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MOMONECO SEMINAR 12.-13.9.2003

International Seminar
Modernist Dreams: Four cases + one
Sunila (Kotka) Finland August 16th 2003

Cristiana Marcosano Dell'Erba, phd, DOCOMOMO Italy member of board
conference paper

My contribution to this seminar intends to focus on the awareness of 20th-century architecture and its preservation as a cultural heritage which has gradually been increasing in Italy at a collective level since the post-war period.

The Search for an Identity of Young Monuments in Italy
In my country, modern architecture has proved to be a difficult heritage to accept and it has taken much longer to be appreciated in Italy than in other countries.
There are a number of different reasons. The immense size of our architectural heritage has delayed those operations which the institutions concerned should have carried out. At the same time, the legislation itself appears to be inadequate. The current law which governs our cultural and environmental heritage (Decree Law of 29.10.1999) does not safeguard "works by living authors or those which were realised less than fifty years ago". This means that, in the field of conservation, we have not moved beyond measures which were drawn up before the last war.

Furthermore, buildings which were constructed between the two wars have been affected by a sort of damnatio memoriae. In the eyes of most people, they have long represented the indelible imprint of the Fascist regime. Distributed uniformly around the country, Fascist headquarters (Case del Fascio), Fascist Youth Movement buildings (Case della Giovent¨ Italiana del Littorio), anti-tuberculosis buildings and holiday colonies had been emblems of a rigorous propaganda programme. This is equally true for the extensive new towns and sports or trade-fair complexes which gave a clear formal character to some urban areas. And the post-office buildings and railway stations, nodes of communication which created a close-woven network of buildings, were part of a single architectural intention.

In the immediate post-war period, many symbols of the Fascist years were consigned to oblivion, or were altered or eliminated definitively, even though some ranged among the most important examples of modern architecture.

In point of fact, these are the works which, in their broad range of issues and expression of poetics, constitute the principal corpus of our modern heritage. This heritage, which has long been repudiated, has one unique characteristic: its truly monumental value, which comes from its creators' constant attention to the city as a place where events sediment and stratify, and to "its value as memory, the lesson of its monuments". This particularity was well identified by Ezio Bonfanti in a work of 1971 Monumento e cittÓ. This tension has induced Italian architectural culture, our rationalist architects, to work along the path of tradition, following a line of continuity and modification rather than of breaking with the past, giving rise to open, 'a-stylistic' configurations."

So the unique contribution of Italian architecture to the experience of modernity consists in its having proved to be firmly linked to its origins.

This aspect can also be noted in the constructive nature of the buildings: in many cases, it is a hybrid between tradition and innovation. This was generally caused by the backwardness of the building and production sector and, towards the end of the 1930s, by the imposition of regulations issued by the autarkic regime governing the use of materials such as iron and concrete.

The specific nature of this cultural area has gradually been revealed through historical research which, as from the Seventies, has reconstructed with greater circumspection the relationships between the context, the various arts, and politics. Widely publicised exhibitions and current affairs journalism have thus made it possible to assess our recent past from an adequate historical distance.

Documentation activities, which provide the basis of knowledge, have made enormous progress thanks to the systematisation of public and private archive sources, while opportunities for debate have increased the level of interest in recent constructions and in their preservation.

In addition to confirming the judgements of value, this historical overview started to constitute a material history of modern architecture which led to the urgent need for preservation action being appreciated.

Restoration experts, as representatives of individual currents of thought, have simply extended their operational and theoretical options to recent works. Here I might mention, for example, Paolo Marconi, Giovanni Carbonara, and Marco Dezzi Bardeschi, who have expressed their opinion on the subject on a number of occasions. These problems have indeed led to a fruitful debate in all sectors in Italy, and among representatives of various disciplines.

With the question thus solved of the legitimacy of extending the need for conservation to modern architecture, which by its own statute is considered transient, several matters still remain to be worked out.

In what terms should a modern monument be interpreted? Which of the enormous number of works should be safeguarded: only the icons, works which present characteristics typical of a common language, or should one seek the common significance of these works which makes them the expression of a single period of thought? What should be considered authentic: the project, the idea or the material, even if it has been transfigured?

Some clear interpretations have now been formed around these issues.

In the Mediterranean culture to which Italy belongs, there is a tendency to broaden our recent heritage beyond works exclusively of the modern movement or the International Style to include all regional inflections. Quite apart from the stylistic elements, what is most interesting is to discover the deeper sense which unites apparently distant works created in separate contexts.

Adopting the distinction of values applied by Alois Riegl in his fundamental Der moderne Denkmalkultus. Sein Wesen und seine Entstehung (1903) between the values of the past, defined by the Viennese historian as determined by the memory of the monument (the value of its antiquity and historical value) on the one hand, and contemporary values (its artistic and functional value), which originate in the satisfaction of the natural or intellectual needs of contemporary society on the other, we can assert that this habitus favours historical value. As we can see in other cultural contexts, this is used to justify a reduction in the number of works to be preserved and to ensure their restitutio ad integrum, in order to be able to appreciate the original concept.

In theory, Italy has always been in favour of maintaining the existing work, considering contemporary intervention solely as a means for impeding the inevitable effects of the passing of time. However, practice shows us that the attempt to cancel subsequent traces and restore the work to its "original state" often prevails.

DOCOMOMO Italia actions

DOCOMOMO Italia has been an advocate of this line of thought. With its by no means considerable resources and a relatively numerous network of members, the association has worked to disseminate knowledge through: the publication of a six-monthly periodical; the organisation in 1998 of a conference on "Documentation and Conservation"; incentives for days of study in individual local contexts; the drafting of reports and support for preservation actions like tahht one on Palazzo della CiviltÓ Italiana in Rome.

DOCOMOMO has attempted to exercise vigilance over our modern heritage, opening up its historiographical confines and applying a methodology for approaching the works based on detailed case histories of the "objects". For this reason, it took part in drafting the catalogue entitled The Modern Movement in Architecture/ Selections from the DOCOMOMO Registers presenting a selection of works which relate fifty years of Italian history, from the 1916 Fiat Lingotto factory in Turin to the final enlargement of the Olivetti ICO factory in Ivrea in 1962, a most complex and intricate episode.


The Modern Building Restoration in Italy 1977-2003Today modern architecture in Italy would appear, at least among the experts, to have acquired the status of historical heritage.

Some important restorations and cultural initiatives are going to be take place in recent years. However we unfortunately have to explain some episodes of indifference towards the public and provate heritage.

These recent initiatives show how experience in safeguarding modern architecture in our country has progressed after about twenty years of intervention, with operations limited in number and not always effective - yet which have laid the bases for discussion.

One of the inaugural events, which created a sensation, was the replica in '77 of the Esprit Nouveau pavilion which Le Corbusier built for the exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1925. The reconstruction was made in Bologna by the group of the "Parametro" journal with the purpose of handing down to posterity a "starting document" of modern architecture. This was clearly intended to start up a new activity of research and documentation into residential architecture inspired by the original inspirers of the pavilion.

The first restoration operations involved works already accredited at the historiographical level.

These include the buildings of Giuseppe Terragni, which are some of the few currently protected in Italy. The Sant'Elia infant school was restored between 1982 and 1987 after a precise historical investigation had been carried out. In 1989, the Superintendency of cultural heritage in Milan then did some partial work on the Fascist headquarters in Como, a building internationally recognised as the most important modern work in Italy and, in 1991, on some residential buildings including the Casa Rustici in Milan and the Floriculturist 's House in Como.

At the end of the eighties, when massive works were carried out on a number of sports facilities to adapt the technology and functions for the 1990 soccer World Cup, for the same occasion, adaptations have been made on the railway station of S. Maria Novella in Florence, an unrivalled architectural gem made in 1932 by the Tuscan group headed by Michelucci. A series of operations to clean, consolidate and restore many run-down areas, facings, flooring, furnishing and curtain elements in the forward gallery were clearly carried out with the intention of freezing the existing structures.

An equally conservative approach, but one open to some form of adaptation compatible with existing structures has been seen in other restoration operations on works which are smaller but of equal architectural value.

Here I refer only at some of these restorations:

- in 1988 the reconstruction of the glass wall on the ground floor of the apartment

building designed by Cesare Cattaneo in Cernobbio in 1938-1939;

- in 1993 the almost total reconstruction of the contemporary art pavilion (PAC - Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea) in Milan, destroyed by a bomb attack in 1993. This operation was supervised by the original architect, Ignazio Gardella, which have build the pavilion in post-war period at the beginning of the fifties;

- in 1999 was completed the first part of the difficult restoration of the Lago Nero ski-lift. The plant, built by the brilliant Turin-born architect, Carlo Mollino, in 1946-1947, had been disused due to the obsolescence of the lift equipment and subsequently much vandalised;

- finally, three years ago, in october of 2000, the restoration of Raffaello Sanzio School in Trento has been completed. It's a work that is worth of mention for the great care with which the architect, Giovanni Marzari, charged of the restoration, has carried out the adaptation and the restoration of the building.

Unfortunately other projects for the "conservative restoration" of works of extremely great architectural value have had less than ideal results.

It's the case of the Conference hall in the Reception and Congress building in the EUR district of Rome, which was reconstructed in the early 1990s after a fire in 1977 had led to its closure.

The intention was to restore the spatial relations of the original volumes designed in the forties by Adalberto Libera for the E42 (the Universal Exhibition which should be taken in Rome in 1942) but this failed due to excessive functional and technological modernisation.

From the nineties new importants initiatives have been carried out on Italian modern heritage. They concern infrastructures and entire urban parts.

An important operation is the modernisation of the principle railway stations. In this case, conservative intervention has had to deal with a pressing need for transformation.

One of the first result can be appreciated in the Termini node in Rome. The operation, carried out between 1997-1998, involved most of the complex, the pre-war wing designed by Angiolo Mazzoni, and the front building built in 1945-48.

In this case, standard practice was reversed with a planning organisation being set up within the company in charge of the operation with the task of orienting the definitive projects of the complex along the lines of a unified logic. The executive projects would then be entrusted to external consultants.

The aim was to restore the original spatial relations of the monument. By demolishing the many subsequent additions, the permeability of the large concourse at the entrance was restored, and continuity was restored between the exterior, dominated by the Baths of Diocletian and the Servian Wall, and the Galleria Gommata and the trains. To ensure success from the urban planning and economic point of view, the commercial gallery in the basement was opened up by creating four access points leading down from the floor of the concourse, while a mezzanine at mid-height was restored with new facilities for the public. The most significant aspect is that the works are leading towards a much more extensive urban operation: saving the entire surrounding district, a densely populated and multi-ethnic area, from incipient deterioration.

In the same period a equally wide-ranging reclamation and development operation has begun on the Mostra d'Oltremare in Naples. The trade fair complex designed by Marcello Canino was opened in Naples in May 1940 as the Triennale delle Terre d'Oltremare: since the late 1930s, the city had become a supply centre for men and equipment for the war in Africa. The construction of the exhibition was to have reclaimed the Fuorigrotta area.

The redevelopment plan, which was started up between '95 and '96, is an attempt to reverse the serious deterioration which occurred after the war when many parts were decommissioned. On the principle that the best means to reclaim a building is to give it a use of its own, the project was based on the concept of "integrated conservation", which thus involved conservative restoration with the search for compatible functions.

Today much work has to be already carried out, and also planned, although something begins to change thanks to the new administration. Infact in Naples, as in other localities (such as the EUR district in Rome), the original operating body has been transformed into a joint stock company with public participation: this is designed to foster the development and management of the architectural heritage. The Teatro "Mediterraneo" has been transformed into a congress centre, two parks with facilities have been opened and the "Arena Flegrea" has been entirely reconstructed by the some author, Giulio De Luca.

Between these recent experiences, which have to be remembered as models for the future, is that of Ivrea.

The city, on which the work of Adriano Olivetti has left its mark, has taken up the cultural heritage of its patron by launching an elaborate project to develop the architectural heritage built up in over eighty years of industrial history. The conception of Maam is one of the first results

Enrico Giacopelli'll largely you explain the case Ivrea and the experience of safeguard that has been carried out in Ivrea.

Some final considerations

This overview reveals a mixed situation which is by no means reassuring. Even so, it should be said that in Italy, at the institutional level, something did seem to have changed since the previous legislature.

In November 1999 the architectural culture and town-planning promotion bill (the disegno di legge sulla promozione della cultura architettonica e urbanistica ) of the Minister for Cultural Activities and Heritage, Giovanna Melandri, was designed to recognize and give a new lease of life to works of particular interest. It appeared to be an effective instrument to achieve this and proposed some highly innovative measures, such as the possibility of applying "copyright" regulations also to modern architecture, and earmarking special funds for conservation operations.

Quality control of projects and the possibility of selecting the "inheritance" to be saved will enable young monuments to acquire an identity of their own, allowing them to play a decisive role in the redevelopment of those areas or portions of the natural or built-up territory in city centres or in the suburbs which are to be saved for the nation.

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