Milan’s design culture: life stories as told by the Franco Albini Foundation

31 July 2019

Franco Albini: the city

“Architecture is like our conscience. There’s always a moral problem at the root of architecture”,
Franco Albini, 1954

Franco Albini was deeply committed to the field of social housing.

“This was a mandatory field for Albini … as if he were taking a moral stance in a battle in which he takes part because the most onerous commitments of his profession cannot be ignored …”
(Matilde Baffa, La Casa e la Città Razionalista in “Zero Gravity. Franco Albini. Costruire le modernità”, La Triennale di Milano and Electa SpA, Milan 2006).

Albini’s pre-war social housing architecture was informed by references to a European culture still unaffected by the prevailing mood and the rigorous preparation of typological schemes that followed precise distribution and aggregation rules.

The specific nature of his contribution to the post-war architectural field allows us to identify a fresh and precise approach to design matters, a very real “challenge.”

Gabriele D'Annunzio District, 1939

“Architects forced to deliver their architecture within the constraints of a rigid economy and without the necessary and indispensible poetry that touches of greenery could lend … the planners had to contend with the mass of technical regulations set out for Italian social housing, both in terms of the size of windows, the height and number of floors and the type of balconies and window-ledges etc. This largely explains the underwhelming aspect of these houses and their air of bureaucratic poverty compared with the previous ones.” […]

“We have already seen … the Fabio Filzi district designed by the same group of architects for the same institute. In both these districts (E. Ponti and G. D’Annunzio) the problem arose and was solved in the same manner, i.e. by settling for a simple, rational development plan for homes of four and five storeys above ground, doing away with a more complete arrangement, as in other future districts of Milan.”

G. Pagano, Due Quartieri Popolari a Milano, in “Costruzioni Casabella”, 178, October 1942

The project for the district is an example of how urban plans and rigidly pre-fixed layouts can be adapted in line with the heliothermal axis. This can be obtained by scaling down the length of the buildings. It is one of those interventions carried out while the war was in full flood, when air raid shelters were provided for in the basements of buildings at the design stage. It was a solution adopted for some of these buildings in particular, due to the marked scarcity of iron, as it would not be required for this type of shelter.

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