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Dr. Davide Spina

Preisträger Theodor-Fischer-Preis 2022 | Juli 2023 – September 2023

Gruppe/n: Ehem. Fellows


Davide Spina is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture, ETH Zurich, and an SNSF Researcher at the ZHAW in Winterthur. Previously, he studied architectural history at the Bartlett, UCL. Davide’s work has been supported by the Swiss Institutes in Rome and Milan, the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Canadian Centre for Architecture, the JM Kaplan Fund, the Gill Family Foundation, and the Society of Architectural Historians. Since 2020, Davide has co-organised DocTalks, an international online platform for early-stage researchers in architectural history and theory. He regularly presents at international conferences, including those hosted by the SAH and EAHN, and his writing has appeared in Architectural History, AA Files, Log and gta Papers. His forthcoming book with MIT Press examines the post-war activities of the Italian real estate developer and contractor SGI.

Davide Spina about his dissertation Christian Democrats, Architecture and Capitalist Development in Post-War Italy : Società Generale Immobiliare (SGI), 1945-75", which was awarded with the Theodor Fischer Award 2022:

This doctoral thesis examines the activities of SGI from 1945 to 1975. SGI was the largest firm of its kind in twentieth-century Italy and the leader of the Rome property and construction markets throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s, during which the company was controlled by the Vatican. Using SGI’s work in the Italian capital as a starting point, the thesis examines the broader architectural, political, economic, technological and social agency of this company in post-war Italy. In so doing, the dissertation recounts the history of post-war Roman and Italian architecture from a completely new standpoint, revising the very large historiography on these two subjects. Ultimately, the thesis demonstrates the epistemological potential of architectural histories focusing on the real estate and construction businesses, a genre of scholarship that is almost non-existent today.

The thesis explores the products and operational know-how of SGI thematically. Six chapters, each dedicated to a different theme, take the reader on a narrative journey exploring the reality of this large firm from several different angles: architecture’s role in the transition from fascism to democracy in Italy (politics), the nature of white-collar work in a corporation (professionalism), the principles and the everyday reality of construction work in post-war Rome (labour), the difficult absorption of French prefabrication technology in Italy (technology), the uptake of the suburban model in the country (Americanisation), and the origins of the so-called ‘Venice School’ of architectural history (historiography). In doing so, the thesis engages with several ongoing discussions in the discipline of architectural history and beyond.

This is the first thesis on a real estate developer and contractor and the first thesis to use evidence from the archives of such a company. In addition, the dissertation draws upon information from a particularly large (and broad) range of sources: 16 archives, 24 interviews conducted by the author, 52 magazines and newspapers, 94 films, and 258 books and journals. With its thematic structure, unconventional subject, and exceptional range of sources, the thesis represents a tectonic shift in the historiography of post-war Italian architecture, which to date has almost entirely focussed on progressive architects and signature buildings. This dissertation, on the contrary, focusses on a conservative firm and its products—i.e. commercial, or ‘everyday’, buildings. In that, the thesis testifies to commercial architecture’s fitness as an object of historical interpretation.

The thesis contributes to the theory and practice of architectural history in many significant ways. It takes on a new kind of research object (a construction company), examines its activities from thematic angles relevant both within and outside our discipline, draws on an unusually large and broad range of sources, substantially revises a vast historiography, develops a method for the study of commercial architecture, and reads like a book for the general public.

[Caption: Società Generale Immobiliare, Bilancio 1953 (Rome: Officina Poligrafica Laziale, 1953), p 75]