Fascism’s effort to establish a new society was a hallmark of the regime’s engagement with modernism. So the party’s head-office was the primary institution through which Fascists altered the attitudes of its citizens. The facility thus advanced the party’s objectives and clarified Fascism’s central place in creating a modern urban landscape. Benito Mussolini (and Adolf Hitler) utilised the new style of symmetrical and stark architecture to unify their citizens, mark a new era of nationalist culture and exhibit the meaning of absolute rule.
Casa del Fascio, Como
sitting in the centre of a medieval town
The white space on the right facade of Casa del Fascio
was used to add giant, changing photos of Mussolini
So it is not a surprise that Terragni's abstract architectural language specifically embodied something significant about the Fascist period. Even if the architect had not been a Fascist himself, he would still have wanted his patrons to love his work.
Built from 1932 to 1936 under the regime of Benito Mussolini, Casa del Fascio on beautiful Lake Como was to be a temple to Fascism. The building was designed by Italian rationalist architect Giuseppe Terragni, and built in front of the city’s cathedral, domestic and commercial buildings, railway lines and roads. Looking somewhat like a regular urban villa, Casa del Fascio nonetheless had a very public role to play. As the seat of the local branch of the National Fascist Party, this municipal administration building was seen as an elegant site for mass Fascist rallies.
This International Style work appeared as a half-cube, 33m in plan and 17m in height. There was a strong sense of weightlessness, control and precision about the building's form that could immediately be revealed by light. The plan used a double-height covered court, a space at its core. The transparency and light was a direct effect of the missing upper floor, but high ceilings were in any case common in this region and cross ventilation made these tall spaces cool in summer. Each facade was different.
Terragni’s use of elegant and durable marble surfaces was called Renaissance Rationalism. And his love of glass could be seen in the large glass doors that opened to the piazza and in the atrium inside. Apparently transparency was a metaphor for the Casa del Fascio that Terragni proudly attributed to Mussolini. Il Duce declared that “Fascism was a glass house” and in architectural terms, this meant clarity and honesty in construction. The building was of course lacking in the neoclassical fripperies (that disguised the essential nature of the Nazi architecture). Mussolini loved the building and became a vocal champion of modernist Italian architecture.
Inside, the glass atrium was frescoed in the main conference room with abstract paintings by local artist Mario Radice. There was also a marble statue of Mussolini in that spacious room. On the outside, Terragni wanted to use the white space on the right of the building facade to add giant, changing photos of Mussolini.
Note that by completion, Casa del Fascia was very different from every other piece of architecture in the area. It was white, modern, stark and severe. So either the architect did not care that the Casa stood out like a sore thumb, or he proposed demolishing (perhaps at some future date) the entire medieval centre of Como.
Terragni was conscripted in 1939. Wounded on the Russian Front when the Italian army collapsed near Stalingrad, he returned home in 1943 and renounced the Fascism he'd believed in earlier. Terragni went mad, spent his last days in Como streets and died at 39. His career was very short.
Every physical detail & spatial relationship inside was invested with political symbolism.
Built from 1932 to 1936
Built from 1932 to 1936
The main conference room with abstract paintings by local artist Mario Radice
The problem for me is that I love this building that was built for Fascists. No amount of architectural modernisation and rehabilitation can get around this truth. But perhaps it doesn’t matter.
The Art Newspaper reported that Italy’s far-right Lega Party, which won almost 18% of the vote in the March 2018 general election and went on to form part of the next coalition government, had plans to turn a former Fascist party head-quarters in Como into northern Italy’s biggest museum of Modern Art, Architecture and Design. The surprising pledge appears in the anti-immigration, Eurosceptic manifesto of Lega’s leader, Matteo Salvini, who has transformed the former northern separatists into Italy’s leading right-wing party. Lega Party may even apply for the site to gain UNESCO World Heritage status. But it is not clear from the Art Newspaper report if a new Casa del Fascio Museum will celebrate Fascist history in Italy or not.