Angiolo Mazzoni, Palazzo delle Poste in La Spezia (1930-1933)
As the official architect of the Ministry of Communication, Angiolo Mazzoni designed and supervised all the stages of construction of Palazzo delle Poste in La Spezia. Built in just three years (1930-1933) within the central part of the city (piazza Verdi), once occupied by the humble residential neighbourhood nicknamed the 'Torretto', the building has a solid appearance: a main body flanked by a lateral clock tower. Overall, the stone-clad volumetric building has a strikingly bright presence, and the interior literally explodes with colour, thanks to the decorations of Futurist artists Fillia and Prampolini Le comunicazioni, 1933.Palazzo delle Poste, slightly modified during the Second World War (a lateral water tank was substituted by a passage leading towards an air raid shelter), was restored in 2009 and it is still in use with its original function as a post office.
The Spatial Construction of the New Man’s Urban Reality
Narrative Rationalization: Staging a Collective Spectacle
Palazzo delle Poste in La Spezia, Liguria, can be seen as a new space within the city, being a modern building actively dialoguing with the pre-existing historical context by virtue of multiple suggestions. Despite being part of a ‘Fascist present’ – a post office serving an entire community with its public services – Palazzo delle Poste offers a glorious itinerary through Italian history starting from the Roman period and continuing through the Middle Ages, until the beginning of the 20th century. According to Etlin, “at the post office, the architectural symbolism evokes both traditions of the founding of Rome and of its imperial glory” (Etlin 1983:89), traceable already on the building’s façade which marked by a massive colonnade and a series of round arches framing the entrances.
Mazzoni’s building also recalls the Medieval period when the municipalities ('comuni') ruled Italy. Palazzo delle Poste, with a structure based on a majestic parallelepiped flanked by a clock tower, is a modern reinterpretation of the historical "broletto", a political seat usually located in the main square of the city. And the juxtaposition of the volumes and symmetrical elements (like the lateral stairs on the façade) echoed the desolate urban scenes painted by Giorgio de Chirico.
Local discourse plays a significant part within the whole project. In terms of traditions and materials, the building supports the principle of autarky upheld by the Fascist regime. The cladding used for the exteriors is made of a stone coming from the neighbouring Tuscany ('pietra di Monsummano') that, with its pale yellow nuances, seems to pay homage to the coloured traditional architecture of Liguria. Within the interiors, dominated by rational gigantic spaces, the architect decided to create a contrast between bricks and local marbles – e.g. a black marble coming from La Spezia ('marmo nero di Portoro') – reminiscent of a profane church open for its ‘parish’ of clients. Finally, when the building was close to completion, Mazzoni comissioned the Futurist artists Fillia and Prampolini to design the internal decoration of the tower: using brilliantly coloured ceramics from Liguria, they created an immense mosaic on the theme of communications Le comunicazioni, 1933. This combination of architecture and mosaic decoration, already popular for centuries, was to be repeated in at least one other comparable example: Palazzo delle Poste in Alessandria, a building with a mosaic façade decorated by the Futurist artist Gino Severini (1939-1941).
Every Palazzo delle Poste commissioned during the Ventennio was designed and modernised not only with the intention of developing bureaucratic and postal services, but also to be admired by the employees and the people coming in every day. It was a place where the public could be proudly satisfied by an efficient national service and, at the same time, enjoy an exhibition, where the idea of “arte totale” was definitely predominant.
Cozzi, Paola, Godoli, Mauro and Ezio Pettenella (eds). 2003. Angiolo Mazzoni (1894-1979). Architetto Ingegnere del Ministero delle Comunicazioni. Milan: Skira.
Etlin, Richard A. 1983. 'Italian Rationalism.' Progressive Architecture (July): 86-94.
Forti, Alfredo. 1978. Angiolo Mazzoni. Architetto fra fascismo e libertà. Florence: Edam.