Academic journal article Change Over Time

GUSTAVO GIOVANNONI: A Theory and a Practice of Urban Conservation

Academic journal article Change Over Time

GUSTAVO GIOVANNONI: A Theory and a Practice of Urban Conservation

Article excerpt

As a pivotal figure in the fields of architecture and urban planning, Gustavo Giovannoni (1873-1947) developed both a theory and specific rules for urban conservation. Although he worked exclusively in Italy, his influence extended beyond the country's borders, due in part to his involvement in the drafting of the Athens Charter for the Restoration of Historic Monuments in 1931. After graduating with a degree in civil engineering in 1895, Giovannoni received a special master's degree the following year in urban hygiene, a branch of medicine and engineering focused on public health.1 He was influenced in his studies by Giuseppe Sacconi, who would later design Vittoriano-a project in Rome that demolished a medieval neighborhood, and which Giovannoni vocally but unsuccessfully opposed. Later, from 1897 to 1899, he joined the classes of Adolfo Venturi, the most prominent art historian in fin-de-siècle Italy, where he completed a special post-graduate curriculum in painting, sculpture, and architecture for students who planned to work for the monuments protection service. Giovannoni's educational training placed him in two vastly different fields: civil engineering and art history. At the time, he represented a real exception in a country like Italy, where there was a rigid divide between the sciences and humanities, and between technicians and intellectuals. Bridging these divides would become his lifelong aim.

Because of his complex and unusual background, Giovannoni was able to cross the boundaries of many disciplines: architecture, art and architectural history, civil engineering, and building technology. His interest in architecture enabled him to bridge art and technique, tradition and modernity. Early in his career and throughout his life, he approached architecture as both a profession and as a field of historical studies, at a time when few of his young colleagues saw a relationship between the progressive and historical aspects of the field. In fact, Giovannoni would undertake three distinct careers: as a private professional in civil engineering, as professor at the University of Rome, and as a scholar involved in studies of Roman architecture and urban history. Though influenced by the work of others, he had no direct teachers to help craft his unique approach to the historic city. His training in urban hygiene sensitized him to the urban dimension of building problems, while his background in art history made him conscious of the great aesthetic values of Italy's architectural heritage.

As a civil engineer, Giovannoni was one of the first in Rome to use Francois Hennebique's patent on reinforced concrete systems, with his designs of the brewery of Birra Peroni and the adjacent ice-making factory between 1906 and 1909. As an assistant professor, he taught classes in civil engineering under the guidance of Guglielmo Calderini, who worked as both a civil engineer (mostly on public projects) and as supervising architect for monuments, an office that would later be known as the sovrintendente ai monumenti.2 Giovannoni first taught technical architecture beginning in 1899, followed by general architecture from 1903 onward. Both classes allowed him to be immersed in various aspects of buildings beyond the scientific-technical aspects. One of his earliest studies during this period was of the monasteries of Subiaco, completed in 1904 and situated in a picturesque valley northeast of Rome.3 He believed that the making of architecture should be related to its natural context. In order to trace the long history of the massive stone buildings, he needed some general knowledge of geology and geography, as well specific knowledge of medieval and modern history. The Subiaco study involved a broad analysis of large-scale buildings in a natural setting: it included both technical and cultural aspects of art and history, and required a variety of skills. The study, in a sense, prepared Giovannoni for his holistic approach to the urban-architectural context. …

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