(Re)Discovering Portaluppi

John Hill
1. April 2024
“La villa per le otto coppie” in Formazza, Itlay, by Piero Portaluppi, 1930 (From Aedilitia II, Bestetti & Tumminelli, 1930)

Piero Portaluppi (1888–1967) was a Milanese architect and educator whose prolific output ranged from power plants, villas, and restorations to proposals for residential blocks and skyscrapers. Before World War I he worked as a cartoonist for several satirical magazines in Milan and collaborated with Ettore Conti, a leading figure in the Italian power sector; the latter led to him working on the reconstruction of power stations destroyed during the war. The diversity of his interests and abilities meant he called himself “a man of 25 careers,” not just an architect.

He was especially active in his private practice following the war, collecting his work from the Teens and Twenties into two Aedilitia monographs put out by Bestetti & Tumminelli in 1924 and 1930. The first volume has his ironic proposals for the Allabanuel residential district in Milan and the SKNE Company skyscraper in Manhattan, among numerous built projects, while the many highlights in the second volume include the Italian Pavilion at the 1929 Barcelona Universal Exposition, the Wagristoratore (wagon-restaurant) in Formazza, Hellytown, and “La villa per le otto coppie” (“The villa for the eight couples”) shown here.

Covers of Aedilitia I and Aedilitia II monographs by Piero Portaluppi, published by Bestetti & Tumminelli in 1924 and 1930, respectively.

“The villa for the eight couples” was Portaluppi's contribution to 36 ville di Architetti Italiani at the IV Monza Triennial, which took place at the Villa Reale in Monza in 1930. (Three years later it would move to Milan and become the Triennale di Milano we are all familiar with.) Among the other 35 contributors were Gio Ponti, Franco Albini, and Alberto Sartoris. There is no explanatory text in either volume of Aedilitia, but the contribution to the Monza Triennial must have been important to Portaluppi, since it is the only project in the pages of Aedilitia II that is given a tipped-in color image: the beautiful watercolor rendering at the top of this article.

“La villa per le otto coppie” in Formazza, Itlay, by Piero Portaluppi, 1930 (From Aedilitia II, Bestetti & Tumminelli, 1930)
“La villa per le otto coppie” in Formazza, Itlay, by Piero Portaluppi, 1930 (From Aedilitia II, Bestetti & Tumminelli, 1930)

The site for the villa, like the Wagristoratore, was in Formazza, the commune in the mountainous Piedmont region of Italy, on the border with Switzerland. While the Wagristoratore was built from two train wagons but subsequently destroyed, the villa was hypothetical and therefore never built, done as a competition not a real commission. Still, Portaluppi's drawings show a somewhat realistic, steep site that the architect had to contend with: He stacked the eight dwelling units into the side of a cliff and put a communal floor on top, with a veranda extending to a lookout tower supported by a tall pylon that integrates — not surprisingly, given his background with Ettore Conti — power lines.

“La villa per le otto coppie” in Formazza, Itlay, by Piero Portaluppi, 1930 (From Aedilitia II, Bestetti & Tumminelli, 1930)
“La villa per le otto coppie” in Formazza, Itlay, by Piero Portaluppi, 1930 (From Aedilitia II, Bestetti & Tumminelli, 1930)

If the dramatic exterior perspectives and expression of electrical infrastructure recall the work of Antonio Sant'Elia and other Italian Futurists, the interiors are more Art Deco, with sumptuous finishes, rounded corners, and other stylistic features. The latter has drawn more attention to Portaluppi in recent years, as evidenced by photo albums of Villa Necchi Campiglio in Milan, for instance, and last year's publication, with the Fondazione Piero Portaluppi, of “an exhaustive monograph on the eminent architect, emblematic of Milanese, and also Italian, 20th-century architectural and figurative culture.” Much more widely available than the Aedilitia monographs, this new book should allow many more people to (re)discover Portaluppi's eclectic architecture.

“La villa per le otto coppie” in Formazza, Itlay, by Piero Portaluppi, 1930 (From Aedilitia II, Bestetti & Tumminelli, 1930)
“La villa per le otto coppie” in Formazza, Itlay, by Piero Portaluppi, 1930 (From Aedilitia II, Bestetti & Tumminelli, 1930)
Piero Portaluppi

Piero Portaluppi
Edited by Piero Maranghi
Photographs by Ciro Frank Schiappa

26 x 34cm
400 Pages
368 Illustrations
Hardcover
ISBN 9788857247465
Skira
Purchase this book

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