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European City in Comparative Perspective: Seventh International Conference on Urban History  

Τίτλος:Saturating the surface: cultural reflections on italian modernist architecture
Κύρια Υπευθυνότητα:Hirsh, Jennie
Θέματα:Fascism and architecture -- Italy
Architecture -- Italy, 20th century
Φασισμός και αρχιτεκτονική -- Ιταλία
Αρχιτεκτονική -- Ιταλία, 20ός αιώνας
Ημερομηνία Έκδοσης:2008-01-16
Abstract:Fascist Italy simultaneously sanctioned both traditional, neo-classical and stark, modernist constructions, as seen in the contrasting styles of Marcello Piacentini, a modern neoclassicist, and Giuseppe Terragni, a Corbusier-inspired rationalist. While the curious plurality of architectural styles in Fascist Italy has gained a significant amount of attention in the work of scholars including Richard Etlin, Giorgio Ciucci, and Thomas Schumacher during the last twenty years, what remains to be studied are the ways in which these modernist buildings created a unique visual rhetoric of cultural expression in the Italian context from the 1930s onward. Although such buildings presented themselves as belonging stylistically to the larger international modernist movement, these structures can be better understood both formally and intellectually if situated within their own national context. My paper builds on existing scholarly analyses of Italian modernist architecture with a new reading of how the planar surfaces of modernist buildings functioned in the aestheticization of politics. How Italian fascist architecture, whether projected or built, both embraces and denies the presence of architectural sculpture and decoration and, more specifically, how buildings devoid of such ornament generated a new visual language of decoration, one that linked public space to spectator and past to present, remain the central concerns of my paper. In short, I argue that the surfaces themselves of Italian modernist buildings gained new importance as screens onto which various contemporary cultural motifs were literally and metaphorically projected in the absence of traditional architectural sculpture derived from the classical idiom.Just as the architectural decoration and sculpture on neoclassical buildings invoked Italy’s classical heritage, so too did their more minimalist counterparts allow for the expression of the inheritance of the past. Focusing on these architects’ preference for smooth materials including glass, metal, and polished stones, I argue for an architectural strategy that facilitated a dynamic interplay between buildings and spectators, thereby constructing a relationship between spaces and their public. Formally, these reflective surfaces offered possibilities for absorbing their local landscape, as they rendered an auratic visual matrix predicated on the presence of both building and environment. Thus, exploited for their various ephemeral effects, I argue that these shiny materials would have functioned as cultural mirrors, literally producing an architecture of theatricality that could weave the history built into the structures surrounding them, whether building or piazza, into the new architectural fabric, suddenly traditional and modern. By cultural reflection, I refer to a political reflection of the fascist self as consolidated within a collective. Moreover, the masses themselves were projected back onto these façades on which they appeared in a uniquely self-reflexive architecture that allowed for instant historicization. Conceived at the moment of growing political import for the arts of cinema and photography as unifying media in the inscription of the masses into the spiritual rebirth of the nation, these reflective buildings monumentalized their own mass culture. As subject and object, these bodies when reflected were entrapped onto the cultural screen and compressed fleetingly between architectural fixtures, past and present.
Βιβλιογραφική Παραπομπή:Paper presented at Seventh International Conference on Urban History: European City in Comparative Perspective, Panteion University, Athens - Piraeus, Greece, 27-30 October 2004, Session: Industrial and Modern
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