Aesthetics of Dwelling in Postwar Italy
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After World War II, a wave of Italian films emerged that depicted the life and hardships of characters left helpless after the conflict, bringing to the screen the struggles of a time of existential angst and uncertainty. This form of filmmaking was associated with a broader artistic phenomenon known as ‘neorealism’ and is now considered a pivotal point in the history of Italian cinema. But neorealism was not limited to film any more than it was to literature. It spread to other areas of artistic production, including architecture. What was, then, neorealist architecture?
This book explores the links between architecture, filmmaking and the built environment in dopoguerra Italy (194X–195X) seeking to ascertain whether, and how, neorealism manifested itself in architecture. Terms such as ‘neorealist architecture’ or ‘architectural neorealism’ were hinted at in these years and recalled by historians of architecture in the following decades. Therefore, the concept was adopted ad hoc and popularized post hoc, in the absence of any declarations prior to 1955 that proclaimed what neorealism in architecture was or wanted to be. However, while the concept has been internalized by Italian architectural history, transfers between neorealism—as an aesthetic and ethic—and architecture—as one potential medium of its embodiment or expression—are still not fully understood. Therefore, its main goal is to provide an in-depth discussion of the concept ‘neorealist architecture’, the working assumption being that the connection between both terms is not meaningless.
The book is beautifully illustrated with over 100 black and white archival images and is the first book to be published on neorealism in architecture. It will appeal to scholars, professionals, and students interested in history and theory of architecture, Italian studies, art history, and cultural studies.
Table of Contents
FOREWORD by Andrew Leach
PART I. TOWARDS A CONCEPT: NEOREALIST ARCHITECTURE
Chapter 1. A Climate Beyond Filmmaking
Chapter 2. Political Celebration, Formal Failure
PART II. A NEOREALIST MAKING IN ARCHITECTURE
Chapter 3. The INA-Casa Program as a Vehicle for Neorealism
Chapter 4. Atmosphere, Mood, Mindset... Translated Into Bricks
PART III. NEOREALIST IMAGES OF ARCHITECTURE
Chapter 5. Architecture Within the Imagery of Neorealism
Chapter 6. Figuranti of a Shared Aesthetic
EPILOGUE: THE SCENE OF MAN’S LIFE
David Escudero is an architect and assistant professor in architecture at the Department of Architectural Composition of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (ETSAM-UPM), and a member of the UPM Cultural Landscape Research Group (GIPC). His research topics focus on the intersections between theory of architecture, cinema, and representation. He has been a Fulbright fellow at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles (2022), and a visiting scholar at the UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design (2017), at the gta Institute of the ETH Zürich (2017) and at the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca in Rome (2018). He was awarded a Graham Foundation grant for his book Neorealist Architecture: Aesthetics of Dwelling in Postwar Italy. He has authored articles in Journal of Architecture (RIBA), Architectural Theory Review, and OASE Journal for Architecture, among others.
Meticulously researched and copiously illustrated, this book persuasively explicates the myriad connections among Italian cinema and architecture. Escudero’s deep knowledge of key films and buildings yields a new and more subtle understanding of neorealism and twentieth-century Italy. A must read for students and scholars of film and the city.
Edward Dimendberg. University of California, Irvine.
David Escudero brings a novel approach to housing scholarship. By viewing the postwar Italian social housing programme through the lens of neorealist cinema, he reveals their common ideological substrate – an aesthetics of everyday life that is in turn angry, nostalgic, and optimistic. The filmic records of ordinary, changing built environments, by reflecting the inner state of characters, also bring back into focus the intended beneficiary of housing: the human subject.
Irina Davidovici. gta Institute, ETH Zürich.
Locating post-war Italian architecture in what he calls the "environment" of neorealism—the convergence of literature, film, and art that characterised Italy’s reconstruction after Fascism—David Escudero compellingly demonstrates how transmedial cultural innovations transformed the built space of Italian cities in the 1940s and ’50s. Wide ranging and richly detailed, this book brilliantly illuminates the links connecting architecture and cinema, offering an original survey of the landscape and built environment of Italian neorealism.
Charles L. Leavitt IV. University of Notre Dame. Author of Italian Neorealism: A Cultural History (University of Toronto Press, 2020).
David Escudero’s thought-provoking book on Italian Neorealism offers a new and insightful angle to the study of one of the most influential artistic phenomena of the 20th century –Neorealism. His book shows that Neorealism not only transgressed the boundaries between architecture, film and other visual forms of expression, but also profoundly influenced our way of seeing, representing and embodying modern life in dopoguerra Italy. Escudero’s book brings much needed context, colour and depth into a fascinating world that most of us know only in black and white.
Richard Koeck. Chair in Architecture and the Visual Arts, University of Liverpool. Director of the Centre for Architecture and the Visual Arts | CAVA.
This book by David Escudero moves beyond being a remarkable historiographical review of the experiences in collective housing during the Italian dopoguerra, to become the possibility of a cultural study. His insight transcends both the document and the image, entering a landscape where that floating signifier that underlies the term neorealism activates a common sensibility. A sensibility that includes the dimension of the real –or what is supposed to be real– in the form of architecture, of cinematographic stories, or in the images used for its presentation.
Juan Miguel Hernández León. Chair Emeritus of Architecture, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. President of the Círculo de Bellas Artes de Madrid.