Architecture and the battle for the soul of Fascism: the phantom of 'mediterraneità'

Wednesday 12 November 2014 18.00

A lecture by Aristotle Kallis (Balsdon Fellow 2013-14)

Architecture mattered enormously in Fascist Italy. Apart from its obvious mass indoctrination and (domestic and international) propaganda functions, it became a field of fascinating over-production of very different styles, words, and rival visions that interacted creatively with the unstable mix that was ‘Fascist ideology’. Architects sought to carve for themselves a privileged position in Fascist culture and politics – not just evangelising and celebrating but also imagining, translating, condensing, and often contesting Fascist values. It was in, and for, Rome that their rival visions clashed for symbolic supremacy. The parabola of this battle, from 1932 (the year of the Decennale) to 1939-40 (the peak of the E42 project), left behind a fascinating wreckage of designs, visions, and deeper ambitions – about architecture as the official ‘art of the state’ and about its unique capacity for translating Fascism into an authentic living experience. The talk focuses on one of those visions, based on the vocabulary of mediterraneità. This was arguably the most complex, audacious, and agitatory architectural current of the Fascist period, with a rich genealogy going back to the days of the Gruppo 7 in the 1920s. Its proponents waged a stubborn and sustained campaign to become the authoritative curators of the spirit of Fascist universality against a multitude of rival alternative discourses. In victory, so hauntingly close in 1931-33, but also in defeat, mediterraneità left behind fascinating traces of an undiminished, if deluded, desire to lead Fascism into a radically alternative future.