Design: Architecture / Turin
Freedom of expression
Turin is a city with many bold and experimental mid-century residential developments. Using these buildings as an inspiration, a new generation of architects is continuing to push the envelope.
Many forces have shaped the architecture and urban plan of Turin. They include the royal family of Savoy, which built the city’s spectacular castles, gardens and palazzos; the economic miracle in the early 20th century, led by car-maker Fiat, which grew the city exponentially; as well as a long history of fostering the avant garde in art and music.
“In contrast with the rigid, rationalist grid of our urban fabric, there is something saturnine and irrational about the torinesi,” says Benedetto Camerana, founder of contemporary Piedmontese architecture studio Camerana & Partners. “This has led to strokes of architectural genius that were way ahead of their time.”
And now, says Camerana, many of these adventurous buildings are being polished up and placed back into the spotlight, providing locals with a fresh appreciation for their city and inspiring a new generation of local designers. Those revamped buildings include a handful of residential structures completed amid a flurry of postwar construction projects in the 1950s, a time when the city’s architecture developed in a direction wholly of its own.
On the corner of Piazza Crimea, you will find Casa dell’Obelisco, an example of Italy’s so-called “neo-liberty” movement. Completed in 1959, the apartment block has a white concrete façade with undulating, organic forms, irregular round balconies and a lot of playful details. It was one of the first projects realised by architect duo Sergio Jaretti and Elio Luzi, whose inspirations ranged from art nouveau and baroque architecture to Frank Lloyd Wright and Antoni Gaudí. Over a two-decade collaboration with property developer L’Impresa Manolino, Jaretti and Luzi designed more than a dozen apartment blocks and residences around Turin that vary wildly in appearance but avoid the unadorned façades and right angles typical in modernism. “The appreciation for these buildings has definitely grown in recent years,” says Benedetta Comi, great-granddaughter of Bartolomeo Manolino, the developer who commissioned Jaretti and Luzi. “They appeal to people because this level of artisanship and attention to architectural detail is rare today.” She is sitting in her living room on the first floor of Condominio Manolino, an apartment building that the architects designed for the family in Chieri, a 20-minute drive east over the hills from Turin. The house is modelled on a castle, complete with turrets and an intricate engraving of the family initials above the front door. Both Condominio Manolino and Casa dell’Obelisco were included in 2022’s Open House Torino and drew throngs of curious visitors.
Turin’s modernist icons are not only serving as vibrant residences once more but also influencing the architecture that is being created in the city today. The headquarters of Carlo Ratti Associati, one of Italy’s leading architecture firms and part of the team that is planning the site for the 2030 World Expo in Rome, are housed in a rationalist building from the 1930s that was designed by Ratti’s grandfather, Angelo Frisa. “In our practice we try to innovate and look at new technologies but it’s always important to look at the past and see what does and doesn’t change,” says Ratti. “Having the office here helps us to do that.”
Ratti believes that the architectural appeal of Turin lies in its history of experimentation, which contrasts with the more clean-cut modernism that dominates cities such as Milan. “There is a slightly detached feeling to Turin that allows you to discover things in a different way,” he says, pointing to the lack of a dominant local vernacular. “That gives you more freedom.”
The highly varied architectural styles to have come out of this setting, such as the irreverent façades of Jaretti and Luzi, belie any easy characterisation. “The point is that it is impossible to place the projects in a drawer,” says Bernd Schmutz, a German architect and co-editor of the forthcoming book Jaretti & Luzi: Wohnbauten in Turin 1954-1974, the first non-Italian survey of the architect duo. He is speaking about their oeuvre but the point can also be applied to the modernist legacy of Turin as a whole. “These buildings blend influences from at least three generations of architecture and express an attitude more than a form,” he says. “That is quality.”
Why it works:
Experimental designs should not be limited to adventurous private residential homes or the confines of history; mid-century developers in Turin brought play and levity to everyday life.