PIETRO PORCINAI | NOTES ON THE TRAINING AND PROFESSIONAL PATH

by Ines Romitti

One regret, among many, is that of not having had the opportunity to attend Pietro Porcinai longer. In fact, I met him in Pistoia in 1982 and it was 1984-1985 when, upon returning from the IFLA conference in Japan during which I had the opportunity to discover that he was very famous and still remembered for the creation of the Italian garden in the IFLA 1964 edition, I returned to some occasions at the villa Rondinelli studio in via Vecchia Fiesolana. I had precise answers to my many questions on the theme of the landscape, however, even in these few meetings, I was able to intuit and understand his profound preparation and sensitivity towards the problems concerning this topic. Furthermore, in 1986, with some AIAPP members, I participated in the creation of a monographic issue: Pietro Porcinai architect of the garden and landscape, dedicated to him, of the AIAPP Bulletin, the association he had founded in 1950. Later, thanks to the kind availability of the heirs, in particular of Anna Porcinai, I had several opportunities to consult the archive and I was able to deepen further aspects related to her profession. An important ability of Pietro Porcinai was that of identifying real problems and understanding the appropriate procedures, always being ahead of the times thanks to a foresight based on tested technical bases. In addition to his precocious and innate natural talent and his professional intelligence, Porcinai had also matured a specific training abroad, well in advance of others, undoubtedly remaining influenced by the landscape culture of those countries, in particular Germany and Belgium, where he had practiced cultivation techniques at some specialized nurseries. In Italy the path of his training was intertwined with a crucial period of the art of gardens: in fact, in 1924 Luigi Dami published The Italian Garden, demonstrating the Italian primacy in the art of gardens. The autochthonous and characteristic nature of the Italian garden, in regaining its primacy in a field that has become the subject of studies by foreigners, especially Anglo-Saxons, culminated in the famous Exhibition of the Italian Garden of 19311 in Florence, where it aimed at the enhancement of a great past, without however groped to lead the way in the search for new modern forms in the art of gardens. President of the Executive Commission of the exhibition was Ugo Ojetti, a supporter of monumental and stylish architecture. As part of the event, ten ideal models of gardens were re-proposed, in a sort of historical path of the art of Italian gardens, conceived as small scenographic creations in which the English landscape garden was also present, even if considered extraneous to the classical tradition national. On the same occasion, two competitions were also announced, open to Italian architects registered in the trade union registers and to students of the second three-year period of the School of Architecture, for two gardens: one public and one private annexed to a small villa. Giovanni Michelucci obtained the prize for the private garden with a project with a geometric style setting, with a heavily traditional language, still very far from the innovative one, typical of the modern movement, with which the Florentine architect would express himself shortly thereafter in the its architectures. In Italy, in fact, if in the Thirties in architecture new syntax coexisted alongside traditional languages, for the garden, unlike what had already happened in France, England and the Scandinavian countries, no innovative language was experimented yet, favoring the revival of a glorious past. Particularly significant is the criticism that the very young Pietro Porcinai made at the time, denouncing the lack of a specific professionalism inherent in the creation of the gardens, conceived by architects who tried their hand at this branch of design but not by real landscape architects. Furthermore, driven by the desire to participate in the competition for which he believed he could have the necessary competence, but from which he was excluded by regulation, he raised this fundamental question at the time, which today is very relevant today. His ideas and his very modern claim to the autonomy of such a complex and specialized profession as that of the landscape architect are vividly and clearly expressed in a letter he sent to the architect Ojetti:

«Dear Mr. PRESIDENT of the Executive Commission for the ITALIAN GARDEN EXHIBITION

I have read the competition announcement for two modern garden projects, launched by the City of Florence; having noted that this Competition is reserved only for Architects, and for students enrolled in the second three-year period of the Royal Schools of Architecture, I would like to ask if it were possible to add some supplementary provision to the aforementioned Call, which would also allow other categories of people interested for reasons of passion, study or profession, to take part in the aforementioned competition. The SV III.ma and the members of the commission know very well that the Architecture of the Gardens has particular aspects, very distinct and different from those of the Building Architecture; aspects more especially and intimately connected, with the knowledge of the development, the decorative effect, and the needs of the different plants to be used in the plantation. Having said this, it seems to me that it would perhaps be useful to extend the possibility of taking part in this competition to other categories of people. The fact that even abroad and especially in France the most famous “Architectes paysagistes” all come from the category of Gardening technicians rather than building architects, could serve to justify this question of mine; It would be enough to recall among the many the famous Edouard André, to whom we owe the creation of many of the most important public and private gardens not only in France but also in many other countries of Europe and America; I am writing this to show that this request of mine is not entirely inappropriate or unjustified. I therefore take the liberty of asking if the Hon. Commission of the SV III.ma worthily presided over, thought it convenient to extend the possibility to all those people who in some way show a serious interest in the Art of Gardens. SV 111.ma will apologize if I have taken the liberty of addressing you this, and awaiting your courteous reply, please, Dear Mr. President, my most devoted and distinguished respects.

Dev / mo
Pietro Portinai
R. Cascine Middle School of Agriculture

PS The writer, after having obtained the diploma of the R. Nuova Media Agricultural School specialized in Pomology, Horticulture and Gardening, was abroad for the duration of a year, to perfect himself exclusively in the art of gardens ».

Strengthened by his international training experience, even later Porcinai never ceased to emphasize the need for the presence of specific figures, landscape architects, with an artistic sensitivity and preparation for the design of greenery and capable of dealing with competence technical environmental problems. Just then the young Porcinai began his professional life and in these years his first works are documented. Initially, respecting tradition and with the strong formal composite imprinting exercised by the Gamberaia garden, which he frequented for a long time in his childhood, he proposed serious formal solutions with a strong geometric setting. In 1939 the Bottai laws, following the Athens Short on monumental restoration, expressed in Italy a new attention, intended as protection, towards historical and natural beauties. In that same year Pietro Porcinai gave his personal response in terms of intervention, with the measured and harmonious construction of the swimming pool of the Collazzi villa in San Casciano, one of the first important interventions included in a monumental complex. Consistently with the new sensitivity expressed regarding the problems of environmental protection and conservation, in the spring of 1939 on the pages of the “Bulletin of the Royal Tuscan Society of Horticulture” the damage caused by drastic pruning to the majestic trees of the avenues and parks was denounced. Porcinai replied in the next issue, attributing the responsibility for the disastrous pruning of the trees to the planners:

“[…] who rarely know the development of trees, their location and climate needs and distribute them on squares or avenues, as if instead of living creatures in need of making that particular life hole, they were cast iron columns or cement[.. .]”

at the same time arguing with the attitude of the architects

«[…] who do not always know what right relations may exist between the trees of a given locality and the neighboring buildings, and as a rule destroy every plant for fear that it will cover their” facades “or disturb their” severity ” […] ».

Following his numerous international contacts, he always stressed the need for the training of landscape architects, who would acquire an artistic sensitivity, a design ability and a specific technical competence and botanical knowledge. In October 1937, writing in the magazine «Domus», he linked the rebirth of contemporary gardens to the presence of such professionals, experts in architecture and art history, but above all excellent connoisseurs of the natural world. The Second World War momentarily interrupted the debate on the gardens, but the end of the conflict opened the doors to a further study, as well as the problems of reconstruction and new expansions, including that relating to maintenance and restoration. Pietro Porcinai did not miss the opportunity to take an interest in the serious damage to the Cascine park, and indicated precise measures to be taken to protect both the Tuscan landscape and the works of art. In particular he was called to be part of the Committee for the reorganization of the Cascine Park established in 1946 for the huge restoration work. It was one of the rare occasions that Porcinai had in the institutional sphere. One of his regrets was precisely that of not having generally had important relations with the institutions and politicians of his city. However, he was in contact with the then Councilor for Fine Arts and Gardens of Florence, Piero Bargellini, later Mayor of Florence, who always showed great sensitivity to the theme of greenery, intended mainly as a common enrichment of the public heritage. A particularly significant testimony of their common intentions is a letter that Porcinai wrote to Councilor Bargellini in 1953, suggesting initiatives in favor of the city’s squares:

«Very clear Professor, don’t you think that the flowerbed in Piazza della Stazione in Florence is not very beautiful? The idea of the flower bed is very appropriate, but its realization is instead disappointing.

It is not necessary that in circular flowerbeds it is always planted in the center […] it can very well be planted on the margins […] thus creating something new and more lively. […] You, who holds a high office in the Municipality of Florence, should become the promoter of an initiative that will undoubtedly bear fruit: every square of our street should be “entrusted” to an artist, chosen from among all the most serious, with the task of taking care of it in relation to the urban needs of the city. It could be that this idea, properly launched and guided, could be realized, and it would be good for everyone ».

The relationship with artists and the contribution of art, such as sculpture, architecture, music, has always been a theme that has fascinated Porcinai. He supported Pietro Consagra and Marco Zanuso in the creation of the Land of Toys, the park of Pinocchio in Collodi where he expressed all his lyricism and compositional wisdom, through architectures and plant sculptures that set and acted as a counterpoint to the real works of art, for example painting a modern parterre, around the Blue Fairy, using the colors of nature with white and blue blooms, or surrounding the lake with the whale with a vibrant bamboo ring. Although his field of greatest expression was the garden in all its most poetic and symbolic aspects, Porcinai has addressed all the themes of the landscape, from the inclusion of infrastructures, to ecological problems and environmental impact, and has never ceased. to take an interest in the problems of Florence, intervening with writings to newspapers, with projects that hypothesized intelligent, avant-garde solutions and always with a respectful interpretation of the places. Even during our interviews he had highlighted some of the issues that interested and thrilled him, such as the decision to cover the Affrico River by the Municipality, and the consequent subsequent refurbishment. Porcinai, well aware of similar situations created in the Nordic countries, criticized the incorrect setting that provided for the double viability on the sides, along the fronts of the houses, and created green areas and parking lots in the center. Completely overturning the distribution, he made alternative sketches in which the traffic lanes were placed at the center of the road axis on the coverage area of the stream, flanked on both sides by bands of continuous green areas, which joined with the gardens in front of the private buildings. In this way, the considerable contributions of soil on the slab necessary to guarantee the trees sufficient depth for the root system were also avoided, and the pedestrian paths would be created among the greenery with small remodeling of land planted with shrubs, hedges and small trees to reduce pollution and muffle noises. A still very topical issue that in fact he always had present and that he tried to solve was precisely the relationship with modern means of transport which he sensed the intrusiveness, the limitation of natural space and the problems that would have triggered. In his interventions he always sought solutions that would give cars their own arrangement and location, which had to be shielded from sight and not in proximity to homes. His interventions in private gardens are exemplary. In particular, at Villa il Roseto he completely transformed the floors of the garden, creating a hanging garden in front of the building, raised by four meters compared to the previous one, from which it was possible to enjoy the view of Florence. The space below, with a series of lowered vaults supported by numerous concrete columns, became the new underground access, expressed in a large hall decorated with graffiti and paved with polychrome pebbles that constituted the covered parking and occasionally the party room. A suggestive self-supporting staircase, with a refined balustrade in which Albertian motifs were carved, allowed access to the garden above. The motif of the circle was the matrix of the project of this very built garden, made with sinuous masses of topiato boxwood. The platform on which the hanging garden was built remained completely invisible from the road, shielded by a thick curtain of holm oaks planted from below, in the space left free between the enclosure wall and the new structure. In the intervention for Villa l’Apparita in Siena, attributed to Baldassarre Peruzzi, by modifying the entrances and modeling the profile of the ground, he diverted the driveway from the position next to the loggia, where he created a large outdoor living room, directing it – with an elliptical path and embedded in the ground – up to a parking partially covered by a roof made of tiles and tiles and surrounded by escarpments massively planted with roses and brooms. A humpbacked footpath, slightly uphill, was created to allow entry to the house. While heavily intervening with earth movements, the result was totally natural, in harmony with the soft landscape of the Sienese hills. Even in the private garden of villa II Martello, in Fiesole, in via Benedetto da Maiano, perfectly inserted in the agricultural fabric with extraordinary views of Florence and Fiesole, the architectural elements were limited, dissolving in the composition that assumed, moving away from the villa, increasingly rural characters . Also in this case he created a new driveway, in a local road next to the house, ending in a garage completely underground and shielded by vegetation. Anticipating the technologies – which were subsequently researched and which are currently in use – of the reinforced grass lawn, he created the driveway with bricks placed with a knife to consolidate the lawn. In one of his last interventions, in the years 1984-85, an imposing villa on the via Bolognese in Florence, diverted the driveway of access which, perpendicular to the road, arrived right in front of the entrance of the villa. He built a staircase to reach the floor of the villa, leaving the rosemary hedges to emphasize the straight path of the ancient path. He designed a driveway which, developing in the valley part of the garden, ended in a parking lot that was shielded by an elegantly designed iron pergola. The theme of the pergola, useful for screening and delimiting outdoor rooms, was in fact another of the themes particularly dear to Porcinai, declined in various ways, using always different materials and shapes. A significant example was that in the garden of the villa il Castelluccio in Santa Croce sull’Arno, where a very poetic wooden pergola and an elegant iron and glass structure to protect the swimming pool were compared, or the one in the Sienese garden of the Apparita. , where a rustic and minimal pergola was placed against the prestigious house. All of Porcinai’s works, although so different from each other, are interesting and profound creations or reinterpretations, never banal or superficial, where problems are always brilliantly solved. And where everything is combined in a general harmony in respect of the past and in the affirmation of the present, between tradition and innovation, in perfect balance between poetics and technology.

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