Angiolo Mazzoni, Palazzo delle Poste in Pula (1930-1935)
Designed and built in approximately five years (1930-1935), Palazzo delle Poste in Pula – a Croatian city at that time part of Italy – was one of the many post offices designed by architect Mazzoni during the Ventennio. Erected on an irregular parcel (a piece of land), the building had a modern structure based on the contrasting intersection between two volumes and a façade characterised by multiple sequences of windows. The entrance, strategically located on the corner of two streets, was flanked/framed by sculptor Gino Alieventi’s bronze monument to the fallen of WWI and three massive Fascist emblems ('fasci littori'). The elegant but quite simple interiors were centred on a unique point of attraction: a majestic semi-helicoid stairway, completely cladded by red glass mosaics. After WWII, when Pula passed to the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (now Croatia), the monument and the three "fasci" were removed, and the Italian signs substituted with Croatian ones. At the end of the seventies, the building was already officially documented as being in a state of neglect and in need of a restoration.
The Spatial Construction of the New Man’s Urban Reality
Narrative Rationalization: Staging a Collective Spectacle
Mazzoni worked on the designs for the post offices of Pula and Palermo more or less simultaneously, but the outcomes are only partially comparable. In both cases, the architect designed buildings offering public postal services that were volumetrically shaped and decorated with political symbols, externally cladded by a local stone and internally dominated by a majestic stairway. But while Palermo’s post office is traditional in style, Pula’s is undeniably modern and even provocative with its multiple references. The simple, geometric shape/form with several bands of windows are reminiscent of Terragni’s rationalism (see Casa del Fascio; its porthole windows recall instead the maritime disposition of the city, marking 'the Venetian, and so Italian, identity of Istria' ('ricordare la venezianità, e quindi l’italianità, dell’Istria'; Canali 2001, 309). In other words, the whole project employed an architectural language which indicated its territorial and, most of all, political affiliation with Fascist Italy.
Built in the city centre to replace the existing post office, which was subsequently demolished, the building was physically and symbolically imposing. It was intended as an example of the ‘new’ public architecture of Pula, in need of a material ‘rejuvenation’, and a strong symbol of the artistic and architectural reform sought by the regime. This is evident not only in the building’s modernist form, but also in the insistence on the use of local materials according to the Fascist principle of autarky: in addition to Istrian stone for the exterior, Mazzoni made use of local marble, and an anti-corrosive aluminium developed within Italy, which was applied to the façade of the clock, doors and window decorations.
Since Istria had only recently become part of Italy (after the Fascist "Impresa di Fiume" in 1919), from the point of view of the regime it was the peninsula was in need of total ‘Italianisation’. This was perhaps why Mazzoni was able to present such a cutting-edge architectural project, which immediately became a visual point of reference for the local community. A commanding presence on conquered land, the building metaphorically embodied a strong power and dictatorial dynamics. It was a material and public declaration to the inhabitants, an imposing place for everyone living in Pula (and Istria). It is no coincidence that, after the fall of the regime, when Istria became part of what was Yugoslavia, the building was modified so that all the most evident Italian traces were removed and substituted: it was not just a language shift, but also a change of status.
Canali, Ferruccio. 2001. 'Architettura del moderno nell’Istria italiana (1922-1942).' Quaderni – Centro di ricerche storiche, Rovigno vol. XIII, Trieste-Rovigno: 291-330.
Cozzi, Paola, Godoli, Mauro and Ezio Pettenella (eds).2003. Angiolo Mazzoni (1894-1979). Architetto Ingegnere del Ministero delle Comunicazioni. Milan: Skira.
Forti, Alfredo. 1978. Angiolo Mazzoni. Architetto fra fascismo e libertà. Florence: Edam.