UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Fiat colonie: architecture of authority Taylor, Russell Garrett


Between 1925 and 1937 the Italian car manufacturer Fiat initiated three building projects that featured a distinctive architectural form. In two quite different building types the Fiat designers employed an uninterrupted ascending spiral ramp in a way that determines both the internal volume and the external form. This paper will argue that Fiat first adopted this form for practical reasons and then applied it to two building types that represented their wider place in contemporary Italian society. Further the paper will argue that the form was associated with a tradition of social conditioning — parallel with the rigorous organization of the highly mechanized mass-production factory — that would be appropriate in their welfare and recreation building. It is the main argument of this thesis, first, that Fiat’s factories and children’s health camps were organized by the spiral ramp motif representing a clear, palpable imposition of authority, and second, that Fiat’s social services were conceived as integral elements in the process of production — the “Colonie” buildings, built to house children, were conceived of as a form of factory: evidently the architects who designed Fiat’s Colonie buildings intended a formal reference to the factory since both differ markedly from contemporary Colonie erected under Fascist authority. A brief introduction outlines a historiography of the subject. Chapter One gives some background of Italian architecture contemporaneous to the projects, introduces the issues of Fascism and makes reference to the place of Fiat. Chapter Two will focus on the Colonie buildings of Fiat and how they relate to Italian Modernist architecture. The institution of children’s health camps in Italy will be defined and Fiat’s examples will be compared with other examples of the type, some of which were state—sponsored, and others privately funded. Chapter Three addresses the specific circumstances under which the Fiat Colonie were designed and constructed. In Italy the power of Fiat, and the Agnelli dynasty, spanned industry, finance and significantly, the political world. This section seeks to define how the firm operated within Fascist policy and also how the .Agnelli family, like a feudal barony, sought to define and sustain traditional networks of power. Although this is not the main thrust of the thesis it will be suggested here that the use of the formal organization of the “Lingotto” auto factory may be considered as one of the ways in which Fiat sought to divert worker militancy, fabricating buildings with physical as well as institutional affiliations that would establish a network of links to the firm. Chapter Four considers the specific design features and functioning of Fiat Colonie. Part of this process, it will be posited, was the development of a distinctive formal motif. Fiat—Agnelli’s buildings will be shown to be a sort of “middle—of—the—road” architecture, indeed the buildings appear more proto—modern than revolutionary, despite their advanced technology. This separates them from contemporary Colonie, which are more abstract functional in design.

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