Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Agnes Ladjevardi - The Roman Palazzina

The Roman Palazzina

Palazzina: a building type and an exception to the type.
The Roman palazzina is both a building type and an exception to the model. The palazzina type was officially instituted in 1934 during the updating of Rome’s 1931 Regulatory Plan. Its dimensions are strict: twenty-five to thirty-five meters wide, three to four stories high (seventeen meters). Its structure is compact, and is of parallelepiped form. The roof’s surface cannot exceed the two thirds of the ground floor surface. The requirements of the palazzina type reach into the smallest details: windows and balconies also follow prescribed dimensions (Passieri and Figorito, 2007). Inner structure is often the same between palazzine: each holds about eight apartments, usually two or three per floor. Palazzine are characterized by setbacks: from the ground level, as they are often elevated aboce it, but most often from the street, behind a gate, and from the adjacent buildings. The palazzina is a floating urban element. The later palazzine have driveways that lead into underground or surface parking. The palazzine are also characterized by a simplicity in form: most are functional blocks, whose facades are only broken by balconies and terraces for the upper floor.

[Image 1: a Roman street lined by palazzine: the street's horizon is low, the impression is of low density although the atmosphere is urban, the buildings stand apart like islands, behind fenced private roads, balconies abound, facing the public or the private spaces.]

But many palazzine also provide variations from the type. Many Italian architects of the 20th century turned to the palazzina type to test new architectural principles, most notably rationalistic, modernistic and neo-realistic trends. It is the clarity and strength of the palazzina type which make it an experiment ground for architects. Ridolfi’s Palazzina Mancioli I and II, and Moretti’s Palazzina Girasole are two of the first modified palazzine built in the 1920’s. They clearly belong to the palazzine type, but manage to break from it and infuse in their design 1920’s rationalist ideas: the dominance of simple bodies, clear sections, bright white of materials, assymetrical design, exaggeration of language, raised ground floors.

[Image 2: Il Girasole, built by Moretti, in 1949: a modernistic variation from the palazzina type]

The later part of the 20th century sees less architectural effort put into the modification of the palazzina type. Private developers replicate the simplest palazzina type all over Rome’s periphery, creating in the eyes of some, an exploded urban fabric (Portoghese, 1975).
Listed at the end of this essay are numerous other architecturally valued palazzine. But these must not make one forget that the strength of the architect’s palazzine lies not in its exception to the rule, but in its capacity to still belong to a type, however much it tries to break away from it.

[Image3: Developer-built palazzine, today, in Rome's periphery]

The palazzina as building block of the Roman urban fabric.
More than a building type, the palazzina must be integrated to a larger context. Together, the palazzine create an urban fabric for Rome. This fabric could be viewed as discontinuous, as the palazzine act as islands, disconnected from the road and surrounding buildings by setbacks, and occasionally elevated from the street level. Buildings stand alongside each other with no relationship between them, separated by negative strips of fences and greenery.

However, the repetition of the palazzine patterns creates a coherent urban fabric. The following images show how the palazzine creates a particular urban condition which can be qualified as coherent: that of inward as well as outward looking blocks, with hold complex interactions between semi-private streets, private open spaces, and the public road. The following images compare this building form to the Haussmann style perimeter blocks of Rome as well as with the old Rome fabric. Perimeter blocks create an orderly urban form, which celebrate the street front, and create a dichotomy between private space (inside the perimeter block apartments and in its middle courtyard) and public space (the block creates the street space). Old Rome marries the open space into the built space, creating a fragile equilibrium between negative and positive spaces. The Palazzine, on the other hand, creates a shapeless fabric with innumerable interactions between private spaces and public spaces. Portoghesi, in his article “Palazzina Romana”, speaks of the “discontinuous fabric” (tessuto discontinuito) of the Pallazine, as opposed to the “continuous fabric” (tessuto continuito) of the old Roman buildings (Portoghesi, 1975).

[Image 4: the perimeter block]

[Image 5: the palazzine city: viewed from above, not very different from a 19th century American suburb]

[Image 6 old Roman urban fabric]

[Image 4, 5, 6: Three building typologies give Rome three different urban fabrics. The urban fabric created by the palazzine building type is coherent, albeit less structured than that of the adjacent images]

Buildings become islands connected by a common typological language, and the negative space in between them fully participate in weaving all the palazzine together, in order to create a seamless, unified and coherent space.

Palazzine allow citizens to imagine an urban suburbia.
The aerial image number 5 is striking in its resemblance to the settlement pattern of American suburb: cul de sacs, winding roads, detached structures which deconstruct the road space, abundance of greenery. However, we are here in the middle of a city, and the atmosphere of palazzine neighborhoods, although residential and pleasant, is definitively urban. Just as in suburban layouts, the urban fabric created by palazzine is full of negative spaces. These spaces are opportunities: they allow palazzine areas to be green. The position of the palazzine within blocks create spaces which do not belong to the public realm. Edges between palazzine are invested by an unplanned green agenda: they become gardens which separate one building from the other, from which trees grow and contribute to make the street green. Imagining an urban suburbia is thereby rendered possible by palazzine: the negative spaces allow buildings to appear as islands in green, and allow more intricate private street systems to be created.

[Image 6: the urban suburban landscape of the palazzine streets: green is omnipresent and jutting out from the interstices between palazzine]

Palazzine is a social building type.
Still more than a building type, or a building block for a particular urban fabric, the palazzina is a social building type. Originally, the palazzina is not an urban element. It is born from the adaptation of a rural and aristocratic building into an urban element: the “palazzina” is the small shelter or hunting building, flanked by the Renaissance “Palazzo” (Portoghesi, 1975). From the start, the “Palazzina” is ripped from context and squashed into an urban space too small for it. Historically, therefore, the palazzina is a mockery of inversed logics. From a small building standing within a large amount of open land, the palazzina is widened and heightened, and squished into a small parcel of urban land.

The 1920’s sees the beginning of the palazzina as a wide-scale housing type. The1909 Development Plan for Rome elects the palazzina type as a housing solution (Portoghesi, 1975) for its compactness and easily repeatable form. At that moment, the population of Rome sees itself increase by more than one million from 1.7 to 2.8 million inhabitants between 1951 and 1971. The high migration to cities and the growing consumption of floor space results in a greater housing demand and an unprecedented construction activity (Comune di Roma, 1991, p. 21). The palazzina is at that point progressively alienating itself from its aristocratic origins.

The post-war palazzina receives a second wave of attention following the growth of Rome. The postwar urban development boom updates the peripheral “borgate” fabrics, which were mainly self-built housing, into palazzine for the working class (Kreibich, 2000). Once again, the palazzina’s simple and habitable form becomes the model for housing development: “Since 1945, after a decade of prestigious buildings, simple residential complexes became the most important type for the first time” (Grundmann, Furst, 1998). The palazzina building type turns into the physical symbol of a certain citizen and a certain life-story: the working to middle class migrant, newly arrived to the booming postwar city. The palazzina becomes the receptacle of the “poetics of poverty” (Grundmann, Furst, 1998): its language is vernacular and neo-realistic, as a reaction to the fascist era. The San Paolo area, South of the Basilica, holds examples of such palazzine. But Parioli, which is also made up of palazzine, is a high-end bourgeois enclave.

Palazzine can therefore be invested both by popular and upper class lifestyles and ideals. It proposes a standardized mode of living, common to all. It can be inhabited by the newly arrived urbanites, the upper-middle classes, the new suburbanites, the elderly Romans. It is the epitome of the habitable type, or the universal dwelling type. It is also a hopeful type, in that it proposes semi-dense urban living with all the qualities of suburban life.

Renowned Palazzine
The relevance of such a list is questionable, because the majority of palazzine were not designer built, hence providing a list of architecturally valuable palazzine might mislead one to think of the palazzine type as an elitist type.

Palazzina, 1920-1922, Marcello Piacienti, Viale Lengi, 40 Palazzina Furmanik, Mario de Renzi, 1935-38, Lungotevere Flaminio 18
Palazzina di Via Maria Adelaide 6, Gino Franzi, 1936, Via Adelaide 6
Palazzina Salvatelli, 1939, Gio Ponti, Fornaroli, Via Eleonora Duse, 53
Casa Cooperativa Astrea, Luigi Moretti, 1947-49 Via Jenner 27-29
Villino Alatri, Mario Ridolfi, 1948-49, Via Paisello 38
Il Girasole, Luigi Moretti, 1949-50, Viale Brunno Buozzi, 64
Palazzina Zaccardi, Mario Ridolfi,1950-51Via de Rossi 12
Palazzina, Bruno Zevi, 1950-51,Via Pisanelli 1
La Tartaruga, Ludovico Quaroni and Carlo Aymonino, 1951-54, Via Innocenzo X 25
Palazzina in Via di Villa Grazioli, Cesare Pascoletti, 1953-55, Via di Villa Grazioli


Argenti, M., Spesso, M., “Architettura Dimenticate del ‘900”. Web 2009.

Comune di Roma (1991). Roma in cifre. Rapporto sulla citta% 1991. Rome

Grundmann, S., Furst, U., 1998, “The Architecture of Rome: an architectural history in 400 individual presentations”, Axel Menges edition.

Kreibich, V, 2000, Self-help planning of migrants in Rome and Madrid
Habitat International, 24: 2, p.203

Muratore, G., 2007, “Roma: guida all’architettura”, 2007, Edizione L’Erma di Bretschneider.

Passieri, A., Figorito, A., 2007, “La Palazzina Romana degli Anni ‘50”, Facolta’ di Architettura, Roma Tre

Portoghesi, P., 1975, “Palazzina Romana”, Casabella, 407, pp.17 – 25.

1 comment:

  1. uando utilizzate una foto che non vi appartiene, potreste gentilmente chiedere il permesso o quanto meno segnalare la proprietà? vedi il girasole in b/N