Raffaello Fagnoni, Scuola di Guerra Aerea (Florence; 1936-1938)
The Scuola di Guerra Aerea was designed by the architect Raffaello Fagnoni between 1936 and 1937 and then built rapidly in less than a year: it was inaugurated on the 27th March 1938. A public institution – an aeronautical school for the future members of the Italian Air Force – it was designed as a group of buildings located in a large plot outside the city centre of Florence. Bricks and travertine were the main materials used for the reinforced concrete structures that included: an entrance building with a reception, a school (classrooms and labs), ‘headquarters’ ('Comando') with rooms for the standing army working there, a barrack equipped with various facilities (toilets, infirmary, air-raid shelters). Nowadays, the architectural complex is still in use with the same function: apart from minor changes mainly concerning the old technical systems, it hosts the 'Scuola militare Aeronautica Giulio Douhet' (middle and high school) and the 'Isituto di Scienze Militari Aeronautiche' (university).
The Spatial Construction of the New Man’s Urban Reality
Narrative Rationalization: Staging a Collective Spectacle
During the second half of the thirties, when WWII was creeping steadily closer to Italy, constructing a school for the education of the Italian Air Force was, in the eyes of the PNF (National Fascist Party), almost inevitable. The city of Florence was chosen (instead of Turin) by virtue of its position, apparently safe from potential air-raids. Raffaello Fagnoni, the architect commissioned to undertake this project, was able to quickly conceive, design and supervise the construction of a huge complex that created a new point of reference within the urban context. Located outside the city centre, the Scuola di Guerra Aerea (1936-1938) was a proportionate balance between architecture and nature. In fact, taking advantage of the pre-existing arboretum, the architect was able to reshape the large plot, placing the buildings in a natural setting. The resulting mix of closed and open areas (dedicated to open-air activities) and full and empty space, was structured around two perpendicular axes, recalling the Roman 'cardo and decumanus' system.
Everything, within this institution, was planned to be functional and rational: the complex of buildings, arranged in a reverse 'T' shape, reflected the hierarchical path through military education. ‘Order’ and ‘discipline’ were thus significant keywords adopted by the architect and applied to the whole project. From the entrance to the facilities on the edge of the plot (storage rooms, garages, guardhouse), every space was designed to respond to specific needs. This structural coherence is reflected in the strategic position of the Scuola: even if: even if located in a natural environment, close to the Arno River, it was also well-connected to the city. The Scuola di Guerra Aerea could be thus considered a sort of minutely planned ‘educational village’, from the general form of the building to the smallest architectural details (designed by Fagnoni himself).
Overall, following the principles of rationalism and at the same time respectful towards the Renaissance traditions of that area, the school demonstrated the architect’s skill in planning a new, strategic site for the regime. The pavilions, shaped as simple and linear volumes made out of bricks (facades) and travertine (doors and windows frames) gave the complex a modern profile. This was also due to collaboration with some artists for the decorations (e.g. Mario Moschi made the bas-relief at the entrance of the 'Padiglione Ufficiali'). On the other hand, the regular rhythm given by the repetition of architectural items, windows and doors was a clear nod to the aristocratic “palazzo” of the Florentine Renaissance.
Fagnoni, Raffaello. 1998. Architettura della Scuola di Applicazione Aeronautica di Firenze. Milan: Electa.