The City of Pasta

Bird's-eye views and industrial promotion

By Archivio Storico Barilla

La città di Parma, Capitale del Ducato Parmigiano (1751/1751)Archivio Storico Barilla

Among the numerous advertising postcards spread in the pre-war period by Barilla Pasta Factory, there is a series of postcards made between 1925 and 1940 according to the technique defined "bird's-eye view". It has been especially in vogue in the industrial field since the end of the nineteenth century.

It is a representation from above, according to the view of the birds – or of an airplane – in flight that allowed the observer to grasp the whole physical and urban development with a single glance, thanks to a point of view – obtained with surprising abstraction skills – physically unattainable and placed between 200 and 400 meters high in the South-West quadrant of the sky.

This was a genre that, starting from the end of the fifteenth century, had engaged painters, military engineers and cartographers in the realization of perspective views of the main urban centers of Europe, refined and then developed by Dutch cartographers and publishers between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and which would have found, in the eighteenth century, Giovan Battista Piranesi among its major epigones.

Veduta di Parma (1849 ca) by Alfred GuesdomArchivio Storico Barilla

The bird's-eye views are a sort of "portraits of the city" which can be considered the ancestors of aerial photographs, taken for the first time only in 1858, when Nadar fixed the images of Paris from 400 meters high on board a balloon. They responded to precise objectives of communication and celebration of local power, configuring themselves as precursors of modern advertising to some extent.

And precisely the need to best show the "whole" city – even what would have been impossible to perceive from a precise view – led the authors to consciously insert perspective distortions, rotations of buildings, compressions or expansions of urban portions according to precise hierarchical choices so as to allow at the same time the perception of the urban structure, detected however with meticulous measurements, and the architecture, directly observed and graphically translated.

Il pastificio dell’ing. Ennio Braibanti (1913)Archivio Storico Barilla

These particular types of "panoramas" were appropriate to represent the "factory", understood as a self-sufficient organism, formed by numerous and different buildings – often arranged in a hierarchy – connected by streets and squares, so as to constitute a small "city of work".

It was conceived as a world dedicated to producing "things" and described through things – workshops, warehouses, chimneys, canopies, houses, gardens – stiffened in a space "outside of time", where the dynamism that is hidden within those walls, is conveyed by the smoke that comes out of the chimneys and rare cars in circulation and where men are totally absent, because they are enclosed "inside" the productive metabolism.

Subtracted the human presence, as if a mysterious event had momentarily erased it, the overall vision remains, almost detached from the surrounding world. As in a dream, the whole and the detail exchange roles: the city disappears, the fields disappear, and only the "factory" emerges from the milky sea of oblivion, which stretches, as far as the eye can see, along the perimeter walls of the complex, to make it "unique", as "unique" are the products that come out of that place.

Veduta a volo d’uccello del Pastificio Barilla (1920)Archivio Storico Barilla

In the first half of the twentieth century the Barilla Pasta Factory in via Veneto can boast four different perspective views, linked to the style and taste of their era, made on large-format tables and then published in postcard for widespread dissemination to their customers.

The first view dating back to around 1920, by an unknown author, presents the complex in a lively and colorful way, with a close view, which partly "cuts" the perimeter of the property, but allows enhancing the green areas and gardens, pervaded by a remarkable dynamism, with vehicles in continuous movement and even the presence of human figures along the avenues and squares.

You can perceive, on the right, the line of the Via Emilia and the entrance that leads from it to the heart of the factory, characterized by the body of the pasta factory with its sign and the chimney on the background, and the "mill", in the foreground on the right. To the left, beyond the wonderful garden, the Bakery area is simplified and idealized, well before the building intervention of 1923.

La grande tavola (1930)Archivio Storico Barilla

The second view was made on a large monochrome table of 83 x 165 centimeters after 1930 by G. Mandelli, on photographic footage of Aerostudio Borghi of Como, specialized in aerial photographic shots and perspective drawings, in view of the printing of an advertising postcard.
The frame, lower and more open, brings out the complex from the expanse of the plain and highlights the displacement of the primary entrance, transferred to Via Veneto.

The Pasta Factory has expanded to the west, joining with the office building in the center and the new façade of the Bakery - designed by the architect Camillo Uccelli in 1930 and preceded by a vast portico - makes the best impression. The summary representation of the garden, placed on the left, conceals the existence of the Villa Magnani, acquired only after the war, which, if depicted, would have altered the perspective, jeopardizing its success.

La veduta a volo d’uccello del Pastificio Barilla, di gusto Déco (1939)Archivio Storico Barilla

The drawing of 1930, judged excessively bucolic for the new Déco style that was gaining ground, was redone in 1938, with an even wider and rotated shot, very simplified and, all in all, of moderate impact.

La veduta a volo d’uccello del Pastificio Barilla del 1941 (1941)Archivio Storico Barilla

Finally in 1941, after the flattening of the roof of the "mill", the expansion of the Pasta Factory to the south towards via Dall'Arpa and the construction of the bicycle depot and the new gatehouse, the last view was made with more rigid, grim tones, with a narrower frame and monochrome backgrounds, published in postcard in two versions with a green and brown background.

The "virtual" expansion, never implemented, of the bakery, with two monumental arches on the façade can be seen.

Archivio Storico Barilla

Resuming an ancient tradition long forgotten, Barilla commissioned the broad perspective of the entire production complex of Pedrignano, on the outskirts of Parma, along the Autostrada del Sole to Loreno Confortini (Mirandola, 1954-) in 2001. He is a designer from Modena with great experience in the field of historical architectural views and collaborator of important magazines at national level.

The view, framed from south-east to north-west, made after three months of work, an air flight and several inspections on the ground, outlines the large body of pasta factories and warehouses, offices and the various buildings and services of the "City of Pasta".

The view was then updated in 2020, after the construction of the mill, the new automated warehouses, in the trigeneration thermal power plant and the great railway junction.

Credits: All media
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