Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Day in Turin

On assignment in Turin , I spent a few hours having a good look at the city, this time with my new cell phone camera, lightweight and capable, though many photos came out rather gloomy or muddy.

It is a city of lovely 19th century arcades. Seems very French, but you find them too in the old Palazzo Reale.

They are very civilized, especially with a nice pastry shop and cafe. Nothing like the lifeless arcades of the Federal Triangle in Washington. Or the Mussolin-era arcades on the Via Roma in Turin.

(How I miss the rich desserts you don't find in Spain).

And I love the neon. But I also felt a bit hemmed in.

The overall effect is like the perfect postmodern city of the Tendenza. Surprising how few stories are on top of the arcades. And how much space they consume in the buildings (my hotel was in one). Inside, the buildings have large patios, often with rich gardens.

I found a couple of these monumental covered galleries as well. So grand!

Even the famous Fiat plant in Lingotto is like a long gallery, especially as it now houses an enormous shopping concourse on its main level, together with a hotel, congress center, and the Pinoteca Agnelli (closed, it was Monday). (Here is where my new little camera started to disappoint me.)

The ramps at each end. Cars were driven up to the rooftop test track for a spin after assembly and then back down again. Couldn't figure out how to get up there.


Someone told me that this was Agelli's heliport. Don't know. The Pinoteca building on the roof is by Renzo Piano.

I walked around the neighborhood between Fiat at the River Po and found some surprisingly well-crafted working class housing, from the 1950s and 60s, I would guess. What happened to Italian architecture? My latest theory: too much Marxism, sociology and massification destroyed the schools, and architects lost their sense of building craft. The only figure that this system produced was Tafuri.

 I made it to the center of the old city the next morning, to the Piazza Castello, with this little chapel by Guarini. The urban complex of the square, in the middle of the Roman and Baroque city, and especially the Palazzo Reale, was fantastic, but I didn't manage to document it with decent photos.

The palace is composed of endless wings that bend about to form urban spaces, a miniature, labyrinthine city in themselves. On one side they enfold the Cathedral and its chapel of the Holy Shroud. On the other they wrap around two sides of the Piazza Castello, old brick constructions with early examples of those double-height arcades, from the 17th century. Behind them, the royal gardens, now in restoration. And on the far side of the plaza, behind the regular brick arcade and facade, an opera hall built after the Second World War (maybe 1970s?). The newer main palace, in stone, steps back from the north side of the plaza with an entry court and wrought iron fence of its own, but it turns out to be permeable to the gardens behind it and to the streets around the cathedral. So you have this snaking line of wings and arcades, and all this stuff happening behind and around them.

Source: The Map Shop

It was delightful to see how seedy and rather skin-deep the palace actually was on its garden side.

Are the origins of the plaza in a fortified castle with walls and moat? In the middle of the plaza is the medieval Palazzo Madama, with what looks like a late Baroque facade stuck on the end looking back to the Via Garibaldi.

The Baroque city - ignore the red lines. Source: La Torino Barroco
View of Guarini's San Lorenzo (1668-80) from the arcade of one of the Royal Palace's old brick wings.

Together with the new opera, another stranger intruding on this square is a Mussolini-era tower towards the Via Roma. I did rather like it:

Source: Antiestetica: La torre arraogante

Neither did I manage to photograph well Guarini's fabulous red brick Palazzo Carignano, where the first parliament of a unified Italy met. Here are views of the interior and details of the brick courtyard, and a facade shot I found on the web. The swelling main facade manages to include an oval rotunda open to the patio on the ground floor and sweeps of curving staircases on each side. He really was the Frank Furness of his day:

Source:Townhouse 70 Torino
Update August 3, 2014
Here's the project that brought me to Turin, the new Porta Susa High-Speed Train Station.
See my blog report on the station here. It's very much at home with the arcaded streets of the city, the long boulevards and Lingotto.

Photo: DC


  1. David:
    Si no lo has hecho, te recomiendo que leas a Norberg-Schulz contando el Turín barroco. En Arquitectura barroca y Arquitectura barroca tardía y rococó (originales en Electa; españoles en Aguilar).
    Me has hecho recordar mi primer viaje como estudiante: me quedé... astonished.
    Un fuerte abrazo

  2. I will look it up. Thanks, Jorge!

  3. Dear David
    thanks for the spontaneity of your impressions of Turin. I haven't been there in decades. What I remember best is being driven at full speed along the Fiat test circuit (the one in the picture) thanks to a former suitor of my mother's, who had become a big Fiat boss. It must have been in the early sixties...You make me feel like I should go back.