There are two buildings in the northern Italian city of Turin, built by the same man. They are on opposite ends of the size spectrum. On one end is the symbol of the city, Mole Antonelliana, or “Antonelli’s Big One”. On the other is the Palazzo Fetta di Polenta: “A Slice of Polenta”.
19th century architect Alessandro Antonelli is responsible for Turin’s most famous building, the Mole Antonelliana, built in the 1860s originally as a synagogue (it now houses the Museo Nazionale del Cinema, the National Museum of Cinema). Just three blocks to the east is a more modest building, officially called Palazzo Scaccabarozzi, but it has come to be known by its more descriptive nickname.
It was early in Antonelli’s career, 20 years or so before his monumental achievement, when the young builder was working for a local construction company putting up palazzos and apartment buildings near the River Po. As a bonus for his hard work he was given a small trapezoid of land, left over from other projects on the block. The piece of land was oddly shaped. Really odd. The front was less than 17 feet wide, and the back is a mere 54 centimeters – less than two feet across.
Antonelli tried to buy the neighboring plot to expand his little flatiron piece of land, but when that didn’t work out he figured he could build anyway – a test of his engineering mettle.
Up the building went, originally just four floors of flats and two floors below grade. Later three more floors were added to the top, a testament to Antonelli’s success conquering the challenge of height over width.
At the time people were fearful that the building wouldn’t stand, so to prove them wrong the young architect moved in himself. He stayed for about a year, but soon moved to larger quarters. It didn’t matter; he had proven his point. Now, over 175 years later, the cornbread still stands.