Domus - - CONFETTI - Va­le­ria Carullo

Dis­re­garded un­til 1934, when the RIBA held an ex­hi­bi­tion in Lon­don of the best in­ter­na­tional works of ar­chi­tec­ture made in the pre­ced­ing decade, mod­ern Ital­ian build­ings have been dis­cov­ered and reeval­u­ated thanks to pho­tog­ra­phy. Here, Va­le­ria Carullo gives an over­view of Bri­tish pub­li­ca­tions and shows that have lent vis­i­bil­ity to ra­tio­nal­ism from the 1930s to now The mod­ern move­ment in ar­chi­tec­ture took hold with rel­a­tive de­lay in Great Bri­tain as in Italy, so it needn’t sur­prise us if in the early 1930s, mod­ern Ital­ian ar­chi­tec­ture en­joyed scarce vis­i­bil­ity across the English Chan­nel. Prob­a­bly thanks to the 5th Tri­en­nale di Mi­lano ex­po­si­tion in 1933, ar­chi­tec­tural en­deav­ours in Italy caught the at­ten­tion of the spe­cialised press in Bri­tain. The Ar­chi­tec­tural Re­view, a pres­ti­gious mag­a­zine, ded­i­cated sev­eral pages to the ex­hi­bi­tion. The Ar­chi­tect & Build­ing News and the Ar­chi­tec­tural As­so­ci­a­tion Files also pub­lished ar­ti­cles on the Tri­en­nale, writ­ten by the sec­re­tary of the AA School of Ar­chi­tec­ture, Frank Yer­bury. As a photographer, Yer­bury had a fun­da­men­tal role in in­tro­duc­ing mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture from the Con­ti­nent to Great Bri­tain. That year, in 1933, he trav­elled to Italy from Lon­don with stu­dents of the school, and re­turned full of ad­mi­ra­tion and praise for the new ar­chi­tec­ture.

The fol­low­ing year, the mostly pho­to­graphic and highly pop­u­lar ex­hi­bi­tion “In­ter­na­tional Ar­chi­tec­ture 1924–1934” held at the Royal In­sti­tute of Bri­tish Ar­chi­tects (RIBA) in­cluded work by Pi­etro Lin­geri, Gino Levi-Mon­tal­cini, Edoardo Per­sico and Mar­cello Niz­zoli, Ig­nazio Gardella, Lu­ciano Baldessari and Pier Luigi Nervi. In the late 1930s, the Bri­tish press ded­i­cated spo­radic ar­ti­cles to the sub­ject, but al­most al­ways they con­tained pos­i­tive judge­ment of the de­scribed and il­lus­trated build­ings. The sec­ond edi­tion of Gli Ele­menti dell’Ar­chitet­tura Fun­zionale by Al­berto Sar­toris was re­viewed both by The Ar­chi­tec­tural Re­view and its sis­ter mag­a­zine, The Ar­chi­tects’ Jour­nal. Both au­thors – the editor of the Re­view, James Maude Richards, and the critic P. Mor­ton Shand – un­der­lined the book’s im­por­tance and Sar­toris’s role in the devel­op­ment and dif­fu­sion of the mod­ern move­ment in Italy. Sar­toris was friends with Mor­ton Shand as well as the ar­chi­tects Francis Yorke and Ray­mond McGrath; he also cor­re­sponded with Les­lie Martin and Denys Las­dun. Sev­eral times, Sar­toris’s projects were the sub­ject of ar­ti­cles in The Ar­chi­tec­tural Re­view, which pro­moted the mod­ern move­ment by also pub­lish­ing the work of Franco Al­bini, Luigi Fig­ini and Gino Pollini, BBPR and Gino Levi-Mon­tal­cini. In June 1940, the mag­a­zine came out with an in­ter­est­ing and richly il­lus­trated ar­ti­cle ti­tled Some Re­cent Ital­ian Build­ings. It was a crit­i­cal mo­ment in the his­tory of the re­la­tion be­tween the two na­tions (Great Bri­tain had al­ready joined the war), but this is not ev­i­dent in the text, a thought­ful con­sid­er­a­tion of what had hap­pened in Ital­ian ar­chi­tec­ture in the pre­ced­ing decade. Af­ter World War II, there was a re­newed in­ter­est in Ital­ian build­ings, es­pe­cially con­tem­po­rary ones, but it did not ex­clude a ret­ro­spec­tive look at the Fas­cist pe­riod. Ar­chi­tects such as Ed Mills and Bryan and Nor­man West­wood vis­ited the coun­try and took pho­tographs of build­ings from the ra­tio­nal­ist pe­riod. The Amer­i­can ar­chi­tec­ture his­to­rian Ge­orge Ever­ard Kid­der Smith held a lec­ture at the ex­hi­bi­tion “Ital­ian Con­tem­po­rary Ar­chi­tec­ture” at the RIBA in 1952 that was pub­lished in the RIBA Jour­nal, fol­lowed three years later by a fas­ci­nat­ing chron­i­cle of the mod­ern move­ment in Italy, Italy Builds. The book is il­lus­trated mostly with splen­did pic­tures taken by Kid­der Smith him­self, and it in­cludes an anal­y­sis of the coun­try’s ar­chi­tec­ture be­tween the two wars. The au­thor writes how “Even in these early ex­per­i­ments [in In­ter­na­tional Style], in­flu­enced as they were from abroad, that won­der­ful in­nate Ital­ian­ness al­ways as­serted it­self...”. He de­fines Nervi’s sta­dium in Florence and Giuseppe Ter­ragni’s work as “bril­liant”, and de­scribes the villa for an artist de­signed by Fig­ini and Pollini for the 1933 Tri­en­nale as “the best mod­ern house ever built in Italy” at that time. Ac­cord­ing to Kid­der Smith, Fas­cist ar­chi­tec­ture had be­come in­creas­ingly un­cer­tain and for­mal­is­tic over the years, and he re­served par­tic­u­larly harsh judge­ment for the “dry for­mal­ism” of the EUR project in Rome. In the 1960s and 70s, ref­er­ences to this phase in Ital­ian ar­chi­tec­ture grew ex­tremely scarce. The Ar­chi­tec­tural Re­view rekin­dled cu­rios­ity for the ar­chi­tects of that pe­riod, first in 1963 with a long ar­ti­cle by Panos Kouler­mos on Ter­ragni and Lin­geri; then in 1967 with an es­say by Joseph Ryk­w­ert on Fig­ini and Pollini; and lastly in 1979, with a lengthy ar­ti­cle by Ge­of­frey Bo­rad­bent called

Ital­ian Fas­cism. Ter­ragni’s work was pho­tographed in de­tail dur­ing the 1960s by the ar­chi­tec­ture his­to­rian Tim Ben­ton, who stud­ied this pe­riod in Ital­ian ar­chi­tec­ture. It was again

The Ar­chi­tec­tural Re­view to open the 1980s with the is­sue From Fu­tur­ism to Ra­tio­nal­ism, which in­cluded 30 pages on fu­tur­ism, with ar­ti­cles by Reyner Ban­ham and Bruno Zevi, and an­other 40 pages on ra­tio­nal­ism, with in­di­vid­ual pro­files on 20 ar­chi­tects from those days. Fi­nally, the ar­ti­cle

The New York – Como Con­nec­tion ex­plored the nascent in­ter­est of Amer­i­can crit­ics for Ter­ragni and Ce­sare Cat­ta­neo and their in­flu­ence on Peter Eisen­man.

Af­ter a long ar­ti­cle on Ital­ian ra­tio­nal­ism pub­lished by the mag­a­zine of The Thir­ties So­ci­ety (now The Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury So­ci­ety) in 1987, and an ex­hi­bi­tion on chil­dren’s sum­mer

camp build­ings (colonie) at the seashore, held the fol­low­ing year at the Ar­chi­tec­tural As­so­ci­a­tion, it was not un­til the 2000s that an­other two in­ter­est­ing cases of re-eval­u­a­tion were made. One was by the ar­chi­tec­ture his­to­rian Ed­ward Deni­son, who pho­tographed and wrote about Ital­ian ar­chi­tec­ture from the 1930s and 40s in As­mara, Eritrea. The other was by the artist Dan Dubowitz, whose pho­to­graph se­ries on the sum­mer camps forms the ba­sis of the 2009 book Fas­cismo Ab­ban­do­nato, fea­tur­ing an es­say by the ar­chi­tect Pa­trick Duer­den in which he weighs, as others be­fore him, the weak for­eign ap­pre­ci­a­tion of Ital­ian ar­chi­tec­ture from the 1930s. We mustn’t over­look other events that took place in re­cent years con­nected to this sub­ject. The first is the ini­tia­tive by The Ar­chi­tec­tural Re­view in 2007 that col­lects the views of five Bri­tish ar­chi­tects on Ter­ragni’s build­ing in Como. This ar­ti­cle, which mer­its be­ing a cover fea­ture, is ac­com­pa­nied by beau­ti­ful pho­tographs by Paolo Ros­selli. The sec­ond is the 2009 RIBA ex­hi­bi­tion “Fram­ing Modernism” held at the Es­torick Col­lec­tion of Mod­ern Ital­ian Art in Lon­don. The dis­play un­der­lined the role of pho­tog­ra­phy in the dif­fu­sion of knowl­edge about mod­ern Ital­ian ar­chi­tec­ture. The third is the BBC pro­gramme Ben Build­ing: Mus­solini, Mon­u­ments and Modernism, con­ceived and di­rected by the Bri­tish writer, jour­nal­ist and film maker Jonathan Meades. These ini­tia­tives demon­strate the in­ter­mit­tent but undy­ing in­ter­est of Bri­tish cul­ture for the his­tory and re­sults of a com­plex and con­tra­dic­tory pe­riod in Ital­ian ar­chi­tec­ture.

Left: cover of the cat­a­logue to the 1934 RIBA ex­hi­bi­tion “In­ter­na­tional Ar­chi­tec­ture 1924-1934”; top: Casa Rus­tici on Corso Sem­pi­one, Mi­lan by Giuseppe Ter­ragni and Pi­etro Lin­geri, 1933-1936, with land­ings aligned flush with the main façade, con­nect­ing...

Va­le­ria Carullo Carullo was born in Naples in 1965 and moved to Lon­don af­ter tak­ing her de­gree in ar­chi­tec­ture. She stud­ied pho­tog­ra­phy while work­ing at the RIBA Pho­tographs Col­lec­tion. Af­ter col­lab­o­rat­ing with the photographer Richard Bryant, she...

This page, clock­wise from top-left: view of the ex­hi­bi­tion by MARS (Mod­ern Ar­chi­tec­tural Re­search Group) held in 1938 at New Burling­ton Gal­leries in Lon­don; swim­ming pool de­signed by Gher­ardo Bo­sio in 1935 at the Ugolino Golf Club south of Florence....

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