Architectural theory and practice in 1950s Italy

The Long 1950s series gets to its chapter about Architecture. The professor of the Xi’An Jaotong – Liverpool University Paolo Scrivano, hosted by the McGill University and the Canadian Centre for Architecture, presented his research about the evolution of Italian architecture in the postwar years. On February 7th, professor Scrivano gave his talk “Between the “Educated” and the “Popular”: Italian Architecture in the Postwar Years” at the McGill Wendy Patrick Room, while on February 8th 2017 he presented “Architecture in the Face of Italy’s Postwar Change” in conversation with the director of the CCA Mirko Zardini and the public (you see some pictures of the event below).

In postwar Italy, the reconstruction of buildings and cities was a central phenomena and one may think that architects played a key-role in this process. However, as professor Paolo Scrivano argues, although architects tried to interpret the needs of the people, they could not go beyond the gap that divided them, intellectual class, from the popular culture and mass production.

Professor Scrivano’s contribution to our series tries to explain this gap, whereas it is not possible to give definitive answers. In the process of reconstruction, architects faced the competition of engineers and surveyors. The building licenses assigned to architects were generally as not many as those assigned to the other figures just mentioned. The reason for this difference is still not clear. Were architects reluctant of projecting and building popular housing? Were the features of these projects (technological level of innovation, economic costs) leaving architects’ specialization aside?

The architects who worked in the aftermath of the war had studied and grown up in the years of the regime. This relationship rises important issues of continuity and discontinuity that influenced the style of these intellectuals. How can architects be modernist and break with the past if the architectural style in the previous years was shaped by modernism itself?

These intellectuals, lost between continuity and discontinuity, seemed to be not good at understanding the dynamic of change that involved Italian masses. In this regard, architects’ story is resonant with the more common one related to Italian writers of those years. The compelling question behind this resonance is how different kinds of Italian intellectuals of that time were unable to understand the people. And the answer to this complex question lies in the space between continuity and discontinuity, the influence of Fascism on the new born Italian society.

You can listen to Paolo Scrivano’s talks held at McGill and at the CCA in our Podcast page.

 

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