The Industrial Complex at Barriera Vittorio Emanuele: 1908-1942

by Luca Monica

The Barilla industrial complex of Viale Veneto (now Viale Barilla) was active throughout the XX century from 1908 to 2000 in a natural succession of additions and replacements depending on the circumstances that the development of the company and of technologies dictated. Essentially, it was shaped from the combination of a number of two and three-story pavilion buildings that were differently interconnected and that filled great part of the land surface acquired through time like the tassels of a mosaic, with roofed and open sky courtyards. However, even though this succession of construction work was based for the most part on occasional circumstances, we must recognize some significant architectural events that characterized the Barilla enterprise. First of all, a striking element is the permanence of the residence of the Barilla family, though in different degrees, within the enclosure of the factory. Even the building of the house in Fraore (in the beautiful countryside of Parma) in 1957 by architect Luigi Vietti (1903-1999) did  not stop the Barilla family from returning to live in the original perimeter of the factory in the 1970s, in an eclectic style building they acquired in those years.

Indeed, from the origin of the building complex in 1908, a two story building which was at the center of all the future remodeling was always present, and it hosted the residence of the Barilla family and the offices that later were moved to the house built by architect Karl Elsässer in 1933, near the outer boundaries of the area. The second thing that strikes us is a sort of urban introversion that inserts itself in the disorderly structure of the historical periphery of Parma, from which the only elements that emerged were the great painted signs placed on brick wall perimeter strips that seemed to have their own autonomous life, and determined a multi faceted design oriented towards the principal access ways in the whole. It was a billboard graphic on the scale of the architecture of the complex  and it reached its apex of dimensions and expression in the large white and red striped decoration placed on some of the entrances facing south towards the Via Emilia. In truth, a specific orientation was given by Via Padre Lino, (toady Via Marco Dall’Arpa), that from Via Emilia Est led to the entrance door of the house in 1908, determining an internal hierarchy centered on this small building. This hierarchy remained even after 1942, when the entrance was moved  in perpendicular to Viale Veneto.

Thirdly, at the end of the building cycle for the entire complex, around 1940, a design of the architectural structures  in brick by architect Camillo Uccelli (1874-1942) seemed to emerge, as he was in truth the protagonist of an original figurative and building current of late Romanesque style. He was able to influence the style of many public and religious buildings in Parma, as well as of many floor additions, completions and new factory buildings of the Barilla complex made between 1916 and 1930. Here Camillo Uccelli utilized his design of brick frames with vibrant projections, decorative strips to mark the floors, an uninterrupted rhythm flow of windows with a continual movement that is found corner after corner in the intricate “noble” design of hidden inner facades even in the architectural design of the humble service building which were left in rustic style according to a classic tradition. As if it were a part of an organized city built around a crossroads that started from the first home of 1908, the complex of the Barilla factory in the 1930s presented a series of emerging outlines more or less architecturally designed and defined, but capable of  constituting facade fronts facing the inside of the complex and enclosed in the area. The complex had its own continuous inner life and was open to the town’s population on Sundays to allow attending the religious functions held inside the small Oratory Church of Saint Anthony and it was inserted in the life of the urban community of the time, as exemplified by the death of Franciscan Father Lino Maupas at the factory premises in 1924.

In this context, therefore, the backside of the 1919 pasta factory is striking, as it is facing the oratory, it is three stories high and is composed by orders of stripes with arches and windows that recall in a lower scale the vertical rise of the facade of the historical Pilotta Palace built by Bramante, which could be clearly seen in the city skyline. But the facade designed by Camillo Uccelli in 1923 for the new ovens is also definitely void of rhetoric and recalls the technique and masonry character of the “art of construction” used in Roman times for granaries and service buildings, with its lowered arches and thick lines of small brick pillars. Later on, the delimitation of confines in the area appeared as more defined, thanks to the progressive acquisition of the surrounding land, but without determining a perception of unity from outside because of this. The building of the bread bakery in 1930, by Uccelli as well, designed with a front squared by stucco stripes and frames, could have been considered an important episode in defining the contours and the facades of the complex, had it not been placed so far to the back and hidden.

Thus, even though the refined residential block for the home and offices built by Karl Elsässer in 1933 and obtained from the transformation of the previous building of the Monguidi and Vecchi Nursing Home, determined a first real opening of the complex towards the city, it was meant to represent with very familiar characters the Barillla enterprises. The architect from Stuttgart, a city that in those years well represented the cultural involvement between the German industrial enterprises and the modern arts, kept within the lines of a figurative tradition of residential buildings (sloping roofs, windows like holes and bearing walls), and detached himself form the contemporary avant-garde experience of Rationalism that was maturing in the city (terraced roofing, ribbons of windows, and frame structures). The external fronts show a very rigorous tension in the rhythm of the openings, in the staggering of dimensions, and in the thin frame that completes the wide walls. The interiors presents a very refined landscape of smooth surfaces: wooden surfaces for the walls and the furnishings in Riccardo Barilla’s office; onyx surfaces in the inner staircase; alabaster and mosaic in the bathrooms; in the vertical and horizontal partitions and in the wooden furnishings of the large open hall destined to employees.

After the entrance was moved along to Viale Veneto in 1942, the  Elsässer building was involved with the main facade of the complex, but it did not became its main characteristic element for this reason. It appeared as a self standing unit with respect to the surrounding buildings. This layout of the entire complex did not undergo substantial variations in the period from the mid 1930s to the end of World War II. Even the construction of the new factory building by Gian Luigi Giordani (1909-1977) in 1957, with its interesting architecture and its mysterious outlook over the city, confirmed in its trend the original plan and retraced the original buildings in the alternating and the introversion of facades: it is almost as the old industrial complex was entirely replaced with new parts, one after the other.