Clustered low-riseCourtyardSlab, point-accessUrban villa
Villagio Olimpico
Cafiero, Vittorio,; Adalberto Libera, Luigi Moretti, Vicenzo Monaco, Amedeo Luccichenti | Rome, Italy | 1958-60
Image of Villagio ...
Central piazza defined by residential blocks

ProjectVillagio Olimpico
ArchitectCafiero, Vittorio,; Adalberto Libera, Luigi Moretti, Vicenzo Monaco, Amedeo Luccichenti
AddressViale Tiziano/Via Pietro de Cubertin/Corso di Francia
Building TypeClustered low-rise
Slab, point-access
Urban villa
Number of Dwellingsc. 1500
Date Built1958-60
Dwelling Types2 & 4 BR flats
No. Floors3-6
Section Typeflats
Exterior Finish
brick, concrete, steel
Construction TypeR-C frame
Ancillary Servicesshopping, schools, church, community piazza

The site selected for the 1960 Olympic Games was a strategic location along the ancient Via Flaminia as it intersected the curve of the Tiber a couple of kilometers from northern gate of the city. This area along the flood plain of the Tiber had long been used as a site for sporting events. Previously it had been the Piazza d´Armi for horse events and there was a hippodrome at the base of the hill below Villa Gloria. There was a national stadium here in 1911 and the site was also used for tennis and became the soccer field for the Lazio team. In the 1931 and 1950 Il Piano regolatore this area was designated as a public park and as a district of palazzine apartment buildings. This was an obvious effort to preserve the open, landscaped quality of the site. During this period the area became a zone of scattered buildings and open spaces and it was selected as the site for the Olympic Village for the 1960 Olympic Games. The choice of this site for the 1960 Olypmpics was also desirable because of the easy access to Foro Italico across the river to the west where facilities built in the 1930's already existed including an Olympic stadium seating 100,000, the swimming and tennis stadiums and other facilities.

Planned Olympic facilities included 2 stadiums and housing for the athletes. One stadium was to be used for football (soccer), the Stadio Flaminio, 1957-59, and the other for indoor sports, the Palazzetto dello Sport, 1956-58. Pier Luigi Nervi designed both stadiums. The apartments were constructed by the housing authority, l´Istituto per le Case degli Impiegati dello Stato (INCIS) to be used after the games as dwellings for 6500 people. The site for the housing was visible from the low hill of the Villa Gloria and was seen as part of the natural park-like landscape along the river. Part of the planning strategy was to provide better access out of the city to the north. There had always been a problem connecting to via Flaminia and Via Cassia--the old Roman roads leading north out of the city--with the old city center and the Parioli district to the east. To solve this problem a new elevated highway and bridge across the Tiber were constructed, the Corso di Francia and a monumental bridge, the Ponte Flamino. Organizationally, Corso di Francia splits the site in half, but because it is elevated on columns, the landscape continues beneath the road thus allowing at least some connection between the various parts of the complex, a move that reinforces the concept of a continuous park-like setting along the river.

The commission of the Olympic Village was to be a showcase project for Rome in the years following World War II. The team selected for its design included Vittorio Cafiero, Adalberto Libera, Luigi Moretti, Vicenzo Monaco and Amedeo Luccichenti who were probably the best young architects practicing in Rome at the time. In addition, two of Italy's premier engineers were selected to design the two stadiums for the site and the viaduct at the end of Corso di Francia, Pier Luigi Nervi and Ricardo Morandi. Moretti made a proposal for Foro Italico in 1936 that was never realized, but he was thus in a unique position to understand the planning implications of the new project on the opposite side of the Tiber. Libera, Moretti, Monaco, and Luccichenti had established reputations from earlier housing designs and Calfiero was known for several competitions done in the 1930´s. Libera had designed the Tuscolano quarter for INA Casa, one of the first examples of Italian social housing after the war and thus brought the expertise of working with a large government housing agency to the team.

In addition to the two stadiums and 1500 or so dwellings, the Olympic Village is a more-or-less complete community including shopping, schools, and a church. Both stadia were positioned to the south leaving the remaining site for the residential community. Via Tiziano along the west edge of the site, parallel to Via Flaminia, is a major commercial street and is also the site of a neighborhood open-air market. The position of Corso di Francia through the middle of the site, even though this roadway is divided and elevated, had the effect of bisecting the site into two parcels, one aligned with Viale Tiziano on the west, the other, a more fragmented group, extending to the base of the Villa Gloria hill. This second group, unlike the western edge where buildings are all aligned north/south, consists of several groups of different building types. Elevating all the buildings on pilotis, the consistent use of yellow brick exteriors, and the use of similar window and blind details has the effect of unifying the whole site, even though there are 10 different building types here and several sub-groups. A double east/west boulevard bisects the site as a landscaped open zone that passes beneath Corso di Francia. This too adds to the perception of several smaller, differentiated groups of buildings. Along the west, there are three parallel zones of buildings, graduating from a row of 3-story, free-standing palazzine that front an open landscaped zone along Viale Tiziano, then two long north/south 6-story courtyard slabs and finally, a zone of paired, curving 5 story slabs that front a narrow street but face outward to open space on either side. The groups west of Corso di Francia are less unified lending an exhibition-like quality to the overall siting. Several of the curving slabs define an oblong arcaded piazza that is lined with shops. A large 4-story courtyard block is sited as an independent element at the south end of the site. A type of additive, 3-story cruciform building is used to form clustered but irregular groups along the meandering eastern boundary of the site. All together, there are 5 different point-access building types, all raised on pilotis, ranging in height from 3 to 6 floors and containing 10 different types of 2 and 4 bedroom flats.

Villaggio Olimpico is an example of a housing exhibition displaying built examples of various building and apartment prototypes. Enough of each of the 5 building prototypes has been built that some judgement can be made about their potential for application in a different situation. While there are many common characteristics--the pilotis, the use of a point-access typology, the brick, the window and blind details and the apartment types--there are also different site situations, varying heights, and other unique features that require some explanation.

Type A, 4 and 5 story point-access slabs: These are the dominant building type and come in both straight and curvingzeilenbau types, usually arranged with the long axis north/south. There are several different groups of these including the set defining the central piazza area. This type is organized with two, 2 bedroom dwellings per stair and present flush closed facades to the street and continuous balconies on the opposite side usually facing a larger open space between buildings. Like most zeilenbau types, the end facades are undeveloped, however, the curved facades and varied space between blocks are a creative solution to the repetitive monotony of typical zeilenbau slabs. Perhaps the most successful aspect of the curving blocks is around the piazza which, although lacking enough commercial activity to truly maintain a community ambiance, is a well defined, public space.

Type B, 6 story, double slab: A pair of these was built along the western side of Corso di Francia as a type of experimental prototype. These are organized as two parallel zones of flats, one facing each side of the building, organized around long central courtyards that are divided by the stair and elevator blocks. Essentially, two of the "A" slabs have been narrowed, placed back to back along the sides of an interior court so that vertical circulation can be shared and therefore economized. The taller facades continue the flush detailing of the other buildings, but without the plastic development of the balconies. The end elevations of these two are problematic and the interior courtyards lacking in spatial quality and privacy. There are some shops in the base of these buildings.

Type C, 5-story courtyard block: Only one example of these was planned, at the south end of the complex on an open site. This seems to be a version of the point-access slab, now wrapped around a large landscaped garden. The balconies all face the courtyard creating a quite private realm. The block is sited as a nearly freestanding element so the outside surfaces also open to landscaped spaces. The literal application of the typical slab plan and the failure to design a corner apartment results in blank re-entry condition at the outside corners.

Type D, 3-floor urban villa type: The freestanding urban villa examples along the western side of the site are diminutive versions of stock palazzine types: 3 stories high, organized around a central circulation core, sited with ample space on all sides.

Type E, 3 floors, cruciform courtyard type: Similar in concept to Type D, this building too is organized symmetrically about a central circulation core. This type, however, is used for the larger 4 bedroom dwellings that are arranged in a cruciform organization about a central, skylighted atrium space. The stair stands as a freestanding element in the atrium, connecting with bridges to an entrance to each apartment. The end walls of each dwelling are left blank so they can be connected together forming a continuous matrix of cruciform elements defining small landscaped courts. This type is flexible in that legs of the cruciform can be left off to make adjustments to site conditions and other buildings. The lack of the balconies typical to the other building types is compensated for by the pleasant condition of the defined courtyard spaces and the fact that, unlike the zeilenbau type, there are windows in the end walls.

In spite of this diversity of building and apartment types, a few simple details and common materials are the source of overall consistency. Entrance to every building is made from glazed lobbies in the space of the pilotis. While it may seem that the left-over open area at the ground floor is wasted space, shade is equally as important as sun in the Roman climate and, the pilotis avoids the problem of ground floor apartments lacking privacy. Some parking is allowed in the pilotis space, however, most is provided in the space between buildings and a continuous zone of open space extends beneath and between each building. A continuous shopping arcade along the sides of the pizza is detailed as the remnant of the pilotis. In the cruciform courtyard buildings, dwellings share a common stair block in the central atrium of each building element.

The use of brick walls, elevated above the repetitive columns of the pilotis would seem to be a contradiction of the basic frame structure, however, the rhythm of the frame is expressed in the upper floors by the exposed horizontal edge of the slab, by narrow pilasters in the taller slabs, by a concrete cornice, and by the organization of the windows. The building surfaces are dense, closed, and flush along one side contrasting sharply with the opposite side where surface has given way to a deep facade which has narrow cantilevered balconies, recessed continuous windows, and a layered appearance; flush versus layered depth. The use of wood roll-down blinds, and the flush frame of the blind boxes detailed as deep lintels above the windows, the subtle recesses of the windows, the scoring of the brick surfaces that is created by the slightly recessed edge of the structural slab tend to exaggerate the flush nature of the closed yellow brick walls. On the balcony sides, more depth is expressed with the cantilevered balconies that even extend past the end of the building. Continuous zones of windows and blinds that vary in depth and the discontinuous nature of the balconies all add to the expression of striated layers of elements. Many of the original steel windows, blind boxes and frames, and the blinds themselves have been changed, some balconies glazed in, and the exposed concrete is deteriorating but still the overall composition and dense, flush, layered quality of the facades is still apparent.

Building autopsies seldom reveal exactly who did what on a large team project like this. The fact that most of these architects had experience designing small apartment buildings prior to 1960, would seem to indicate that any one of them was capable of this design. All of the buildings in the complex are point access types and it is tempting to see them all as the progeny of the palazzine legacy; little apartment palaces strung together to form larger buildings. Within this archetypal taxonomy, however, two of Moretti´s Roman buildings stand out as likely prototypes for at least the curving slabs of the Villaggio Olimpico; the Astrea apartments, 1947- 49 and the Il Girasole apartments, 1947-1950. The elevated facades of both buildings imply a pilotis condition and the detachment of the upper façade from the ground results in a definite levitated condition. The facades of both have a developed dialogue between a very flat, flush surface aligned with the street and another layered, cutaway condition implying depth and spatial striations. The inflected surfaces of the cantilevered planes of Astrea suggest a curving surface, one seen as counterpoint to the planer quality of the main surface. In both Astrea and Girasole, the façade surface is discontinuous but because the actual skin of the façade is allowed to extend past the ends of the building a few centimeters, an exaggerated horizontal planer quality results. This idea is more developed in Girasole where the tracks for the roller blinds for the windows actually extend past the end of the building. The use of alternating bands of windows and spandrels, the flush relationship of the roller blinds (which were originally wood), the coulisse condition of the façade, discontinuous and cutaway to reveal a glimpse of the space of the interior court yard beyond, and the shallow balconies revealed when the blind is open are all qualities that Girasole seems to share with the Olympic buildings. Thus, the street façade of Girasole can be seen as the precedent for both the closed planer facades and the balconied facades of the Olympic buildings. The open courtyard of Girasole and the linear quality of the apartments along each side suggest two parallel buildings straddling a long, narrow interior courtyard into which vertical circulation elements have been inserted. This is exactly the idea of the courtyard slabs along Viale Tiziano. Moretti, working with some of the same architects continued the development of the development of these ideas in a later l´INCIS project on the southern outskirts of Rome, the Decima Quarter (1960-66) built along the train line to Ostia. The curving slabs, brick walls, and window and blind details were also used here in a larger, staged project that was opened in 1965.

Villaggio Olimpico is in remarkably good condition considering it is nearly 50 years old. The brick walls, unlike the stucco typically used in social housing has stood up remarkably well. The steel windows and especially the steel blind pockets and guides rusted badly and many have been replaced. There were also moisture/oxidizing problems with the steel in the exposed concrete in some places, and this seems to be a continual problem. This was a kind of failure typical to many modernist buildings that used steel windows. As the occupancy changed from rental to private ownership, individual owners had made modifications. Some changes were required to correct the problems with the windows, but some of the balconies have been glazed and, as different details and materials were used to fix or replace the windows and blinds, the overall consistency of the facades has been compromised to a certain degree. The pilotis and the continuous landscaped ground plane, that Ville Radieuse rubric of the modernist agenda works reasonably well here. While there is a lot of unused space beneath the buildings and common sense would suggest that there would be security issues, problems with car parking, graffiti and other evidence of vandalism, these areas seem safe and unabused. there is no graffiti, little parking and only the normal litter of all housing in Italy. There are no ground floor apartments here and entrance is easily made from the parking to the glazed entrance lobbies in the pilotis. The idea of elevating Corso di Francia and freeing up the ground plane makes sense from a traffic point of view and certainly would have blocked any east-west pedestrian movement across the site. But the space beneath the road is forbidding and unused. The community aspects of the complex, important especially in the transformation from temporary residences for visiting athletes, to families, work marginally at best, especially those located around the piazza; it is not the lively center of activity the designers obviously had in mind. Like many similar recent residential communities in Italy, there is little formal or functional connection with the surrounding community and they tend to exist spiritually and functionally as separate enclaves.

Piero Ostilio Rossi, Roma: Guida all' architecttura moderna 1909-2000, Laterza, Roma, 2000, pp. 209-212.

Francesco Garofalo & Luca Veresani, Adalberto Libera, Princeton Architectural Press, N. Y., 1992, pp. 184-7.

INCIS, Villaggio Olimpico quartiere de Roma, Roma s.d. (no date).

Edilizia Popolare, no. 35, july-august, 1960.

Costruire, nol 7, january-april, 1961.

Luigi Moretti, La promessa e il debito, pp. 74-77, (no date).

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