FASCIST ARCHITECTURE

Fascist architecture denotes the spectrum of architectural projects that were built,
theorized, ritualized, and polemically debated by Fascist political regimes of World War
II. Extreme right-wing totalitarian dictatorships were forcibly installed in Italy (1922–43),
Germany (1933–45), and Spain (1939–75). The Italian Fascist Party under the leadership
of Benito Mussolini, the National Socialism Party headed by Adolf Hitler, and the
Falange Espanola Party led by General Francisco Franco formed coercive governments
whose absolute power abolished all forms of political opposition. Public utilities,
commercial exchanges, processes of industrialization, as well as the production of art and
architecture were controlled and regulated by the state; and it was in Italy and Germany
that architecture played a seminal role in the advancement of Fascist ideologies.
The very term Fas cism (or fas cismo in Italian) was derived from the Latin word fasces , denoting an
ornamental object of political and military authority carried by ancient Roman lictors
during public ceremonies. As early as 1919, Mussolini adopted the fasces as the emblem
of the Fascist Party, intent as he was on associating the glories of ancient Rome with the
future triumphs of his Fascist state.
Throughout the Fascist era in Italy architecture was used as a rhetorical device; it
became the preferred vehicle for launching Fascist propaganda. It most forcefully
portrayed, in the solidity of its materials and the vastness of its measures, the sublimity of
imperial power. Buildings, piazzas, and ruins were privileged backdrops for public
demonstrations, ritual reenactments, and oratorical theatrics; spectacles aimed at
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cultivating a Fascist body politic. Italian architects Giuseppe Terragni, Marcello
Piacentini, Adalberto Libera, Giovanni Michelucci, and Giuseppe Pagano participated in
the design of new building types, the inauguration of new colonies, the restoration of
ancient monuments, the staging of political rallies, the mounting of exhibits, and the
publication of polemical journals; activities that contributed to the construction of the
new Roman Empire.
From the outset, Mussolini launched a massive building campaign. The modernization
and nationalization of transportation and communication networks necessitated the
design and construction of building types new to Italian soil. Modern and efficient
railway stations and post offices were built throughout Italy. Florence’s Santa Maria
Novella train station (1932–34), designed by Gruppo Toscano (a six-member group of
Florentine rationalists), and Rome’s Palace of Postal and Telegraphic Services, designed
by BBPR (Banfi, Belgiojoso, Peresutti, and Rogers), were only two of the many building
projects sponsored by the state. It was the invention of the Casa del Fascio (House of the
Fascist Party), however, that most captivated the Italian imagination. Used primarily as
the local headquarters of the Fascist Party, versions of this new building type were
erected throughout the Italian peninsula. Typically sited in the center of town, the
structure rivaled the church’s dominance and evidenced the ceaseless presence of Il
Duce. The most celebrated Casa del Fascio was built in Como (1932–36) and designed
by Giuseppe Terragni. Its monumental austerity, abstract formalism, and frontal
transparency made it the building most representative of both Italian Fascism and
modernism.
Mussolini also commissioned the construction of entirely new towns in the southern
regions of the Roman Campania, in Sardinia, in the Greek Dodecanese, and in the
colonies of northern Africa. The towns of Littoria, Carbonia, and Guidonia were built on
reclaimed swampland, whereas the occupied cities of Tripoli, Bengazi, Kos, and Rhodes
were resettled with Italian farmers. Predappio (1925), Mussolini’s hometown, was the
first to be built with wide avenues, monumental civic buildings, and a vast civic piazza.
Littoria (1932), named after the lictor who had carried the ceremonial fasces during
antiquity, was built with the knowledge of ancient Roman foundation rites.
Antiquity was equally of issue in the Fascist policy of “isolamento”: the valorization
and preservation of rhetorically significant buildings. In an attempt to make visible select
architectural masterpieces from imperial Rome, monuments from the first century BC
were liberated from thousands of years of historical and material growth. With the
demolition of entire city blocks, the Mausoleum of Caesar Augustus (63–14 BC) became
one such site. Symbolic of the burial ground of Rome’s founding emperor, the unearthing
of its sublime circular structure was completed in 1937, the 2,000th anniversary of his
birth. With a similar intent, Mussolini effected vast transformations to the via delI’Impero
(present-day via dei Fori Imperial!) by physically connecting the ruins of the Colosseum
with the administrative center of Fascist Rome—Piazza Venezia. In an effort to valorize
the Roman Forum and the Forum of Augustus, the via dell’ Impero was designed as a
monumental avenue for ceremonial and military parades.
Alongside the building of large-scale architectural interventions, architects also
participated in the design and construction of exhibits. Throughout the Fascist era, the
mounting of statesponsored public exhibitions was a significant vehicle for the promotion
of both architectural ideas and Fascist polemics. In March 1931, the International
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Movement for Rational Architecture (MIAR) opened its second exhibition with a critique
of contemporary Italian architecture. The likes of Pietro Maria Bardi, Edoardo Persico,
and Alberto Sartoris called for the radical alliance of Fascist doctrine with modern
architecture, for only in this way could a true renewal of the country take place. In 1932,
to mark the tenth anniversary of the Fascist takeover of power, the Mos tra delta Rivoluzione Fas cis ta (Exhibit of the
Fascist Revolution) featured the work of architects Libera, Mario Renzi, and Terragni, its
pavilions manifesting the allegiance of modernism to Fascist doctrine. However, it was
the Universal Exposition of 1942 (EUR’42) that placed the Italian Fascist state on display
through its vast complex of monumental pavilions, designed under the leadership of
Piacentini. Although the events of the war halted its completion, the polemics
surrounding the construction of EUR’42 forcefully pitted the modern rationalists against
the more conservative neoclassicists.
Journals, periodicals, and newspapers were also significant venues for the
dissemination of both architectural theory and Fascist propaganda. The printed word and
image had become highly effective means of communication, and as a former journalist
Mussolini was well aware of this truth. Marcello Piacentini served as editor for Architettura, and Quadrante
was edited by Pietro Maria Bardi. Cas abella was founded in 1928, and in 1933 Giuseppe Pagano
had become its editor. Along with Quadrante, Casabella had been a vocal supporter of the Italian rationalists,
and in the final years of the Fascist regime, with increasing criticism levied against the
state, the magazine was ordered to cease production. As a result, architects Pagano and
Banfi were deported to German death camps.
In Germany, the totalitarian regime of National Socialism, led by the Fuhrer Adolf
Hitler, also privileged architecture in the communication of its ideologically charged
political agenda. In Nazi Germany architecture, of all the visual arts, was materi-ally,
spatially and structurally most representative of the dictatorial power of the III Reich, a
state intent on the political and military conquest of the Western world.
In this venture was implicated architect Albert Speer, who in 1937 was named by
Hitler Inspector General of Buildings (GBI, Generalbauinspektor). The title attributed to
Speer expansive decision-making powers and the mandate to make of Berlin a capital
embodying the tenets of National Socialism. Guided by Hitler’s own artistic imagination,
Speer embarked on the conceptualization and design of the largest building project
initiated by any totalitarian regime, the construction of a new urban plan for the city of
Berlin. The enormous project envisioned the rezoning of a vast territory of the city
through which the destruction of tens of thousands of homes would have been assured.
If actualized, the plan would have forcibly introduced a monumental north/south axis
five kilometers long, originating at the southern limit of the Tempelhof and Schoeneberg
districts and terminating at the city’s northern limit, the Spree. Lined with granite-clad
buildings, the axis would have housed the most politically significant buildings
representative of the III Reich’s major ministries and centers of power. At its northern
end, the axis was designed to incorporate the colossal Pantheonlike shaped building
called the Great Hall, conceived to gather nearly 200,000 spectators in mass celebrations
of National Socialism. But steps from the Brandenburg gate, the Great Square
immediately to the south of the Great Hall would have been surrounded by Hitler’s
Palace, the High Command of the Armed Forces, the New Chancellery, and the Old
Reichstag. And although the New Chancellery was inaugurated in January 1937, Speer
would have designed all of the square’s new buildings.
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Completed as planned, the monumental scale of the north/ south axis would have
engendered a sense of domination never before achieved by human artifice. And
notwithstanding Hitler’s defeat that ensured the demise of the Berlin project, Speer
incorporated many of its architectural strategies in earlier projects for another German
city, Nuremberg. In 1936, Speer completed the redesign and extension of its Zeppelin
Field, a parade ground for the mass gathering of 100,000 citizens. In the austerity of its
neoclassical colonnade and in the massive extension of its 1,000-foot reviewing stand
was achieved a rhetorical and ideological backdrop for the orchestration of party rallies
and for gatherings of the Hitler Youth movement.
Thus, in both Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, architecture was used as a highly
articulated tool of political propaganda. That architects were directly involved in the
production and communication of such beliefs should not be overlooked but rather the
source of continued study.

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