Caressing the Marble and Stone
Was asked last week, by one of my fellow jurors during an architecture crit at which I happened to be an ineffective juror, what exactly was the difference between Fascist and Constructivist architecture. I then quoted some Benjamin on contemplation vs use and manipulation, but this is a significantly less easy question to answer than the Nazi/Constructivist one. Entirely coincidentally, I bought a second-hand book on Giuseppe Terragni the day after, which features at least one building that has a corner extremely similar to that of Ilya Golosov's Zuev Workers' Club, and built in the same year (and judging by the photos, it actually gets upkept). Other photos in the Terragni book show similarities with the Vesnin brothers' work in Moscow, although there's little of the chaotic, jagged fury of early Constructivism here. And with the famous work - the Casa del Fascio most obviously - we have an adaptation of classical ideas of eternal forms into something compatible with the international style. While its games with perception and geometry have been borrowed by Eisenman and innumerable others, there's little doubt that 'Fascism is a glass house' (as Mussolini put it) as exemplified here is something very different from the 'new glass culture' of the bauhaus or Bruno Taut - one seems designed to use glass as a way of wiping the slate clean and dispensing with physicality, the other to create new edifices of glass, using the opaque to create monuments.
Not that this results in bad or uninteresting architecture. I have a reluctant but intense affection for neoclassicism at its most oppressive - in London, the grace and fol-de-rol of the Palladian seems distinctly less interesting than the mathematical bombast of the British Museum, or the ruthless bureaucratic horror of the Ministry of Defence. For anyone with a liking for coldness, severity and a fine desolate plaza it's difficult not to enjoy most Italian Fascist architecture, although to elevate it Aldo Rossi-style into a principle for all cities to follow would still be a bit of a leap. Regardless, all this is really just a preamble to linking the fantastic Citta del Fascismo flickr group, which surely proves at least a few Benjaminian points about Fascist aesthetics, featuring as it does a series of aestheticised, depopulated, monumental spaces marked by their strangely intriguing De Chirico emptiness. But what might the politics of this group be, given the far-Right context of contemporary Italy? Might this actually not be enjoyed with the now-obligatory historical distance?
EUR image via