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MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Impresa Cornelio Bianchi

 

The age of the “foremen”


The Cornelio Bianchi company dates back to the mid-nineteenth century, when foreman Luigi Bianchi (1819-1890) built a number of buildings in Morazzone, a town which, in addition to being his own birthplace, was also well-connected to Varese and Milan and boasted a large number of resident builders.
Although Luigi Bianchi had nine children, four of whom were male, only Gerolamo (born in 1866) remained with his father’s company and went on to build various manor houses on the Morazzone hillsides during the early twentieth century, which families from Milan regularly frequented on holidays.
The intense industrial development of the times led Gerolamo Bianchi to invest heavily in the construction of production facilities, which became one of the company’s most prevalent activities. Gerolamo preferred to build industrial buildings and residences locally, while other foremen in the area worked abroad due to the limitations posed by the domestic market. In 1910, together with Amedeo Zirottini, Gerolamo Bianchi and his brother Angelo founded the de facto company “Bianchi & Zirottini”, with headquarters in Gazzada.
With the diffusion of reinforced concrete and the continuous industrialization of the territory, the Gerolamo Bianchi company grew rapidly and came to employ over 100 workers during the 1920s and 1930s. It was during these years that the company participated in the construction of the Milan-Varese motorway. Gerolamo’s sons, Mario, Luigi and Cornelio, each of whom had earned their diplomas as master builders, actively collaborated with their father in the management of the construction sites.
At the beginning of 1932, the Bianchi & Zirottini company was awarded the contract for the construction of the maternity and infancy pavilion at the historical Circolo di Varese Hospital. The building, which still exists today as an excellent example from the Art Nouveau period, was designed by Gerolamo’s son, Aurelio Bianchi, who worked as an independent contractor without taking part in the family business. Gerolamo Bianchi passed away unexpectedly just before the contract was awarded, and the company’s management was assumed by his eldest son, Mario (born 1899), who collaborated with his brother Luigi to complete the pavilion’s construction by 1934.
Meanwhile, in the spring of 1933, the Bianchi & Zirottini company was dissolved and placed in liquidation, a process which would ultimately drag on for many years (up until 1950). Mario Bianchi nevertheless continued with the company’s activities, registering his own sole proprietorship company in Varese in the year 1935.

 

From air-raid shelters to condominiums


During the Second World War, Mario Bianchi signed contracts for the construction of bomb shelters in Varese with the Todt Organization, the large public construction company of Nazi Germany, which had been present in Italy with its own operating units since 1943, one of which was based in Varese itself. After Zirottini’s withdrawal from the company immediately after the war, the company resumed building industrial facilities (including the Andreae silk factory in Besozzo, the Ceramica Ravelli facility in Laveno, and the Locati glassworks in Milan), as well as residential structures (including the Pontiggia public housing projects in Varese). In 1946, the company purchased a truck from Arar (Azienda rilievo alienazione residuati – a company involved in the acquisition of residual war materials). The tests to be carried out upon the cement and concrete materials were entrusted to the material testing laboratories at the Polytechnic of Milan.
Mario Bianchi, who was also professionally involved with numerous associations, became one of the founders of the Collegio degli edili di Varese (The Varese Building Constituency). In 1947, Mario, Luigi and Cornelio Bianchi established a general partnership under the name of “F.lli Bianchi fu Gerolamo”.
Although the company would be dedicated to the processing and moulding of plastic materials, an industrial activity that was rather detached from the construction industry, it would nevertheless aim to create synergies between the two sectors. The company, which is still active to this day, underwent its greatest expansion with the development of eyewear during the 1960s, a field in which the province of Varese was extremely prominent at the time, but later downsized and began to specialize in the production of technical items.
Stimulated by a strong increase in the demand for housing, the Mario Bianchi company began to focus upon residential construction activities during the mid-1950s. That which is considered to be Varese’s first condominium was built in the year 1955, and was soon accompanied by others over the following years. With labour costs still relatively low, the management of the construction sites did not differ much with respect to the beginning of the century: opening a new site was always like opening a new company.
The new decade began with the construction of a condominium in Tradate, as well as with the expansion and restoration of the parish church in Gazzada, an intervention which involved a area that would re-present itself numerous times throughout the company’s history, or rather that of religious constructions.

 

From the large construction sites to the beginning of the post-industrial phase


The promotion of real estate was an important, although secondary, part of the Bianchi company’s activities, which continued to operate as a contractor for third parties, above all in the industrial building sector. The Varese area continued to become increasingly industrialized throughout the 1960s, resulting in the establishment of new and often extremely large factories. This was the case of the Carabelli hosiery factory in Solbiate Arno, a huge industrial complex of 31,000 square meters built entirely using prefabricated structures, which the Bianchi company built over nearly two decades, completing the work in 1970. For this project, Cornelio Bianchi introduced an important construction innovation by successfully creating and employing a type of long-range prefabricated beam in reinforced concrete, known at that time as the “Carabelli beam”. Mario Bianchi withdrew from the company’s management for health reasons during the mid-1960s.
The company’s management was thus placed in the hands of his brother Cornelio, who at a young age had earned his diploma as a master builder from the Istituto Biazzi, a structure that has been training generations of builders since 1872.
In 1967, the company’s name was changed to “Cornelio Bianchi & C. sas”, with Cornelio Bianchi (born in 1903) as general partner and his son, Gerolamo (born in 1940), as a limited partner. Bearing the same name as his grandfather, and having earned a degree in civil engineering at the Polytechnic of Milan, Gerolamo Bianchi immediately gained extensive on-site experience by supervising the operations at the enormous Carabelli site.
Mario Bianchi, who had no children, passed away in 1975, and was followed one year later by his brother Luigi, who had long since taken a different career path beyond the confines of the family business.
The company was organized according to the following roles: Cornelio handled the company’s relations with banks and customers, while Gerolamo was in charge of the designs and technical verifications. The two were accompanied by a construction site accounts manager and an accountant, who handled the payroll for the employees involved at each individual work site.
In 1978, the company’s head offices were transferred from the high-traffic area of the Varese headquarters to their current location in Brunello, in the town’s future industrial area. One of the company’s most significant achievements during this period was the construction of the Credito Varesino data processing centre in 1979, which somehow symbolically represented the company’s transition towards post-industrial construction.

 

The diversification of the construction activities and the arrival of the fifth generation


Cornelio Bianchi passed away in 1982. His son, Gerolamo, who by this time had been involved in the company’s activities for over 15 years, inherited the company, which would take on the name of “Impresa Cornelio Bianchi sas di Bianchi dr. ing. Gerolamo & C.”, with head offices in Milan. In terms of the company’s administration, Gerolamo was assisted by his sister Renata, who remained with the company up until her death in 2009. The long period of industrial building, during which the company had focused upon the construction of large factories, was drawing to a close: while there was less demand for the construction of new facilities, those which were being built were much smaller than those of the past, and were designed to meet the needs of the new tertiary economy.
By the 1990s, the work was becoming increasingly oriented towards the maintenance and upgrading of existing structures. These changes could be seen in the Bianchi company’s “job list”, which was already showing greater sector diversity by the 1980s.
The company eventually found itself operating within the industrial, commercial, transportation, logistics, residential construction and public and private services sectors. The company’s organization underwent a number of significant changes, and it mainly took on the role of a technical structure dedicated to the planning and verification of the various operational stages, which were contracted out to a number of specialized companies.
In 1997, work began on the construction of the new cable railway in Sacro Monte di Varese, for which the Cornelio Bianchi company temporarily found itself working alongside the railway’s construction company.
Despite having always maintained strong roots within its territory of origin, at the turn of the millennium the Cornelio Bianchi company began to broaden its horizons with the renovation of a number of industrial self-storage facilities (or rather facilities designed for the temporary storage personal property), located in Rome, Padua, Genoa, Florence and Turin.
Gerolamo Bianchi’s children, the family’s fifth generation, who had spent their childhoods frequenting the various construction sites, also became involved in the company’s activities during this period.

His eldest son, Matteo (born in 1979), who had completed his surveyor training, was placed in charge of marketing and customer relations, and even maintained his position at the company after being elected mayor of the town of Morazzone. Tommaso (born in 1980), on the other hand, after earning his degree in engineering construction, was placed in charge of the technical/systems installation sector, which was taking on an increasingly important role in terms of the economy and the quality of the buildings themselves, above all due to the development of new energy-saving technologies.
Tommaso Bianchi also became involved in a local industry association, assuming the role of president for the young builders of the province of Varese.
Lastly, Sara (born in 1983), after earning her degree in Industrial Design from the Polytechnic of Milan, also began a career in the family business, albeit in a less prominent position with respect to those of her brothers.
Today, the Cornelio Bianchi company’s distinctive strengths remain its strong ties with its territory of origin, as well as its dedication to building on behalf of third parties.
Throughout its long history, the company has never suffered periods of crisis and always maintained the legal form of a partnership up until its transformation into a limited company in the year 2011, a decision which was also intended to convey the commitment and the responsibility that the company feels in relation to its customers. This policy is widely acknowledged and respected within a sector like that of modern construction, which is highly fragmented and includes a large number of real estate companies that have a speculative relationship with the territory, disappearing immediately after having achieved their immediate goals.