ABETI Maurizio e CARULLO Pellegrino
ARGOMENTI DI ARCHITETTURA ISSN 1591-3171 N. 8/2021
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 center 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 sports and cultural center for the ideological indoctrination of young people.
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.
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 center 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 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». 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 Casa del Balilla di 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.
Enrico Del Debbio was born in Carrara 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).
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. L’Architettura della “Casa del Balilla” di Avellino
Enrico Del Debbio’s adherence to a compositional code inspired by rationalist models is confirmed in the design and construction of the “Casa del Balilla” in Avellino (1933-1937). The complex is located in the center of the city of Avellino (Italy), in Via Roma, and imposes itself, with its decidedly dynamic L-shape, on the surrounding fabric due to the considerable size and the marble cladding, in particular of the lictorian tower. It was the local headquarters of the Opera Nazionale Balilla during the fascist regime and was conceived of the Opera Nazionale Balilla as a sporting and cultural center for the ideological indoctrination of young people. a rigidity of the system, through a refined asymmetry and a measured play of volumes qualifying the whole complex (Figure 7).
From the “Corriere dell’Irpinia” of 10 April 1937, day of the inauguration, we report a description of the work: «Il casamento consists of two distinct bodies. The advanced body consists of a 20-meter-high tower entirely covered with Carrara marble, with the arengarium, 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 airplane constitutes the entrance to the discovery gym annexed to the House […]. Attached to the Casa del Balilla is the Balilla theater, 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». From the “Corriere dell’Irpinia” of 10 April 1937, day of the inauguration, we report a description of the work: «Il casamento consists of two distinct bodies. The advanced body consists of a 20-meter-high tower entirely covered with Carrara marble, with the arengarium, 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 airplane constitutes the entrance to the discovery gym annexed to the House […]. Attached to the Casa del Balilla is the Balilla theater, 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». – we can see how the composition of the The whole complex revolves around a distribution of parallelepiped blocks offset from each other planimetrically and in height. It is therefore characterized by three main blocks: the part dedicated to culture, which houses the 800-seat cinema-theater; the conference room and the library with adjoining reading room; the armory and garage and the imposing lictorian tower (20 m high), which, completely covered in marble, stands out over the entire body (Figure 8).
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 (Figures 9/10).
The main building is connected to a small single-storey body, with an L-shaped plan intended for armory and garage, by means of an air porch supported by four partitions, a filter between the sandstone adjacent to the former Botanical Garden (the current Villa Comunale) and the internal courtyard of the Casa del Balilla, used as an outdoor gym. The vision of the plan of the entire complex still refers to a decidedly more dynamic L-shape (Figure 11): the absence of alignments between the axes of symmetry of the main buildings, the lictorian tower and its semicircular base, the thin slabs of connection, refer to the lesson of Walter Gropius and to his most paradigmatic work, namely the Bauhaus building, built in 1925-26 in Dessau in Germany (Figure 12).
Continuing in the description we have that from the entrance of the main building (Figures 13/14), 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 (Figures 15/16), connected by stairs, covered in white marble also present for all interior flooring, on the first floor and the theater foyer. 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.
LThe 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/theater (Figure 17), 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/theater, whose regular layout is interrupted by the service entrance to the dressing rooms and the stage (Figure 18).
The delicate structural frame, revealed in many points of the building, contrasts 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. 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 ideology, 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 romance post of the resurgence, through the harmless subversions futurist, and the suggestions of the floral and the levels rationalists ended up consumed in the Second World War.». We should also mention what has been analyzed on the Casa del Balilla di 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 Casa del Balilla of 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 evident in the House of the table of 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.».
These considerations confirm the search for the compositional key used by Del Debbio in the project of the Casa del Balilla di Avellino, where a measured volumetric game and skillful 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, canceling 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 rigor 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 INA Casa district, 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 memoriae 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, it was not fascist, it became a courtly international model and today we replaced it with the ephemeral constructions due to the appetite of the “palazzinari” and the cementitious and … .. the end of history!».
- Episode of the Passepartout, Non-Fascist Fascist Architecture, by Philippe Daverio, aired on 10-8-08 on RAI 3, January 8, 2014;
- Enrico Valeriani, Del Debbio, Editalia Rome, 1976, p. 16;
- Exhibition Enrico Del Debbio architetect, 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;
- Philippe Daverio, Non-Fascist Fascist Architecture; pp. cit..
– Enrico Del Debbio, entry in Guide to the archives of architecture in Rome and Lazio, edited by Marghreta Guccione, Daniela Pesce, Elisabetta Reale, Gangemi Editore, Rome 2008;
– Giuseppe Pagano, Architettura e città durante il fascismo (a cura di Cesare de Seta), Editoriale Jaca Book SpA, Milano 2008;
– Giuseppe Pagano, Architecture and the city during fascism (edited by Cesare de Seta), Editorial Jaca Book SpA, Milan 2008;
– Enrico Valeriani, Del Debbio, Editalia Roma, 1976.
Maurizio Abeti, PhD_MSc
Professor of the History of Contemporary Art and Applied Arts Course
Square Mattei, 10
00186 Rome (Italy)
Pellegrino Carullo, PhD
University of Salerno
Via Giovanni Paolo II, 132 84084 Fisciano (SA) – Italy