Lost icons of the 20th century: motorway service area by Angelo Bianchetti

Designed by Angelo Bianchetti in 1958 for the food company Pavesi, the building has been partially demolished: the three self-supporting arches remain standing, remnants of a futuristic manifesto for architecture.  

In 1958 what is probably one of the most iconic service stations of the Italian economic boom period made its appearance on the Motorway of the Lakes, between Varese to Milan. The Villoresi East station is now partially dismantled. While its three white self-supporting arches have remained firmly anchored to the ring connecting them, while the cylindrical volume at its base has been demolished: it seems that the reason was that of a larger space.

An archive image: photocollage fotografico of Villoresi West

Today, the gesture of stopping on the motorway and eating is an established custom. However, when entrepreneur Mario Pavesi conceived the first motorway service stations, the typology implied not only a change in the way Italians consume but also a new design challenge for architects.

With the reconstruction of the country, a fascination for the American Way of Life emerged, which first of all had charmed Mario Pavesi himself. Inspired by American models, Pavesi chose Angelo Bianchetti, then a young architect with experience in exhibition spaces, fair and ‘advertising’ architecture, to realize his idea. The two got to know each other thanks to Mario Bellavista, advertising and publisher, who worked for Pavesi for over ten years and launched on the market, probably the most famous biscuits of the company, the Pavesini.

23 December 1959: the entrepreneur Mario Pavesi (left) and the architect Angelo Bianchetti (right) portrayed while attending the inauguration of the motorway service station at the Fiorenzuola d’Arda bridge on the Autostrada del Sole

Communication in those years was an essential tool for Pavesi, a message embedded also in the company’s architecture: buildings that spoke of progress and well-being, and a new man was going towards the future on top of a Fiat 500 or a Vespa.

The first of Bianchetti’s buildings was the station on the Milan-Turin motorway, close to Novara, in 1947. This new custom became so much popular in Italy that between 1947 and 1978, Bianchetti designed about 70 service stations for the Novara company.

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