CourtyardPerimeter blockSlab, point-access
Ca' Brütta
Colonnese, Vittorino, Giovanni Muzio, Pier Fausto Barelli | Milan, Italy | 1919-1923
Image of Ca' Brütta
Convex building corner at via Moscova & via Turati

ProjectCa' Brütta
ArchitectColonnese, Vittorino, Giovanni Muzio, Pier Fausto Barelli
CityMilan
CountryItaly
AddressVia Moscova 12, Via Turati, Via Bonaventura Cavalieri, Via Appiani
Building TypeCourtyard
Perimeter block
Slab, point-access
Number of Dwellingsc. 100
Date Built1919-1923
Dwelling Types3-4 BR flats
No. Floors8
Section Typeflats
Exterior Finish
Materials
stone, stucco, metal, wood windows
Construction TypeRC, masonry walls
Ancillary Servicesbelow grade parking, servants quarters in roof space

The southern extension of Secessionist ideas had a profound effect on Milan architecture in the first decade of the 20th century. Many areas of the city--districts of popular housing--built in the so-called "Liberty Style" are ample testament to the acceptance of Art Nouveau tastes and during this period of great urban, industrial, and economic expansion between 1900 and 1920, many plans and projects were proposed in the Liberty Style. This was a short-lived period, however, that was quickly replaced by the eclecticism prevalent in other European cities. The public housing planned to accommodate this new population was done in the stripped-down style typical of the Istituto Case Poulari (ICP) housing quarters of the 1920's. It is during this time, when Modern Architecture is about to emerge as a reaction to 19th century attitudes, that Ca' Brütta is conceived. The expansion of Milan brought about an increase in speculative building and a new building type was conceived; the condominium apartment. Apartment buildings now had to appeal to the financial and market requirements of developers trying to appeal to the tastes of an emerging middle class buyer. Even though it is doubtful that speculative housing will ever be the ideal vehicle to demonstrate the stylistic propensities of an era, Ca' Brütta was distinctly out of style with both the ecclectic period just past and the emerging modernity of Italian case populari. Named the ugly house (Ca' Brütta) when is was opened in 1923, the name has stuck since, a reminder of the general adverse reaction to the highly decorative, neo-classical Novecento style. The peculiar application of miscellaneous architectural elements in fashion, the use of banal objects, ironical architectural elements, and the references to classical values produced a certain detachment from reality, a primitive mysticism and a reaction to rationality coincident with the work of De Chirico and other artists that resulted in harsh criticism at the time. The building, the first work of the young Muzio, originally consisted of a single, courtyard block eight floors high. Later, the design included two buildings, a smaller courtyard block to the south and a long linear block to the north.. The complex occupies a busy corner intersection on the Via Moscova and the via Principe Umberto (today's via Turati) that was an important approach to the train station which could be seen a few blocks away along this curving street. The convex massing of the curving perimeter block and the development of the via Umberto facades as matching, almost symmetrical elements to each side of the arch are part of this scenographic approach to the station. The two buildings are connected by an exaggerated triumphal arch that forms the entrance to a private street/courtyard space between buildings. The idea of a private street separating the two buildings developed as a way to have more apartments facing the interior street and to minimize north-facing dwellings. Both buildings are point-access types, but organized around an interior corridor so that they almost look like a typical double-loaded corridor apartment building. The perimeter block has several articulated entrances while there are separate lobbies in the slab towards the enlarged ends of the block. Except for the pavilion-like ends, the north block has almost the proportions and plan organization of a modern linear slab. Both buildings are organized in section to approximate the maison de rapport apartments of Haussmann's Paris which step back at the upper floor forming a large mansard roof with upper terraces and domestic quarters in the roof floor. The ground floor is raised a few feet above grade and parking was provided in a basement level below the street. Ca' Brütta is one of the earliest examples of subterranean parking in Italy and one of the first condominiums.

The highly decorated facades and overall massing of the buildings were Ca' Brütta's most distinctive and contentious features. The 6-floor height below the roof is organized in an ascending order of three horizontal zones that sometimes overlap and extend into the zone of the mansard roof. The bottom three floors in are clad in travertine. The middle two floors are finished in dark green stucco, and the upper floors are finished in white stucco that originally had colored panels. Above this and set back from the face of the building is a roof terrace and the occupied roof zone. On the via Umberto façade two lattice-covered belvederes that have since been removed, extended up into the roof zone. Overlaying this traditional palazzo zoning is an ascending thin veneer of freely rendered elements of classical derivation that are alternatively applied to or eroded from the façade: niches, pediments, exedra, raised panels, partial spheres, diagonal lattice-work, rusticated stucco, and various shafts, hollow columns, ovals, circles, false perspectives, fragments of Michelangelesque balustrades, latticed arches and medallions, and other applied decoration of vague Serliano origins, that are at once classically recollective and frivolous. In addition to the inconsistent treatment of the horizontal zones, vertical consistency is also lacking resulting in multiple vertical interpretations. At first glance, for example, the two pavilions that flank the recessed Serliano gateway along via Umberto, look like symmetrical blocks, but they are actually quite different. Apparently the windows were made before Muzio began the design and this may account for the bricolage nature of the window pattern The Building Department (Commissione Edilizia) was outraged when the scaffolding was removed to reveal the decorated facades that had not been submitted for approval and there followed a period of negotiation and the architect had to make minor changes to the facades. The architectural elements of the courtyards are even more outrageously ironical and mannerist: giant undecorated columns, doorways mounted with pairs of obelisks and covered with corrugated cement shingles, window details with elements reversed and strange half spheres, enormous vases, and moldings, triangular openings, pediments, niches and balcony gazebos in wrought iron. Various critiques have been made about the eclectic, classicist, archeological nature of Ca' Brütta's facades, a condition that Munzio himself referred to as composizione frammentaria.

Some of the technical innovations of Ca' Brütta tend to be obscured by the focus on the encyclopedic quality of the decorations. In addition to underground parking, the building had central heating and hot water. This is a very early example of a reinforced concrete frame building in Italy, made at a time when cement had to be imported and took a long time to cure. The stucco work of the middle floors was applied in the Parisian manner as sprayed coats while the upper floors were done in the traditional Venetian manner with marble dust mixed in the stucco. In spite of the concrete frame that included some cantilevered beams, the structure is almost totally obscured behind facades which have little relationship between structure and interior spatial order and the organization of the exterior.

Some of the Novecento decorative neo-classical elements can be seen in later Muzio work, although the stone and stucco combination and quality of applied decoration gave way to the trabeated brick style of the Catholic University buildings (1931-40) and the Palazzo del Arts (1931-33). Muzio's designs for the interiors of the Mostra d'Arte Decorativa and the 1930 Monzia Triennale could be interpreted as idealized vignettes of what Muzio may have intended for Ca' Brütta apartments. By the late 1930's, however, Muzio's work had evolved into typical Milanese modernism with such buildings as the apartments on via Ampčre (1934)and the big block of housing on Piazza Fiume (1935-36. With the 19 story stepped tower built on Via Turati (1966), just a short distance from Ca' Brütta, where Munzio had lived since moving into the building as the first tenant in 1923, we have witnessed the complete transformation to regional high-rise modernism. The revived interest in Ca' Brütta today should not be surprising considering the historicist and classical tendencies popularized by Post Modernism. Considering that there was a connection between Giorgio De Chirico and Muzio through the magazine "Valori plastic" and the group "La Ronda", organizations reacting to an emerging modernity, it is especially ironic that the 1980's group of Rationalists and Post-Modernists were so preoccupied by De Chirico. Ca' Brütta today seems more "Post Modern" that most recent work fitting that genre.

Irace, Fulvio, Cá Brütta, Officina Edizioni, Roma, 1982.

Muratore, Giorgio, Giovanni Muzio, Tre Case a Milano, Ativa Libraria Editrice Architettura, Roma, 1981.

Grandi, Maurzio and Attilio Pracchi, Guide all' architettura Moderna, Zanichelli, Bologna, 1980, pp. 137-45 & 168.

Etlin, Richard A., Modernism in Italian Architecture, 1890-1940, MIT Press, Cambridge, 1991, pp. 166-187.

L'architettura de Giovanni Muzio, exhibition catalogue, Milano Triennale, 1994-5, Editrice Abitare Segesta, Milano, 1994.

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