Marinas explained by Zeno, Pythagoras, Heraclitus and Paolo Viola. WiP Architetti has the plan to reclaim berths for large yachts from little- or never-used quays, giving new life to old structures instead of building new ones
by Niccolò Volpati
In Italy, the country’s marina berth shortage is discussed almost as much as the national football team. Everyone thinks they are the coach with the perfect solution up their sleeve. And while the arguments put forward are often rational, the reality remains the exact opposite. Since it is an age-old question, perhaps some ancient philosophy can help us settle the issue. Let’s start with Zeno and his paradoxes, which very aptly describe the current situation. The most famous one is probably that of Achilles and the tortoise, which Aristotle described as follows: “In a race, the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started so that the slower must always hold a lead”.
Paolo Viola, an engineer and urban planner specialising
in harbour design, head of the
“Marina & Waterfront” area at WiP Architetti s.r.l., has built numerous marinas, some dating back to the 1970s.
A studio comprising 70 architects, engineers and urban designers, run by four business partners: Nicola Di Troia, Federico Barbero, Marco Splendore and Giuseppe Garbetta. The first three were friends at primary school, and after studying at Politecnico di Milano and gaining some early work experience, they got back together and founded the studio. Garbetta, who is responsible for technical services, i.e. all the activities required before the design work can commence, joined in 2006. «Many firms look outside the company for their expertise», architect Nicola Di Troia notes, «but we chose to develop it in-house, so we can offer integrated design to our clients». WIP Architetti is currently designing approximately 2,000 apartments. As well as residential properties, it also works on offices, supermarkets, shopping centres, hotels and tourism and sports facilities. The recently founded Marina & Waterfront Design Team is headed by engineer Paolo Viola and has devised a “Marine Tourism Renaissance Plan”. The plan involves building docking space for yachts between 24 and 100 m long at existing harbours, which are often infrequently or never used.
Italian marinas are riddled with paradoxes, and I’ll list a few of them below. I’ve also enlisted the help of Paolo Viola, an engineer who has built many marinas in Italy since the 1970s and who now manages the Marina & Waterfront Design Team at WiP Architetti. The design studio, with a team of over 70 architects, engineers and urban designers, recently unveiled its own “Marine Tourism Renaissance Plan”.
1ST MARINA PARADOX
Italian shipyards produce great yachts, but the marinas on the Italian coast have very few pleasure boat berths.
The Pythagorean Paolo Viola starts by crunching a few numbers. There are 780 ports along the 4,900 miles of Italian coastline, but of these, only 85 provide services that warrant them being described as marinas. There are 160,000 berths, but only 44,000 of these are properly equipped, and there are very few for yachts over 40 m long. Italy is near the bottom of the pile in the Mediterranean, with 2.37 moorings per 1,000 inhabitants, while Spain has 2.80, France has 3.87 and Croatia has an impressive 4.48. They are not evenly spread across the country either: there are many more in the north of Italy than the centre and south, and more in the Tyrrhenian Sea compared to the Adriatic. The reasons for this state of affairs go back a long way. The first wave of marinas was built between 1970 and 1980, while the second wave dates to the early 2000s. «I remember debates over whether the average boat length was 12 or 12.5 m», Viola says. Now the world has changed. Yachts are getting bigger and bigger, and berths that can house them are increasingly rare. It’s like having car parks for Fiat 500s while producing SUVs and articulated lorries.
2ND MARINA PARADOX
A five-star hotel is seen as a boon for the local region, but megayacht moorings would appear not to have the same value.
This is all about supply chains, and the statistics speak for themselves. A 50-metre superyacht brings €11,000 per day to the local economy and takes just 10 metres of quay. Each metre of quay produces €1,100 of value per day, the equivalent of around €200,000 a year. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that 100 m of quay for super yachts, therefore, produces over €20 million a year in spin-off activities. «A quay with ten superyachts is like a block of flats. Each boat has a ten-person crew, plus family members, especially in the winter», the engineer notes. The local region benefits when the owner and their guests are on board, but also when they are away and the crew remains on the ship. Like a five-star hotel that remains open all year round.
3RD MARINA PARADOX
An empty and abandoned industrial area is seen as epitomising decline, and renovating it is considered worthwhile, but when it’s a port you risk being accused of concreting over nature.
«The point is», Paolo Viola responds, «the plan we’ve developed at WiP Architetti does not add a single extra cubic metre of concrete. We’re restoring what’s already there. Italy is full of harbours with abandoned or partially used quays. Our aim is not to build new structures, but to revamp existing facilities. In some cases, you could reclaim many berths for large yachts, while others may only support a few boats, but either way, there is a dual benefit: increasing the availability of yacht moorings and supporting the local economy». The advantages it brings are not just employment, like refitting jobs, for instance, but also extra business for local firms. Revitalising a port does not involve building new shops, it means promoting the businesses that are already there. In addition, those investing in a port restoration project have to pay compensation fees, which end up funding services for the local region.
Design of a marina for Noli and Spotorno.
IN ITALY, THERE ARE JUST 2.37 BERTHS FOR EVERY 1,000 INHABITANTS. SPAIN HAS 2.80, FRANCE HAS 3.87 AND CROATIA HAS 4.48.
4TH MARINA PARADOX
Individuals who could invest in marinas are scared off by the bureaucracy and lengthy licenses.
The difference lies in the fact that this is a restoration project, rather than a new build. They are not building a new marina, which involves creating plans, development meetings, issuing licences, and only then starting work, which if all goes smoothly (which it hardly ever does) takes three years. Renovation should mean faster timescales, particularly in terms of bureaucracy. There are interested individuals out there, particularly for the waterfronts and connected facilities on land.
IT IS ESTIMATED THAT A 50-METRE SUPERYACHT BRINGS AN EQUIVALENT OF €11,000 A DAY TO THE LOCAL ECONOMY.
The proposal for a marina for Sestri Levante (Genoa). To the side, the project for the doubling of the port and the new waterfront of Civitanova Marche.
Some investment funds have shown interest, but they are put off by the cultural battle over the issue too. «The funds are often too cautious, believing that marinas mean long, sometimes interminable procedures. Investment funds do not have much time to waste. They want to invest and see results quickly. The challenge is persuading them that the profit margins available when renovating a harbour can be very high when they are happy to invest in much less profitable residential properties or logistics centres», Paolo Viola explains. Ultimately, to overcome the stalemate represented by Zeno’s paradoxes and Pythagoras’ figures, we must hope that Heraclitus’ philosophy prevails, according to which “nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed”.
(Harbours – A forward-thinking plan – Barchemagazine.com – February 2023)