Luigi Figini and Gino Pollini – with the contribution of Piero Bottoni, Guido Frette and Adalberto Libera, Casa Elettrica (Monza, demolished; 1929-1930)
Designed by the architects Luigi Figini and Gino Pollini with the help of Piero Bottoni, Guido Frette and Adalberto Libera who were responsible for the interiors, Casa Elettrica was a prototype ‘house of the present/future’. Conceived as a furnished villa-pavilion immersed in nature, it was exhibited at the 'IV Esposizione Triennale Internazionale delle Arti Decorative e Industriali Moderne', held in 1930 within the royal park of Monza, and demolished shortly after. Financed by the electricity company Edison, the project represented an ideal house of the future equipped with the most modern appliances and built with materials such as reinforced concrete, glass, iron and linoleum. The project was acclaimed internationally; already in 1932, the MoMA of New York published a catalogue where Casa Elettrica was shown as a modern example of International Style.
The Spatial Construction of the New Man’s Urban Reality
Narrative Rationalization: Staging a Collective Spectacle
When Gio Ponti, in 1929, invited the architects Figini and Pollini to take part in the 'IV Triennale' of Monza (1930), Pollini was already thinking about a modern 'casa elettrica' (‘electric house’). That year the architect had exhibited in Bolzano his design for a house equipped with modern appliances and "silent mannequins" (see Gregotti-Marzari 2002: 252). Figini and Pollini, in cooperation with what remained of the Gruppo 7, were ready to participate in the Monza exhibition with a new and revised Casa Elettrica. The result was a revolutionary domestic space where the exclusive protagonist was modernity, in terms of design, colours, materials and research. While Muzio, with Ca’ Brutta, aimed to create a place for the urban bourgeoisie, Figini and Pollini foresaw a futuristic residential microcosm.
The project was a perfect combination of nature and architecture, interior and exterior, living and natural spaces. Externally, it was a flat, volumetric building distributed on one level, with a roof terrace and garden accessible through an internal stairway. Thanks to the extended use of pillars, glass and movable walls, the built surfaces seemed to be diaphragms which vanished and reappeared according to the needs of the residents. Internally, the villa reflected the outer structure, being an open ‘free plan’ space completely furnished in order to respond to all of contemporary society’s requirements. Clear points of reference were Le Corbusier – for the aforementioned use of pillars and a 'free plan' – and Terragni’s Novocomum – especially in terms of colour that included nuances like grey, green, red and blue.
If the urban context was changing from a macro to a micro perspective, from a public and collective to a private and individual level, Casa Elettrica, with its rational functionality and smart organisation of space, represented these changes on an intimate, domestic scale. Fulfilling the expectations of the contemporary wealthy middle-class, it embodied the futuristic and modern identity of an era: it was the materialisation of a new way of living. Thanks to the coherence of the project, this villa appeared to be an organic, living and lived structure, well-organised internally and externally. It offered everything as a ready package, as a contemporary advertisement reported: 'a villa like Casa Elettrica' could be bought for 60.000 lire (80.000 lire if fully furnished; ArchiDiAP’s website).
Catalogo ufficiale della IV Esposizione Triennale Internazionale delle Arti Decorative e Industriali Moderne, May-October 1930.
Gregotti, Vittorio and Giovanni Marzari (eds). 2002. Luigi Figini Gino Pollini. Opera completa. Milan: Electa.
ArchiDiAP website: http://www.archidiap.com/opera/la-casa-elettrica/