Taglietti inspired us to regard our country with optimism at a point in history where we still coveted a desire to be the same as our international counterparts. He helped shape Australia’s architectural identity by showing us the beauty of a blank canvas.
Enrico Taglietti was born in Milan in 1926; he grew up in the African city of Eritrea, a colony of the Kingdom of Italy, until 1941. The city of Eritrea in the Horn of Africa was a cosmopolitan place to grow up with many official languages and cultures. A town of palm-lined boulevards and European architecture with coffee houses on every street corner and a vibrant art scene.
Taglietti returned to Milan after the war, where he graduated from Milano Polytechnic in 1954 as an architect. While at Milano Polytechnic, he participated in the Triennale Milano, where he met Lucio Fontana and Alvar Aalto, who would be very famous in their fields. In 1953 Taglietti spent time with Le Corbusier in Marseille, France. When asked about his experiences meeting these people, he explains that it was an exciting time and good to meet them, but in terms of influence, he feels more connected to artists than architects.
I know you don’t like to talk about the past but that is how we make sense of things today. And you do have an interesting past, the small part of your life that happened before you became mine. Before Australia claimed you as their own.
You say you want me to be ‘full of wonder and to think about what I feel when I am in one of your spaces’. I ponder possibility and the capacity for some to create. Is this what you mean when you say that ‘we need poetry with architecture’?
Taglietti arrived in Australia in 1955 to do a small job for David Jones Sydney; he was supposed to be here for six weeks. Soon after his arrival, he was invited to Canberra for the commission of the Italian embassy. Taglietti regarded Canberra as a void, a place not influenced by history, unlike Europe, with an oppressive past. He believed Canberra’s lack of tradition created silence and space for design work. It was like a blank canvas. Taglietti had an enormous desire to change the world.
I like to listen to you talk about the magnificent sky at night and the fantastic light. But it makes me sad that you want to be dispossessed of your own history. And when you talk about your desire to arrive at a place of non-memory, I imagine you are seeking original thoughts. I see them everywhere in your work, the original thoughts; but I also see a layer of complexity and I am certain it is impossible to escape our past. There are stirrings that fall below the thresholds of consciousness.
Taglietti has more than thirty prominent buildings in Canberra and many residential projects in his home state. His work can be described as modernist and sometimes brutalist in style. He describes his work as belonging to organic architecture, explaining that he creates from the inside out. He designs for a void and then later determines the best materials for that project. He emphasises atmosphere, light and poetry.
Taglietti’s commercial work has a distinct look and reflects his desire to create something modern for the times. He designed many schools, churches, libraries and public buildings of note. A favourite of mine is Giralang Primary School, designed in 1974. It looks like a happy place; I can imagine the laughter and learning in this space.
One of his notable residential projects is Dingle House, designed in 1965 in a cul-de-sac and turned at ninety degrees to face the golf course. This three-way split-level plan responds elegantly to the sloping site and blends seamlessly into the environment. Taglietti took a very personal approach to his residential projects and would ask tough questions of his clients in pursuit of understanding. Having once asked a man ‘if he loved his wife’?
When you say ‘an unhappy person in one of my buildings makes my building unhappy’ I understand why you must ask these difficult questions of your clients. I think it is generous of you to say ‘architecture is produced by the user in the end’. I wonder if you know how important your work is to our sense of self.
Taglietti was recognised during his lifetime for his contribution to architecture. The first accolade came from overseas when in 1979, he was featured at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 2007 he was awarded the Australian Institute of Architects gold medal. And then, in 2018, at ninety-two years of age, he was celebrated at the Canberra Design festival as the featured architect that year, an event he could participate in.
And when you tell us ‘it was a pleasure to have created something that will last’ I look to you for more; and you say ‘but the value of it in relation to your dreams is less so’. A lingering melancholy; like there is something left unfinished.
Taglietti tells us that he designs from the inside out, and his architecture aims to express joy, music, silence and the desire to be. He states inside is the ‘real architecture’, the void where he designs the ‘concept of unity’. He tells us the interiors are where life takes place, and when I look at the exterior, I see his desire to protect this life.
Triangles feature prominently in the exteriors of Taglietti’s commercial work, and a cascading shape is notable in most residential projects. I believe the triangular composition points towards a position of power. A repeating pattern throughout history was the pyramids, the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia, and modern history at Iwo Jima in Japan during WWII. The shape is associated with strength from an engineering and emotive standpoint, representing victory.
And this is the poetry, that your focus was to give us something original, something that represented freedom whilst still ensuring we would be powerful and protected. And as we grow up, we will remember you for your modernist buildings that form part of the canvas of Canberra.
Enrico Taglietti passed away in 2019 at ninety-three years of age.