Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tuscolano: Neorealism and the Peripheral Development of Postwar Rome

In the years following the war, Italy was in state of economic, political and social disarray. At the governmental level, right and left wing forces were fighting for control of the nation’s destiny. And even before the war, Italy was largely an underdeveloped, agrarian and impoverished country. In 1951, 40% of the population was still working in agriculture (handout, 4). This rapidly changed as many rural families, faced with economic hardships after the war, migrated to the cities in search for work. Between 1955 and 1971, statistics show that around 9 million people became displaced due to interregional migrations (handout, 4). Many of those who came to the city had to face issues of housing, labor and poor living standards. The conditions of these poor and working class citizens became the inspiration of Neorealist cinema. Filmmakers such as Vittorio De Sica captured the lives of these common people (see Ladri di biciclette, 1948).

In response, the newly established government saw the need to create affordable housing for the urban, low income working masses. In 1949, parliament instituted the INA-Casa project. Under this plan, selected regions in major urban centers would be developed into social housing complexes. Situated 3 km southeast of the city center of Rome, Tuscolano was one of the interventions under this plan. It developed in three principle main phases: Tuscolano I (1950-51), Tuscolano II (1950-60) and Tuscolano III (1950-54).

(Tuscolano plan. Mornati, 7)

The INA-Casa project brought together many architects from around the country. Together they faced the challenge of envisioning a ne
w type of architecture, one that had practical budgetary constraints and, perhaps more importantly, one that had to somehow reconcile the external forces of modernism with the millennia-old tradition of architecture within Italy. The prevailing sentiment of the modernist movement was to break with tradition and find a new language of architecture that embraced minimalism and functionally-dictated form. The forces of industrialization inspired a “machine aesthetic” which permeated throughout the modernist vocabulary in much of Western Europe and the United States. Nevertheless, the prevailing sentiment of architecture within Italy was that any new type of architecture needed to somehow address the traditional buildings of the past. Even during the fascist era, Mussolini’s government saw importance of historic architecture, and its potential to be revived and reintegrated in a way that gave birth to monumental, classicist and ultimately propagandistic architecture. But with that regime gone after the war, architects now had the freedom to decide where the country’s architectural identity needed to move. Among the population, there still was a deeply- rooted, sentimental longing for the ethnical and arcadian past, perhaps intensified by the rapid industrialization and westernization that was consuming the postwar landscape. These neorealist sentiments, exposed to the world primarily in neorealist cinema, also influenced how the architects approached the Tuscolano project. They needed to resolve the conflict between forces of the past and present, within the context of social housing.

In the Tuscolano II, De Renzi and Muratori’s v-shaped housing complex, called by locals the “Boomerang,” offers one example of how modernist and historic forms were integrated in the architecture of Tuscolano.

(the "boomerang". Mornati, 8)

The six-storied complex has a ground floor that houses shops while the upper floors are small, iterative, apartment complexes. The building’s inner structure and organization is articulated in its façade – look to the concrete, grid-like framework that emerges out of the walls like an internal skeleton. Notice the repetitive, uniform apartment “cells” in the grid, each with a small balcony and window treated in the exact same way on the façade. The direct translation between the façade interior were typical transparent ideology of modernism. The uniform and egalitarian treatment of each unit also seems to stem from a rational approach.

(The boomerang up close. Peter Le , 3 April 2009)

The building gives honest treatment to materials, free of superficial ornamentation. In reference to the local history, the architects have incorporated an element of ancient Roman architecture, a type of brickwork pattern called opus vittatum, dating back to 4th century B.C. Rome. (santagnese).

Alberto Libera’s project, Tuscolano III, deviates from the interventions in Tuscolano I and II on two main points: it is enclosed by a wall and, except for a central multistory building, the living units are all single-story.

Two hundred apartments and a strip of stores along the street are contained
within the enclosure of the housing complex. In the optimum plan, the small roads, which serve ten houses each, all depart from a central piazza. The module that is repeated throughout is an aggregation of four houses, one of which is rotated for better exposure. (handout, 149)

(Mornati, 7)

It is evident here that Libera was trying to compose a private community, enclosed by walls, complete with central private “park.” From the inner paths that emanate from the central space to the groups of four houses, the architect was trying to address the issues privacy and community in way that the buildings in Tuscolano I and II did not. The density of inhabitation, reduced to single level houses encourages interaction between neighbors, especially those sharing a courtyard and is also a much needed relief from the towering complexes nearby. The central, balconied complex is certainly a contrast to its neighbors and may seem a little disjointed, but it is Libera’s attempt at unifying the space around the central, prominent structure that oversees not only the surrounding houses but also the distant and scenic landscape of the periphery. Embracing one of Corbusier’s Five Points of Architecture, the building is raised off the ground on fins, creating space for parking underneath. In the single story houses, the walls are faced with different sized stones, a characteristic throwback to the opus incertum in ancient roman housing (santagnese).

(detail of an apartment wall in Tuscolano III. Peter Le, 3 April 2009)

The architects of Tuscolano had to reconsider idea of public space and what it meant in the context of neorealism and social housing. Historically, the piazzas and forums in Italian cities were the primary models of social gathering space, where anyone was able to come and go as the pleased. Buildings and streets were constructed around these spaces. In Tuscolano, the repetitious layout in of buildings in rows as opposed to one where they emanate from a central s
pace shows that the architects were not considering public space in the same way as their predecessors. For Tuscolano, public space takes on a more intimate definition. There are no large spaces, specifically designed for public gatherings. There are gates around many of the apartment buildings, especially Libera’s Tuscolano III. Public space is more private here, it is now that enclosed area where residences of a single complex can mingle - the general public is shut out. A sense of close community is fostered in this type of model, and our class witnessed this on our recent trip to Tuscolano. In relation to the neorealist sentiment, Tuscolano’s model seems closely tied to the pastoral definition of a village, where each building is sort of village with its own private public space.

In our recent trip to Tuscolano, it was apparent that many of these buildings have fallen into disrepair. Being in the periphery of Rome, the district has little interaction with tourists. Bordering a scenic area of vast green landscape, largely untouched, with massive ruins of an ancient aqueduct situated nearby, Tuscolano is where modernity confronts the pastoral beauty of Italy.

(from the balcony in Tuscolano III. Peter Le, 3 April 2009)


Mornati, Stefania and Cerrini, Filliipp. Il quatiere Tuscolano a Roma (1950-60). (2009)

handout for class. April 3, 2009.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Peter,

    Thank you for this information. Is it ok if I use these images for a wikipedia-article? Are there any copyrights on them? Obviously it will be for educational purposes.

    Kind regards,