Salone del Mobile Milano

Giuseppe Terragni for children

The Sant’Elia nursery school in Como

In his statement accompanying the Sant’Elia nursery school project of 7th March 1935, Giuseppe Terragni described “… a building that throws its walls open towards the sun, the greenery … (a) Naturalist Architecture”.

In a suburban district of Como, way back in 1937, an architectural miracle occurred, or rather one of those typological leaps forward that suddenly propels the discipline decades ahead. From nurseries understood as “rooms for the custody of children” (Terragni’s description) that usually ended up as nineteenth-century structures much the same as those housing prisons, hospitals and schools, he made a giant leap forward, the significance of which is still hard to comprehend, designing an articulated building, open and capable of opening out further into the surrounding landscape (Paolo Brambilla says: “The entire edifice becomes a threshold, while the line between indoors and outdoors shifts constantly … ”).

Air – Light – Greenery play an unprecedented leading role in the project, as do the great “architectural” curtains and, inside, even the radiators are not up against the walls but centrally placed within the space (islands of heat for the children). Lastly the furnishings, no longer as Matteo Pirola describes “the ancient wooden benches … with integral desks”, but “individual, light elements, that enable the room to be reconfigured according the principle that the freer the organisation of the space, the better the learning process”. Thus the minuscule benches and especially the minuscule chairs in blue-grey tubular metal (usually known as “Corbu blue” but that we will now chauvinistically rechristen “Terragni blue”) are cantilevered with ergonomic curved plywood backs.

All this, and much more, is on display in the small, anomalous exhibition about the Sant’Elia nursery school at the Pinacoteca Civica in Como. The exhibition curators wisely forego a slavish analysis of the construction in favour of the extraordinary architectural metaphor of the furnishings. Naturally, there is no attempt at a reconstruction, just judicious groupings of original pieces that magically conjure up the image of the children of 81 years ago (some of whom were present at the inauguration!).

This is an exhibition that should be seen not just as a homage to Giuseppe Terragni, but also as an example of a curatorial and display method.

Pinacoteca Civica
Como, Italy

8th June – 4th November 2018
Tuesday – Sunday: 10.00 am - 06 .00 pm

Curated by Roberta Lietti and Paolo Brambilla
with a critique by Matteo Pirola

Catalogue by Bellavite Editore


01. Main entrance

02. Classrooms and garden

03. Cantilever porch

04. Internal courtyard

05. Children in the internal courtyard

06. Teacher with children

07. Recreation room

08. Infirmary

09. Headmistress’ office

10. Bench and small seat. The novelty, at that time, lay in the fact that the bench and chair were finally autonomous and thus easily moveable even by the youngest children. Both pieces are made of blue enamelled iron tubing and plywood.

11. Three types of small seats used at the nursery school. From left: chair with arms, bench seat, Lariana child’s chair.

12. The Lariana child’s chair, the only one designed by Terragni, is the children’s version of the Lariana chair for adults. 

13. and 14. Refectory sideboard. The children’s plates would be kept in the compartments and their cutlery in the drawers. This small cabinet, designed by Terragni, had a horizontal roll-top that closed over the shelves. Made of blue lacquered wood (original colour) with lacquered iron tubing feet.

15. Clothes stand with six compartments. It stood in the changing area along with many others. Made of blue lacquered wood with lacquered iron tubing feet.

16. Hobby horse with pedal cart that belonged to Giuseppe Terragni’s nephews and nieces.