20 June 2018

Pier 54 and the Italian pavilion

When I was in the Whitney this past spring, there was construction happening on the Hudson River waterfront and I was afraid the remnants of the pier building (Pier 54), an arched opening, had been demolished. It has been threatened off and on. Two days ago, when I was walking down the High Line after leaving Bill at his bus stop, I got a lovely view of the arch between buildings and against the New Jersey skyline.
Yesterday, I went to Avery Library to look at a book on Michele Busiri Vici, an Italian rationalist architect. Wikipedia says he's known for his works on the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia. The building that caught my attention was the Italian Pavilion for the 1939 New York World's Fair. There's a model for the building in the Wolfsoniana collection in Nervi (Genoa), Italy.
There were quite a few pictures of the completed pavilion in the book at Avery. I like the model better, the simple classicizing is clear. The finished building looks rather more imposing and, I must admit, a little bit more fascist.

The main moment for rationalist architecture in Italy was the 1920s and 1930s and I really enjoy the classical allusions. You can't really disassociate the architecture of the public buildings from the governments that commissioned the works and then inhabited the buildings. The Casa del Fascio in Como, designed by Giuseppe Terragni, was the party headquarters and is now the headquarters of the provincial Guardia di Finanza police force. I was delighted to visit it some years ago and enjoyed seeing the reflections of the cathedral in its large windows. Architecture must reflect the society that builds it but it makes me a little queasy that the rationalist buildings I like so much might be described as fascist. Busiri Vici's seaside villas are more like Miami modern (or maybe the style went the other way) -- think kidney shaped pools -- and I don't like them nearly as much as the rationalism of the Italian Pavilion or the Casa del Fascio, or the neo-rationalists like Aldo Rossi and O.M. Ungers.