At the beginning of the twentieth century it was decided that the Colleferro valley was perfect for a new military establishment: near the railway, a state road and a watercourse.
But there was nothing there and everything had to be planned: suddenly with a factory hundreds or thousands of people would have arrived who needed housing and services. Where there were lush fields until then used as the granary of Rome a human settlement had to rise.
For a designer it was a unique opportunity, perhaps comparable today to the cities in construction in the Arab Emirates or in Asia. The opportunity to give the best of yourself.
And this designer ‘fortune’ happened to two professionals: first the architect Michele Oddini and then the engineer Riccardo Morandi. Both took this opportunity of trying to create a settlement that was not only an urban and architectural model, but that entered into the social aspects of people’s daily lives.
The unique client and a family-run factory of the Parodi Delfino Bombrini (BPD) welcomed the innovations to maintain the stylistic unity of the settlement until the early 1980s. Then SNIA, a public listed company took over, and both industrial property and building stock were broken up and sold to individual lots.
But let’s tell the story in order.
The Colleferro of Oddini since 1910
BPD’s philosophy had always been to treat workers well: a happy worker produces more. We must always relate what we affirm to the parameters of those years, and compare it with its contemporaries, but this philosophy can be found in the architectural choices of the homes.
According to Bianca Coggi, who over the years has collected a lot of documentary material on the history of Colleferro and then published it in a book:
“Already the first urban nucleus was thought out according to the model of the Garden City, which in Rome had been experimented in some neighborhoods like Monte Sacro and Parioli. Colleferro was born in a valley with a river and a railway where the factories could be located while the houses were on the hill about 1 km away. All in analogy with the philosophy of Tony Garnier “.
Since the first core of the foundation, therefore, architecture and urban planning had been designed to serve the needs of industry and the well-being of its workers. Some concepts preceded the model of Adriano Olivetti and today seem a mirage for many workers.
But let’s try to give concrete examples. A factory-hired worker immediately had a bed in a room with all the facilities available while waiting for his home. The size and shape of the house depended on his role in the factory: intensive housing for workers, separate buildings for ‘white collar’ employees and villas for managers.
At that time, the workers’ houses had shared bathrooms on the balconies and there were public laundries (the washing machine had not yet been invented) and public baths.
Moreover, for the well-being of women, kindergartens and elementary schools were immediately built. There was a medical centre for health. For the relief of the soul a small temple then became a small church and dedicated to Santa Barbara, the patron saint of fire. For the relief of all, clubs and recreational after-work centres had been designed for recreation.
The unity of the project and the fact that the property was unique, gave rise to the need for a Village Regulation that all tenants should follow. Reading the articles of this regulation we understand the extreme topicality of social innovations aimed at harmony.
For example, aesthetic standards had to be respected and the land had to be cultivated as a vegetable garden or garden, clothes had to be hung out, the garbage was collected ‘door to door’ and the external appearance of the houses could not be changed.
If we relate all this to the conditions of the age in other parts of Italy or the world we can understand the extreme modernity of this philosophy, and also why it is still studied today. A modernity that will be even more accentuated by the choices of the Engineer Morandi and which eventually led to the City of Culture Award of Lazio of 2018.
Morandi’s Colleferro since 1935
In the interwar period the Colleferro factories grow exponentially with a consequent increase in the number of workers. All these people were somehow housed and it is at this time that Delfino Parodi commissioned a young talented engineer to design a new housing unit.
It was still the factory that realized everything on its land and for this it was possible to make a unitary design and a single philosophy that could be followed. Once again the basic idea was that a happy worker produces more, and the factory had to increase its productivity.
Morandi, therefore, continued the path taken by Oddini but added a new canon that enhanced everything: beauty in innovation.
“Riccardo Morandi brings a stylistic innovation beyond the social one, a new language made possible also by the use of reinforced concrete. He was convinced of the role of beauty and tried to place the buildings in the territory respecting the morphology of the land. Its buildings follow the contour lines and exploit them to create unusual spaces ”.
With Morandi the city became even more human and technological innovations created well-being for the residents. For example, each house had a light, an electrical system, heating and an internal bathroom. Outside, then, a small garden allowed people to be occupied after-work, and to be able to cultivate what was necessary for the family, in a way that today we call biological.
The urban / social modernity then happened in the realization of double pathways: one accessible to the machines and one for the exclusive use of pedestrians. A concept so modern that it was forgotten for years and taken up only in recent years by bio-architecture.
The working-class city was therefore without shops, with single houses with gardens that followed the contour lines of the hills: what is done today with the new building quarters.
And the well-being of the people was not confined to the walls of the house but had to be catered for in other services that the city offered. Here then are the circles after work (once again divided between workers, employees and managers), the gym, the sports field, the tennis courts, the bocce courts.
And then came the market and the cinema, professional schools and hotels and, above all, the heart of the city.
In the meantime the town of Colleferro was born and it was necessary to realize the political and administrative structures of a city: the main square with the fascist party building (later common), the barracks and a large church.
At this time Colleferro became a ‘Foundation City’ and the structure of its main nucleus is still visible in Piazza Italia with a rectangular space surrounded by buildings with regular arcades which on two opposite sides ideally contrasts the administration of the city and that of security (and barracks of the Carabinieri) and on the other two sides are shops and bars with arcades to promote the social life of the residents.
All of this is underlined by a clean architectural style and the warmth of reinforced concrete technology as used in the construction of the great church of Santa Barbara: a technologically advanced building made with the ‘martellinato’ (rough marble surface) reinforced concrete technique.
The Post-war Colleferro
In the post-war years, technological and partly social experimentation continued: Morandi created innovative buildings such as the auditorium or some factories and Passarelli realized the urban hospital. The entire building heritage was renewed with the construction of bathrooms inside the homes and technological services.
But in the meantime, outside the ownership of the BPD, a series of private operators begin their construction following personal tastes and criteria and failing to create a harmonious unity which had led to social identity.
But the identity of Colleferro can clearly be found while strolling through the early urban centres which, due to their uniqueness, have been ‘musealizzati’ (made as if museums) by the Lazio Region and will be increasingly studied in books on architecture, urban planning as well as sociology for the modernity of their conception .
For further information: Bianca Coggi, ‘Colleferro, new city of the twentieth century’, 2017 Milan, or on the website www.cittamorandiana.it