Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Italian Modernism and Fascism , A very ambiguous relationship.

The Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution (Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista) was a show held in Rome at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni from 1932 to 1934. Opened by Mussolini on 28 October 1932, it had 4 million visitors.
Its director and designer was Dino Alfieri, with the cooperation of Luigi Freddi and Cipriano Efisio Oppo. Seen as a great success, it was repeated in 1937 and 1942, though these two repeats did not have the same public success.
Telling the evolution of Italian history from 1914 to the March on Rome, it was never conceived as an objective representation of the facts or as being solely based on the exhibiting of historic documents, but as a work of Fascist propaganda to influence and involve the audience emotionally. For this reason not only historians were called in to assist in the exhibition, but also exponents of various artistic currents of the era, such as Mario Sironi, Enrico Prampolini, Gerardo Dottori, Adalberto Libera and Giuseppe Terragni.

"The relationship between the thought and architecture of Italian Rationalists and the new Fascist state is commonly presented as a battle between revolutionary modernism and a reactionary regime. Most historians have ignored the ardent Fascism of the best architects, while others simply avoid the issue altogether and study the buildings as stylistic phenomena. This attitude in part derives from a post-war desire to extricate the best architects and their architecture from a thoroughly discredited political system. Consequently, the architects' own words about their architecture and their ideas about Fascist culture and the purposes for which their state-funded buildings were designed are ignored. Historians acknowledge that the Modern Movement in other European nations encompassed social programs, but Italian architecture of the inter-war period has been strangely exempt from discussion on this level. Despite years of heated polemics and debates during the 20s, Rationalists, traditionalists, and moderates in Italy reached a consensus on political and social objectives. The Fascist state claimed to offer revolutionary social programs, and the various architectural factions merely argued about the appropriate forms within which to house these programs. This article discusses the differences between the various groups of architects, examines the work and writings of some leading Rationalists with particular reference to Fascist notions of hierarchy, order, and collective action, and discusses the ways in which Rationalist architecture celebrated Fascism. It also offers an explanation for the fact that Modern Movement architecture received substantial state support in Italy as it did from no other major power in the decade before World War II."
In Diane Yvonne Ghirardo / Italian Architects and Fascist Politics : An Evaluation of the Rationalist’s Role in Regime Building
Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 

“In 1928, Terragni joined the Fascist Party. Some historians, being uncomfortable with this have chosen to ignore it, or dismiss it as being merely an opportunistic ploy to get commissions. However, Terragni’s writings, coupled with the fact that he was a man of principles, betrays him – he was a Fascist. Incredibly, he was also a deeply religious man; although it would perhaps be taking it too far to infer that his devotion to both the Catholic Church and the Fascist Party, inspired him (or at least allowed him) to strike a balance between the traditional, and the avant-garde; faith and reason.
Gruppo 7 announced themselves upon their graduation from the Milan Polytechnic in 1926 and consisted of Sebastiano Larco, Guido Frette, Carlo Enrico Rava, Adalberto Libera, Luigi Figini, Gino Pollini, and Giuseppe Terragni. The date which Gruppo 7 published their first manifesto (December 1926) in Rassegna Italiana is noteworthy, for in the summer of 1926, Italian architecture had received a damning appraisal in the Swiss journal Das Werk:
Today’s Italian architecture has not yet been touched by the major movements and discussions of the rest of Europe.
Perhaps the late unification of Italy as a nation had kept Italian architecture behind in its development, but Gruppo 7 saw their late arrival as an opportunity to give the most mature, definitive character to the new style. Thus they would be able to reassert the traditional Italian primacy in the Arts.”

"Fascism is a house of glass into which all can look."
(…)Located to the rear of the Duomo, the Casa del Fascio was designed as a house of glass; a physical realization of a modern architecture, but also as a symbolic statement about the supposed nature of Fascism, recalling Mussolini’s doctrine:
Fascism is a house of glass into which all can look.
Terragni took this metaphor literally, and applied it to justify structural honesty, and constructional clarity. Terragni employs extensive glazing; the meeting room overlooks the central atrium through a glass wall, whilst the glass wall on the front façade opens up to the crowds. This integration of the exterior had already been seen in Hannes Meyer’s submission to the League of Nations, and in Le Corbusier’s submission for the Palace of Soviet’s. The building as an honorific space is clad throughout in Bolicino marble, important to Terragni for its symbolic meaning, conveying the status of the Casa Del Fascio as a monumental building (in importance rather than size). The use of marble came in the aftermath of Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion, where Mies showed how the rich beauty of polished stone could be complimented by modern materials. Terragni may also have sought inspiration from the Barcelona Pavilion, in his use of a slight elevation of the base, ‘piano rialzato’, establishing the monumental status for the whole structure. The spatial aesthetic is grounded in the exposed reinforced concrete frame. Terragni did not create this skeleton in order to hide it; the frame occupies the forefront plane.
The Casa del Fascio presents a complex rhythmical layering of partial walls, openings, and frames in which clear glass, glass block, polished stone, and filtered light, as well as direct views to the exterior, form a total architectural organism whose gridding carries straight through the structure while undergoing transformations of patterns that leave no two facades the same.
Terragni does not depart from the grid, or the rigours of rectilinear geometries, employing the golden section. Material is removed from the half-cube to create layers, emphasised by the marble returns, and deep-set glass. The plan, arranged around a central (covered) courtyard, is almost Palladian, whilst the empty frame at the entrance is the modern equivalent of a portico or colonnade. The Classical qualities are masked by the four facades with variations of fenestrations integrated into the frame system, representing modern construction, but nonetheless the building is Classical in nature.To the extent that an interest in proportion, massing, regularity of groundplan, and cubical massing are Classical ideas, Terragni – like Le Corbusier or Mies – was a Classical architect.
There is also another important reference that the Casa del Fascio relies upon. As well as the grand tradition of the Renaissance palazzo, Terragni pays homage to the modest tradition of the vernacular. The non-bilateral symmetry, and the loggia bears a striking resemblance to an Italian farmhouse. The building is the result of rigorous Rationalism, but grounded in references to the past. We must read between the lines of the Rationalist’s rhetoric, and be aware of their conservative audience, and their need to receive approval from the authorities. We must also be aware of their other audience; the previously mocking architects of Northern Europe, and the rhetoric that the Rationalists employed for their benefit, following the lead of Mies, Gropious and Corb."

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