Palazzine in via Cortina d’Ampezzo

June 11, 2012 § 1 Comment

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Here’s a Nervi project that didn’t make any of the books…

A few years ago I came into a copy of the Nervi office brochure from about 1973. It was pretty clearly designed to woo potential clients, and it had a variety of projects that were industrial, commercial, or institutional. Just one sports stadium, and it was a late one in Novara–none of the Rome Olympic work. Water towers, factories, a bank in Venice, and two that seemed particularly interesting for completely opposite reasons.

One was a highway-straddling rest stop outside of Padua that probably won’t get documented this year— giant double cantilevered concrete tube over the traffic lanes with the restaurant inside. Bombastic, auto-scale, super-tour de force kind of stuff,

And then there was this eons–a small apartment block in a Roman suburb. The two Gage’s n the brochure had almost no text–just a short description saying it had been built for a speculative developer and built with an unnamed residential design specialist. No fancy structural gymnastics’ just a fairly ordinary (if pretty refined) take on the standard suburban Italian four-story free-standing flat building.

I’m not sure there’s a good story here, though certainly the flat slab construction is as efficient as can be. It’s certainly well detailed, but it’s almost shockingly modest. Nervi designed it in conjunction with his architect brother, Antonio, and it was built in 1963-64. I don’t know of any other housing that the office did, though given the lack of attention Nervi gave this project, it’s possible that this was a (probably lucrative) sideline.

Totally unknown Nervi project? I had to find it. Cortina d’Ampezzo is a long road in the hills north of the city, lined with apartment blocks that are almost all the same scale and mass. There is, fortunately, a bus from Piazza Mancini, but the road itself goes on…and on. It took me two tries, and some divination from Google Earth, but I found it, at the corner of a small side street called Via Valdieri. It’s in good shape, though it’s occupants have understandably personalized it a bit. Worth the trip? Maybe. It has some nice moments–super shallow slab balconies and a well-detailed ceramic tile exterior. Definitely not threatening anything else in the canon, but an interesting bit of very normal residential design that shows the Nervi office was capable of fairly simple things as well. I suspect that’s the main reason it ended up in the office catalogue: you can imagine a client being reassured by something they recognized, and that looked in-budget…

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§ One Response to Palazzine in via Cortina d’Ampezzo

  • Kim Clawson says:

    Hello Tom,

    It is great that you are seeking out these forgotten works. I’m confident that eventually you will find a few lost gems.

    You said you don’t know if there is a story there, but there is one I see, and that is it of value for young architects (your students) to know that noted architects spend a great deal of there careers on projects of little note, and they should not despair, but should give each their best effort, using the lessons from the more humble projects to sharpen their professional skills.

    When I first moved to Chicago I had the good fortune to be given a copy of the list of works by Louis Sullivan that had been compiled by Richard Nickel, John Vinci and I believe an architectural historian (a woman named Katherine Sullivan??). I went around to all the various neighborhoods (some were safest to visit early on Sunday mornings…if even then) and looked at them. They were both humble and respectable buildings, and it was interesting to see the types of projects he had to take on during the economic downturns of the late 1800s. Sadly, many are now demolished.

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