12 MAY 1961, Page 19


Italia 6i

By PETER RAWSTORNE Tor extremes of poverty and wealth in Italy are Milan is one of the richest cities in Europe. and Turin is fast catching up. According to Dr. Giovanni Agnelli, head of Fiat and presi- dent of the International Labour Exhibition which opened there on Saturday, Turin will probably increase its population by a million to two and a half million in the next decade. It is a sign of their wealth that the people of Turin (aided. by the Government with a grant of 13 miliardi lire or about £7 million) have just spent 21 miliardi lire (about £12 million) on a huge exhibition--Italia 61'—to commemorate the centenary of unification. On road improve- ments, renovation of historic buildings and a sports palace within the city, the corporation has spent 3 miliardi lire; and the remaining 18 miliardi lire has been spent on constructing a monorail and two graceful concrete exhibition halls of gargantuan size and twenty steel-and- glass pavilions, on a site on the southern out- skirts of the city.

The Government Minister Giuseppe Pella is in charge of the whole affair. Feelings about the exhibition are mixed, and he has been attacked for extravagance. 'But,' he replies, 'we don't think that there will be a deficit in our accounts at the end of the year. You cannot assess the value of the exhibition from its immediate cost alone. The beautiful things that will come back to the State at the end of the year will be worth far more than the money that we have paid out. There arc, after all, some things that are • of more value than money.' Dr. Agnelli. the dy- namic young boss of Fiat, is more direct. 'You may well say that we should have spent the money on something else in the toss n. But the fact is a simple one—that we 11 mild never have got the money to spend on anything else. Be- sides, Turin needs more big exhibition halls and we also need to encourage our tourist industry. We are anxious to make Turin a centre of inter- national exhibitions and with these buildings we think we can do it.'

The total area of the two concrete halls is 56,000 square metres, or about 620,000 square feet. They are permanent. The future of the twenty pavilions alongside them is uncertain. They may stay, after the exhibition closes on October 31, or they may be dismantled for use elsewhere. Each one houses an exhibit from one of the regions of Italy. In design they are much like the steel - frame - and - glass - enclosed German pavilion at the 1958 Brussels Fair. They are elegant and modern and connected to one another by overhead walkways that lead you easily through the various buildings. None of the exhibits are finished and they won't be for some weeks. By the look of some of them it is probable that a few will be of exceptional modern design. One certain success is the Vene- tian pavilion whose interior is being worked out by Carlo Scarpa.

Opposite them, on the other side of the mono- rail, is an enormous hall constructed of three triangular concrete parabolic shells meeting in the middle, like the CNIT building outside Paris. It is the work of the same engineer as the Paris building, and was designed by the archi- tects Annibale and Giorgio Rigotti. The mono- rail is of the same sort (Alweg) as the one that there was talk of building four years ago to connect London Airport to the centre. For one hundred lire you take a ride in a rubber- tyred car that zips along an overhead concrete rail at sixty-five m.p.h. At its end is the main exhibition hall by Pier Luigi ,Nervi and his son Antonio.

This is a really astounding and marvellous .building. It is square, with sides 525 feet long, and it is 82 feet high. If you removed the dome of St. Peter's, you could put that cathedral inside with plenty of room to spare. Alternatively, you could • just squeeze in the Colosseum. Like all great works, it is very simple. From above, the roof looks like a checker-board of sixteen squares. Each is independent of the others and is supported by a concrete column. The flat steel-plank roof of each parasol is supported by cantilevered and tapering steel beams (like the spokes of a wheel), and covering the long open lines between the sixteen decks arc ridges of clear glass. The concrete columns are cross-plan at the base and as they taper upwards they lose their arms and become circular. The sides of the building are sheathed in glass, and these curtains are braced against the wind by vertical, wing-plan-and-section steel columns on the out- side of the building.

Although it is 'so big, the structure gives a superb illusion of delicacy. From the outside, by day, you can see right -through it and, although they are immense, you are hardly aware of the . columns-- the roof seems to be suspended in the air. At night. with the white ceilings, and the whole building lit by lamps hung from the glass ridges and by fluorescent tubes concealed behind the bottom flange of the steel cantilevers, the roof looks remarkably weightless.

Within, eighteen countries and five inter- national organisations are participating in the International Labour Exhibition. The Italians have a honeycomb of exhibits inside a central truncated pyramid of stainless steel, scaffold poles and wire mesh. The visiting countries' exhibits are arranged around the perimeter. With a theme of 'Man at Work,' the skill of the international designers has been stretched to its limit. Russia has collapsed and has turned out another example of bourgeois might. The US has gone in for slick showmanship. Britain has one of the best

foreign . exhibits she has ever had. But by far the best is Germany's typographical exercise de- signed by Wolfgang Bley.

Whether one approves of the expense or not. Turin has undeniably built herself some superb new buildings. And for a perfect potted tour of Italy, without the expense of months of travelling, the regional shows offer all one could hope to see of a country's culture and life.