ARCHITETTURA

RATIONALIST ASTRATION IN THE ARCHITECTURE OF ENRICO DEL DEBBIO THE “HOUSE OF THE BALILLA” IN AVELLINO (ITALY)

ARGOMENTI DI ARCHITETTURA  ISSN 1591-3171  N. 7/2020
DOI: 10.13.140/RG.2.2.28867.02085

ABETI Maurizio, CARULLO Pellegrino

Abstract
Rem Koolhaas, the famous Dutch architect, who teaches at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, has invented bizarre and often dazzling theses, as in this case: the domain of the ¥€$: the Yen, the Euro and the dollar in the world of architecture. With a single architecture that you can buy in the bazaar world of architecture so that it is possible to have a property, taken here and taken there, which is always the same. Anyone who wants to will have its Calatrava bridge to be put in Venice the museum of Zaha Hadid to put in Rome or the high-rise building by Daniel Libeskind to put in Milan.
But it was not always so. There was a time the architecture, of the Fascist Not Fascist, the international style: the architecture of Enrico Del Debbio. In its architecture, with with a speed of rhetoric, it turns out a weird thing: that the architecture of the fascist regime is much more modern than one might believe and the House of the Balilla in Avellino (1933-1937) is a testimony!
The “House of the Balilla” or former “Palace GIL” (an acronym for Gioventù Italiana del Littorio), a building designed by the architect Paolo Del Debbio, who during the Fascist period dealt with the construction of the technical-sports facilities of the “House of the Balilla” throughout Italy until 1934, it is an example of rationalist architecture of 1933.
The complex is located in the centre of the city of Avellino (Italy) in Via Roma, with its decidedly dynamic L-shape, on the surrounding fabric due to the considerable size and the marble covering, in particular the littoria tower.
And the local headquarters of the National Opera Balilla during the fascist regime and was conceived as a sport and cultural centre for the ideological indoctrination of young people.

1 Introduction
In this essay we will illustrate modern Italian architecture, known with the meaning of “totalitarian modernity”, but we will call it for full conviction “rationalist”, whose designer, Enrico Del Debbio, while living a transitional moment between a simplified neoclassicism, which wanted to be halfway between the twentieth-century classicism (Gustavo Giovannoni, Emilio Lancia, Giovanni Muzio, Giò Ponti, etc.), and the rationalism of the Group 7, made up of Giuseppe Terragni, Giuseppe Pagano, Adalberto Libera, Luigi Figini, Gino Pollini, Guido Frette, Sebastiano Larco and Carlo Enrico Rava, and founders of MIAR – Italian Movement for Rational Architecture -, conformed, influenced by both movements, a personal architectural vocabulary rather original, oscillating, at the beginning of his career in the early ’30s, between a marked eclecticism and a monumentality typical of orientation aesthetics of the time, to later flow into measured rationalism.

Figure 1 Foro italico, © DARC – Regional Directorate for Architecture e
the contemporary art of Rome.

In this regard Philippe Daverio specifies, in reference to the Foro Italico, designed and built by Enrico Del Debbio between 1927 and 1933 and completed after the war between 1956 and 1968, stating: «An international style that has undeniably its centre of birth in Italy: the Foro Italico (Figure 1). This work deserves a series of very special considerations. The project begins in 1927 (and ends in 1932), Del Debbio takes care of it and still knows much about that Milan decò. He found his basic concept in the drawings of the works of Emilio Lancia (Figure 2) and in that first neoclassicism still derived from Austria. The windows resume the Renaissance order already

Figure 2 Palace Lancia, Piazza Affari, Milan, ©commons.wikimedia.org.

in the Mannerist version, with its right rate of rhetoric, but the architectural rhythm has a lightness that will soon disappear. A curious hybrid between civil construction and public buildings: the factory look with luxury Lombard villa windows, in a curious light neoclassicism that even knows even neoclassical Austria. Looking at it, we find a strange thing, that the first fascist regime architecture is much more British than we can believe: we could be a little bit from the United States, we could be in Austria, we could be in the German ambit, the bow-windows certify it for the first time in Italy» [1].
This compositional conception makes manifest and overturns the architectural sacralization of fascism and the monumental immortalization of its construction, allowing different styles to coexist: classicists, traditionalists and modernists. We can affirm that his bulletin board, involved in the totalitarian experience known architects, unknown and of any cultural influence, granting, in many cases, that the single professionalism was free to express itself and, eventually, make its contribution to the modern architectural language.

2. The Architecture of Enrico Del Debbio

Returning to the topic in question, this essay intends to examine the architectural vocabulary, by Enrico Del Debbio through the typological-compositional study of one of his works: the “House of the Balilla” in Avellino (Figure 3), regularly forgotten (Figure 4) and object of significant transformations, in the linguistic conception and in the original techniques of the structure, occurred in the course of its history.

Figure 3 GIL house in Avellino 1938.
Figure 4 The current state of Del Debbio’s work.

Enrico Del Debbio was born in Carrara (IT)in 1891, where he graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in 1912. After moving to Rome, he graduated from the Higher School of Architecture in 1917, remaining very attached to the artistic and cultural environment of the capital. In fact, starting from 1920, he began his career as a university professor in the School of Architecture in Rome.
The architect, in addition to designing the complex of the Foro Italico, which remains his most important work, carried out other works of considerable interest whose design testifies to his desire to move away from the rigid academic settings, developing a linguistic system that took into account the contributions of modern architectural culture, recognizable in the buildings for the southern Foresteria (1930) (Figure 5) and for the Colonia Elioterapica (1934 – 1935), as well as in the unrealized project for the Balilla Motherhouse (1933) (Figure 6).

Figure 5 Building of the southern guesthouse of the Foro Italico, Rome 1930.
Figure 6 Project for the Balilla Mother House near the Foro Italico, Rome 1933.

It is important to specify that on behalf of Renato Ricci, president of the
“National Opera Balilla”, Del Debbio, from 1927 to 1934, he is the director of the Building Office of the ONB, so from the early 30s initiates and coordinates the intense construction activity of the Entity, committed to building offices in all the provincial capitals of Italy. As was the case with other public works, this represented an opportunity for a profound renewal of the Italian architectural vocabulary, strongly anchored to academic models and not permeated by that Rationalism, which, otherwise, was spreading throughout Europe, in interventions large audiences and private achievements.

3 The Architecture of the “House of the Balilla” in Avellino
Enrico Del Debbio’s adherence to a compositional code inspired by rationalist models is confirmed in the design and construction of the
“House of the Balilla” in Avellino (1933-1937) or former “Palace GIL” (an acronym for Gioventù Italiana del Littorio).
The complex is located in the centre of the city of Avellino (Italy) in Via Roma, with its decidedly dynamic L-shape, on the surrounding fabric due to the considerable size and the marble covering, in particular the littoria tower. And the local headquarters of the “National Opera Balilla” during the fascist regime and was conceived as a sport and cultural centre for the ideological indoctrination of young people.
In this work, the will to overcome a rigidity in plan and elevation is evident of implant, through a sought asymmetry and a measured play of volumes qualifying the whole complex (Figure 7).

Figure 7 Enrico Del Debbio, axonometry, Avellino 1933.

From the “Corriere dell’ Irpinia”, a local newspaper, of 10 April 1937, day of the inauguration, we report a description of the work: «The built complex consists of two distinct bodies. The advanced body consists of a 20-meter-high tower entirely covered with Carrara marble, with the “arengario” (“arengarius” municipal seat in some cities of upper Italy in the Middle Ages), with a balustrade, also in marble, in front of it. From two wide staircases leads to the first floor where there is a bright and wide entrance hall. The […] flooring is all in marble, as well as in marble is the external and internal plinth of the whole building. A glass-glazed window gives light to the internal staircase and to the atrium of the House […]. Finally, a porticoed aeroplane constitutes the entrance to the discovery gym annexed to the House […]. Attached to the “House of the Balilla” is the Balilla theatre, with a large and comfortable room […]. All offices are furnished with rational and modern furniture adapted to the architecture of the building […]. The technical management of the works has been entrusted and led by Eng. Giuseppe Mallardo. The Galasso company carried out the work […]. Eng. Gaetano Iandoli was the tester for reinforced concrete structures […]. It certainly represents one of the most beautiful constructions of its kind and contributes so much to the aesthetics of building in Avellino, in an area on which the enlargement plan of the capital will develop in the future».
Examining the original drawings, initially preserved in the Del Debbio Archive and kindly granted by the architect Gigliola Del Debbio, currently available in Rome at the MAXXI Archives Architecture Center – National Museum of the XXI Century Arts [2] – we can see how the composition of the whole complex revolves around distribution of parallelepiped blocks offset from each other planimetrically and in height.
It is characterized by three main blocks: the part dedicated to culture, which holds the 800-seat cinema theatre; the conference room and the library with an adjoining reading room; the armoury and garage and the imposing littoria tower (20 m high), which dominates the entire organism. It is marked by an unusual and slight tapering from the middle of its height up to the top generating a perspective illusion that makes it appear taller and slimmer and bore the text of the oath of the Italian Youth of Littorio engraved on the top: “In the name of God and Italy I swear to execute the orders of the Duce and to serve with all my forces and if it is necessary with my blood the cause of the fascist revolution” (Oath of the Italian Youth of Littorio). It is the hinge around which the building blocks revolve and is distinguished as an urban sign erected within the composition characterized, however, by a marked horizontality of typical rationalist imprint (Figure 8 and Figure 9).

Figure 8 Enrico Del Debbio, internal elevation, Avellino 1933.
Figure 9 Enrico Del Debbio, section, Avellino 1933.

This architectural “lighthouse” bore, engraved on the top, the text of the oath of the Italian Youth of the Littorio: «In the name of God and of Italy I swear to carry out the orders of the Duce and to serve with all my strength and if necessary with my blood the cause of the fascist revolution “(Oath of the Italian Youth of Littorio).
The offices body and the cinema-theatre are plastically modelled by volumetric excavations, made possible by the use of a reinforced concrete structural frame – the first made in Avellino – and present in the main entrances, both double-height, in the loggias they face onto Via Roma and on the internal longitudinal front of the theatre for the insertion of the staircase and the stage.
The main building is connected to a small one-storey body, from the L-shaped plan destined to armoury and garage, through a porticoed plane supported by four septa, filter between the adjacent “arengario” of the former Botanical Garden (the current Villa Comunale ) and the internal courtyard of the “House of the Balilla” used as an outdoor gym.
The plan view of the whole complex still refers to a decidedly more dynamic L (Figure 10) shape: the absence of alignments between the symmetry axes of the main buildings, the lictor tower and its semicircular base, the thin connecting slabs, refer to the lecture by Walter Gropius and his most paradigmatic work, namely the Bauhaus building, built-in 1925-26 in Dessau, Germany (Figure 11).

Figure 10 Enrico Del Debbio, ground floor plan, Avellino 1933.
Figure 11 Walter Gropius, Bauhaus, aerial view; 1925-1926. Dessau, Germany,
©commons.wikimedia.org.

Continuing in the description we have that from the entrance of the main building (Figure 12), located about two meters from the road and preceded by the large side stairs to the “littoria” tower, you enter the lobby of the party offices, lit by a large double-height wall in glass block (Figure 13), connected by stairs, covered in white marble also present for all interior flooring, on the first floor and the theatre entrance hall. This last space houses the entrances from Via Roma and from the court and the stairs that lead to the basement and to the rooms below the tower.

Figure 12 Enrico Del Debbio, entrance perspective, Avellino 1933.
Figure 13 Interior first floor.
Figure 14 South facade on Via Roma of the building with emergency exits and the entrance portal of the cinema/theatre.

The south façade on Via Roma of the building is punctuated by regular openings: the emergency exits and the entrance portal to the foyer of the cinema/theatre (Figure 14), the square windows of the offices on the raised floor outlined by thick and linear marble frames, and the loggia on the first floor, whose length is modulated by the pillars of the structure.
Proceeding in the external analysis we have that the cladding of white-veined Carrara marble of the lictor tower is pierced by small windows and by the balcony for the assemblages; illuminating the internal staircase, the large glass wall, framed in the structural frame, distinguishes, with the entrance to the foyer and the three first floor windows, strictly square in shape, the façade of the office building overlooking the internal courtyard. Finally, windows of the same dimensions are located on the ground floor of the cinema/theatre, whose regular layout is interrupted by the service entrance to the dressing rooms and the stage (Figure 15).

Figure 15 External view north of the cinema with the service entrance to the dressing rooms and the stage.

The delicate structural frame, revealed in many points of the building, contrast with the thick masonry walls of tufa blocks, the solid coating on the base – decided sign of the marked horizontality of the whole complex – and the strict frames of the windows, both in Carrara marble.

4 Treatments
From the work on Enrico Del Debbio written by Enrico Valeriani here, we report a significant step that outlines further the signature style of the architect: «unlike others, for example, a Piacentini, Del Debbio cannot be defined as an architect of the regime. And especially not in terms of ideological, as it has not made architecture a tool of power. Its architecture is instead the direct result of that type of culture in which the experience of post-Risorgimento romanticism, through the harmless subversion futurist, and the suggestions of the floral and the levels rationalists ended up consumed in the Second World War» [3].
We should also mention what has been analyzed on the “Casa del Balilla” in Avellino (later G.I.L.) by Maria Luisa Neri, through the most recent monograph on the Carrarese architect: «The underlying traditionalist trend line expressed by this architecture [cf. the “House of the Balilla” in Agrigento] without decorative adjectives, precisely because of the subtractions to which it is submitted, summarizes all the categories that will lead to the progressive abstraction developed in the following years. Abstraction is is evident in the “House of the Balilla” in Avellino. This, as a visible sign of the new way of educating young people spiritually and physically, finds its place in the area of expansion of the city according to the provisions of the regulatory plan drawn up by Cesare Valle, in a large, healthy area at the limits of the existing city: the building is built in the “district of studies”, next to the Villa Comunale transformed into public gardens» [4].

5 Conclusions
These considerations confirm the search for the compositional key used by Del Debbio in the project of the “House of the Balilla” in Avellino, where a measured volumetric game and skilful dimensional control of the interior spaces, return the image of an architecture proportioned in the single bodies of which it is composed and as a whole, and also with respect to the context in which it is inserted. In our building the control of the form does not reject the innovative contributions, cancelling articulated compositional rules concerning orders, overlap and juxtaposition of orders, the measures of the pillars with respect to the heights, the dimensions of the “noble floor” compared to the underlying ones and overhead; but the most comforting thing is the triumph of the volumetric three-dimensionality on the two-dimensionality that contributes to forming it. The architectural composition transmits new messages and words, it fully enters the code of the modern movement, it imports the rationalist codes of Le Corbusier and, as mentioned, of Gropius, the neoplasticism of J.J.P. Oud, the rigour and essentiality of Mies van der Rohe and, on the creative level of Giuseppe Terragni: a new one that is sensitive to spatial articulations and to the continuum between building and landscape.
Finally, our building is also shown as an architecture able to dialogue and relate with the existing minor building and with that built in the post-war period, such as the building of the Civil Engineers, the public housing district (INA Casa) and the Irpino Museum, the latter designed by the architect Francesco Fariello (a student of Del Debbio), but who has not managed to hold unsuitable interventions of the second half of the 50s, which have partially disfigured the volumes. But it was above all the overall image of the building to be irreparably compromised by the suffocating presences of the post-earthquake, which, by modifying the original interiors and the surrounding external spaces, have altered its image and function.
The recent restoration work, restoring the original configuration of the entire complex, freeing it from intrusive additions, intended to restore the dignity subtracted overtime to the building, as well as one of the rare examples of rationalist architecture in the city.
Philippe Daverio concludes by saying: «what remains of all that building path of the twenty years of fascism that suffered the “damnatio memorial” and return today to be examples of architecture; of the prototype of that aesthetic that we called fascist from 1911 before the war and 11 years before the march on Rome. It was that architecture built to last over the centuries, in fact it did not age and it was not fascist and it became a majestic international model and today we replaced it with the ephemeral constructions due to the appetite of the speculators entrepreneurs and the cementifiers and … .. end of history!» [5].

Bibliographic notes:
[1] Episode of the Passepartout, Non-Fascist Fascist Architecture, by Philippe Daverio, aired on 10-8- 08 on RAI.
[2]http://inventari.fondazionemaxxi.it/AriannaWeb/main.htm#128920_archivio.
[3] Enrico Valeriani, Del Debbio, Editalia Rome, 1976, p. 16.
[4] Exhibition, Enrico Del Debbio architect. The measure of modernity, Rome, National Gallery of Modern Art, 07.12.2006 – 04.02.2007, Enrico Del Debbio’s catalog of Maria Luisa, Idea Books, Milan, 2006, p. 139.
[5] Philippe Daverio, Non-Fascist Fascist Architecture, op. cit ..

References
M. Guccione, D.Pesce, E. Reale, Enrico Del Debbio, a guide in the archives of architecture in Rome and Lazio, Gangemi Editor, Rome 2008;
Giuseppe Pagano, Architecture and City during Fascism (by Cesare de Seta), Editorial Jaca Book SpA, Milan 2008;
Marcello Piacentini, Il Foro Mussolini in Rome. Arch. Enrico Del Debbio, in “Architecture”, issue II, Rome, February 1933.
Enrico Valeriani, Del Debbio, Editalia Rome, 1976.

Current address:

Abeti Maurizio
Professor of the Course in History of Contemporary Art and Applied Arts
Universitas Mercatorum / Department of History of contemporary art and applied arts -
Piazza Mattei, 10 - 00186 Rome (Italy)
email: maurizio.abeti@unimercatorum.it

Carullo Pellegrino
Research Doctor, phd
University of Salerno – Italy
pcarullo@unisa.it
condividi :
Il dolce calore delle stufe di montagna
16/12/2005
In Sardegna: antiche tradizioni e tecnologia
23/12/2008