Giuseppe Terragni, who worked primarily under the fascist regime of Mussolini and pioneered the Italian modern movement under the rubric of Rationalism, was the author of the regime’s recognizable architectural style, such as his infamous “Casa del Fascio”, a four-years spanning, high profile project.
Giuseppe Terragni was born on 18th April 1904, growing up in a family of builders. In 1921 he enrolled at the Superior School of Architecture, at the Polytechnic of Milan, where his passion for architecture and its sorrounding studies quickly blossomed, showing particular interest toward the architectures and styles of the past, while growing closer and appreciating the new rationalist architecture brought forth by Le Corbusier. After obtaining his degree in 1926, he began veering towards the theoretical premises of the new, still being enstablished Modernist Style, exploring the possibilities of a much more pragmatic and technological approach.
Becoming thus a pioneer of the Modern Movement in Italy, Terragni immediatly began producing some of his most significant buildings; a founding member of the fascist echelon Gruppo 7 and a leading presence in the Italian Rationalist scene, Terragni fought to move architecture away from neo-classical and neo-baroque revivalism, towards a more streamlined, technology oriented, modernized approach without entirely relying on the past. This led him, in 1926, to issue the manifesto that – together with other, more progressive-minded members of Gruppo 7 – officialized them as the leaders in the fight against revivalism.
Terragni’s leadership roles extended to an artistic group called “Astrattisti Comaschi” (literally, “Abstractists from Como”), together with Mario Radice and Manlio Rho, eventually leading the movement to become one of the most important points of refernce in the history of Italian Modern Art; his contributions extended to the 1932 Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution. Terragni died of thrombosis in Como, in 1943.
In a career that lasted only 13 years, Terragni created a small but remarkable body of work; nearly all of them are still in Como, then the center of modern Italian architecture. These works form the nucleus of the Italian rationalist language, and the national experience with modern architecture. In his last designs, Terragni was starting to develop a more distinctive Mediterranean air, through the fusion of modern theory and traditional flavours.
Along with Luigi Figini, Guido Frette, Sebastiano Larco, Gino Pollini, Carlo Enrico Rava and Ubaldo Castagnola, in 1926 Giuseppe Terragni founded the Gruppo 7,what eventually led to the strong footing of Rationalist architecture in Italy. To delve a bit into it, Italian Rationalism spun off the European scene, following the same conception of an architecture based on logic and rationality, reaching for the abstract perfection of the pure rhythm and the simple constructiveness, but with the added perk of identifying with the roots of the same current in the Mediterranean background.
As a matter of fact, the adoption of the geometry – that, especially in Terragni’s works, was conceived as the element that allowed control of all the components of an architectonic system – was identified as the point of departure from the styles developed along the Mediterranean basin, ending Northe Europe’s exclusivity on the subject.
Elaborating a personal, rationalist-born language, marked in particular by the search of classical proportions, Terragni’s architecture starts from a pure geometric shape, already ordered, that corresponds to a square or to a rectangle and for the plan to a solid form that coincides with the parallelepiped – the artist’s study in his house for holidays can be considered a symbolic case.
To be more specific, in 1926, Giuseppe Terragni elaborated a personal and rationalist language, marked by classical proportions, as it’s possible to see in his first great project: the Novocomum.
Initially, Terragni’s work was considered suitable for demolition; however, Novocomun became one of the most popular buildings in the city. This was thanks to the unprecedented design, comprising a clean, orthogonal volume of reinforced concrete, broken at the corners by cylindrical shapes and curves. Over these large openings, the mass of the top floor is suspended. Even if this design represented the first modern house in Italy, it didn’t find the agreement of the fascist party and provoked a big scandal.
Casa del Fascio
Built as the headquarters of the local Fascist Party, it was renamed Casa del Popolo after the war and has since served a number of civic agencies, including a Caribinieri station and a tax office.
Planned within a perfect square, half the height of its 110 foot width, the halvedcube of the Casa del Fascio established the pinnacle of strict rational geometry. Looking like a giant Rubik’s Cube, the building is a carefully constructed game of architectural logic: each of the building’s four facades is different, hinting at the internal layout while simoultaneously balancing the rythm between open and closed spaces. On every side – except the south-east elevation which articulates the main staircase – the windows and external layers of the building are employed in a way as to express the internal atrium’s volume.
Slightly elevated on a masonry base, the fascist political purpose of the structure is expressed almost literally through the chain of glass doors separating the entrance foyer from the piazza. These, when simultaneously opened by an electrical device, would have united the inner agora of the cortile to the piazza, thereby permitting the uninterrupted flow of mass movements from street to interior.
It should be attributed to Terragni the merit of having brought back a protagonist role to the characters of the façade, so that in their relationships of space and form, of heavy masses and of light structures, they have to give to the observer an artistic, emotional response. In fact, setting aside the free façade as codified by Le Corbusier, he conceived in every one of his projects a predetermined orthogonal grid, in which he chose an inside articulation, underlining the logical principle of clarity in the legibility of the work.