• Itineraries

Magistretti and Liguria: genius loci versus Modern Movement

The lesson by Rogers

Many of Magistretti's most interesting works are located in a specific geographical region - Liguria - with which he had a special relationship, not only due to the numerous architectural works he built there, but also because he worked as a designer for several important companies with factories in this region (including Schiffini). Liguria was an interesting place for Magistretti to experiment with his approach to the genius loci which became one of the signature themes of all his work as an architect (Ernesto Nathan Rogers, Magistretti's maestro, classified it using the term "environmental pre-existences"). In fact, the well-known theory establishes that the context in which a work is located is very important since it defines its constructive and typological features which have to be inspired by in-depth knowledge of the constructive history of the site. Magistretti continued to apply this concept to his later works and in fact it is undoubtedly crucial in order to understand the role of works such as the houses in Framura or the renowned Casa Arosio that caused such a scandal at the C.I.A.M. in Otterlo in 1959. Together with other works, including Torre Velasca by Rogers and the colleagues of the BBPR group, it helped unveil what was then the incompatible Italian approach to the teachings of the Modern Movement. Magistretti himself was to comment on this, recalling that «my friend and teacher Ernesto Nathan Rogers called me his "first pupil" because I was chronologically the first student to whom he had spoken "ex cathedra" [...]. A few years later, together with Rogers, Gardella and De Carlo, I attended the last congress of the C.I.A.M. in Otterlo-Holland where the Sacred College, in this case of the C.I.A.M., excommunicated us because we had dared to use architectural elements of the nearby local landscape in the projects we presented. In my case, very modestly, shutters on windows. I can still remember the confrontation, the laughter, but also the fact we were convinced we should continue as we saw fit. I seem to recall that there were no more meetings of the C.I.A.M.» (from Tanimoto House project profile by Vico Magistretti).

Arenzano and the others

While the intended use, type and construction period of Magistretti's works in Liguria are very different, their shared features are the best example of his design philosophy: to recover and use traditional materials best suited to the climate, e.g., slate roofs or white, rough plaster façades. Apart from the materials, Vico uses typical Mediterranean elements, for example wooden window shutters. At the C.I.A.M. the most intransigent of Le Corbusier's disciples considered the shutters a real insult to the dogma of the naked fenêtre en longueur, transformed by Magistretti into the focus of many of his considerations about the project (Casa Arosio, studio sketch of the windows).
With this in mind it is crucial to review buildings such as the Locanda dell'Angelo at Ameglia - its silhouette reinterprets the typical shapes of farmhouses in the Ligurian countryside (The Locanda dell'Angelo seen from the Ligurian countryside, in an old photograph) - or the big group of works in Arenzano. The latter was a lucky design opportunity that crystallised thanks to Magistretti's collaboration with the Cemadis company which at the time was implementing the development plan of the coastal town where Magistretti was working on the design of numerous holiday homes. Apart from the aforementioned Casa Arosio, other projects include small Mediterranean ‘gems' such as Casa Gardella, with its local slate roofs and roof garden (Casa Gardella in an old photograph), as well as many unbuilt works, culminating in the Roca Llisa holiday home in Spain.

Maria Manuela Leoni