Monday, 3 September 2007

Three pieces of Piacentini: Piazza della Vittoria, Brescia

Piazza della Vittoria, completed between 1929-32, was the final result of a large planning exercise to improve the functioning Brescia, a rationalisation which was abandoned due to expense in favour of the rhetorical monumentalization of an area of the historic centre, medieval in date and deemed an obstacle to progress. However, functional planning was suspended in favour of a more overtly representational scheme, though the immediate reason for the site of the new piazza was the demolition of an existing unhygienic quarter. The new public space thus created glorified Mussolini directly, being completed to celebrate his tenth anniversary in power, but the variety of its profile and materiality attempted to obscure the fact that it was entirely constructed within a few years.

Paradoxically, despite the attempt to portray an organic but deceptive history, each element is treated as an individual monument, with peripheral connections through ground floor arcades to form the enclosed civic realm that had been favoured by Sitte. The purpose of a public forum was signalled by the honorific position provided for the modern mean’s of communication, the post, telegraph and telephone office, but also by the placing of an orator’s podium or aregno decorated with scenes of Brescian progress up to fascism, and standing at the foot of a small tower (“of the revolution”) which was originally adorned with a portrait relief of Mussolini on horseback. Diagonally opposite the aregno, a 12-storey office tower, the torrione, provided the largest single element in the piazza.

The diagrammatic quality of this ornamentation and the simplicity of the overall planning strategy is ameliorated by the picturesque massing of the elements. The axial view towards the post office is varied by the asymmetrical pairing of the tower of the revolution in marble and the brick mass of the office tower. These three elements then frame and dominate the views of the square, the torrione suggesting a certain aggressive power, the tower of the revolution rather unsubtly in conflict with the dome of the baroque cathedral beyond in Piazza del Duomo, and the post office portico producing a dull echo of the Roman capitolium. It has also been suggested by Richard Etlin that the early version of Piacentini’s post office had referred to precedent in the three bayed form of the renaissance Palazzo della Loggia, whose barrel vaulted roof was visible in profile behind the post office in the neighbouring Piazza della Loggia

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