The recent passing of architect and designer Angelo Mangiarotti brought back reflections on the architecture of his generation: one made at the scale and measure of man. To remember him, we republish a series of film stills of the 11 minute documentary Position of Architecture, which Mangiarotti directed and conceived with Carlo Bassi. These were originally published in Domus 284 / July 1953. The accompanying text, by Luigi Spinelli, appeared originally in Domus 915 / June 2008, and considers a series of architectural icons of the Italian modernism.
Mangiarotti's rich body of work includes, beyond his architectural production, a series of design projects for companies such as Artemide, Cassina, Danese and Klein & More, which still produces his sinuous table clock. Here, we rediscover and demonstrate that, more than designing in scales large and small, Mangiarotti also designed stories.
This article was originally published in Domus 915 / June 2008
Images originally published in Domus 284 / July 1953
Position of Architecture: Documentary film 315 m., 11 min
Concept: Carlo Bassi and Angeli Mangiarotti
Production manager: Gian Carlo Tironi
Music: Riccardo Malipiero
Script: Alfonso Gatto
Photography: Remo Grisanti
Director: Angelo Mangiarotti
"Like all the arts, architecture is written.
A pentagram, vocabulary and colour have infinite possibilities of being music, poetry and painting. But in themselves they are nothing: they need syntax, composition and order, in other words boundaries."
"The same goes for space: a space without measure is plastically non-existent. The dot, line, square and rectangle create a relationship between infinite and finite, black and white, void and solid… Architecture is at once an idea of space and the space of an idea: man's natural as well as historical reality."
So reads the preface, entitled "Space and architecture", to the documentary film of which in July 1953 Domus published a ten-page illustrated version, with photographic shots by Remo Grisanti. It stemmed from an idea conceived by the architects Carlo Bassi and Angelo Mangiarotti, "to make some of the fundamental reasons for modern Italian architecture comprehensible to the public, by illustrating a group of significant modern works".
Works of architecture that lend themselves to this experiment ("but they could be others, by other architects whose hearts and minds bear the message of man's home") are four examples of an operation filtering the principles of the Modern Movement by Italian architects, with an elegant resumption of tradition in the truth of materials, the modulation of volumes, the cut and rhythm of apertures. The house just completed by Ignazio Gardella in Alessandria for employees of the Borsalino firm "is an architecture because it is a form existing in space: its vertical and horizontal developments, by virtue of their structure and plan, combine to naturalise it both inside and outside, relative to the sun and the air, the landscape and the whole of nature". Between this work and the house built by the same architect in a Milan park, with better materials in response to the demands of richer clients and in an exceptional area for the city, "a constant is established not only by the architect's own idiom, but by a position common to all true architecture today and to its organic vision of man's home".
In their dedication to those who lost their lives in Germany, the three BBPR architects invented the "lightest and most elementary monument that would no longer weigh on those who died there and, by reflecting their imprisonment in the structure's simple net, would liberate them in the shade left by them forever on earth". It is in line with the frontispiece of the documentary dedicated to the memory of Edoardo Persico, Giuseppe Pagano, Giuseppe Terragni, Gian Luigi Banfi and Raffaello Giolli, the five names mentioned by the writer at the time as witnessing the redemption of Italian architecture from a recent past.
Fifteen years before the famous comment by Giuseppe Ungaretti in a precious publication on the architecture of Luigi Moretti, another hermetic poet — Alfonso Gatto — is the author of the texts accompanying the projection, with exclusive musical passages by the composer Riccardo Malipiero (nephew of Gian Francesco and a pioneer in the circulation of dodecaphonic music in Italy). The Milanese composer and Salernitan poet — who was to experience other contacts with the cinema while participating as an actor in two films by Pier Paolo Pasolini — had frequented the editorial department of Domus under the editorship of Ernesto Rogers. At that time the magazine, in the name of "man's home" in fact, had re-established links with an earlier widespread cultural education through Nelo Risi's film reviews, Max Bill's concrete art, and, as mentioned, the music and poetry of Malipiero and Gatto.
The captions of the documentary verge on neo-realism when referring to the Sempione Estate by BBPR, one of the first housing developments for employees in Milan, situated near the Trade Fair: "The sky and the children's games, the balconies answering one another from house to house, the voices even, and the gestures of everyday life, were envisaged by the architects and made part of the work, as being no less necessary than the reinforced concrete, the bricks and iron; they must be the house and every house is the quarter."
The finale reveals the position of architecture: a message for which the destiny of this discipline, in search of a common truth for all men, is to seek the fundamental freedom of the spirit. Luigi Spinelli