Rome Travel Guide

Rome Architecture, History, Art, Museums, Galleries, Fashion, Music, Photos, Walking and Hiking Itineraries, Neighborhoods, News and Social Commentary, Politics, Things to Do in Rome and Environs. Over 900 posts

Sunday, July 19, 2020

You-Can't-See-it-Anyway Series: I Gemelli Romani, via Guattani

Our latest effort to deal with the fallout from covid-19 takes the form of the "you-can't-see-it-anyway" series, where we present accounts and descriptions of Rome "attractions" that one couldn't get into even if there were no covid-19. Many of these were and are visitable and accessible only through the once-a-year Open House Roma event (except, of course, this year, thanks to covid-19).

Today's effort along these lines is stretching the concept just a bit, because it's possible--even likely--that an aggressive tourist could get into the first floor of the building--but the first floor only.

The building has an unusual name: I Gemelli Romani ("the Roman twins"), which we'll explain in a moment. It sits at via Guattani 9, a street lined with large villas and ordinary apartment houses, running perpendicular to via Nomentana on Rome's near-north end. The folks who designed it were pleased that it didn't fit in with its neighbors, pointing out some pride that the "impetuous" structure resisted alignment with nearby villas.

Since its construction in 1954, the building has housed the Lega Nazionale delle Cooperative--the "national association of cooperatives." The Lega/LNC was founded in Milan in 1886, at a time when cooperative associations were more common than they are today. The LNC was disbanded by the Fascists (along with all other cooperatives) and reconstituted after the war under article 45 of the Italian Constitution, which recognized the social role of cooperatives. The League includes many cooperative associations, including ones for consumers, housing, and retail. The building on via Guattani is its principal seat.

The building not only houses a national organization of cooperatives. It was designed by a cooperative association of architects and engineers: CAIREPRO (Cooperativa architetti e ingegneri progettazione). CAIREPRO was founded by 9 young men in 1947 in Reggio Emilia (where the HQ remains) and 2 more were added in 1961.

Seven of the founders of CAIREPRO
The building has several distinctive features.  The upper floors are supported by massive exterior columns of reinforced concrete--a material coming into common usage at the time (in the Palazzetto dello Sport, among other buildings) --which allow the first floor interior to be column-less. The brickwork--here and there quite complex--is understood to be special too, contributing to the design.

Most unusual, the plan consists of two trapezoidal areas--the "gemelli Romani," or the Roman twins--one at each end of the building, connected by an inset central section that houses the stairway and elevators.

The "gemelli"--one on each end.
The near end of the building consists of a meet-and-greet area, lobby, and social center. My recollection is that the shiny blue ceiling was a later addition.  Much "busier" than the original.

The author of this post, taking a mirror selfie. 
As built, it also included a lovely spiral staircase, but this has been, unfortunately, removed.

Removed!  How could they?!
The far end of the building is an auditorium with a brutalist look (before the word brutalism was coined).

The auditorium, as it looked in 2019: the concrete painted (bad!),
much of the ceiling covered (probably by projection equipment), windows
at the end covered (a shame). 
Exterior view of the auditorium. 

The staircase leading to the upper floors (which are more ordinary in layout) is not without elegance.  A nice banister in wood.

And on the top floor, below, flying buttresses over walkways--and views of the neighborhood, a neighborhood that includes Luigi Pirandello's former home and a villa occupied (we were told) by Galeazzo Ciano - bottom photo.


Thursday, July 9, 2020

Ex Snia lake: industrial detritus meets nature

Wandering around our "new" neighborhood of Pigneto on one of our past stays in Rome, we came across a strange self-managed lake. Yes, lake. The largest lake in the city, surpassing even the one in Villa Borghese, and much less visited. One sign said the site was the Hadrian's Villa of industrial archeology--quite a title to live up to.

At the bottom: "La Villa Adriana dell'archeologia industriale"

We talked to a man who was tending the gardens, part of the extensive landscape surrounding the lake, and he explained the self-management to us. We read later that the Senegalese community maintains the regular opening and closing of the entire park-like area.

A view of the long-gone industrial factory; that's our Pigneto neighborhood, morphing into Prenestina,
 in back.

The lake derives from a construction error. The property was once a manufacturing facility for viscose, a type of rayon fiber made from natural sources.  When it opened in 1922, it was one of the largest plants in Italy, employing more than 2,000 workers at its peak. The facility was bombed in World War II (the fiber was used in military uniforms) and, after its employment dropped from over 1600 in 1949 to just over 100 in 1953, it closed. (No lake yet.)  The site then became one of speculation for developers, who began construction in 1992. They unexpectedly hit an underground stream, the Marranella, and the property filled up. The developers were unable to contain the underground aquifer and their construction permits--apparently with irregularities--were revoked.

Entrance, complete with mural and opening times (not the current ones).

SNIA was the name of the chemical company that owned the plant. Oddly, the initials stand for Societa' di Navigazione Italo Americana, because the company originally was involved in US-Italy maritime trade. Thus, the lake and the area are known as "ex Snia" - the former SNIA.

In the past decade, especially, the community has taken over the property, establishing playgrounds, camps for kids, and other recreational and didactic activities. They've worked diligently to keep the property out of the hands of developers. They call the site Monumento Naturale Parco delle Energie - Lago Bullicante ("The Natural Monument of the Energy Park of Bullicante Lake"). "Bullicante" comes from Acqua Bullicante, the name of the street that runs along one side of the area and perhaps another name for the Marranella stream or a village that once was in the locale. Whether the community will be successful in keeping developers' hands off this property is yet to be seen.

Rules and regulations at right. And some assertions: "This is a place liberated from profit and from building speculation, thanks to the participation and the struggle of everyone. It is a place that lives from self-management, self-financing, and solidarity."  Among the prohibitions: swimming or boating on the lake.  Among the "Not prohibited" activities: playing ball, shouting with joy.

In these strange times, the lake is open again, regularly. The FaceBook site says they are missing only the signature of the president of the province of Lazio to make their "natural monument" a legal reality.

We found the area surprisingly lovely, partly because we are enamored of industrial detritus. And Bill can find some raw material for his "found art." The interplay of the abandoned and derelict buildings with natural beauty is lovely. We returned several times, and plan to do so again--assuming the developers are held at bay.

Here's their Web site, and slogan: "A lake for everyone; cement for no one."