Reinier de Graaf of OMA conducts a mini tour of post-war European high-density residential housing. Focusing on two exhibits at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2012, de Graaf contrasts projects sponsored by Communist Party elected officials in the suburbs of Paris and a church dropped into the middle of a residential development in Milan.
According to de Graaf, the PCF projects were intended to repudiate the monumental public architecture of the Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou presidencies, alth0ugh that interpretation isn’t immediately obvious from the photographs of the buildings.
More striking, however, is the San Giovanni Bono Church, a gift from the democratic Christian government of Milan to the restless masses. The church sits like an intestinal blockage in the center of the development, its whole roofline swooping up toward heaven and away from the material conditions of 1940s Italy. De Graaf points out that the political situation of the period was so volatile the U.S. drew up plans to invade Sicily in 1948 in case communists were victorious in local elections.
De Graaf posits that “architecture with a social conscience” was necessary at a time when the grievances of the laboring classes were considered legitimate enough to address.