Pietro Brunati

There is a photo in which the engineer, Pietro Brunati, is immortalised as the Father Almighty, surrounded by two angels, his great grandchildren. The photo was taken during a festival organised by the Milan Society of Artists and Patriots.

Established as an anti-Austrian movement, it became less political and more social after 1848, organising costume balls around various themes. It was at one of these parties that the photo of Brunati dressed as the Father Almighty was taken.

Though a bit irreverent, this episode serves to introduce one of the individuals who contributed a great deal to the development of the labourers’ village of Crespi, perhaps the most original of the collaborators who worked with the Tengitt family

Pietro Brunati was born in Albese, near Como, on 25 October 1854. His autobiography, written in third-person form, relates the story of how, at 19 years of age, he moved to Zurich to study and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. He returned to Italy to study another year at the Polytechnic Institute in Milan in the field of manufacturing. There he met Giuseppe Colombo, one of the pioneers of industrial plants and mechanical technologies.

Brunati visited the Great Exhibition in Paris, where he encountered new techniques and advances related to industrialisation. Try to imagine the machinery of all sorts of bizarre shapes and sizes – spider-like equipment to dig for oil, steam engines that resembled cannons, enormous locomotives and other giants containing strange contraptions.

In 1881, the first National Exhibition was organised in Milan. Brunati became Colombo’s assistant, who was one of the event’s promoters.

Brunati organised the mechanical portion of the exhibition, which was an opportunity for him to see that Italian technology was not so abysmally behind that of foreign countries. It was also a chance to promote his own work. In fact, immediately after the event, he was employed in building train cars and systems as well as mechanical mills and pasta factories.

Hence, he had gained a great deal of experience by the time he was hired by Cristoforo Crespi in 1889 as the head engineer for his factory. At the end of that year, Silvio Crespi became director of the cotton mill, and Brunati began working more directly with him to improve the village.

The engineer was responsible for urban planning and the overall design. If his duties were mainly as a site engineer, in making aesthetic and decorative choices he was assisted by renowned architects such as Gaetano Moretti and Ernesto Pirovano.

Brunati was active in building the labourers’ homes, the church, castle and schools, as well as enlarging the spinning and weaving departments, the steam-powered systems and the related chimney stacks.

But of all the tasks assigned to him by the Crespi family, meeting the energy requirements of the factory and village was the one to which he dedicated most of his time.

As a result, in 1894 he transformed the plant’s hydraulic system into a hydroelectric system, installing three turbines with a single wheel.

The Taccani hydroelectric station in Trezzo sull’Adda took a majority of his time throughout its various phases. He presented his first plan in 1891, but it was his third version in 1897 that became the definitive project.

When the construction work began in 1901, Brunati was not the supervisor. Instead, Gaetano Moretti put the final touches on the project, assisted by Adolfo Covi, Alessandro Taccani and Oreste Simonatti. The foundation stone was laid on 11 July 1904. “The energy house”, as it was known, became operational in 1906. Although there were some minor changes, the final result basically follows Brunati’s design.

In 1898, his employment with the Crespi family ended and Brunati became the inspector in charge of preventing workplace accidents for the Italian Industrial Association. He was charged with controlling and understanding most of the industrial plants in Italy, verifying the stability of staircases, movable bridges, winches and electrical systems. The Association was the basis for the later Labour Inspectors, or groups that surveyed the amount, structure and functions of companies and workers. Brunati was part of the Milan, Como and Pavia network.

Among the issues addressed by the networks was the elimination of night shifts for women and children, granting a day of rest on holidays and eliminating night shifts for furnace workers.

In 1908, Brunati resigned from his position and began a life of travel and adventure. Eastern Europe, Egypt, Greece, Nordic countries and Spain were only some of his destinations.

It is interesting to imagine him getting on and off trains and steamships, attending parties and staying in the best hotels across the Continent. In 1912, he crossed the Atlantic and arrived in New York on the Berlin ocean liner. He returned on the Lusitania, one of the last travellers to enjoy its luxuries, as it was sunk by a German submarine on 7 May 1915 as it was sailing off the coast of Ireland.

Brunati died in Albese on 4 August 1933.