Historical context of the Casa Sperimentale

The very context of Italy after World War II was itself a rapidly changing environment. Italy was a newly formed republic, after the abolishment of its monarchy in 1946, with the demise of the ruling fascist party and death of Mussolini just one year prior, over the following decade Italy became a founding member of NATO, joined the UN, and experienced a rapid economic growth. An expansion so rapid it registered as the fastest growing economy in Europe, dubbed the ‘Economic Miracle’ this economic expansion was to continue throughout the next two decades. During this time, society had started to modernise, as the wealth gap between rich and poor increased, amidst the background implementation of the ‘INA Casa’ Plan (1949–1963)—an ambitious government instigated housing plan designed to provide much needed employment and accommodation. Through leading architects of the time such as Arnaldo Foschini, Filiberto Guala, and Adalberto Libera, the face of many cities was altered whilst making a positive effect on living conditions. To replace the housing stock lost to wartime bombing raids some two million units were constructed. As such, part of the discourses in housing design of the time was interested in standardisation and prefabrication.

The APAO, the Association of Organic Architecture was founded in 1944 by the Italian architectural historian Bruno Zevi. Together with Giuseppe Perugini they developed a seven-point plan of how to approach architectural design and develop a novel approach towards architecture that did not rely on elements of composition and order; in clear opposition to what they were seeing in the fascist heritage in Italy after World War II. The often-misunderstood term ‘Organic Architecture’—made popular in Zevi’s seminal book ‘Towards an Organic Architecture’ first published in Italy in 1945—does not refer to a specific formal expression of architecture. Rather it examines the design process as an organic process following a set of terms leading to an architecture that can be understood as a result of a natural process. “The structure (is) like an organism that grows in accord with the law of its own individual existence, with its own specific order, in harmony with its own functions and with its environment, like a plant or and other living organism.” (Zevi, Towards and Organic Architecture, p.69). Zevi introduced terms like anti-composition, four-dimensional composition etc. into architectural design processes in order to achieve an architecture that could be understood in close relation with the occupant and the surrounding landscape—resulting in a spatial arrangement that is able to react to its inhabitation, with an openness of design at its centre.

In the context of a developing architectural debate of the 1950–1970’s Zevi attempted to place the APAO at the centre of discourse in Italy. Yet the undetermined formal framework of the seven points presented was inconsistent. Fragmented and riddled by contradictions this framework, over time, caused the APAO to lose momentum, with its founding members being drawn in different formal directions. Perugini writes that the group lacked a clear vision, they lost its bite and became merely a group of friends with an ‘indefinable commitment’. (Perugini, Progretti e Ricerca, p38).

The project of the Casa Sperimentale must be seen in the further theoretical context of Umberto Eco’s Opera Aperta—The Open Work (1962) where he argues that expressions of work, in this instance a text, must be understood as a field of meanings, an indeterminate ‘field of possibilities, to create “ambiguous” situations open to all sorts of operative choices and interpretations.’ (p44)

The Casa Sperimentale project was used by Giuseppe Perugini as a testbed for these ideas. Here, free from constraints of clients, time limitations and a real programme, Perugini explored the open design process, testing ideas of design and construction in a full-scale model. Referring to Mies van der Rohe’s full-scale canvas model of the Kröller Müller House in the Netherlands, he wanted the Casa Sperimentale to be understood as a ‘valid didactic tool’. A test for ‘modelling ideas in scale 1:1.’ (Perugini, Casa Albero, p17)

July 1, 2020