Bollards of Italy

July 24, 2018

The photos presented in this journal entry were taken by Rob Champion during his recent extended travels through parts of Italy, and the words below are also provided by Rob.

In the Anglosphere, there is a general feeling that bollards (and other allied objects for preventing vehicular movement) are a design inconvenience imposed by the practical realities of vehicle traffic; a problem to be solved in the most tasteful manner. On a recent trip to Italy however, I was struck by how bollards seem to be viewed as a creative opportunity, or alternatively they are playful vernacular objects with myriad forms, idiosyncratic placement and liberal usage.

What is also interesting about their treatment is that they are often a relatively modern layer which sits atop a historical built environment, in a manner which accepts their frequently temporary and sacrificial nature.

The particular diversity in Italy appears to stem from two factors. The first and obvious factor is a long running building tradition that values craftsmanship and public space, combined with a diversity of readily available materials such as granite, basalt and travertine alongside the more common concrete, steel and paint.

The second factor is that the tight alleyways and streets of historical city centres, which were originally designed for the pedestrian and the horse and cart, have now also become thoroughfares for the car and the scooter.

However, unlike many other European countries that have restricted vehicular access into these zones, Italy’s laissez-faire attitude of giving anyone and anything free reign in public space has forced an alternative solution, often leaving it up to businesses and residents to implement their own ad hoc means of traffic management.

In these de facto ‘shared spaces’, bollards are applied to corners of buildings, and around doors, gates, windows and bicycle stands as a means of protecting both buildings and pedestrians. Another application that seems increasingly common is their usage by municipal authorities on larger streets as a cheap and flexible method of slowing traffic and to claim more ground for pedestrians and bicycles.

Because of their idiosyncratic features, their slightly human-like proportions (and perhaps because I spent a bit too much time engaging with them) to me they almost took on an anthopomorphic form. I found myself using adjectives such as ‘adorable’, ‘dishevelled’, ‘stoic’, ‘proud’ and ‘gregarious’ to describe them.

All images and text within this article are the property of Rob Champion, and may not be reproduced without the permission of Rob (and O2 Landscapes Limited).