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1 | Films on town planning from the archive</br>Frame from the film The City of Tomorrow, Berlin 1930

A day in the Council House, Milan, 1933

Memory and architectural education in films

Leonardo Ciacci

The architecture exhibition staged in 1933 for the VIII Milan Triennale was the occasion that prompted Piero Bottoni (1903-73) to make his first film on the subject of council housing. Indeed, La giornata nella casa popolare was a film destined to save the prototype of the council house which he and Griffini had built in the park of the new Triennale buildings in Milan from demolition, preserving its image. Cinema is a theme that recurs several times in the work of this architect and town planner. A 1927 article was entitled Cinema, mode e speranze (Cinema, hopes and fashions) [1].
In 1936, some of his sets 'for the creation of an imaginary setting in the film' were presented at the International Exhibition of Tourist-Scientific Cinema and of Cinema Scenery at Como [2]
. Finally, in 1948, having become director of the Triennale, Bottoni turned again to cinema to document construction of the 'QT8 Experimental District' for that year's exhibition.



A day in the Council House, Milan 1933

Directed by Piero Bottoni
Filmed by U. Magnaghi
Tecnical information: 35 mm film, b/w, mute with subtitles, length 26'
Watch the film online | Complete version: 
• Una giornata nella casa popolare / A day in the council house



Despite Bottoni's debt of inspiration to the films made by May in Frankfurt, no mention is made in his writings that allows his own cinema experience to be connected to that of May, which he would certainly have been familiar with, given that he was in that city for the CIAM of 1929 [3]. Clues to this are also found in the design of the 'electric kitchen' designed for the 'electric house', which Figini, Pollini, Frette and Libera had exhibited on behalf of the Società Edison at the Monza Triennale of 1930 [4]. Similarly to what was seen in the Frankfurt films, in this case, too, a design of the kitchen layout shows the movements the housewife would need to make to do her domestic chores. 

In order to make La giornata nella casa popolare, Bottoni enlisted the help of Magnaghi as photographer and engaged casual actors from 'the workers at the Triennale and the children from Milan park': with them he shot a short film of about twenty minutes [5]. The constantly moving camera cuts the framing in such a way that the internal and external lines of the building become diagonal on the screen, giving an 'impression of space', rather than a 'description of the design'. In rapid progression (the speed of the images compared with the slow scrolling of the subtitles is quite striking) and after an introduction on the 'insupportable promiscuity' of the 'di ringhiera' houses, the film first shows a model of the building from above, as if in an aerial shot, through to the moment when the day begins: '… the whole house awakens'.

What most interests Bottoni are the overall solutions designed for the furnishings. Everything is shown quickly, as if the scenes were 'snatched' at the same moment that the inhabitants of the house go about their daily activities, who the shooting does not intend forcing outside their normal times. The images are essentially intended to produce an effect of identification in the audience, allowing them to enter, by way of the camera's lens, into the private space of those who in their daily lives already enjoy everything that they could have in a now not very distant future [6]. 'With the tilting beds in the day rooms made […] - they are closed (into the furniture space) all ready for the evening'. 'Two bedside tables are drawn together to form the day table' [7]. 'It is today necessary to add specific, specially designed furnishing to the concept of the total house'. These homes must have built-in wardrobes to limit the space taken up in the rooms, to make it easier to tidy the house and easier to move from one house to another. The necessary furnishings should therefore be limited to chairs, tables, armchairs and beds.
Obviously, for the use of these solutions it is necessary that future users are given specific instruction, and the film dedicates particular attention to this, according to the educational intentions of the rational architect. In the evening, 'after supper, the sofa-beds are made ready […] - the curtains that separate the beds from the sitting room are drawn - the last inhabitants come home to the sleeping house'. 'This is how "A day in the council house" is passed … - from morning… - to afternoon.. - to evening'.

[1] Cfr. P. Bottoni and A. Gerbi, 'Cinema, mode e speranze' in 'Il Convegno' No. 5, May 1927
[2] Cfr. G. Consonni, L'umanizzazione del moderno, 1929-45, in G. Consonni, L. Meneghetti, G. Tonon, Piero Bottoni. Opera completa, Fabbri, Milano, 1990, pp. 54-9.
[3] Cfr. G. Consonni and G. Tonon, Architettura per la metropoli: 1934-40, in L. Caruzzo and R. Pozzi, 1930-42 La città dimostrativa del razionalismo europeo, Franco Angeli, Milano 1981, p. 275.
[4] The photos of the 'electric kitchen' design are published in 'Controspazio', No. 4, 1973 on p. 11.
[5] This information is shown in the credits at the beginning of the film
[6] Cfr. P. Bottoni, Arredamento della casa popolare, in 'Quadrante', No. 3 July 1933
[7] From the film's subtitles