quest for a sense of belonging in the shadow of Corviale’s towering structures. May these images spark conversations and reflections on the complexities of urban living and the indomitable spirit of youth facing extraordinary circumstances.
I am a photographer from Vilnius, Lithuania. My background consists of a variety of adventures: I was pursuing a career in professional figure skating for most of my teenage years, studied TV production in London and later cinema in Prague, and learned Persian in a language institute in Tehran. Since my late teens I started traveling by hitch-hiking. Summer trips around Europe soon evolved into a full-time nomadic lifestyle with travel routes criss-crossing Africa, the Middle East, India, South East Asia and now Latin America.
During the last years of high-school I was already documenting everything with my little pocket camera. I didn’t know what photography was back then, but felt a subconscious need to capture and record the fleeting moments. I somehow understood their value and saw beauty in them. For me photography is a kind of visual poetry, a way to capture a feeling, an emotion or take a look at a person’s soul. And that is what I am interested in doing – I like to create poems about people and places without using words. Being introduced to Magnum photo agency by a friend and seeing Satellites by Jonas Bendiksen for the first time gave me a powerful impulse to dedicate my life to photography.
As a photographer I am drawn towards communities and social issues. I am most interested in rebels, people living on the edge or off the grid. My work speaks about human condition, struggle, and pride, and aims to demystify the unknown. In my pictures I seek to portray people in a humble and dignified way. The way I shoot could be best described as non-interventional. I let action evolve by itself, even when I am shooting portraits I try to minimise my direction and let people be the way they want to be.
Photographically I have been inspired by dozens of photographers. But these three always come to mind first: Josef Koudelka and his nomadic lifestyle, Alec Majoli and his dark poetic vision, and Raghu Rai with his epic portrayal of India in the middle of the 20th. century. More recently I have drawn a lot of inspiration from Lithuanian photographers such as Antanas Sutkus and Algimantas Kunčius, who captured the soul of Lithuania in the 60’s and 70’s.
I hope that by looking at my work the audience will take away the feeling of humanity and brotherhood towards the people in my photos, the feeling of respect and fascination with another human living in a completely different reality, yet so similar to our own.
The Birth of a Utopian Dream.
Corviale was born out of a grand vision to provide affordable housing for Rome’s growing population while fostering a sense of community and well-being. Formally known as “La Corviale,” the district is situated in the southwestern outskirts of Rome, in the Primavalle neighborhood. Its origins trace back to the mid-20th century, during Italy’s post-World War II reconstruction period when there was a pressing need for affordable housing to accommodate the rapidly growing population.
In 1972, a visionary competition was organized to tackle the housing crisis, inviting architects to present innovative proposals for a massive residential complex that would provide housing for thousands of families. The winning project was designed by Mario Fiorentino, a renowned Italian architect, and his team. Construction commenced in 1972, and after several years of development, Corviale was completed in 1982.
This brutalist structure rises to a height of nine stories in some places, accommodating over 6,000 residents across its 1,000 apartments. Its striking size and shape have garnered comparisons to the renowned “Great Wall of China,” further emphasizing its significance as a monumental architectural accomplishment. Stretching 980 meters in length, Corviale holds the title of one of the world’s longest residential buildings. The project, however, encountered setbacks during its construction, leading to an abrupt finish that hindered its full realization.
From Dream to Nightmare.
Corviale’s journey from utopia to reality has been fraught with challenges. In the absence of adequate maintenance, social services, and convenient transportation links to central Rome, the district struggled to fulfill its initial promise. As a result, certain sections of the building became occupied by squatters and plagued by drug addiction, crime, and social despair. Corviale, once an urban dream, was transformed into an urban nightmare, overshadowed by joblessness and a sense of isolation.
A World Apart.
Located just a 45-minute bus ride from Rome’s ancient canter, Corviale presents a stark contrast to the bustling historical heart of the city. The district’s surreal concrete landscape evokes a sense of detachment and otherness as if it exists in a parallel universe. Within this unique environment, young residents navigate a complex love-hate relationship with their surroundings, grappling with the realities of their daily lives.
Renewal and Transformation.
In the early 2000s, the local authorities recognized the need for revitalizing Corviale and improving the living conditions of its residents. Urban renewal projects were initiated to address social issues and structural concerns. The aim was to transform the district into a more inclusive and vibrant community. Renovation efforts focused on improving public spaces, creating recreational areas, and introducing commercial spaces to foster economic activity within the complex. Community engagement programs were implemented to encourage residents’ participation in the revitalization process, instilling a sense of ownership and pride in their living environment.
Reflections on Corviale.
Corviale’s story serves as a reminder of the intricate relationship between urban planning, social dynamics, and community well-being. It prompts us to critically examine the gaps in realizing utopian visions and the importance of ongoing support and investment in sustaining and revitalizing communities. While Corviale may have experienced setbacks, its residents are an embodiment of the human spirit, finding strength and beauty amidst the concrete walls and fragmented dreams.
About Mykolas Juodelė
I am a photojournalist and documentary photographer from Vilnius, Lithuania. My background consists of a curious blend of professional figure skating, film and Persian language studies, and almost a decade of life on the road journeying everywhere from Nouakchott to Jakarta and from Helsinki to Khartoum.
I am an alumnus of FAMU (Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague) and London Middlesex University, a member of the Lithuanian Photographers’ Association, Lithuanian Journalists’ Union and a recent graduate of VII academy masterclass “Photojournalism and Documentary Photography with Maciek Nabrdalik and Mary Gelman”. In 2021 I joined Redux Pictures as a contributing photographer.
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All the pictures in this post are copyrighted to Mykolas Juodelė. Their reproduction, even in part, is forbidden without the explicit approval of the rightful owners.