Gruppo 7 was an architectural firm born in 1926, during the fascist regime in Italy. Fascism and Mussolini’s self-celebration propaganda deeply influenced new architecture as well as any other form of art and communication.
Gruppo 7 and Italian Rationalism
To retrace Italian Rationalism, one must look past architects and innovations: once we do so, groups, movements, and a wider, intricated image can be seen. Enstablished between the 1920s and the 1930s, many recognizable names partecipated in this experience: one of such was, by 1926, the Gruppo 7 studio, formed by Figini, Guido Frette, Sebastiano Larco, Gino Pollini, Carlo Enrico Rava, Giuseppe Terragni and Ubaldo Castagnoli (replaced by Adalberto Libera the year after), seven (hence the name) architects from Milan’s Polytechnic, a soon to be enstablished cornerstone in the regime’s plans to rebuild Italy.
The Gruppo 7’s manifesto contains some of the most important topics that underline the struggle of all interpretations of a “new architecture” in Italy, including new tecnologies (such as reinforced concrete) meant to bring forth a new understanding on building construction; new influences and approaches to the subject, pioneered by illustrious names such as Le Corbusier, Mies Van Der Rohe, or Walter Gropius; and of course, as a direct consequence, the need to contest and reinterpret both new and old paradygms alike .
That “from the constant use of rationality, from a perfect correspondence of the building to its intended purposes, we are certain must result, as per this selection, a Style”;
That “architecture can no longer be isolated”, so that we can lead it back “to answering directly our times’ needs”;
That “to the elegant eclectycism of individualism we counteract with the spirit of serialized construction”Excerpt from Gruppo 7’s manifesto
However, Gruppo 7, for all its declarations, meant not to forgo traditions in architectural practice:
Here exists such a classical substrate, and such depths does the spirit of traditions (not the shapes, that are an entirely different subject) reach in Italy, that obviously and almost mechanically can our new architecture not conserve an imprint of this.Gruppo 7, over tradition and future
It can be thus argued that Gruppo 7 was trying to build a bridge between tradition and novelty, classicism and functionalism, recapturing the geometries, rythms, proportions and refinement from the former, while embracing the opportunities, languages and means of the latter; this nonetheless opened the door to many discussions and debates, especially from the academic echelons.
By 1928, Gruppo 7 had merged with MIAR (Movimento italiano per l’architettura razionale), the promoter of three Esposizioni italiane di architettura razionale, a short lived and failed attempt to market the new Italian style to the nation, eventually, not aided by frictions between its organizer, Pietro Maria Bardi, and the rest of the fascist party, being dissolved in 1931; what remained of the collective was turned into the RAMI (Raggruppamento architetti moderni italiani), to whom Larco and Rava eventually adhered as well.
Image source: https://www.comocity.it/asilo-santelia-como/
As an architectonic expression, Modernism focused on efficiency, functionality, minimalism, and close attention to architecture, with the end goal of making Mussolini’s plan come true, an Italy filled with high-production industries. Architecture became, as such an important tool for fascism and his propaganda, enthralling architects with its stripped down, militaristic approach to classical architecture; another of the regime’s attempts at aping the Imperial Roman aesthetic, eventually, due to contrasting styles and opinions among its advocates, the rapid changes of the international landscape, and a heavy politically mandated approach, spinning into its own style and derivations.
As a form heavily influenced by minimalism, Modernism was the most important new style of architecture and design of the 20th century: it is considered an analytical approach to the functionality, a rational use of materials, structural innovation and the embrace of thephilosophy that can be resumed as “less is more”.
La Casa Elettrica
Inspired by Giò Ponti, this Italian General Edison Society of Electricity- sponseored and Gruppo 7 built project, the “Electric House“, was an example of modern home design, planned following the new tenets of rational architecture and to show how most modern, electricity powered house appliances could be integrated in its very design.
Luigi Figini and Gino Pollini eventually finished it. From the planivolumetric setting, it is possible to look at the extreme simplicity of this prototype of modern home, and its affinity with the principles of Le Corbusier’s architecture, especially notable when observing the balance and hierarchy of internal and external spaces.
Image source: https://www.edison.it/it/gruppo-7
Heritage: one of many examples of rationalist architecture observable in Lombardy, this model of buildings would go on to pop up all over the country. Rationalism, despite lasting less than a decade (until 1943, the same year as Italy’s outlawing of, and eventual fight back against, fascism), has still left many traces, observable throught Italy. In Ivrea, Adriano Olivetti wanted Figini and Pollini to build him the complex of the Officine ICO in Alessandria, Ignazio Gardella designed the Anti-tuberculosis dispensary in Milano while Pagano built one of the most important universities in the world, Bocconi University.