An Engineer from Ferrara in Mexico

Written by  Andrea Veronese

Adamo Boari, between Renaissance classicism and twentieth century unrest.

Adamo Boari was born in Ferrara and graduated from Bologna university at twenty three, with a degree in Engineering. With his studies finished, he embarked on a brilliant career which would take him, in the space of a very few years, from Italy to Brazil, then to the United States and ultimately to Mexico, where he carried out some of his most significant work. He moved back to Italy for good in 1916, after the Mexican revolution, settling in Rome, with frequent visits to his beloved Ferrara; there he asked his brother Sesto to design and build a house for him in “Renaissance style” (in fact it was probably designed by Adamo himself) in the street which is the icon of the Estensi style Ferrara: via dei Piopponi, now known as Corso Ercole I d’Este. It is difficult to make an accurate and in depth appraisal of the major and most important works of Adamo Boari today, except by visiting them in Mexico, a feat which does not appear to have been undertaken by any experts, either from Ferrara or from the rest of Italy. The fact is, that once back in Italy, Adamo’s work does not go far beyond a series of proposals and projects on paper, while it is his brother Sesto who actually accomplishes more architectural works; however these cannot be compared for size or importance with the achievemnets of his older brother in Mexico, but they are still of extreme interest because it is very likely that Adamo’s superior strength inspired the work of Sesto.

Undoubtedly the images of the Palacio de Correos in Mexico City show the clear intent of an architect combining with the solid approach of an engineer, to impose an impressive construction on the urban surroundings, with a result that does not however appear heavy, perhaps due to the crenellation/castellation above the loggia on the top floor (unfortunately very badly damaged in the 1985 earthquake) a volume which is both imposing and majestic, despite a rather two dimensional treatment in the facades which, ultimately remain anchored to Cartesian planes of reference, unable to let the light penetrate them and so devoid of the profundity of a chiaroscuro effect. The ornamental aspects of the project seem to have been kept under control (a fact not to be underestimated considering the fashion of the time), though there is a recurrence of stylistic features clearly inspired by eclecticism, including, amongst others, a Moorish, oriental flavour. It may possibly be more interesting to analise the other gigantic construction accomplished by Adamo Boari in Mexico, the Gran Teatro Nacional, started in 1904, today Palacio de Bellas Artes, which stands very near to the Palacio de Correos. Building was was finished in 1934, so Boari did not actually see the finished result, though he was certainly very involved in the project; he followed it from Italy, keeping in close contact with the Mexican architect, Federico Mariscal, who was responsible for the completion of the building works in Boari’s absence.

If the initial drawings of the new Teatro Nacional date back to 1902, it is most likely that Boari was well aware of the architecture of the Great Exhibition of 1889 in Paris, especially the Rotunda designed by Jean-Camille Formigé, both for the tecnology employed in it’s construction, steel covered in sheets of marble, and also for the imposing nature of the building. Significant, though small, is Adamo Boari’s residence in Mexico City; built in 1899 it is situated in the Calles de Monterrey y Álvaro Obregón, and even today is considered to encapsulate modern Mexican architecture due to it’s smooth walls and almost complete absence of ornament. The clear-cut surfaces anticipate Van de Velde’s complete control over volume and, above all, set the basis for the poetry of the Sesto villas which are so typical of Ferrara. Despite their new architectural language, and accepting that they are not without the inevitable stylistic conformity of their time, they are still permeated with that Renaissance classicism that is so deeply rooted in the work of the two brothers.

Undoubtedly Adamo Boari’s work deserves to be studied in more depth, especially by getting to grips with the major Mexican works and by analising the latest grandiose projects such as the building realised for the League of Nations in Gineva; it is therefore impossible to draw any conclusions here, other than through an invitation to read once again the splendid books on the subject by Alessandra Farinelli Toselli, Lucio Scardino, Angela Ammirati and Marica Peron. What we can be sure of today however is the personality of the great engineer from Ferrara; a perceptive and knowledgeable constructor, a man of culture, attentive to historical and traditional values almost to the point of becoming an archeologist himself; a quick and able draughtsman gifted with a great capacity for sinthesis.

Above all a designer who absorbed the unique and unrepeatable atmosphere of his native Ferrara to replant it’s spirit in far away places, perhaps the last ambassador of the Dukes of Este.