Marcello Piacentini acted as the major interpreter of the Fascist regime’s architecture and its conceptualization of monumentalism, designing several important projects under the commission of Mussolini. His own style developed into a combination of Rationalism and Novecento Italiano.
Marcello Piacentini, son of architect Pio Piacentini, was born in Rome in 1881. Studying arts and engineering during his formative years, he’d soon become one of the main proponents of the stark, linear designs characterizing of the Fascist era. At the age of just 26, Piacentini was commissioned with the redesign of the center of Bergamo, or “Città Bassa”, as it is commonly known. This work already displayed Piacentini’s considerable talent as an architect, that would quickly lead to a long collaboration with the Fascist government and its desire of a new style that could fully express the regime’s grandiose opinion of itself. His major building, costellating Rome, are the new campus for the University of Rome, Sapienza University of Rome, Via della Conciliazione, the road approaching St Peter’s. Later, thanks to his exploits, he was appointed by Mussolini himself as the head of design for the EUR district.
The Sum of Novecento Italiano and Rationalism
Marcello Piacentini developed a new style, a “simplified Neoclassicism” that sought a middle ground between the Rationalism of the Gruppo 7 and the likes of Giuseppe Terragni or Adalberto Libera, and the Neo-classicism practiced by the Novecento Italiano group, heralded by Gio Ponti and several other important names. This style would soon become an emblem of Fascist architecture, in Rome and throughout Italy, giving birth to renowned buildings, such as the new university campus and the EUR district, of which he was High Commissar; eventually, his fame led him outside of national boundaries, acting as a colonial architect in African territories subjugated by the regime, especially in Cyrenaica. Here, he adopted and evolved the Neo-Moorish style, in vogue in the 1920s: Albergo Italia and the Berenice Theatre in Benghazi were designed in accordance with this colonial style.
The New Face of Rome
Fascism wanted to leave a mark on the capital, in line with their whims of pursuing the Roman heritage, and as such during the regime Mussolini commissioned several, already highly praised architects to design its accordingly monumental buildings. Piacentini was one of the protagonists of this phase and his contribution to the fascist idea of Rome was fundamental. Acting, among others, as the chief architect for the construction of the new campus Sapienza University of Rome, Piacentini’s masterplan wanted to pay homage to “very Roman” buildings made of bricks and travertine, and his simple, neoclassical style is clearly observable in his final endeavors, such as the design for the University’s rectorate. In the original version, the Rectorate was intended to reach 52 meters in height, but had to be shortened during the construction.
Moreover, Piacentini was responsible for the planning of the EUR district, collaborating with the most important Italian architects to realize this project. The area was conceived to hold the Esposizione Universale (the World Fair), an event meant to celebrate two decades of Fascism; however, the construction was interrupted by World War II, and due to fascism’s fall, not to mentions its legacy of infamy, the EUR would remain incomplete, only resuming its construction during the 50s and 60s, eventually becoming a commercial and habitative district (as it still is to this day). The EUR was inspired, according to the fascist ideology, by Roman Imperial town planning and by Italian Rationalism. The result was the typical Piacentini’s simplified style of neoclassicism: the project develops over orthogonal axes and large buildings, built mainly of limestone, tuff and marble, traditional materials associated with Roman Empire architecture. Inspired to the Metaphysical art as well, Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana is a symbol of the architectural style of the regime.