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Impressive Fascist architecture in Como, Italy

In 2018 Italy’s far-right Lega party pledged to convert the Casa del Fascio, a former Fascist party head quarters in Como, into a mus­eum. Before I have a heart-attack about a public celebration of Fascism, I thought I better examine the history and architecture of the building in detail.

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

Giuseppe Terragni (1904-43) was born into a significant family in Como. His brother became the Fascist mayor of Como. The young Fascist arch­itect’s chief patron was Mussolini's mistress and cultural adviser Margherita Sarfatti, or other influen­t­ial Fascist party family members.

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

The main conference room with abstract paintings by local artist Mario Radice

Since 1957, the building has housed the provincial head-quarters of the Guardia di Finanza police. In addition, it accommodates the small historical museum of the Guardia di Finanza 6th legion. So Casa del Fascio still exists as a modern rationalist vision, a per­fect facility set in North Italy. Its pure white form still appeals to many now. 

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.


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