Seen from afar

Domus - - CONTENTS - Martin Feiersinger

While I was still a stu­dent in Vi­enna in the early 1980s, Gino Valle vis­ited our stu­dio and gave a talk. In ad­di­tion to show­ing a num­ber of pres­ti­gious, prag­matic build­ings, he threw in a much smaller project, the Casa Rossa in Udine 1, and this build­ing in par­tic­u­lar puz­zled me. It struck me as a bet­ter ex­am­ple of the ar­chi­tec­ture Robert Ven­turi was re­fer­ring to in Com­plex­ity and Con­tra­dic­tion than the iconic house Ven­turi had de­signed for his mother. Valle’s de­sign could be con­sid­ered a sub­tle vari­a­tion on the theme of the or­di­nary house. At about the same time, I came upon a very dif­fer­ent build­ing in a Ja­panese mag­a­zine, one that looked like a gi­gan­tic type­writer. It was Cappai & Mainardis’s La Serra 2, a train­ing cen­tre com­mis­sioned by Olivetti in the late 1960s for Ivrea’s cen­tro storico. These two poles made me want to find out more about the di­ver­sity of Italy’s post-war ar­chi­tec­ture. I had an in­tense de­sire to visit these build­ings and see how they had stood the test of time. What signs of ap­pro­pri­a­tion would I find? Did the elab­o­rate con­cepts have an in­flu­ence on the sur­round­ings? Were the build­ings still used as orig­i­nally planned? In 2004, my brother Werner and I be­gan to sys­tem­at­i­cally pho­to­graph through­out north­ern Italy. We were first and fore­most in­ter­ested in the build­ings them­selves, and only as the project pro­gressed did we be­gin to take note of the ar­chi­tects’ dis­tinct bi­ogra­phies. When we learned that we would have the op­por­tu­nity to ex­hibit our pho­tos at AUT, Inns­bruck’s ar­chi­tec­ture gallery, our work in­ten­si­fied. At this point we had to find a ti­tle for our en­deav­our, a ti­tle that would em­brace the scope of the projects. Dis­re­gard­ing fiercely con­tested de­mar­ca­tion lines, I sim­ply called it ITALOMODERN. The first phase, which cul­mi­nated in the ex­hi­bi­tion in Inns­bruck in 2011, doc­u­mented 84 struc­tures. A sec­ond ex­hi­bi­tion with 132 ad­di­tional works fol­lowed four years later. Each of the ex­hi­bi­tions was ac­com­pa­nied by a cat­a­logue; in his es­say in the first vol­ume, en­ti­tled ‘At­lantis Re­vis­ited’, ar­chi­tec­ture critic Otto Kapfin­ger re­flects on the era’s cul­tural cli­mate – in­clud­ing the in­tense in­ter­ac­tion among the dif­fer­ent art forms – as well as on the so­ci­etal and eco­nomic cir­cum­stances that made Italy’s post-war decades so pro­lific. A va­ri­ety of jour­nals, mono­graphs, and sur­veys – for ex­am­ple, G. E. Kid­der Smith’s Italy Builds – served as the ba­sis for my re­search. Do­mus was an es­pe­cially im­por­tant source for this project all along. For ex­am­ple, in 1998, Itin­er­ary 142 pre­sented Giuseppe Pizzigoni’s work in Berg­amo, an oeu­vre with many shifts – mov­ing from neo-clas­si­cism to ra­tio­nal­ist ar­chi­tec­ture, then on to stud­ies in ge­om­e­try and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with thin con­crete shells. In 1960, he em­ployed his shell tech­nique for both a church and a pigsty 22. I just had to see those projects in situ! Our doc­u­men­ta­tion ad­heres to a chrono­log­i­cal struc­ture. Italomodern be­gins in 1946 with Pizzigoni’s Casa Min­ima in Berg­amo 21, a row-house pro­to­type, and cul­mi­nates 30 years later in Giuseppe Gam­bi­ra­sio & Gior­gio Zenoni’s el­e­vated court­yard houses in Spo­torno 20. This time-span en­com­passes a re­mark­able range of group­ings and stances: Ten­denza or­gan­ica, Ne­o­re­al­ismo, Ne­olib­erty, bru­tal­ism, var­i­ous neo-ra­tio­nal­ist po­si­tions, as well as tech­no­log­i­cal stances, dar­ing struc­tures, and ex­trav­a­gant spa­tial con­cep­tions. We in­cluded some mas­ter­pieces by cel­e­brated ar­chi­tects – for in­stance, the Glass Church in Mi­lan by An­gelo Mangiarotti & Bruno Morassutti 7 – but our at­ten­tion was more of­ten di­rected to mi­nor works by much-ac­claimed ar­chi­tects and, most of­ten of all, to works by lesser-known ar­chi­tects which, upon com­ple­tion, re­ceived only lim­ited or re­gional ex­po­sure. Through­out the course of this project, du­al­i­ties pro­pelled my search for more ex­am­ples. These con­trast­ing pairs also en­hanced my un­der­stand­ing of how rich and var­ied the ar­chi­tec­ture scene was dur­ing this era. In the case of Mi­lan-based Luigi Cac­cia Do­min­ioni 8, choos­ing from among his hun­dreds of com­pleted build­ings was a nearly im­pos­si­ble task. Cac­cia Do­min­ioni once pro­claimed that he felt more at home on a build­ing site than par­tic­i­pat­ing in aca­demic dis­course. Yet with his re­fined de­signs of ce­ramic façades, he es­tab­lished a school of his own. In con­trast, Vit­to­rio Giorgini’s work con­sists of just a few build­ings, two of which are lo­cated right next to each other in Baratti: his own wooden, tree-house-like hexag­o­nal cabin faces his most ex­treme project, a zoomor­phic con­crete-shell struc­ture 4. In 1969, Giorgini moved to New York, where he be­gan a ca­reer in academia. An­other pair­ing of ex­tremes has to do with mag­ni­tudes of scale. Luigi Carlo Daneri’s gi­gan­tic Forte Quezzi hous­ing com­plex high above Genoa – dubbed il Bis­cione – con­sists of five ser­pen­tine apart­ment struc­tures which fol­low the con­tours of the hill­side. At the other end of the spec­trum is a bivouac perched atop the Grignetta 15 de­signed by Mario Ceregh­ini. His ca­reer had two dis­tinct phases: on Lake Como he had con­ducted him­self like a com­mit­ted ra­tio­nal­ist, while in the moun­tains he was a con­tex­tu­al­ist who took cues from lo­cal build­ing tra­di­tions. On the peak of the Grignetta, how­ever, Ceregh­ini meta­mor­phosed into an en­gi­neer. His de­sign of the space-cap­sule-like bivouac em­ployed pre-fab­ri­cated alu­minum pan­els light enough to be car­ried to the sum­mit by hik­ers. These pair­ings give just a small glimpse of this pro­lific pe­riod – a pe­riod char­ac­terised above all by play­ful ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, vi­tal­ity and pas­sion. Otto Kapfin­ger sums up his es­say on a sim­i­lar note: “A time­less mes­sage shines through these long-ago-com­pleted build­ings: Eros, who, as Ponti said of Rud­of­sky, has been lent wings by the Mediter­ranean, yet pos­sesses a uni­ver­sally valid at­ti­tude to­ward life, to­ward build­ing, to­ward in­di­vid­u­al­ity, and to­ward the un­de­terred quest for a bal­ance be­tween a wholly tan­gi­ble, nec­es­sary use­ful­ness and an ev­ery-bit-as-nec­es­sary in­spir­ing use­less­ness – which is so much more dif­fi­cult to grasp, un­der­stand, rea­son, tol­er­ate, and place.”

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