Italian Brutalism: The Search for a New Scale


Italian brutalism, a reinterpretation of the raw concrete sensibility emerging in parallel in England and France, produced remarkable works. These included inserts in historic city centers, experiments in bourgeois suburbs, and innovative designs for leisure spaces. However, the most notable examples are the large housing complexes that emerged from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s, embodying the Brutalist Bel Paese.

The circular openings of the loggias in Genoa's housing complex, designed by Aldo Luigi Rizzo and Aldo Pino, earned it the nickname ‘The Washing Machines’. ©Zupagrafika

The pivotal moment came with the enactment of Law 167 in 1962, prioritizing public housing as a key element of urban planning. Municipalities were empowered to combat speculation and create protected reserves for development, resulting in the construction of grand ensembles akin to their French counterparts.

‘The rough, statistical, repetitive, and ultimately truly democratic aesthetic of Corviale and its counterparts transcribes a precise stance against the aesthetic canons of the bourgeois city.’
The housing complex Rozzol Melara in Trieste is comprised of two L-shaped residential units connected by a pedestrian bridge. ©Zupagrafika

These complexes, often distant from city centers, became monumental landscapes. Architects like Vittorio Gregotti and Giancarlo De Carlo redefined territories with projects like Corviale in Rome and ZEN 2 in Palermo. The shift towards brutalism signaled a departure from neo-vernacular styles, embracing exposed concrete and industrial prefabrication.

Rome's main residential building in Nuovo Corviale is almost 1 km long and is known as ‘Il Serpentone’ (The Big Serpent). ©Zupagrafika

Italy’s brutalist experiments, driven by architects with socialist leanings, aimed for social reform but faced challenges in implementation. Today, many of these complexes stand neglected, grappling with social issues. However, recent interest in brutalist aesthetics offers hope for their preservation and transformation into thriving community spaces, marking a potential turning point in their fate. Only time will reveal their future.

All images featured in this post are extracted from the book Brutalia (Zupagrafika, 2023). Text excerpt from the foreword to the book by Alessandro Benetti.
Photography: David Navarro & Martyna Sobecka © Zupagrafika
All text and images are © Zupagrafika. Unauthorized use or reproduction of any content is not permitted.

Written by
Alessandro Benetti

Text and images © Zupagrafika

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