ZEN (Zona Espansione Nord) is a social housing district located in the VII municipality of Palermo, re-named San Filippo Neri in the nineties, and divided in two well-defined areas, ZEN 1 and ZEN 2, where Gilles Clément and Coloco’s project is taking place.
The entire architectural complex of the ZEN was born following a design contest promoted by the IACP of Palermo to address urban expansion, and it was won by the architect Vittorio Gregotti in 1969.
The project was inspired by the idea of the walled city, and is organised in blocks of insulae within an orthogonal grid aligned along the north-south axis. By adopting the megastructure typology and the concept of the insula unit, Gregotti aimed to bring block-type housing and urban services to the landscape of the Palermo countryside.
The political situation between 1975 and 1980 disrupted the overall transformation of the neighbourhood and left ZEN 2 without services and various infrastructure. Furthermore, due to an extreme housing shortage, squatting in these buildings became common. These factors created a difficult social environment and resulted in the degradation of the area. Zen’s disconnect from the city centre and isolation due to a ring road built for the 1990 football World Cup and Universiadi further enclosed the insula as a sort of fortress.
ZEN 2 is still at the centre of political debate and under intense media stigmatization. Today the district has a growing presence of active associations supporting its habitants; these include ZEN Insieme, Handala, Associazione Lievito, and Bayty Baytik.
Zen 2 is part of City on Stage.