Play Architecture with Italian Fascists

Daily Draw June 17th, 2013

I lost track of when I started this, possibly back in February. I got stumped because I just couldn’t get a sense of how I felt about this.

G. Terragni
Casa del Fascio


Giuseppe Terragni is described as a proponent of “Italian Rationalism” and he and his brother and other architects and artists formed a group in the Como area. Rationalists were influenced by Le Corbusier and the idea of a better society, social progress and functional solutions for real people, all the jazz we like in modernist architecture. It is a high ideal for sure, and part of the reason for this building’s popularity today is how well it reflects that idealism. It has been renamed Casa del Populo or “House of the People” to get away from its fascist past and truly reflect the idea of rationalism in architecture.

I always think of Lake Como and wealthy celebrities and beautiful old houses and sweeping gardens when I think of this area. It’s quite surprising this building. It’s a museum now and lots of tourists go to see it. There is just something about it, it is an anomaly for those times. I still can’t believe it was allowed and that such modern ideas were encouraged by the Italian fascist state. But Mussolini once said “Fascism is a house of glass into which everyone can look” and Terragni used that idea literally in his building, leaving the government offices open to the public areas. He described his design as having “no obstruction, no barrier, no obstacle between the political leader and the people.” Such idealism gives me a ping in the throat, given the extremes and destruction of fascism in the history of the twentieth century.


In an age when German fascists were building heavy, monumental and suffocatingly imposing public buildings, along came this delightfully light and open homage to geometry and modernism in Italy. It is made of concrete but faced with marble and this front view shows a plain area on the facade, and this white space had an actual changing or revolving display of images projected onto the facade or sometimes draped with images and illuminated. Because it was the headquarters of the local fascist party, they held rallies there and the inner space is rather open to allow for such gatherings, you can see the doorway is very wide to allow groups to surge from exterior to interior. Different types of marbles were used on the floors and interior too; practicality doesn’t resist display and inventiveness.

Actually, I believe Terragni used fine marble as he felt it a suitable tribute to the fascist martyrs commemorated in images within the building. A bit like a monumental crypt in that idea, and it does look like a mausoleum in some ways, perhaps because of this heavy use of marble.


The artist painting frescoes for the building was Mario Radice, and he was greatly influenced by artists like Piet Mondrian and Fernand Leger. The Nazis in Germany were destroying abstract art, but in Italy Radice was allowed to paint abstract frescoes on the interior walls of the Casa del Fascio! That fact gets to me, I feel nothing but amazement. In this example he’s put in a likeness or photograph of Mussolini, but these frescoes were eventually destroyed after the war, being politically incorrect and a painful reminder of terrible murders and situations. I think Radice himself destroyed the texts, realizing I suppose the mistaken purpose of it all.


Still, what I am astonished by is the completely different approach to artistic and architectural renderings of the fascist ideal in Italy as compared to Germany. This would never, ever had been allowed in Germany. Hitler might have imprisoned an architect who put forward a design like this. All such ideas were suppressed without question.

The glass doors here in Como could be swung open and the four sides had different facades and the light and shade made dramatic effects. The large inner courtyard had cantilevered stairways and offices around it. It must have really been a sight when the abstract frescoes were still there. Even today with all our devotion to deconstructionist buildings, this is a fascinating design. I always seem to come back to philosophy and idealism with these architects, but like other artists, that’s what gives them the impetus to create. It becomes a bit sad to see buildings destroyed or “re-purposed” as we like to call it, when they have such strong idealism embodied in them, but sometimes they are respected and saved, like with the Casa.

Giuseppe Terragni died when he was 39 or 40 of a blood clot in 1943. He only worked for 13 years as an architect. Perhaps it was better he died before Il Duce’s ignoble death, shot and then strung up in a plaza. But then, Terragni didn’t live to see how really popular this building of his became. We like his interlocking, open spaces, light and glass and marble, the novelty and plastic change in doors and windows and ideas.




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