With his design of the Novocomum building in Como (1928-29), the famous first example of Rationalist architecture in that city, Giuseppe Terragni began to experiment with a mix of different architectural languages and construction techniques. Within the space of less than a year – from January to October 1928 – Novocomum saw a shift from the traditional to the innovative. Starting out with a weight-bearing structure of brick walls, the development of the project led to the introduction of reinforced concrete, which however did not entirely substitute the former: by 1929, such ‘mixed’ structures were to be seen in many buildings then being created and might be taken as a hallmark of the various forms of so-called Italian modernisms. Within the enclosed building site, work on Novocomum preceded right up to the terraced roof, and would only be unveiled to the unsuspecting citizens of the city once completed (1930), giving rise to a fierce controversy. The paper here proposed draws upon wide-ranging research into the Novocomum project to offer material of great significance for our understanding of the characteristic features, methods and phases of construction work – all aspects that have received little attention in the many studies dedicated to Terragni’s architecture. The research made ample use of the documents now conserved in numerous public and private archives in Lombardy, continually comparing the information therein with the building as it stands nowadays. There was a focus on documents relating to work on the building site, which record each successive phase in construction. This material included: notes, technical drawings, estimates of costs, work reports, calculations, payment records and letters, as well as the documents relating to the tense dispute with the building contractor which involved the architect’s brother, the engineer Attilio Terragni. A systematic analysis of the data thus gathered made it possible to reconstruct the far from straightforward interweave between the different phases in the building’s construction and the various ideas advanced in the project designs. Furthermore, study of the structural aspects themselves could draw upon a 3D graphic model, which made it possible to assembly and dismantle the various parts of the structure and thus understand the articulation of the building more fully. At the same time, study of how the various building materials were used provided a further key to understanding the different components of the weight-bearing structure. Comprising an analytic assessment of the material collected, the study aims to be an important source of knowledge for future research into issues related to the structural behaviour and durability of the building.
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