26 September 2018

Villa Savoye and northern Italy

The Villa Savoye is an icon of modern architecture. It was designed by Le Corbusier and built between 1928 and 1931, and is located in the Paris region. It is one of the most famous houses built in the last couple centuries, at least among art and architectural historians. One of my college buddies, Richard Barons, said it was really art nouveau. He was probably pulling my leg but there is something about the proportions that are graceful and perhaps over-studied. No, not over-studied but very carefully determined.
 (photo from Wikipedia page for the villa)

When I was in Italy earlier this month (September 2018), I was able to see two villas of similar style and built at about the same time. And it was thrilling. One was a lucky glance out the window of a city bus on a rainy morning in Genoa.
My airbnb host had a shelf of books on Genoa including an architecture guide. I was able to find the house. It's the Ex-Casa littoria "Nicola Bonservizi" on the Piazza Sturla, designed by Luigi Carlo Daneri and completed in 1938. The guide was Capellini's from 1992.

(Update: When I saw this building, it had a domestic scale from the Piazza Sturla though, like many buildings in hilly Genoa, there are several floors below the level of the street. The description as a "casa" said house to me and the "littoria" was unknown so I didn't pay it much attention. I was doing some bibliographic maintenance in the Avery Index a few days ago and there was an article on this building and the subject heading was "Public buildings" which I thought was wrong but I investigated. "Casa littoria" is sometimes also used as a variant name for the Casa del Fascio in Como, designed by Giovanni Terragni. Head off to Google Translate which wasn't immediately much help on "casa littoria" until it said "lictorial house." Looked up "lictorial" in my American Heritage dictionary, within arm's reach, and found that "lictor" is "A Roman functionary who carried fasces in attendance on a magistrate" (from the Middle English, from the Latin). So more to think about the relationship between Italian modern architecture and fascism.)

The other house was also somewhat obscured, this time by greenery. The street it is on is short and unmarked on the map I had of Milan. Yes, I know, I should have done all my research on Google Maps before setting out (but the itinerary changed as the adventure proceeded) or had a device with mapping rather than my printed map (maybe next time). But I did find it!

It's the architect's house by Luigi Figini in Milan, aka Villa Figini, built 1934-1935. The two-story house is totally lifted above the small lot, on thin pilotis. I hate to disturb people who protect themselves with shrubbery but I couldn't help but stand and stare at what I could see. A book in the Triennale library included plans and sections as well as some historical photos of internal spaces.

It was really delightful to see a couple Italian villas of the early 20th century. Neither of the houses were known to me and I'm not sure I'd heard of Daneri though I had heard of Figini (and his partner Pollini). (The architect Gino Pollini is the father of pianist Maurizio Pollini.)