Edoardo Persico (1900-1936)

 
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Edoardo Persico on Fiat Lingotto: 1927

Excerpt from A Concrete Atlantis by P. Reyner Banham, 1986

"At the end of the suburban street, among the last industries and the scaffoldings for the newest houses, the Fiat factory stands up in the logic of its architecture. A construction of incomparably clear forms, whose simplicity of aspect proclaims the principles of order. This plant seems to exist in itself, like a moral concept, a model of the structures of the Law. And in this aspect it has concentrated the labor of centuries, as if strength of infinite generations had finally produced a norm of economy, from which is born an impression of the beauty of the identity of a thing with its function. A work of intelligence that has found the link between grace and necessity by pure deduction. This accomplished grandeur is like an image of Man and of his concerns. In its simple appearance, where combinations of curves and straight lines have fashioned a moment of Eternity, there is manifested a human quest that has resolved its uncertainties in obedience to the Law. As with the style of the cathedrals, this factory has concluded its search for the divine at a moment of history. It is like a harbor, with an immense arsenal and two square towers. From the top, where cars run as it were around the battlements, the horizon evokes the presence of sails and the beginnings of a navigation out into the world. The machines parked in the yards below seem like moored vessels that will set forth tomorrow…

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Atop the building, the test track is like a king’s crown, and just as a crown symbolizes some essential and dominating idea, so here the car and its speed are celebrated in a form that presides over the work of the factory below, not only in terms of utility, but also following a secret standard that governs the ends of things. A mysterious logic of harmony - which the architect has obeyed intuitively as a sign of authority - has elevated this test track to the pinnacle of a work of man; much as the authority of the crown on the brow of a king transcends the merely human face below and weighs upon it with the force of a dominant rule. In its own structure, the track is a concrete image of speed. It expresses the idea of the car in a clear concept: nothing may stand still here. From the crests of the parabolas that define the curves there derives an ideal line that crosses the grids to regain its origin, where it resumes the rise and fall, to infinity. On this track, nothing can deny the car without developing a different line, creating an alternative order and abolishing the Laws. As if to the principle of authority, everything refers itself to this uplifted place, and to it ascend the working elements as they are integrated into their machines. Like individuals, the components gather together from everywhere, and where the crown sits they are united and combine in a single fact and a single idea, which is unity. On the roof of Fiat, as in a speck of consciousness hovering over the abyss of liberty, Man may scrutinize the Laws. On this track, elevated as it were above every country, the Prince of Denmark might pace, as in his castle of Elsinore, and elevated above time as well, interrogate his destiny.

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Two routes lead up to this place of inward concentration and uphold it as a spiritual fact. Only the track is free beneath the Heavens and before God. The means by which the workers can reach it are concealed within the factory like a perpetual, buried aspiration. The meaning of these two rising spirals is obedience: to set foot upon them means to understand the secret motive of discipline that connects every part of the works to its summit, that is, to the supreme end of everything. The ramps seem to grow downward from above, upward from below, according to natural reason. They are not sustained by massive beams, no mechanical construction is to be seen; only harmony, and a law, that pervades them by virtue of a principle that seems cosubstantial with their material. At the appointed place decreed by the foresight of the order, the workshops obey their prescribed exercise, and by this route the varied works are melded into a single form of obedience, right up to the test track. These spirals are indeed a road to human liberty, where everything is elaborated in the individual, fused into the mass and is integrated into a unity. The same restless rotation is in these spiral ramps, and in the life that has fashioned them in its own image.

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At morning, dominated by the stare of these great glass eyes that have the impassivity of justice, the workers wait under the hollow, cyclopean walls. They do not speak, they do not move as they would in other human assemblies; they wait. All things are already in order, nothing can be changed, everything obeys an order which is not the expression of human will, but of wisdom submissive to the Laws. They await the Laws. They are a people still confused, without order, an image of humanity without rules. These seem to be the principles of history and all things possible: order and disorder, sin and obedience. They have more need of order than of bread. In the forecourt they look like crowds at ancient theaters; the high wall reinforces the impression, almost like the Colosseum. As in some ancient play, these people seem to await a catastrophe; that is, what follows the strophe, which was the word of God, the command of Justice. Order in every form prevails always in this scene, where everything must obey the Laws. Revolution - in some yet distant day - has not yet broken the circle of command, everyone has returned his function, his post, as yesterday and tomorrow. When the closing hooter blows, they all come forth again like vast battalions that follow a banner; they are led by an invisible banner on which are written inexorable words that men may forget at times, but which the will of God has written on the conscience of the people, the true flock of the Law. An ancient order of obedience.

 

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At night, seen from the train, it shines the light of its lamps and the reflections of the forges; it looks like an enormous castle where all the light of the world is stored, a rock of fire tunneled by a million gnomes…

 

And if it should happen that your are passing under its walls as evening falls and the soul is weighted down with the insuperable melancholy of the Nordic twilight, perhaps you will see the broad shades of the lamps that still lit as so many medusas floating in an immense aquarium… And you will salute Fiat as an undeniable sign placed in your way to teach you to subdue your egoism and live in good order."

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