Crespi is an amalgamation of shapes that are, for the most, geometric. It could have sprung from a mathematician’s mind. Crespi has its own rhythm. If you were to scan a map of the city into a computer to analyse it, you might find that it corresponds to musical notes, with a well-defined background harmony. Perhaps, given the perfection of its urban structure, the music from these notes would be similar to one of Bach’s suites or sonatas. Perhaps.
From a bird’s eye view, Crespi appears highly ordered, divided into two distinct parts. The main street that arrives from Capriate and leads to the cemetery, where the village ends, separates the residential area, on the left, from the manufacturing area, on the right.
The factory has an extremely long front side, which provides the base of an imaginary isosceles triangle that faces the vast majority of homes and buildings reserved for civic life – school, church, shops and services.
The workers’ homes were laid out in a chessboard design, divided into groups, each separated by plots of land bordered by fences standing one-metre high.
The streets, arranged perpendicularly, provide unity to the urban design and emphasise the rational organisation of the space.
Later homes, reserved for executives, were arranged more freely within green area near the woods, south-west of the developed area.
Cristoforo Benigno Crespi was a firm believer in the power of architecture and that the idea that it could and should have a civic value. For this reason, he, and later Silvio, developed their project based on strong aesthetic principles, in addition to the concept of urban unity.
To obtain their ideal, the Crespi family surrounded themselves with highly skilled architects and engineers, who ensured both functional efficiency and beauty. These collaborators included Angelo Colla, Ernesto Pirovano (1866-1934), Gaetano Moretti (1860-1938), Pietro Brunati (1854-1933).
Several different styles can be seen within the village. The predominant one, known as Lombardy neo-Gothic, has nuances that are more or less discernible depending on the building to which it was applied.
The church embodies the Renaissance style, while the villa-castle reflects the neo-Medieval style.
In addition, there is the mausoleum, which is more eclectic, with stylistic elements from the Viennese Secession as well as Mesopotamian and Egyptian influences, to which exotic and orientalist decorative details were added.
The workers’ homes, although simple, are characterised by decorative tiles that frame the windows. Furthermore, between the ground floor and the first floor, there was originally another earthenware decoration along the perimeter, which was removed in the 1940s as the taste changed to rationalist architecture.
Earthenware tiles are seen to a lesser extent, though no less significant, in the friezes adorning the factory. For example, from the main street, you can see the oculi of the false windows surrounded by a star-shaped lintel and frames of false doors with Gothic arches.
The long, slender and compelling chimneystacks are solid brick. Even the wash-house, with its purely practical function, is made of brick, with minimal decorations, yet providing an overall architectural harmony.
The other common material used at Crespi was Adda ceppo. Ceppo is a conglomerate of stones of various sizes, easily found in the surrounding area. You can find it to some degree in all of the buildings of the village, for example, in the bases of the church or on the walls of the castle, in large sheets, or as a building material in the family’s mausoleum.
The factory occupies most of the southern part of the village and consists of a single-story structure. The architectural line is sequential, with a sawtooth roof over large rooms with cast iron weight-bearing structures. Hence, the factory is a long, low structure, rather than tall. This elongated form satisfied the need to have a single engine and to distribute energy produced in a continuous and effective manner.
Over the years, the factory grew in modules around the initial nucleus, evidenced by the Medieval style tower, designed by the architect Angelo Colla. The facade of the first station, spinning, ran parallel to the river, proving that initially the western side was the primary facade. The chimney stacks provide a sharp contrast with the horizontal and repetitive nature of the factory. Their grandeur, the use of earthenware, the friezes and the central location, draw the eye from both near and far. Originally, there were three, but the second stack, directly in line with the one at the entrance, was torn down due to structural issues after being struck by lightning.
Over time, the spinning department doubled in size. Other departments also grew, including weaving, whose space was designed by Ernesto Pirovano. Instead, the dyeing equipment was located in a charming, separate building, decorated with small chimneys to eliminate fumes.
Over the years, the main entrance of the factory changed. From the original design, with the main entrance facing the river, it was moved to face the main road. In 1925, the new main entrance was completed, known as the “red gates” for the wrought-iron gates created by Alessandro Mazzucotelli. The architecture took on an elegant decorative power, emphasised by engravings, adornments and colourful backgrounds.
Designers: Angelo Colla, architect; Pietro Brunati, engineer; Ernesto Pirovano, architect. Construction and subsequent expansions: spinning (1878), weaving (1894) and dying (1898). 19 December 2003: manufacturing activities shut down.
When the factory was built, the enormous power station area, known as the canapone, contained a turbine which drove the repetitive movements of the machinery.
In 1904, Cristoforo decided to modernise. The hydraulic plant transformed into a hydroelectric plant that became operational in 1909.
The exterior of the building is in Adda ceppo, while the interior has three gigantic black metal wheels, the alternators, which connected to the turbines, at that time probably the largest that had ever been made.
The tiled walls, the parquet floors, the details on the lamp sockets, the floral adornments and the beautiful control panel show the importance of aesthetics to the Crespi family, even in their production facilities.
From the downward-sloping road that leads to Crespi, right at the entrance to the village, you will see three buildings. In the local dialect, they are called palasòcc, and in addition to hosting visitors to Crespi, represent the first homes, built between 1877 and 1878.
They are simple rectangular buildings, with three stories, which could house up to twelve families.
The plaster walls are false ashlar in the lower portion with decorative elements in the upper portion. The facades are marked by five windows on the long side and three on the shorter side. On the roof, there are skylights corresponding to the windows.
The same architectural model was used for the nearby hotel and pub. This type of “barracks” lodging became a topic of interest at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, where small cottages were introduced as a better alternative. It is interesting to read what Silvio Crespi wrote in 1894, five years after becoming the general manager, in his report “Some methods for preventing accidents and ensuring the life and health of workers in the Italian cotton industry”.
Until a few years ago, everyone followed the practice of building large buildings, consisting of several stories and able to house 10 and up to 20 families. This was a mistake. They were making barracks, not homes, in which children’s cries, women’s gossiping, noises of any type, were continually interrupting the quiet that is necessary for rest, where people shared all aspects of their lives, and living in such close quarters created bad feelings resulting in arguments or fights. A businessman should not pretend that following this practice will lead to a good product; instead his workers will be travellers, searching only for higher wages. The model workers’ home should be built for only one family and be surrounded by a small garden, entirely separate from the other homes. This model can be seen in the British company towns, consisting of long rows of houses with a small yard in the front and a vegetable garden in the back. The yard has a fence and serves as the entrance. The door usually leads into a narrow hall with a sitting room to one side and a kitchen at the back of the house. Between the sitting room and the kitchen there is a single staircase that leads to the two bedrooms on the first floor. The lavatory is at the back of the house and isolated. The houses are connected through a single wall, and are sufficient for any family. Oldham, Bolton, Accrington, etc., were all cities built in this manner. Note the greater satisfaction with the living quarters of the Mulhouse workers, where the houses were independent and divided into four sections, joined on the two converging sides in a single corner. They could hold four families; they are nicer homes, but take up more space and cost more.
Dal 1886, Cristoforo e, con maggiore convinzione, Silvio smette di costruire edifici plurifamiliari ai quali preferisce villette uni e bifamiliari.
Alla fine del 1907 sono una cinquantina quelle innalzate in tutto il villaggio. Sono edifici a pianta quadrata, a due piani complessivi. Pur sembrando uguali, alcuni hanno un ingresso unico con una scala che porta al piano superiore, altre invece hanno due ingressi indipendenti. Gli ambienti, divisi in maniera razionale, erano alti e luminosi, in modo da far entrare luce e aria secondo le raccomandazioni del periodo nel campo della prevenzione sanitaria.
After 1886, Cristoforo, and with even greater conviction, Silvio, stopped building multi-family homes, preferring instead homes for one or two families.
By the end of 1907, there were around fifty such homes in the village. They had a square layout with two stories. Although they appeared the same, some had a single entrance with a staircase that led to the upper story, while others had two separate entrances. The rooms were divided functionally, and were bright, with high ceilings, to allow light and air to circulate according to the prevailing ideas at the time regarding preventive healthcare.
In the detached houses, there was a kitchen and working area on the ground floor, while the first floor had four or five bedrooms, depending on how the entrance area was utilised.
Behind the house, a small closed porch held the lavatory and toilets.
Instead, the semi-detached homes had a double internal staircase. The ground floor had the same configuration as the detached homes but with fewer rooms. In both models, the staircase could be situated either parallel or perpendicular to the entrance wall.
Tiles marked the separation between the ground floor and the first floor, but they were removed in the early 1940s. However, another row of tiles can still be seen under the roof line.
Outside, the houses had an area designated for a vegetable garden, and each home’s border consisted of fencing made of metal strips recycled from the cotton packaging. The houses were rented to families in which at least one member worked in the factory. The rent payment was deducted from wages and the homes could not be sold. The company even paid for maintenance on the houses.
Cottages for clerical workers and department heads
After the upheaval of the First World War, the southern part of the village, which had been vacant, began to be developed. These homes had more decorative elements and used more precious and varied materials compared to the labourers’ homes. The four buildings became the residences of clerical workers and department heads.
They had a rectangular layout, with balconies in Adda ceppo, decorations along the upper portion, regular windows of differing sizes, and roofs with more complex lines and topped with chimneys that are right out of a fairy tale.
The interiors were more flexible and provided space for entertaining. The exterior, also delimited by low gates in recycled materials, was not used as a vegetable garden but rather as a real backyard.
In the wooded area, sheltered from the village and far from the hustle and bustle of the production areas, eight elegant villas were built in the 1920s for executives.
Compared to the precise and orderly layout of the workers’ homes, the executives’ villas were more varied and asymmetrical, which also characterised their architecture.
As opposed to the other residences in the village, each villa is distinct from the others and large parts of the façade are covered in stone.
Wood was used alongside Adda ceppo and, in general, the use of different materials created sharp contrasts in colour, enhanced by the surrounding woods, which was sometimes incorporated in the home, with plants growing along arbours, porches and balconies.
The sloping roofs were topped with lovely chimneys and pinnacles. The yards were larger and well-tended, with tall trees. Despite these differences, the style was consistent and, in some senses, recalled certain English mansions.
Homes for the doctor and priest
The residences for the doctor and priest are located on the highest point of the hill that faces the village.
They were built with the same techniques as the workers’ houses, but are larger and have more decorative details. In addition, the string courses are preserved, which were removed from the workers’ homes during the Fascist period, consisting of friezes at the windows, large cornices, earthenware mouldings and small cast iron columns.
Both homes had large gardens that sloped downward toward the village, with a small gate that allowed the inhabitants to reach the village quickly.
The school is the most impressive of the village’s service buildings. It is located at the top of a large stairway made of Adda ceppo. The current structure was developed over three phases, although from 1891 the two-story building was already part of the town’s panorama.
Before the modifications made during the period of fascist rationalism, it was not as rigidly square-shaped as it currently appears, and had more elaborate earthenware decorations around the roof, the entrance and the windows.
The upper level was used as a residence for teachers while the other floors were divided into two small classrooms and two larger ones, for the pre-school and school.
The school offered courses in household economy and provided rehearsal space for the town’s band. There was also a theatre at the back that seated up to one hundred people. Various types of productions were staged at the theatre, and in 1922 a cinema was added, a novelty that kept audiences enthralled.
Construction: 1890 Modernisation works undertaken in the 1930s – decorative friezes were removed from the façade. Restructuring in 1990 by the municipal authority.
On foggy days, its tower can be seen above the haze, as impressive as the mast of a ship on the high seas. Together with the chimney stacks, the castle is the most eye-catching feature in Crespi and stands out for kilometres across the surrounding plain. It represents the town’s calling card.
Its neo-Medieval design is due to a resurgence in popularity for the style at the end of the 1800s. A castle holds a special place in the collective imagination, so it is likely that the Crespi family wanted to draw attention to their role and presence in the area through the direct language of architecture, although from a different historical period.
The villa has a small entrance, seemingly inconsistent with the importance attributed to it, near the canal that Cristoforo had excavated to bring water to the factory.
The enormous structure directly faces the factory and its garden was connected to it.
The main tower is fifty metres high and the shortest tower hides the tank for drinking water.
Ernesto Pirovano, the architect commissioned for the project, used red brick as the predominant material, which echoed the earthenware decorations used throughout the village.
The exterior is enriched with single, double and triple lancet windows as well as small columns, bases and windowsills in marble, cement adornments, frescoes of coats of arms, mosaics, majestic capitals and accents in wrought iron and bronze.
The interior of the castle spans three levels. On the ground floor, there is a large atrium with natural lighting from the glass ceiling. Along the walls, there is a loggia with railings of exquisite workmanship.
The ground floor also has a “blue room“, used as a music room, a “white room” named for its predominant colour scheme, used as a study and where the telephone was eventually installed, and the “green room”, which represented the heart of family life with its welcoming fireplace.
As it was an ideal place for entertaining, there was also a billiard room and a dining room that could seat twenty guests.
The basement contained the service areas such as the kitchen and laundry.
The bedrooms were on the first floor, while the second floor led to the main tower, which offered a 360-degree panoramic view of the surrounding area.
The castle’s furniture was also highly prized. Unfortunately, however, the castle’s interior furnishings were lost over time and with changes in ownership.
Between 1890 and 1930, the Crespi family used the castle as their residence during the summer and part of autumn. Although they hosted eminent individuals from the national political scene, the documentation suggests that the family’s fondness for the villa was based on its daily use in family life.
Construction 1893-1894, twenty months. Designers: Ernesto Pirovano, architect, and Pietro Brunati, engineer.
The year is 1897, 6:30 a.m, and the church opens its door for the first and only mass of the day. The mass is scheduled based on work shifts.
Beginning in 1899, two daily masses were celebrated. The church also performed an important social function, including for the Crespi family. The church’s style may seem to contrast with the rest of the village, however, the decorative simplicity of the surrounding buildings manage to blend with its Renaissance style.
Historians are not certain why Cristoforo chose to build an exact duplicate of Santa Maria di Piazza Church in Busto Arsizio, other than as a way of paying homage to his hometown. Constructed between 1891 and 1893, under the direction of Pietro Brunati as the engineer, the only difference from the original is the base made of ceppo from the Adda River, measuring 70 centimetres in height, and the Veronese marble staircase.
The cupola has an octagonal base. The windows of the church were created with circular elements measuring twelve centimetres in diameter, which remained after the razing of the old factories.
The interior reflects the measured elegance of the exterior. The decorations were created by Luigi Cavenaghi, who was most likely chosen because he had previously worked on the restoration of the church in Busto Arsizio.
The walls were covered in exquisite frescoes that also reflected a certain exuberance. The cupola is noteworthy for its coffered ceiling with its trompe l’oeil perspective from which rows of stars light up the night sky. There are also frescoes with grotesque motifs and putti as well as medallions featuring Biblical figures in the corners, between the arch and pillars.
Construction: 1891 – 1893 Supervisor: Pietro Brunati, engineer Interior pictorial decoration: Luigi Cavenaghi 1896: Mass officiated by a chaplain 1925: Parish priest 1983: Santo Nome di Maria Parish
Cemetery and mausoleum
At the end of the long straight road that leads down to the village, after the main buildings situated on each side – the factory on the right, the church and school on the left, is a green space, behind a excavated area, from which rises the imposing mausolem that marks the village cemetery.
The cemetery was built to simplify the community life in terms of travel, particularly in the delicate situation of the loss of a loved one. It was seen as the final resting place after a life lived within a self-contained universe.
As with everything else in the village, the cemetery combines the need to manage daily life with an aesthetic ideal and an evocative atmosphere. It is the only area in the village for which the Crespi family did not directly hire professionals, but rather established a competition.
In 1896, the competition was announced by the Accademia di Brera, and later won by Gaetano Moretti. However, it took more than twelve years before the cemetery and mausoleum were completed and opened.
The Crespi family tomb, which is part of the main structure, stands out from the rest of the cemetery, bordered by a wall along the sides and an iron gate in Liberty style at the entrance. The enclosure separates the tomb, but it is still visible, offering privacy but also continuity.
Along the ground are crosses made of Adda ceppo, perfectly ordered, with photos, names and dates of birth and death. The ceppo grave markers, which recall Anglo-Saxon cemeteries with their placement close to the ground, were used for the village’s inhabitants. A simple burial was paid for by the company. Anyone who wanted an individual vault had to build it along with perimeter, near the walls. Originally, myrtle hedges enclosed the burial area, however, they have since disappeared.
The mausoleum is fascinating for its assortment of styles and reinterpretations. In creating the funeral monument, Moretti probably wanted a more uninhibited, and in some places, even visionary, architectural expression, where modern and exotic elements blended together. His freedom in design is also seen in the use of materials – Adda ceppo and decorative cement, in particular.
At ground level, the monument has a pedestal made of steps with a ramp featuring three distinct levels. As the monument rises into the air, it is imposing and balanced, but also somehow light.
The first level has a door with bronze knockers that has certain elements of the Liberty style. In the upper portion, over five decorated clefts, there is the Chrismon, a monogram consisting of an “X” (chi) and a “P” (rho), representing Christ’s name, inside a sun.
Further up are the statues of the theological virtues, sculpted in Liberty style. The figures are so life-like it can be slightly unsettling.
A cross is inscribed within a cube in the highest part of the monument. A large exedra extends from the sides of the pyramid, which seem to embrace the cemetery and provides the only curved elements of the entire monumental structure.
The gates lead to the chapel, which does not have the same level of novelty as the exterior. In fact, the chapel has a more orderly structure. From this point, through two symmetrical staircases, you can go down into the crypt, which has a central area and three galleries. In the central area, there are four separate tombs, while the galleries have other tombs in vaults. Generally, the warm tones and the simplicity of the decorations make it a welcoming area appropriate for reflection.
Project: 1896 Architect: Gaetano Moretti
Taccani hydroelectric station
Situated in a natural bend of the Adda River, under the fortified tower and part of the perimeter wall that remain from the Visconti Castle, the Taccani hydroelectric station in Trezzo sull’Adda is without a doubt one of the most enchanting buildings created by the Crespi family.
The designer was Gaetano Morretti, who Cristoforo asked to create a structure that blended with the surrounding areas and with the vestiges of the medieval castle.
Moretti created harmony with the context by using a long, low front, making it appear as to be the lower part of the fort, and covered the walls with sheets of Adda ceppo to approximate the colour and materials of the old manor house.
Moretti added other characteristic elements of his architectural style that drew inspiration from the Near East, and by revisiting certain medieval styles and motifs guided by German modernism.
Inside, the tallest room contained the control panels. Eleven bays were located on the left and the floor had alternators that were driven by the engines underneath. To the right, the other five bays contained the reserve steam plant, built to offset any shortages from the river flow.