Blog: Giuseppe Terragni – Casa del Fascio

Giuseppe Terragni:  Casa del Fascio, A Critical Approach
Politechnico di Milano
January, 2012
Jarin Krouz © | myarch.net

 

 

Casa del Fascio one of the most famous buildings of the Italian Rationalism stands in a city Como northern from Milan, which is based next to the Como lake. The building itself is built in the period between 1932 and 1936, by one of the most challenging architects of the period Giuseppe Terragni, educated in the politechnico Milano architecture school. Terragni with his school mates declare in several articles a manifesto of Rationalism in 1926, where their influential architectural group is called Gruppo 7 (=Group 7; 7 founding architects). Their goal was bringing the international Modernism movement to Italy and domesticating it by mixing the essentially foreign style with Italian aesthetical principles. The period of Italy between the world wars is related to Benito Mussolini’s Fascism. This controversial historical era, brings many questions about young architects believing and working for a new totalistic regime. Giuseppe Terragni is exactly this type of architect. Can we talk about the best building of Rationalism in Italy without mentioning the connection with the Fascism? How is the fact of propaganda materialized in the form of the building? Is the building a symbol of Fascism or a well designed representative office building?  How do historians feel about the architect and is really Terragni a genius modernistic architect or just a servant of a regime that could be replaced by anyone else? These questions appear analyzing Casa del Fascio and the answers are not simple and unequivocal.

Based on Ghirardo [1] the architectural situation in Italy after the WWI is defined by many different groups of architects. The three most evident are Accademici (neo- classicism and 19th century based eclecticism architects) based on the most of architecture schools, the moderates (Novecento in Milan, and other in Rome) and Rationalists. These main groups in the new Fascist state are in a kind of struggle in the architectural field of competitions and in the effort for the regime support. This only points to the situation that the regime of Fascism in the 30´s doesn’t have an unified political opinion (it´s fluctual structure based in term of today´s populism) and the main ideas are only conformed to Mussolini. So, with the very different political bases couldn´t be established a main state architectural style, as other totalitarian regimes do. Each architectural group had its justification of existence and arguments against the others. The Rationalists, with the evidence of the new aesthetics for the new era, with their fascist like rhetoric, with the concept of Miderteranitá, with their belief in social changes through technological solutions and their enthusiasm for fascism (many were in the party) led to their success in the 30´s. “The theme is new, with absolutely no reference to buildings of a representational nature; working from a new framework without forgetting that Fascism is a completely original phenomenon.”[2] as Terragni wrote in 1936 about Casa del Fascio.  “Historians are reluctant to admit one stunning fact: the Fascist state in Italy patronized modern architecture far more, than did Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia (where indeed it was censured by the late 1920´s), or the United States during the period  when all were heavily involved in Government- subsidized building of all types.”[3]  The reason of the enthusiasm into Fascism of the Rationalists and Terragni can be understood as ideological and even as economical and tactical. The party was a good client and there was a chance, how to prove it. As Terragni wrote: “An exceptional client for a young architect: the Federal Secretary calls and makes you the following proposal: “I´ve worked out a budget that will allow me to fulfill the dreams of all the Fascists of this city and province: to have a new and decorous Casa del Fascio…”…”[4]

Terragni is getting known to the regime and wider public in 1932 when he designs one room (Sala O) of the great Fascist Revolution Exhibition (image on left). An anniversary of the ten years of fascist party at power in Italy was his first propagandistic design project, that continues later in the design of the façade in Casa del Fascio. “His involvement in this exhibition- which has come down to us only by photographs from the period- generated a dynamic show space: there was focus on diagonals, an array of blown-up out of context stylized images, wording and photomontage, where the regime´s symbols (the eagle, the Roman salute and il Duce´s profile) mix with icons from futurist mythography (turbines and locomotives).”[5] The inspiration is widely recognized to futurism, cubism and to the Russian avant-garde. The second step is Casa Del Fascio in Como. The work is commissioned to him by a conversation with the Party Secretary in Como in 1932- probably with an influence from his brother Attilo as a high party member in Como. Terragni already thought about the Casa much earlier: his first drawings come from 1928 and till the final project is proposed 5 designs. Origins for Casa del Fascio are explaned by Franco Purini as” a metaphor to the Roman compound, a metaphor of its own isolation, metaphor of the Como courtyard house.”[6]  Cesare Seta called the building a Renaissance palace constructed in concrete and glass[7], and Schumacher describes the Casa as not only a Florentinian- Roman Renaisance palace, but  more as a Venetian pallazo type (for example palazzo Ca´Corner a San Maurizio, Iacoppo Sansovino, 1553)[8]. Peter Eisenman[9] with his very detailed analysis of the first drawings describes each phase of the design separately and precisely. The first design (image p.4,top, left) is declared as a typical Renaissance palazzo, the second plan (image p. 4, top, right) drawn in a more modernistic approach now compared (by the additive process) to baroque Palladian villas (as Villa Badoer). The third plan (image p.4, down, left) is coming back to the first with few changes and the fourth (image p.4, down, right) is similar with wide modernistic horizontal windows. The last, final one, is how the building is built. All historians find Italian architecture for Casa del Fascio as an inspiration, but it can be a connection, evidence and a program at once too. Between the different plans of Casa is Terragni changing towards a stronger  inclination to clear Modernistic approach compared with the earlier works ( Hotel Suisse, Como) under Antonio San´t Elia, Le Corbusier and other architects. Terragni was blamed many times in his career of plagiarism. For Casa del Fascio mainly comparing modernistic buildings upper to the Alps- Eliška Machova- Mädchenheim, Vesna (Brno), Czechoslovakia from Bohuslav Fuchs (1929-30) (image on the left) and Altersheim der Marie-von- Boschan- Aschrott- Stiffung, Kassel, Germany from Otto Haesler and Karl Völker (1930-30). The projects are similar in a quite visual comparision and they were presented in the Italian architecture magazines of the era. Accusing someone of plagiarism in architecture, that is traditionally based on quotations and inspirations, is more a tactical game of the different groups of architects in the fascist regime, looking for the justification of other forms. Why is the resemblance to Renaissance palaces not called plagiarism and why aern´t other modernistic buildings called inspirations? One thing is that modernism is a non Italian style that was imported from foreign countries (no good for nationalism and the needs of Italian fascism) and only way of learning the basis of Modernism was though magazines. Although Eisenman admits the fact, that the photos of the school from Fuchs in Brno were found in the abandoned studio of Terragni in the 1960´s. There was an existing inspiration or at least knowledge of these buildings before the Casa in the final version was planned.

Terragni by himself talks about the Casa del Fascio in the monograph issue 35-36 of the Quadrante magazine (1936) and by explaining the concept and program he´s suggesting the Casa couldn´t be built or changed in a better way. It is interesting how a very good marketing for the Casa was used. Justifying Rationalism, new regime, propagandistic enrichment of the building, low price, genious concept and so on. Few examples:  The result of a square building is justified by a small site and too high density of offices that would require a three times bigger plot in the horizontal form. “The requirements of the plan convinced me to use the entire site. “[10] But at the same time, the plot was good enough because of the green slope of Brunate hill in the back and for the free frontage with extra ordinary settings in the front (the urbanism is based on extruding the historical piazza with duomo to the Casa). The vast covered space in the center is used for meeting rooms, halls and offices.”However, it was necessary to study possible access to this vast space by flanked rows of Facists and the public for big assemblies, thus eliminating any break in continuity between indoors and outdoors so that a leader can speak to his followers assembled inside and still be heard by the masses gathered in the plaza.”[11] This is a hidden genius defense of the motorized door opening in the main entrance that was planned to open all at once by pressing one button. A system that was unusual in those days and that could be quite expensive and possibly rejected for decreasing the budget. “The Mussolini´s concept of Fascism as a glass house into which everyone can peer gives rise to this interpretation which is a continuation of the former: no obstacles, no barriers, nothing between the political leader and his people.”[12] As Schumacher mentions, Terragni suggested the open ground floor not only for fitting to a “glass house of Fascism” but to increase the use of space. It is not planned to make greater transparency and openness of the scheme.[13] The use of high quality and durable materials and liberty in proportions are solved by the need of a bulding destinated for people. Here “…moral, political and propaganda factors enter in; these merge with the fundamental aim of creating a headquarters for the party organization, factors which- in the design- are translated into enriching elements.”[14] The marble cladding is put on places connected to the public. This quotation shows one of the main concepts of propaganda of the Casa. The regime is not celebrated not by sculptures, eagleas, symbols or typological parts as other Fascist buildings have, but by richness of materials, free plan, proportions and harmony. A very different concept, unique in the totalitarian state. The Casa will not have waiting rooms as a image of bureaucracy and the inner visibility as a”… instinctive verification between the public and Federation employees.”[15]  For the construction is quotated Le Courbusier  with its good functions. Occasional counting of money saved by the plan is through the whole text. The use of Italian craftsmanship and industry is mentioned too. On the general task what is a Casa del Fascio Terragni answers: “The Fascist seat could no longer be a den, a refuge, of a fort; it had to become a House, a School, a Temple.”[16] And that defines mostly the design of Teragni. It shows what he thought about the role of the Casa and regime in the society- the ideas are made by him as an architect, Fascist, citizen and Italian. And that is one reason why his Casa is so different to others.

The question of geniality of the Casa must have more added facts. Ghirardi sees the main element as architect´s freedom. “His freedom in the design of the Casa rested on his unimpeachable political standing as well as the political power of his brother.”[17] In real that ment, that whatever was planned, could be built. This is reflected in the budget. The final amount used to build the Casa is almost three times higher than planned. Over three years the planned 1,200,000     L. rizes to 3,000,000 L.

The propagandistic elements of the Casa in Como is another big task. The building by itself doesn´t have a typical pieces of propagandistic typology that other Casas del Fascio have (even other built by Terragni). The Littoria tower, even if it was drawn in several plans and sketches is not included. We can see the remains in the huge blank frontage façade to the piazza, on which the propagandistic images were planned to be attached (well written in Ghirardi´s article[18]). These images in the tradition of the Sala O Fascist exhibition in 1932 are expressed by photomosaic of episodes from the Fascist history crowned with the portrait of Mussolini on the top (1936). Rejected for unsuitable material – photography made on baked enamel – lead to a change of design that should be composed in a marble mosaic (1937). The project rejected again for the prize and reluctance and bad personal relationship of the party officer to Terragni ( the architects position was not easy- the building cost much more than planned, leaking roof, cracking and falling off marble cladding, water in the basement, extra money for maintenance and Terragni´s stubbornness was a black spot on the relationships). Next version was a podium for speeches and a sculpture of a horse with an attendant infront of the blank wall in the piazza. Again rejected (1937-38). In 1939 a final design, not made by Terragni but T. Nicoli. An simple imperial eagle with the text of “ Il popolo italiano ha creato col suo sangue l´impero. Lo fenocderá col suo lavoro e lo difenderá contro chiunque colle sue arni.” The beginning war made even this design impossible. At the end, no design was made. The Casa is dedicated to the memory of fallen soldiers that had a sanctuario in the foyer of the Casa. This is fulfilling the metaphor of a Temple. This part was taken off after the war and in fact is the most propagandistic element in the house. Propagandistic mural from Radice in the federal hall was included. The portrait of Mussolini twice as big as real etched into the marble slab, making the Duce always content to every meeting (today without Mussolinis portrait). Terragni even designed the chairs (one named Benita). The inner structure of offices and places are based on the concept of gerarchiá that cooperated with fascist ideology too. From the simple office the highest in hierarchy with the access to the balconies for the speech. The Casa is missing a typical speakers balcony copied from palazzo Venezia in Rome were Mussolini held his speeches from his office. This prototype is in all other casa del Fascio in the country. Many see the structure of the front façade as a recall to classicism, Roman empire and national interests of Fascism. Eisenman with his aesthetical analysis of Casa del Fascio mention it as a artistic pupose of the author and gives no attention to the propagandistic rethorics (he doesn’t write anything about Terragni and the regime in the whole book, he is just analyzing the form torn out of political context). By George P. Mras the Casa del Fascio ”Yet, although in cryptic language, it appropriately reflects Fascist ideals of discipline and public order in the otherwise easy-going atmosphere of the lake resort town.”[19] Some historians are reading the windows on the southeast façade (south written under the picture) as a symbol of the fascio. “Terragni´s Casa del Fascio in Como included decorative symbols of Facism, and Terragni built the patrons emblem into the structure by designing the windows as simplified versions of the fascio.”[20] As Ghirardi without explaining how she suggested the idea is mentioning it as an normal fact. This idea is more an interpretation. Why would the architect design the windows in a simplified version of the fascio, when he had absolute freedom in designing the form of casa? And if true, why wouldn´t he mention it? Every connection of his building to the regime was useful. And designing a fascio on façade not heading to the piazza or to the street? Terragni is designing all the facades differently, for the use of the rooms behind and mostly to bring the day illumination inside the offices(image p. 0). The plan for the southwest “fascio” façade is made to enable the sun illumination inside. The offices on that side should be equipped with a special artificial illumination system that makes the light brighter as the illumination of the sun decreases. For the budget reasons not made. The decoration has a concept of a political billboard.

As mentioned above, the Casa has many different interpretations, stories, analysis and written facts about it. The Casa del Fascio in Como, as a building promoting the regime and the new social structure, is paradoxically the less propagandistic casa del fascio of all built. The Casa in the first idea was planned as a new building type of public- state space representing the headquartes giving the richness to the public. Terragni was trying to evolve the typology in a less propagandistic way. Secondaly the propaganda decoration was added on the finished building. The huge amount of money, the freedom of an artist and timeless design makes the Casa del Facio a brilliant building, that can be equal to Cobusier´s Savoy or Mies´s Barcelona pavilion. The Rationalists were Fascists (Terragni too), but if they were not in the party, they could have hardly had the success in the architectural field of the nationalistic and Fascist era. Modernism, without the connection to the regime, would probably not exist in Italy at least as strongly as it did.

 


[1] Diane Ghirardo, Italian Architects and Fascist politics: an Evaluation of the Rationalist´s Role in the Regime Building, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 39, No. 2, May 1980

[2] Giuseppe Terragni, La construzione della Casa del Fascio di Como, Qudrante 35-36, 1936

[3] Diane Ghirardo, Politics of a Masterpiece: The Vincenda of the Decoration of the Facade of the of the Casa del Fascio, Como, 1936-39, The Art Bulletin, vol. 62, no. 3, Sept. 1980, p. 468

[4] Giuseppe Terragni, La construzione della Casa del Fascio di Como, Qudrante 35-36, 1936

[5] Giovanna D´Amica, Givseppe Terragni, oltre il razionalismo- byond rationalism, Enzo Pifferi editore, 2003,p.63

[6] Franco Purini, L´Architettura Didattica, (regio Calabria,1981), reprinted in Ferrario and Pastore, Giuseppe Terragni: Casa del Fascio, Rome, Instituto Mides, 1982, p.11

[7] Cesare de Seta, La Cultura de Architettonica, p.206

[8] Thomas L. Schumacher,Surface and Symbol: Giuseppe Terragni and the architecture of Italian Rationalism, Architecture Design and Technology Press, London, 1991, p.67

[9] Peter Eisenman, Guiseppe Terragni, Manfredo Tafuri, Giuseppe Terragni: transformations, decompositions, critiques, Monacelli Press, 2003, p. 43

[10] Giuseppe Terragni, La construzione della Casa del Fascio di Como, Qudrante 35-36, 1936

[11] Giuseppe Terragni, La construzione della Casa del Fascio di Como, Qudrante 35-36, 1936

[12] Giuseppe Terragni, La construzione della Casa del Fascio di Como, Qudrante 35-36, 1936

[13] Thomas L. Schumacher,Surface and Symbol: Giuseppe Terragni and the architecture of Italian Rationalism, Architecture Design and Technology Press, London, 1991, p. 159

[14] Giuseppe Terragni, La construzione della Casa del Fascio di Como, Qudrante 35-36, 1936

[15] Giuseppe Terragni, La construzione della Casa del Fascio di Como, Qudrante 35-36, 1936

[16] Giuseppe Terragni, La construzione della Casa del Fascio di Como, Qudrante 35-36, 1936

[17] Diane Ghirardo, Politics of a Masterpiece: The Vincenda of the Decoration of the Facade of the of the Casa del Fascio, Como, 1936-39, The Art Bulletin, vol. 62, no. 3, Sept. 1980, p. 474

[18] Diane Ghirardo, Politics of a Masterpiece: The Vincenda of the Decoration of the Facade of the of the Casa del Fascio, Como, 1936-39, The Art Bulletin, vol. 62, no. 3, Sept. 1980, p. 466-478

[19] George P. Mras, Italian Fascist Architecture: Theory and Image, Art Journal, vol. 21, no. 1, Atumn 1961,p. 10

[20] Diane Ghirardo, Italian Architects and Fascist politics: an Evaluation of the Rationalist´s Role in the Regime Building, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 39, No. 2, May 1980, p. 110

                                                                                                                                                                                                  

All the images are used from the literature.

Used literature:

 

*D´Amia Giovanna, Enzo Pifferi

Givseppe Terragni; oltre il razionalismo/ beyond rationalism

Enzo Pifferi Editore, Como, 2003

 

*Eisenman Peter, Terragni Giuseppe, Tafuri Manfredo

Giuseppe Terragni: transformations, decompositions, critiques

Monacelli Press, 2003

 

*Ghirardo Diane Y.

Italian Architects and Fascist Politics: An Evaluation of the Rationalist’s Role in Regime Building

Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 39, No. 2 (May, 1980), pp. 109-127

 

*Ghirardo Diane Y.

Politics of a Masterpiece: The Vicenda of the Decoration of the Façade of the Casa del Fascio, Como, 1936-39

The Art Bulletin, Vol. 62, No. 3 (Sep., 1980), pp. 466-478

 

*Mras George P.

Italian Fascist Architecture: Theory and Image

Art Journal, vol. 21, no. 1, Atumn 1961, p. 7 – 12

 

*Schumacher Thomas L.

Surface and  symbol; Giuseppe Terragni and the Architecture of Italian Rationalism

Princeton Architectural Press/ ADT/ Ernst & Sohn, 1991

 

*Schumacher Thomas L.

Terragni and Classicism: Fence Sitting at the Barricades

Journal of Architectural Education (1984-), Vol. 41, No. 4 (Summer, 1988), pp. 11-19


 

 
Giuseppe Terragni:  Casa del Fascio
Politechnico Milano
January, 2012
Jarin Krouz © | myarch.net
 


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