Building in the air: Aspects of the aerial imagination in modern Italian architecture

Ross Gordon Jenner, University of Pennsylvania


Franco Albini, a little-theorised architect, is usually included unproblematically in the mainstream of modernist architecture. This thesis examines scarcely noticed elements in his work, endeavouring to show how they deviate from, but are also integral with, modernist principles. Albini's work is examined in relation to his precursor Edoardo Persico and his contemporary Alberto Sartoris. Emphasis is placed on Albini's prewar works. The theme of lightness is developed for the period from Futurism to the 1950s, following motifs of transparency, ascension, displacement, floating, and suspension. Albini's genealogies are traced through themes of lightness in earlier buildings; the impact of flight on construction and vision; in Abstraction, Metaphysical art, and Magic Realism—each drawn out from and typified by readings of a particular work. The metaphor of suspension is employed as a heuristic device to elaborate configurations as yet little considered. Whereas Sartoris' hovering axonometric images were caught between a rationalism of functionalism but also of ratio (a transcendent surpassing of material and earth), suspension in Persico and Albini was a freedom within, rather than from, materiality. Suspension is as much a withholding as it is freedom and release. Both architects explored suspension literally—but also, embracing paradox and irony, metaphorically. Marginalised and suspended politically, they were confined to the ephemera of exhibition and installation design. Their work, consciously or unconsciously, became an image of their condition. Temporal suspension, anticipation, surprise, suspense, and the un-actualised—connoting potentiality—materialised as frames, grids, white surfaces, and figures drawn from aeronautics. Empty space, just as real as solid bodies, became a medium of the irreducibility of potentiality to actuality. Though holding to the principles of functionalism, Albini's ‘unreal levity’ extended to paradox as suspension of logic, irony as suspension of self, and grace as suspension of the weight of necessity in play and the oneiric. Not considered major architects, Persico and Albini, nevertheless, provide through their play with suspension and potentiality rich material for a re-examination of current accounts of modernist grids, white walls, and ‘immateriality’.

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Recommended Citation

Jenner, Ross Gordon, "Building in the air: Aspects of the aerial imagination in modern Italian architecture" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3165708.