“Woman is alien to architecture,” said Mussolini. She proved the opposite

Elena Luzzatto is only one of the forgotten architects of Italian fascism, but perhaps the most important.

An der Arbeit: die Architektin Elena Luzzatto Valentini mit einem Werkmodell.

At work: the architect Elena Luzzatto Valentini with a work model.

Edizioni Kappa

She was the first woman architect in Italy to receive a degree from a university, and she shaped the cityscape of Rome just like her male colleagues: Elena Luzzatto Valentini succeeded in breaking with the stereotypical patterns of femininity of the past . Among other things, this was a consequence of the First World War, which catapulted women into unknown professional positions as substitutes for the absent men. She was an exception and at the same time groundbreaking for the careers of many other women in modern urban planning.

The The role that fascism assigned to women was a clear alternative to the Bolshevik attempts at emancipation, which had granted women legal and social equality in Russia. Instead, the fascist state, albeit with a certain ambivalence, glorified the private mother role: Among the freelance workers, only about 10 percent were women: Victoria De Grazia counted 500 journalists, 297 doctors, 60 lawyers, 30 dentists and 13 architects for them Period from 1922 to 1945 (How Fascism Ruled Women. Italy, 1922–1945. 1993).

dictum of the passive woman

Mussolini spoke In his famous interview with Emil Ludwig, published in 1932, women categorically deprived them of all architectural competence and assertiveness. «The woman has to be passive! (…) It is analytical, not synthetic. Has she made architecture over the centuries? Build me a hut, not a temple, tell her. She can not. It is alien to architecture, the synthesis of all arts: that is a symbol of its fate! ” (Mussolini’s conversations with Emil Ludwig. Paul-Zsolnay-Verlag, Berlin, Vienna, Leipzig 1932. p. 172.)

Apparently, this did not have an encouraging effect on young prospective students. The corporatist state of fascism also discriminated against women on a legal, institutional and political level; no career prospects were developed for them. In the «ventennio fascista» women architects were truly special social phenomena.

Nevertheless, they existed and not only document their professional and architectural performance Contribution, but also the contradiction of fascist reality, in which, for example, contrary to all professional devaluation, two professional women contributed significantly to the image of the Duce: the art critic and cultural manager Margherita Sarfatti, who coined the concept of «romanità», which was central to the propaganda of the regime, and the first Published biography of Mussolini, as well as Ghitta Carell, who popularized his portrait as the official portrait photographer of the head of state.

Elena Luzzatto: Markthalle an der Piazza Principe di Napoli (heute Piazza Alessandria), Rom, 1929.

Elena Luzzatto: Markthalle an der Piazza Principe di Napoli (heute Piazza Alessandria), Rom, 1929.

Modern architecture and women architects

Ihre Axonometrie des Villenprojekts für Giuseppe Bottai in Ostia, 1928.

Your axonometry of the villa project for Giuseppe Bottai in Ostia, 1928.

Edizioni Kappa

Impressive architects

Contrary to justified expectations and the traditional narrative – new research is more inclusive – some impressive architects still stand out in the decades of the fascist regime the hypertrophic building activity of the time. In Rome in 1925 the Russian Alessandra Biurkova received her diploma at the Regia Scuola Superiore di Architettura, founded in 1919, and Carla Maria Bassi and Elvira Luigia Morassi at the Milan Polytechnic in 1928.

One of the most prominent and productive of these professional women – around forty buildings are attributed to her – is the one in Ancona Elena Luzzatto Valentini (1900–1983), the daughter of a Jewish railway engineer and a Catholic mother, was the first Italian female architect to receive her diploma in Rome. She enrolled in 1921, finished her studies in 1925 and began to work the following year. On behalf of the Ufficio di Progettazione del Governatorato di Roma, the urban planning office in which she is the only architect, she plans churches, schools, market halls, takes part in competitions at home and abroad, some of which she wins, and carries out restoration work. She also works as a freelance architect, sometimes together with her husband, the engineer Felice Romoli.

Your career is Due to the strong connection to the municipal office, it can be described as an institutional one, although not to the same extent as the much better known figure of Angiolo Mazzoni, the civil servant architect of the state railways. In addition, Luzzatto worked from 1928 to 1934 as an assistant at Vincenzo Fasolo’s chair at the engineering faculty in Rome, which gave her a certain affinity for the elementary structural forms of the Mediterranean, which act as the basis of her rationalistic design.

The familial duplication of the architectural profession is unusual Women of the Luzzattos: Elena’s mother Annarella Luzzatto Gabrielli is also an architect, who graduated two years after her daughter and from then on has developed a remarkable professional presence, where she also takes on government building projects, for example for a church in Messina, for a kindergarten that is in the thirties at the Milan Triennale, as well as for a «Casa per le Piccole Italiane», a meeting place for the fascist youth organization of middle-aged girls.

Die Mutter Annarella Luzzatto Gabrielli diplomierte zwei Jahre nach der Tochter. Hier ihr Projekt für eine Kirche an der Riviera del Faro bei Messina, 1930er Jahre.

The mother Annarella Luzzatto Gabrielli graduated two years after the daughter. Here your project for a church on the Riviera del Faro near Messina, 1930s.

Architettura moderna e donne architette

Build for the state

In 1928, Luzzatto – only 28 years old at the time – designed for Giuseppe Bottai, a futurist and fascist of the first hour, who later became a minister and close colleague of Mussolini, a Mediterranean-style villa in Ostia, in the then newly emerging Lido di Roma, a summer resort close to the city, with which the regime opened the city to the Tyrrhenian by rail and motorway connections To expand the sea.

In Ostia, other architects such as Luigi Moretti and Giuseppe Capponi were also planning in the late twenties. Luzzatto’s unfinished project goes one step further than the hybrid transition architecture at the Lido di Roma, which still followed a historicist style language, and presents a rationalist design with nautical echoes, rounded building elements and pipe railings that anticipates the tone of the future development of Ostia. For Ostia, she also won the ex-aequo prize in a competition for a group of small villas in 1932, together with the twenty-year-old engineer Maria Casoni Bortolotti, to which other representatives of Italian modernism, such as Adalberto Libera, also contributed.

In the course of her subsequent career, she won numerous other competitions in the wake of the fascist building fury: In 1932 she received the highest award in a tender by the Unione Agricola Coloniale for residential and agricultural buildings in Genale, Somalia, the following year she was invited to Participate in the 5th Milan Triennale with type projects for social housing and sanatoriums, followed by plans for a hospital in Bolzano (1934) and for residential apartments for Incis in Rome (1937). Luzzatto’s most explicit contribution to the monumental habitus of fascist public architecture is the market hall, built in Rome in 1935, a reinterpretation of the architectural typology of the ancient Roman market, executed in reinforced concrete, with large industrial windows and the relief of the “Lupa Capitolina” on the front.

Not just Terragni or Piacentini

Under the stars in the architectural sky of the beginning and mature Italian modernism in the years of fascism, countless celebrated male actors stand out, the majority of whom continued their professional career after the end of the war Could continue their career. There are hardly any women who are counted among these successful professionals, but besides Elena Luzzatto there are a few other striking figures to highlight.

One of them is the engineer Maria Casoni Bortolotti (1880–1970), who in 1918 the first woman to receive the engineering diploma from the engineering school in Bologna. In her hometown she founded her own construction company and planning office and soon achieved professional recognition, especially in the field of residential building. She designed – in the late twenties or early thirties – the villa for the State Secretary and President of the National Institute for Social Welfare (INPS) Bruno Biagi, whose protégé she is, but also the development of entire plots on the outskirts.

She is at the same time a sophisticated, fashionable appearance, at home in the bourgeois salons as well as on the front pages of the journals; Even as a pregnant woman you can meet them on construction sites, reports the press. In 1929 her company went bankrupt and Maria Bortolotti moved with her husband to Rome, where her former fellow student Giuseppe Vaccaro would probably find work for her.

Luzzatto’s strong network

Numerous interiors, including those for the Roman Palazzo delle Corporazioni (1928–1932) by Piacentini and Vaccaro and the Mathematics Institute of the Università di Roma (1932–1935) by Gio Ponti are based on their design. She later won the competition for the Palazzo del Consiglio dell’Economia Corporativa in Pesaro. In Rome she establishes a strong network of connections to political circles, takes a seat in various cultural institutions and women’s associations, gives lectures and visits the female intellectual salons such as that of Margherita Sarfatti.

Not unmentioned In this context, the Roman architect Attilia Vaglieri Travaglio (1891–1969), whose main work was the twenties and thirties, is allowed to stay Years – fifty of her projects are documented and published in the contemporary trade press – presents architectural and urban planning projects in the most genuine lictor style and in all the shades of an eclectic Novecento.

She designed, presumably towards the end of the twenties, the plan for the multi-sport new town “Dux” near Ostia, and at the beginning of the thirties she designed the gigantic plan for a so-called ” Zona della musica »on Viale Aventino with an auditorium for 60,000 people and other cultural buildings. In 1929 she also won the competition for a museum of Greco-Roman antiquity in Alexandria, Egypt, but was refused first prize because of her gender.

Elena Luzzatto Valentinis Studie zur mediterranen Bautradition «Villino a Capri», um 1930.

Elena Luzzatto Valentinis Studie zur mediterranen Bautradition «Villino a Capri», um 1930.

Modern architecture and women architects

Elena Luzzatto Valentini with Maria Casoni Bortolotti’s competition project for a group of small villas in Ostia for the real estate company Tirrenia, 1932.

Architettura moderna e donne architette

Competencies for living

The journalist Anna Maria Speckel published in 1935 in « Almanacco della donna italiana »an article about the Italian women of modern architecture, which at the same time wants to be a pamphlet for a nationally shaped rationalism. She attests to the few contemporary architects and engineers she can introduce that she has no particular inclination for the grandiose and monumental, but rather special competencies in the field of residential construction. Nevertheless, she resolutely contradicts Mussolini’s vote of no confidence – which she calls straightforwardly as a prejudice – towards the ability of women to solve more complex construction tasks, and additionally emphasizes the creativity and versatility of the architects.

A newly awakened interest in the professional history of women architects and new studies from feminist architectural research have in recent years embarked on the sometimes very complex research into archive materials and legacies, which not only complement, but renew at the same time the somewhat outdated mainstream narration of architectural history. It was not until 2016 that the architect Monica Prencipe discovered the private archive of Elena Luzzatto Valentini in a descendant of the architect in Ancona. The Swiss architectural historian Katrin Albrecht, professor at the University of Applied Sciences in Eastern Switzerland, has been collecting the material for a study on the Italian architect for a long time. One can therefore hope that such investigations, which often turn out to be an archival challenge, will be increasingly tackled in order to present a complete and nuanced architectural-historical (and historical) narration not only to a specialist audience, but also to the public.

Most of these young women who embarked on the venture of a career as an architect had been pupils of the central figures of the Italian architecture schools under fascism, like Gustavo Giovannoni, Marcello Piacentini, Arnaldo Foschini and Vincenzo Fasolo. They were fellow students of Adalberto Libera, Luigi Moretti, Mario Ridolfi or Giuseppe Terragni, the first generation of the modern Italian avant-garde.

The presence and work of these female pioneers of the twenties and thirties were left to the oblivion in the critical specialist literature of the post-war years in some ways more thorough than their discrimination was during the years of the regime. The time seems ripe for a generation of young researchers to shine a light on the active generation of women in fascist Italy.

Eliana Perotti is a doctor of architecture historian. With Katia Frey, she published “Theorists of urban development at Reimer in Berlin. Texts and Projects for the City ”(2015) and“ Women look at the city – architects, planners, reformers ”(2018). She is currently introducing Research project of the Swiss National Science Foundation on Saffa 1958.

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