Luigi Vietti. Creative Disposition

Paola Veronica Dell'Aira

None of us has ever designed a rational house

Luigi Vietti

Fil vert
A “green” … thread runs through modern architecture, from its very beginnings at the start of the last century. The “red” one is better known, stronger, and dominant. Importance is associated with the color. And the “fil rouge” is indeed progress.
And thus the “Movimento” is born. It was important to be compact in the early 1900s when many were the reforms to be realized, and promoted aloud. The eyes of many, in fact, “did not see”, as Le Corbusier said, or preferred to wait, rely upon the known. The stylistic revival was a convenient refuge, so easy and inviting, because of the historical respect and the unquestioned approval ratings, so as to be almost unmovable. The past, however, was the great pitfall: safe, free of risks, but also with no openings. Because engineering reached its arms out beyond its field of discipline. Careful! Messieurs les architectes, was its armed cry in  L’Art décoratif d’aujord’hui1 and the “trois rappels” of Vers une architecture, because you are soon to be crushed rather than grasping its elevating force, its redeeming power. Yes, because architecture, in that transition between centuries, 1800 and 1900, was being divested of its role: shallowness, not depth; ornament, not structure; form rather than technique. The relation history-design did not yield the desired results. What then to do? It was essential to take up arms. And in the end, be on the wrong side: disavow, strike, break free, rather than grasp the “translate” to the present, as in fact relying on “tradition” seeks in place of the anti-constructive repetition of mannerism. It was a glorious wrong, of course, the wrong of one who had exposed oneself by being in the front line of a crusade, at the cost of heavy criticism. Here then the “the best of the class”, the Hilberseimer, the Mies Van der Rohe, the Le Corbusier … Here are the Manifestos, the CIAM, the foundational texts, the Werkbund and the Mostre dell’Abitazione, the slogans. "A house for all", "less is more", the "form follows function", and the "existenzminimum". Ideology often had the upper hand. Positivist philosophy was the faith. The standard was the objective; the technical update was an obligation.
But spreading among the ranks of the major exponents of the battle, however, and within their very souls, was a doubt: can existence ever be a minimum?
Before the revision of the Modern Movement, before Team X, before the “Tendenza” architecture and the existentialist regeneration, uncertainty among the “mainstream” leaders was forcing us to ponder: Häring, Frank, Stam, Taut, Markelius...
The green line did not forget life.

“Architecture begins where engineering ends,” Gropius argued, while Le Corbusier warned: the Modulor is like a well-tuned piano, so it's up to you to play it well, he said, and if he realized that his plans and measurements generated uncritical and dogmatic assumptions, he would dispose of them with great detachment: «To hell with the Modulor! When it doesn't work, you shouldn't use it»2.
But then why such an outcry before the form of things? Why such condemnation of inspiration and search for the image? Wasn't then beauty the real challenge? “Errors of the modern,” says Franco Purini3 today. In fact, at the time, a too cerebral space had been theorized and living environments conceived as ideal constructs; we have departed from things, from adherence to contexts, to humans, to facts, and to society. The architect immersed in the “Movimento” was the solitary genius.
Now looking more specifically to Italy.
Subscribing to rationalism is sincere and convinced. It is extensive and compact. One adheres to theses and principles, one is committed to the manuals, with CIRPAC (International Committee for the Solution of Problems in Contemporary Architecture, executive branch of CIAM) one takes an active part in organizing conventions, participates and decides.
1927: Figini, Pollini, Frette, Larco, Rava, Terragni, Castagnoli, united in founding “Gruppo Sette”, Libera joins them and the group is officially constituted as MIAR (Movimento Italiano per l’Architettura Razionale, Italian Movement for Rational Architecture).
Luigi Vietti joins the team. He participates, in particular, as Italian delegate, with Bottoni and Pollini, in CIAM's Third Congress, in Bruxelles, 1930; called: Rationelle Bebauungsweisen. The promoted discussion, that third reunion, after La Sarraz and Frankfurt, respectively dedicated to the announcement of the Manifesto and to the theme of Existenzminimum, focuses on the topic of height. “Low-, Mid- or High-Rise Building?” is the question posed by Gropius and Giedion. The answer being that it is to be an evaluation freed from a strict contextual reasoning. Building higher guarantees definite economic advantages, as well as exhibiting the potentiality and boldness of the new technologies, steel and concrete.
Vietti agrees, but up to a point.
«How can we say whether high or low, wide or narrow, concentrated or scattered houses are more beautiful if we do not know if and what individuals find themselves better in this or that house and whether these houses better meet the urban needs of the city?»4.

In other words, it should be dictated by the individual traits of the site. Confirming this is the hypotheses formulated with the Genoese rationalists (Morozzo Della Rocca, Fuselli, Daneri, Haupt, Fineschi, Crosa di Vergagni, Nicoli, Zappa), at the Fifth Triennale in Milan, in 1933, in the planning of the House with steel structures (Casa alta genovese, Genoes High House). The choice was an easily replicated, sectional, adaptive Module. The choice was that of a building “segment”, in place of a single architecture, combined with a judicious strategy in the difficult Ligurian terrain. Hence: the internal reasoning of the technical solution as long as it does not exceed the "reasonableness". The "rational" must be articulated.
Vietti helps, with his colleagues, in organizing MIAR, though not adhering from the start; in Roma, he is among the ranks of the committed to the cause and participates, presented by Giovannoni, in the Prima Esposizione di Architettura Razionale (1928; First Exhibition of Rational Architecture), the Seconda (1931, the Second) and the Esposizione di Architettura Razionale in Florence (1932, Exhibition of Rational Architecture in Florence); as of 1937, he is the co-planner of EUR, appointed by Mussolini, along with Pagano, Piccinato, Rossi and Piacentini.
Here is the point. From his contact with Piacentini a doubt arises. Yes, because the idea of a constructive, formal, figurative “code” does not convince him at all. Despite the heated debate within the team appointed for the E42, the stylistic direction to be adopted, implicitly imposed, is the one sponsored by Piacentini, the appointed technical coordinator of the entire project. What to do? Bow out? Never! The Regime wants to appear unified. And among the new recruits there is, above all, the desire to work. Thus, quitting is not good. Better to “give a nod”. For Vietti, «(...) an architecture» is “rationalist” when it «corresponds to the problem posed, with actual, necessary and adequate elements, inserted in its context, commensurate with the client's needs and request»5. The green thread can proceed undisturbed without necessitating becoming opposition.

Wise compromise.
The regime has its representative aims and propagandistic concerns. With glories, victories, fitness and culture, are raised triumphal monuments, littorie houses, colonies, exposition buildings… staying on topic implies flexibility and disenchantment. Going against, on the other hand, opposing greatness and prevaricating forms, can hurt people, eliminating symbols, but also the indispensable social utilities, the houses, the infrastructures, and services.
Goodwill and the ability to take up “team” topics, even when not sharing their aims or their character, proves itself an organic unity in relation to: contexts, circumstances, and people. In the period of the regime, Vietti took on important institutional duties. For the Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione (Ministry of Education), he managed legislation for the protection of the environment,  patrimony and landscapes; he is then nominated Direttore della Sovrintendenza alle Belle Arti (Director of the Superintendency of Fine Arts) and Honorary Inspector for the Regione Liguria. There is, furthermore, a delicate issue: the headquarters of political representation. Between 1932 and 1933, Vietti designed the Headquarters of the Gruppo Nazionale Fascista Giordana (Giordana Fascist National Group) and Intra Casa del Fascio. With Ignazio Gardella, in 1934, he designs the Casa del Fascio in Oleggio. With Carminati, Lingeri, Nizzoli, Saliva, Sironi and Terragni, he participates in the Competition for the Palazzo Littorio di Roma, in via dell’Impero and, in 1935, for the Nuovo Auditorium, near the Terme di Caracalla. In 1937, furthermore, is his project for the Casa del Fascio in Rapallo, competition organized by the Federazione Provinciale dei Fasci di Combattimento (Provincial Federation of Fascist Combatants); in 1938, is his project for the Confederazione Fascista dei Commercianti (Fascist Confederation of Merchants).
Everything seems fully congenial. Yet, the true research is the one he carries out alongside the celebratory clamor. Since his graduation exam, Vietti, conveniently, renounces his first proposal. «I was told that with such a project I would have gotten the lowest marks. I left then for military service, which for me was a positive period of reflection. I believed I could work on a “spontaneous” architecture, in the adaptive meaning of the term, that is, reasonably suited to the sites. I could obtain a good mark without disowning my baggage of rationalist architecture. I created a project based on the spontaneous architecture of Lake Maggiore; which was a great success. Since then I have always believed in the combination of two things: rationality and spontaneity. (...) the elements of rationalist architecture became “fixed”, architects played with it (...) furthermore I thought of all the experience of spontaneous architecture in our country (......)»6.

A combination of two things, then: red thread and green thread in a free parallelism.
Next to the Modulo di Casa Alta Genovese, at the Fifth Triennale in Milan (1933), is the “sobriety of forms” and the “happy naturalness”7 of Stamberga for 12 skiers.
Next to the Littorie houses, are the houses of life, the numerous projects that of “rationalist” almost only have the outside look, inspired for the most part by the “machinist” motives, “naval” hints as Le Corbusier suggested it was. Otherwise, the quality of their existence internally, was valid, as  principle factor in any definition,  «(…) from a sensibility uncontaminated by nebulous theories, from a live consciousness of the principles that uphold the architecture of (…) the times», was born Villa Wanda di Stresa (restoration and expansion of a pre-existing chalet), acquiring a new cement casing rigorously painted with garden terrace and spacious horizontal openings, in a maximum intensification of the relation inside-outside, wholesomeness, transparency, views, but nevertheless, «A house to live in, not a theoretical house»8.

There is Villa La Roccia in Cannobio, a continuous evolution of an initial “house model” (villa on a rock spur) which, from the modifications by Vietti himself, became an inseparable outgrowth of the underlying promontory. But there are, above all, houses of local tradition, those "observant" towards the sedimented landscape, those that employ the wisdom and the “warmth” of the autochthonous materials and techniques, those conscious of the vernacular, even though busy producing the necessary updates. Thus should his many architectures be read which, albeit small, are large in their message of innovative planning, yet absolutely anti-ideological. Here then Casa "Il Ronco" in Pedemonte di Gravellona Toce (1930); yes, it is a “model house”, but only as a starting point, far from an end: an industrializable product, certainly, a maison minimum, from the small modular dimensions, serial with wooden plank cladding, squared windowing of which, the large one in the living room, separated into glass bi-fold panels. Nonetheless, Alvar Aalto would say, a house endowed with "unfinished moments", such as the knotted rope in lieu of a handrail, moments «(...) which allow the limiting effects of standardization to be mitigated by activating the culturally more positive aspects»9. Once again Villa di Ugo Nebbia in Mulinetti (1938), far from any purist rhetoric: a shelter-house, egg shaped, with a large elliptic fireplace inside, sloping roof, wooden porch, and walls painted pink following a losange pattern, typical of fishermen's houses.

Ludus, entertainment, recreation. "Never forget to play" declared Aalto.
Beside the grand fascist symbol in Via dell’Impero a Roma, is the loisir and sport of the numerous club and bathing establishment projects: Spiaggia di Santa Margherita Ligure (1932), Aeroclub di Cameri (1933), Allestimento della Mostra del Mare a Genova (1936), Club sul Lago in Cannobio (1937).
In the grandiose E42 district, there is a “border line” swatch. Following the elaboration of the Plan, directed by Piacentini, having to select a portion to explore, Vietti carved out a space of his own, far from interference and demagogic errors: the Project for the Amusement Park, a personal exercise to distance himself from the weight of official architecture. «(...) when I was asked what I wished to do, within E42, I thought of a sector not under Piacentini's superintendence, that is to say the sector of “non permanent architecture. I said "I want to cover the fun and entertainment section",  which occupied about a fourth of E42. It was a new, fantastic city, with inventions of all kinds… the planets, the moon, Mars, roadways, airways, funiculars, canals, pavilions (…). And then a large statue one could enter and inspect, from the inside, the human body»10.

Thus, in his poetics, the features of indulgence, philanthropy and inclusiveness are fixed. The "permissive" categories make their way, inspired by fine taste, desire, memory, affection, and kitsch. The typologies of the condemned "disengagement," in fact, are not to be banned. On the contrary: the current of enjoyment and spare time is side by side with research dedicated to vacation architecture: hotels, restaurants, seaside or mountain villas. The Restaurant and Ballroom project, in Corso Italia in Genoa (1936), the Teatro alla Foce (1937), the hotel projects of 1937: the Delfino in Portofino, the hotel in San Fruttuoso, the Nord-Est of Santa Margherita Ligure, all configurations shaped on the territories they belong to, and at the same time, free, imaginative and even eclectic.
The imaginary is thrust open. But there is nothing to explain, to soften, to justify. Nothing is healthier and more virtuous than listening: the client, the end user, finance, the environment. This data, quasi-objective, is accompanied by a world of perceptions, emotions, and secret desires...
The Second World War leaves a mark. Rebuild? For which humanity? For which faith? In the name of what?
Villa dei Sette Camini in Cortina (1940-44), casts a long shadow. «In this house by Vietti, so different from his others, there is the continuity of his spirit of observation, gradually deepening since his first experiences of Villa La Roccia (...)»11. The current of holiday homes expands and, beginning in the 1960s, that of large projects in Sardinia. Here he builds Porto Cervo, commissioned by Prince Karim Aga Khan, Hotel Pitrizza in Liscia di Vacca, Hotel Cervo. These are the most significant episodes in his research on the theme of spontaneous architecture. Vietti is ready to clarify that this does not disavow modernity, it is not sign of a break with respect to his previous work, but rather its enrichment supported by the most relative and subjective motives, those that always render works new and unimagined, and so even more modern the more “unbounded” and extreme.

1 Vedi Le Corbusier (1923 e 1925) - Vers une architecture, Parigi, e L’Art décoratif d’aujourd’hui et “la loi du ripolin”, Paris.
2 Le Corbusier, Le Modulor, 1945, in H. Allen Brooks et al., Le Corbusier, 1887-1965, Electa, Miland, 1987.
3 Purini F. (2015) - Tre errori moderni, Edizioni Arianna, Geraci.
4 Vietti L. (1933) - I piani di organizzazione delle città moderne, in «Il Secolo XIX», Genova, 13 february.
5 Vietti L. (1992) - Intervista, 1992, in PV. Dell’Aira (1997) Luigi Vietti, Progetti e realizzazioni degli anni ‘30, Alinea Florence.
6 Vietti L. (1928) - Complesso Alberghiero sul Lago Maggiore, Degree Thesis.
7 Albini F. (1933) - La stamberga dei 12 sciatori, in «Domus», october.
8 Podestà A. (1938) - Gli incanti di una villa nell’incanto di Stresa, in «Domus», january.
9 Aalto A. (1935) - Il razionalismo e l’uomo, in «The Architectural Forum», september.
10 Vietti L. (1992) - Intervista, 1992, in PV. Dell’Aira, op. cit.
11 Pagani C. (1941) - Lo stile di Vietti, in «Lo Stile».


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