World architects churning out ideas

Dalmine town hallA friend of mine was called by her translation agency to serve as an interpreter during a workshop in the town of Dalmine. The University had invited three renowned architects to a brainstorming session on the future of the national road that crosses through that town. This used to be the link between Bergamo and Milan until the motorway was inaugurated in 1927 – the first leg of what would become a vital connection between Turin and Venice. With time the national road has become beset by ugly urban sprawl and industrial plants, and afflicted by other problems such as littering and street prostitution. If you add the high frequentation of short-haul traffic that cannot resort to the motorway, the picture is not only that of an ugly road, but also a slow one.

Uneasy at the idea of having to translate in front of an audience for two hours, my friend gave me a ring and called out for help. Would I mind going and sharing the work with her? I accepted in order to try the translation experience, but also hear what would come out of those thinking minds. Whenever I travel that road, I feel my heart sink and would like to see a radical restyling change its face. That it badly needs rethinking is as plain as the nose on your face. What a great occasion that now there were world-class experts called to broach the subject.

When the meeting started we had been waiting in the auditorium for some time, nervously anticipating the event and going through all the materials available about the project. Chances were the language would be rather technical. The architects finally arrived and sat behind the podium. The inviting professor introduced the guests and opened the round table, and surprise, she was doing all the translation work from German. Each presented their respective curricular works – their words were translated into fluent Italian for the benefit of the audience.

Each of the architects complacently reviewed brilliant accomplishments, but I exchanged an unconvinced look with my friend. From our down-to-earth point of view, the new timber sports hall was certainly impressive, but in the climate of North Europe how long would it keep in good repair? That closed motorway near Dortmund turned into a Sunday skating track and street market surely must have made harried motorists furious? As the Italian professor that had followed the brainstorming session kept translating, I became engrossed in the presentations. We would be called later to translate the questions from the public, but, given these improbable premises, I was growing more and more anxious to see what their proposal was for our national road.

The makeover of Dalmine was finally expounded. The rendition showed an idyllic setting: the traffic had magically vanished and the carriageway was separated by a row of trees from the ditch which had been preserved, instead of covered, and turned into a lovely canal with running water and ducks; then another row of trees, a cycling path and another green belt. It looked perfect, like a countryside road.

When the debate was opened there were questions from the public which didn't give us too much hard time. Translating the answers from the architects was harder because we had not followed the workshop and were not in the profession, but after a few exchanges that was it. The meeting was up and we were free to go. The professor had done most of the work for us.
Driving back on the national road I visualised the architects' plan and compared it to the situation behind my windscreen. They must have been making fun of everybody or smoking pot. There was just enough room for the double carriageway between rows of buildings on both sides, so where did they suppose they could find the space to fit rows of trees, a cycling path, and a green belt? If we are allowed to fantasise we can all turn into world-class architects.