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Thursday, January 3, 2019

Buon Pastore: Armando Brasini's complex Convent

The elegant, complex structure below opened in 1933 as a convent, to house the local congregation of the Suore di Nostra Signora della Carita' del Buon Pastore di Augiere; it is known familiarly as "Buon Pastore."  It still exists, but not quite as it appears in the photo.  The "guglie" (spires, of stone) that graced the building in its first four decades were torn down in the 1970s. There was decay, and safety was surely an issue, because the building was still in use.  But there's more to it than that.

The decade of the 1970s is perhaps best remembered architecturally for its fascination with concrete, and the "brutalist" structures--some of them fluid and remarkable, others stolid and grim--that came with its use. More than that, the architect of Buon Pastore, who died in 1965, was not then much remembered nor much respected, and his reputation, or lack of it, surely had something to do with the decision to demolish, rather than repair, the spires.

Armando Brasini
Today it would be different.  Armando Brasini has an admiring following these days, and those who care about Rome's architectural heritage are increasingly aware of his contribution to the city, which include the entrance to the Rome zoo (1909-1910), Villa Flaminia (his own residence, 1920-1925), Ponte Flaminio (begun 1933), a significant church at Piazza Euclide, and the magnificent Palazzo INAIL (1926-1933), on which he collaborated with Bruno Zevi. (He also designed a church in Buffalo which had to be torn down because of deterioration; some say he didn't understand Buffalo winters.)
Ponte Flaminio, photo from 1960s
Decades after his death, he has been justly compared to the more famous Gino Coppede', who like Brasini experimented with an eclecticism that anticipates postmodernism: the delicious combining of historical styles from the Renaissance, the baroque period, and the medieval era.  Coppede' deserves the lavish praise bestowed on the neighborhood/community in Salario that bears his name.  But no single building of his approaches the breathtaking monumentality of Brasini's Buon Pastore.

The complex, monumental, front entrance. What style is it?
Work began on Buon Pastore in 1929, and the building was opened in 1933, but construction was not completed until 1943, in the midst of the war.  In its early years the building functioned simply as a convent with chapel.  The world war brought change.  Although the nuns remained, the building also served as a military hospital--1500 beds--through the war years, first for the Italian wounded, then for the occupying Germans, then, briefly in 1944, for the American forces.

Interior courtyard, Sant'Ivo-like cupola
Courtyard detail
Courtyard, from above, looking toward front
Dome closeup
Walkway detail

In August 1945 Buon Pastore became a home for the "re-education" of adolescent girls, including 20 from Laurentina, an area destroyed during the war, and 10 from a building on via della Lungara (now the Casa Internazionale delle Donne).  The left side of the building remained a hospital (it closed in 1964), and the right side was given over to rooms for the nuns and the girls.  By 1953 there were 60 girls receiving assistance and treatment at the facility.  In 1955, Buon Pastore housed a scuola media (middle school) for girls in the quartiere, known as "Roma Gianicolense."  Since 1969 it has housed a variety of scholastic institutes.

While shockingly diverse stylistically, what appears to be a rambling, oddly shaped building is also perfectly symmetrical.  The "arms" of the building house separate (and, of course, symmetrical) cortili (courtyards), intended to bring in air and light.  The central courtyard is especially impressive.  According to one authority, the cupola replicates the cupola of Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza, Borromini's 17th-century baroque masterpiece.  On special occasions, it is still possible to climb out and around on the roofs of the building.

Our tour at dome level.  Great place for a cocktail party.
Brasini's powerful and yet myterious building has attracted the film industry; at least a dozen films have been shot there, including Una Vita Violenta (1962), based on the novel by Pier Paolo Pasolini; Il Cartaio (2004), directed by the Italian master of horror, Dario Argenta; and Il Papa' di Giovanna (2008), a Pupi Avati production.

Buon Pastore is at via Bravetta 383, about 3 miles SSW of the Vatican.  The interior is accessible only on special occasions, such as the spring program Open House Roma, in which we participated.  The exterior, worthy in its own right, can be circled any time.  The photos below are from a 2016 visit.


Inevitable selfie, from highest accessible point, above the entrance

1 comment:

Smart_Margauz said...

Wow! I love this historic place especially that Ponte Flaminio, photo from 1960s. Ancient are awesome.