Giuseppe Pettazzi, Fiat Tagliero (Asmara, Eritrea; 1937-1938)
Fiat Tagliero (1937-1938) was a petrol station built by the engineer Giuseppe Pettazzi in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, which was annexed by the Fascist regime and became part of the AOI ('Africa Orientale Italiana') empire. Named after the then director of "Fiat Asmara", Giovanni Tagliero, the building was intended to pay homage to the Fiat Lingotto factory located in Turin. The architectural complex was composed of a central tower, hosting a shop (ground level) and offices (upper level) which were connected by a spiral staircase and two concrete wings, each 15 metres long. For this reason, it was dubbed the ‘colonial spaceship’, even if it was more reminiscent of an aeroplane. After having survived several local conflicts almost undamaged, Fiat Tagliero is recognised as a building with historic values and in 2017 it was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
A New Theorization of the Relationship Between Subjectivity and Objectivity
The Rationalization of Aesthetics: the Straight Line
If the rationalist architecture of Asmara is one of the most evident relics of the Fascist African Empire, the Futurist building known as Fiat Tagliero is in turn one of its most popular examples. Marked by a profile that was completely detached from its purpose as a petrol station, it appears as the progression of the Futurist architect Antonio Sant’Elia’s design. With long and majestic wings originating from the central tower, Fiat Tagliero was a contradiction in terms. It was at the same time heavy – in reinforced concrete – and light, being shaped like an aeroplane ready to take off. Clearly, the aeroplane form is also a reference to a recurring Futurist theme, symbolically embodying the innovation and (Fascist) power that would ultimately lead to war: flight. Indeed, we see the same theme again in Thayhat’s Vittoria dell’aria and in Fontana’s Vittoria.
It is also worth mentioning that the petrol station was placed in a strategic location in Asmara, being on the intersection between the city and the airport and so a necessary step when leaving/arriving into the country, or simply passing by. From another point of view, it represented the Italian architectural modernity. It was certainly a landmark, but also a ‘colonial imposition’ in complete contrast to local traditions.
The overall design conceived by the architect Giuseppe Pettazzi was based on ideas of contrast and linearity. The central tower, composed of a main body which ended in thin pinnacles, vaguely recalled a minor and revisited version of a Gothic cathedral as well as the most cutting-edge rationalist architecture Buildings such as Terragni’s Novocomum or Casa del fascio had certainly been taken as significant examples, as evident in the structure and the horizontal band of windows. This solid body then contrasted with the gigantic horizontal wings completely free from any visible structural support. A complex and courageous example of colonial architecture, Fiat Tagliero represented perfectly the ambitions and, at the same time, the ongoing issues between Italy and its colonial conquests.
Godio, Anna. 2008. Architettura italiana in Eritrea. Turin: La Rosa.