Slab, point-access
Luccichenti, Ugo | Rome, Italy | 1952-53
Image of Belsito
Piazzale facade

ArchitectLuccichenti, Ugo
AddressPiazzale delle Medaglie d 'Oro
Building TypeSlab, point-access
Number of Dwellings65
Date Built1952-53
Dwelling TypesMaisonettes & 2 BR flats
No. Floors5
Section Typeflats
Exterior Finish
stucco, stone, concrete
Construction TypeRC frame
Ancillary Servicesshopping, cinema, post office, parking

The hills north of the Vatican on the slopes of Monte Mario were named Balduina after Pope Julius III del Monte’s brother Baldwin who owned large areas of land here in the 16th century. In the 1940’s much of the Balduina district of was purchased from the Vatican by one of the largest real estate developers in Italy, the Società Generale Immobiliare (SCI) who intended to create housing associations and build cooperatives for middle class professionals. In the 1931 development plan (Piano regolatore) part of the district was to be used as public open space and three different residential housing models were to be used. The three building types were the palazzina, a 5-story, free-standing urban villa building type essentially organized as high density garden city suburbs, the intensivo, a 10-story infill type for use with perimeter blocks, and the villino, a 2-3 story garden apartment type. (See Rea for more about these types.) The neighborhood along the western edge of Monte Mario centered on Piazzale delle Medaglie d’ Oro, a long narrow plaza is one of several open public spaces in the Balduina district. The plaza is aligned perpendicular to Monte Mario and slopes gradually from east to west so that the landscaped space of the park flows into the enclosed area of the plaza. The name ‟Belsito nord” comes from the restaurant that was located here, “nord” because the proposed building was to be built continuously along the north side of the square. A streetcar terminal was put in the plaza at some point and the plaza was planted with pines and linden trees to control landslides. The linden trees were later relocated to the EUR center.

The triangular site runs continuously along the north side of the plaza, from a narrow frontage at the upper end to a wider area at the lower, west end. A long, stepping five-story slab runs the full length the plaza. This building is built on a glazed podium that is filled with small shops and terminates with a 2-story, trapezoidal element that is supported on paired, tapered piers that defines an open loggia that was originally a restaurant. Spatially, the loggia reads as the enlargement of a continuous, folded, stepping canopy that had been inserted under the residential slab and is supported with round columns. Together, the loggia and restaurant form an independent element that is mis-aligned with the residential wall, has a pitched roof and has since been converted to a 2-level post office.

The dwellings are organized as a row of five, 4 story-, tee-shaped palazzini that have been connected together to form a continuous stepping wall of apartments, organized as a point-access slab with repeating service cores. The individual flats back up to service spaces along the north side of the building and have small recessed balconies. Living areas and master bedrooms face the piazzale and create a series of 5 vertical blocks that extend forward from the main volume of the slab and form raised terraces for the bottom apartments that define the width of the loggia. All of the rooms along the south side have continuous balconies and windows with awnings and blinds for solar control. The top two floors of each of the 5 blocks is expressed as a maisonette with a separate balcony and an external stair connecting to the roof recalling Le Corbusier’s Domino houses like those used at Pessac. These elements are further articulated with brightly colored balconies that form continuous horizontal stripes. These blocks are organized with 2 flats per floor with paired living rooms on the projecting surface and blank sidewalls for privacy. Careful attention has been paid to solar protection including the recessed loggia and the cantilevered canopy of the loggia, the projecting balconies, balcony awnings, and roll down shutters. The loggia serves as an open market the apartment lobbies and shop fronts, and has a service area for vehicles that is separate from the space of the piazzale. The north façade is a minimal wall expressing the plan organization as recessed paired service balconies. A small cinema, a trapezoidal block on the north side of the building that separated from the residential slab and as part of the original design, takes advantage of the wider part of the site. A ramp on the north side provides an entrance to basement parking.

Ugo Luccichenti was trained as an engineer, graduating from the Royal School of Engineering in Rome after a brief time as a corporal at the end of WWII. Following a brief internship, and a few small commissions, Luccichenti received a commission in 1934 from the Società Generale Immobiliare in for the design of apartment buildings in a new development along Via Panama. It has been suggested that Luccichenti because of his training as an engineer and his long association with a powerful real estate operation was more of a “building technician” than an architect. From his earliest projects, however, he displayed an experimental quality and an exceptional skill dealing with difficult site conditions, building details and materials. He was particularly adept with the formal development of street facades such as the layered, highly concatenated wall along viale Pinturicchio, the spatially complex stepping volumes of Piazzale delle Medaglie d Oro, or the curved “prow “of the terrace and balconies of Via Fratelli-Ruspolii. These examples hardly seem to be the work of a building technician, examples of profit-driven spec building process.

There is also some thought that Aldo Samaritani, who was the CEO of the Soceità, had an important impact on Luccichenti’s innovative designs. As the head of one of Italy’s most powerful real estate developers, Sanaritani was, doubtless aware of the unique situation brought about by the “bourgeoisie economic boom” that occurred with the reconstruction and evidently encouraged his architect to respond to the culture of “la dolce vita” that arose in Rome in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Other factors that contributed to Luccichenti’s informal architectural training included the presence of an especially rich tradition of cross fertilization of ideas in all aspects of Italian design that characterized the 1950’s and 60’s; in civil engineering, automotive and industrial design, and furniture and interior design that were regularly displayed on the pages of Domus, and Casabella. Luccichenti’s younger brother Amadeo was also a well-known Roman architect and while they never seem to have worked together—Amedeo was 13 years younger and had a long –time partner, Vicenzo Monaco—they must have shared observations about the amazing transformation of the city that was going on.

Belsito combines palazzina and intensivo, building types and anticipates the widespread use of slabs and towers typically used in various government programs after WWII. As the name implies, the palazzina was essentially a large house and Belsito can be seen as a row of palazzini, connected together to form a large apartment slab but articulated as separate buildings, the “case”of case populare. At the same time Belsito suggests an intensivo type: an infill situation, point access, references to a stripped down functionalist pedigree, and so on. So, the essential DNA of typical case populari is also resident in Belsito. We have only to add a few floors, and remove a few balconies to have a full blown 1970’s precast, Istituto Autonomi Case Populari (IACP) slab from Corviale or some other government- sponsored social housing.

Tekni/Con, Guida dellÁrchitettura Contemporanea in Roma, Associazione Nazionale Ingegneri e Architetti Italiani (ANIAI), c. 1966, p. C7.

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