‘Ruins of Modernity’: The Critical Implications of Unfinished Public Works in Italy


Since the 1950s, the construction of public works has been a significant element of Italy’s focus on modernization. Numerous instances of malpractice have resulted in frequent failures of this form of development, with the result that many projects have remained unfinished for decades. In 2007, a group of artists called Alterazioni Video declared these ‘ruins of modernity’ to be a romanticized architectural style; in doing so, their aim is to imbue the sites with new value and dignity. This article uses the artists’ argument as a point of departure to theorize about unfinished public works within the framework of interdisciplinary literatures on modern ruins. In addition, since modern ruins by definition hold a critical meaning––which the artists deliberately excluded from their narrative––the article takes into account the obscure political and economic circumstances causing this phenomenon. After remarking upon specificities and similarities to unfinished neoliberal topographies generated by the 2008 financial crisis, it is concluded that unfinished public works in Italy represent an interesting case serving to enrich debates on incompletion.