Milanese rationalism

The cradle of Italian modern architecture, Milan is the city that gave rise to the original nucleus of Italian Rationalism, traditionally identified by scholars of the sector with the creation in 1926 of “Gruppo 7” (composed of young and even very young recent graduates and students at the city’s Polytechnic: Luigi Figini and Gino Pollini, Guido Frette, Sebastiano Larco, Carlo Enrico Rava, Giuseppe Terragni and Ubaldo Castagnoli, later replaced by Adalberto Libera) and the subsequent publication – in 1926-27 – of a series of articles they wrote for the magazine Rassegna italiana, which as a whole can be seen as the first manifesto of this architectural current. Launched with the aim of promoting the principles of the Modern Movement in Italy, Gruppo 7 proposed a new architecture that would have to emerge “from a strict adherence to logic, to rationality … the perfect correspondence between the structure of the building and the purposes it serves,” which would result in the “style” of the construction. Though many architects from other cities soon joined the ranks of the original group, such as those from Rome already gathered in 1928 in the context of the nascent M.I.A.R. (an acronym for Movimento Italiano per l’Architettura Razionale), Milan remained the constant point of reference for Rationalism in our country, also thanks to the central role played by the specialized magazines that gravitated around the city, and then became the official organs of Rationalism itself: on the one hand, there was La Casa Bella (founded in Turin in 1928, but soon moved to Milan and renamed Casabella under the aegis, starting in 1933, of Giuseppe Pagano Pogatschnig and Edoardo Persico); on the other, there was Quadrante, published by initiative of Massimo Bontempelli and Pier Maria Bardi, again starting in 1933. Both magazines flourished in the lively context of Milanese publishing in those years. Precisely this energized cultural scene provided the Rationalists with the first opportunities for their international debut: at the Monza Biennials (forerunners of the Milan Triennale) various works were shown, such as the project for the Officine del Gas by Terragni (1927) and the Casa Elettrica of Figini & Pollini in collaboration with Piero Bottoni (1930). Terragni and his friend Pietro Lingeri were behind the construction of one of the first Rationalist masterpieces, Casa Rustici on Corso Sempione (1933-1935), with its surprising bridge balconies, avant-garde experiments in the field of construction technology at the time, but also an erudite reinterpretation of one of the typical characteristics of Milanese buildings, namely the balcony accessways.

A dual spirit, across modernity and tradition, characterized the movement from the outset – especially in Milan – sanctioning a certain distance from international models identified with the legacy of masters like Le Corbusier or Mies van der Rohe, because the ties to history are vividly present in all the works. “There is no incompatibility between our past and our present – said Figini and his comrades in the 1920s. – We do not want to break with tradition; it is the tradition that transforms itself and assumes new guises in which few are able to recognize it.” A dual spirit, then, that can also be found in the second generation of Milanese Rationalism, coinciding with the period of postwar reconstruction, whose apex came in the controversial Torre Velasca by BBPR (1950-1958): a cause of scandal at the CIAM (Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne) in Otterlo in 1959, during which precisely the works of the Italian school (we can also mention Casa Arosio by Vico Magistretti) contributed to decree the official defeat of the Modern Movement.