Discovering labour cities and villages of Italy

Between the end of the 1800s and the Fascist period, some labour towns were built in Northern Italy, which were not only dormitories for workers but real architectural models. Four examples of industrial archaeology and four trips in a little-known Italy full of charm and history.

Villaggio Leumann, Collegno (Turin)

A (liberty) model of civilization
Villaggio Leumann

The Leumann Village was built between 1985 and 1907 at the behest of the entrepreneur Napoleone Leumann after the construction of his own cotton mill in Collegno. Leumann wanted this village not only to host the workers but also to provide them with services (hygiene and assistance). But not only: inside there were also a school, a gym, a church, a food cooperative, a train station, a hotel, a canteen, a clinic and a sports club. At a time when most of the Italian population (urban and otherwise) had insufficient access to services, the Leumann village was a model city. Also from the architectural point of view: it was designed by Pietro Fenoglio, who built some of Turin’s most beautiful liberty buildings.

What to see

Walking through the streets of the village at every step you can see small architectural marvels: from the houses of the workers to the Stazionetta (literally “little train station”), from the Baths to the Post Office, from St. Elizabeth Church (one of the few in the world in pure Liberty style) to the School. The Art Nouveau style that characterizes many of the buildings in the village is combined with Swiss chalet architecture, giving the visitor the feeling of having fallen into a parallel world.

Nuovo Quartiere Operaio, Schio (Vicenza)

The Italian Manchester and the ideal city
quartiere operaio schio
“Schio – Fabbrica alta”
Immagine di Stefano (Flickr), Licenza

The industrial history of Schio is inextricably linked to the Rossi family and to that of their famous Lanificio (woollen mill). It was thanks to the Rossi family that the Venetian town became known as the “Italian Manchester”. In Schio, Alessandro Rossi had the idea of ​​a modern ideal city, almost a utopia: the urban planner and architect Antonio Caregaro Negrin would have designed a romantic garden city, an almost idyllic landscape for those workers accustomed to Dickensian scenarios. Unfortunately, that project always remained so, and the “New Workman District” was born with a more typically chessboard layout. But not for this reason the realization was less surprising: by not losing the humanist thrust, the Nuovo Quartiere Operaio provided the workers of the wool factory with a cutting edge town for services and comfort.

What to see

In the Nuovo Quartiere Operaio (also known as the “New Schio”) the architects chosen by Rossi built – between 1876 and the early 1900s – the Boarding school of Horticulture and Pomology with a Franco-German alpine style architecture with characteristic yellow and red bands, the Liberty-style Civic Theater but with a reinforced concrete supporting structure – it returned active in 2014-, and the Giovanni Rossi Villa located on the main street of the neighborhood with a tripartite facade and surrounded by a large garden as a splendid example of bourgeois architecture. Its beauty is now just partially evident given the state of decay the building is currently living.

Villaggio Crespi, Crespi d’Adda (Bergamo)

The factory, the city and the master in his castle
crespi d'adda
“Crespi d’Adda”
Immagine di Edoardo Forneris, Licenza

As in the case of the Leumann Village, this workers’ settlement was also born out of nothing following the construction of a factory. Cristoforo Crespi founded it in 1878 and the works were entrusted to architect Ernesto Pirovano and to engineer Pietro Brunati. The model was the English workers’ villages, but with a higher ambition: each worker of the factory had a house with a vegetable garden and all the services necessary for his and his family’s well-being. With school, church and doctor’s house. Actually it was a true welfare system designed and bestowed with benevolence by the father-master, an enlightened industrial leader who ruled over his fief-village from the height of his “castle”, the imposing Villa Crespi.

What to see

Among the buildings that most deserve a visit there are certainly: the imposing fourteenth-century manor house Villa Crespi, the church, perfectly copied from the Bramante’s St. Mary’s Church of Busto Arsizio, and the neo-medieval taste villas assigned to managers and employees that seem to emerge from an alpine landscape. But perhaps the best is to be found right at the entrance to the factory: here the chimney, the management buildings and the iron gate create an architectural whole that is at once pleasant, characteristic, and perfectly industrial.
Crespi d’Adda is also worth a visit for its surrounding landscape: watered by the Adda and Brembo rivers, the Villaggio is located in a triangular lowland surrounded by water and green life. Landscapes evoked and described also in the The Betrothed by Manzoni.

Factory-town of Torviscosa (Udine)

The industrial foundation city of the regime
“Old Future” (Torviscosa)
Immagine di Marco Orazi, Licenza:

The architectural style and the origins of the factory town of Torviscosa are completely different: it was not born from the mind and the will of a rich entrepreneur but was instead built after a precise political and urban design (what is defined as a “foundation city”). Torviscosa was in fact built between 1937 and 1942 by the fascist regime following the reclamation of the surrounding territory (completed only in the 1960s).
The heart and raison d’être of Torviscosa is the SNIA Viscosa, a factory dedicated to the production of artificial textile materials made from viscose.

What to see

Light-years away from the architectural styles of the previous villages and working-class towns, Torviscosa was originally imagined and designed by architect Giuseppe De Min, taking the paintings of De Chirico as inspiration and using a rationalist design typical of fascist architecture. Among the most memorable and architecturally interesting buildings we point out: the factory itself, with the two majestic statues of Leone Lodi symbolizing Agriculture and Industry, the futuristic two circular Jensen towers, the workers’ houses called colombaie (“dovecotes” n.d.t.) for their resemblance to the pigeon houses, and Franco Marinotti square (once Autarchy Square) with the panoramic tower with a quadrangular lookout point on the top.
On the same Piazzale Marinotti there is also the CID building (Documentation Information Center), built in the 1960s as a place of reception. The CID hosts exhibits and archives entirely dedicated to the history of Torviscosa (including a documentary by Michelangelo Antonioni from 1948). Its spaces are open and can be visited between April and September from 3.00 PM to 7.00 PM.

Target Point, Italian Ideas