This report examines the ways in which the design principles of modern architecture has been combined with the principles of classical architecture and implemented to construct the section of Rome, known as the Rome Universal Exposition, or the E.U.R. The E.U.R. is not only interesting because it is a fusion of these two distinctive architectural styles, but because it was designed to be the embodiment of fascism and fascist architecture in the city of Rome. As a result, many buildings in the E.U.R. are undeniably modernist in their style and use of materials, but also represent Classical Roman design principles, such as columns, porticos and central courtyards. This paper examines the development of the E.U.R, how it differs from other modernist developments during the period in which is was planned and built, the history of movements in architecture leading up to this fusion of styles and the theory behind these decisions.
Mussolini announced the foundation of the Italian empire on May 9, 1936, and a month later, the government of Rome applied for the World Fair. Their application was accepted. As a result, the largest international exhibition was planned for the year of 1942, to mark the anniversary of Roman fascism (Grundman, 320). The plan for E.U.R. was not simply a plan for a temporary show as most World Fair plans are. Instead, it was part of a grandiose vision for the city of Rome. Stefan Grundman explains, it “was not conceived merely as an exhibition, but its permanent buildings were intended to form the core of a future imperial city; a third Rome according to Mussolini’s own statement, extending from the southern borders of Rome to the sea (Grundman, 320).” The plan for the E.U.R. was and continues to be the embodiment of Roman fascism and its resultant architectural style. It intended to be a new Renaissance that would influence the rest of the development of Rome (Architettura, 729). These characteristics differentiate the E.U.R. from all other World Fairs.
Before such a spectacular vision could be executed, Mussolini had to commission the architects. In an article written by Alessandra Stanley, she explains that these architects were young, convinced fascists who were constructing buildings that would promote the fascist propaganda. Architectural Historian, Giorgio Ciucci describes the E.U.R. as, “a revolutionary movement based on youth and radical change. Architects were the interpreters of revolution (Stanley).” The architects who designed the E.U.R. had to choose an appropriate architectural style that would represent the fascist regime, which was a fusion of modern architecture as well as classical design. In the two decades leading up to 1937, when the plans for the E.U.R. began, Italy had seen many shifts in architectural thinking. With the arrival of futurism, Italy again assumed a leading role in European art, in which the principles of art transferred into the manifesto of futurist architecture. Agitator and poet, Filipo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), was the key figure in the foundation of the whole futurist movement. On February 20, 1909, he published a Futurist Manifesto in the Paris Figaro that glorified technology, aggression, speed, human masses, militarism and war, in an extreme manner. He called for the destruction of museums, libraries, and colleges; he stated:
We care nothing for the past, we young, strong futurists!…Seize your pick-axes, your knives and your hammers and fear not venerable cities to pieces, without mercy!...Standing erect on the summit of the world, let us once again hurl our challenge at the stars (Kruft, 403)!
These Futurist sentiments were ubiquitous and crossed over into all segments of life, especially architecture. The idea was to employ technology as much as possible and reject history. As a result, buildings were constructed with concrete and steel, and had more complex geometric forms. Symbolically, this break with tradition was a representation of modern life.
Likewise, Italian architect Sant’Elia joined the Futurist Movement. He viewed the modern city as one comprised of reinforced concrete, iron, glass, and synthetic textiles. In his book, a History of Architectural Theory from Vitruvius to the Present, Hanno-Walter Kruft sums up Sant’Elia’s ideas about the modern city:
Modern houses must resemble giant machines: in place of staircases they are to have elevators which wind their way up the glass and steel facades like snakes. The houses themselves are to be of cement, iron, and glass, with no painted or moulded decoration – their beauty will be found in their lines and their simplicity. The house is to be ‘remarkably ugly in its mechanical simplicity’ [ . . . ] poised on the edge of a noisy ravine in which, below the houses, multi-level streets, underground railways and escalators are to be found (Kruft, 404).
Many movements followed the futurists, such as the Il Novecento architects, who in 1923, set out to combine national traditions and modernity. They accepted these new ideas on modern architecture, but also incorporated elements of the Classical Roman style as well. Similarly, Marcello Piacentini, who was one of the leading architects of the E.U.R., served an editorial role for Architecttura e arti decorative and Architettura (1932-43). During his time editing for these popular magazines on architecture, Piacentini published numerous articles to explain the shift he witnessed in architectural development from the expansive modernity of his youth to the monumental neo-classical buildings and urban planning initiatives he undertook as an architect at the command of Mussolini. Piacentini always regards architecture as existing within a geographical and historical continuum; this can be seen in his work as one of architects planning the E.U.R. (Kruft, 407).
*The images below are both plans for the E.U.R., published in a 1938 edition of the magazine, Architettura.
Historical forms were a defining part of architecture in Rome for very long time, until the mid 1920s when radical changes in architecture began to take place in Italy as a result of Movimento Italiano per l’Architettura Razionale, also known as MIAR. This movement is one of many; others were occurring in Germany, France and the Netherlands. All of these movements were aimed at developing a modern formal language of architecture that was committed to the industrial age and are responsible for the form of architecture known as the International Style. The principles of modernism that resulted from this movement are a rejection of historical decoration, as a means of stressing the “beauty and functionality of the machine.” Many modern buildings also have pure, smooth forms that are usually white, with floating volumes that replace rigid, heavy walls. Modern architecture also replaced the order of symmetry with asymmetry.
Likewise, the MIAR followed these principles. It forbade historical decoration and developed a new geometric form. However, the Italian movement differed from the International Style in that it believes: “an awareness that Modern architecture is also part of a long and exciting line of architectural tradition [ . . . ] and has to use this to find types for new kinds of buildings (Grundman, 320).” This uniquely Italian idea that modern architecture is not antithetically historical is evident through out the design and construction of the E.U.R., which is a cluster of several completely planned street blocks containing buildings in the modernist style that have clean, white facades made of smooth exteriors with a lack of surface decoration as a way of highlighting the architectural form of each unit. Nonetheless, all of the classical elements are there as well: colonnades, porticos, interior courtyards, symmetry and the Roman arch. This montage of two stark contrasts in architectural style is a uniquely characteristic of the E.U.R., as most of the buildings at that time that were going up all over Europe and the United States, were a rejection of history.
This signature architectural style was unique to the E.U.R. and became the manifestation of fascism. The plans for the E.U.R. were created in stages with many architects, including Marcello Piacentini, Guiseppe Pagano, Luigi Picinato, Ettore Rossi, Luigi Vietti and Giorgio Calza Bini. The development plan is comprised of imposing buildings and strict axiality, intended as a way of metaphorically articulating the power of the fascist rule in Rome. The buildings designed for propaganda also have a preponderance of pure forms and stress space and light over functioning as a way of captivating people and inviting them into the fascist ideology (Grundman, 297). Architecture was Mussolini’s favorite form of propaganda. It also speaks to people on another level as well; as former Senator Cini, “The Rome Universal Exhibition is above all an act of faith in the destiny and constructive capacity of the Italian Nation, a solemn affirmation of its will to act, and act in the field of international collaboration (Architettura, 723).” To convey this method, there are examples of spaces that were named to tribute foreign countries, such as Piazza J. F. Kennedy and Viale America.
The buildings also convey much about Rome’s architectural history on their exteriors as well. While the Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e dei Congressi is flanked a large symmetrical portico on its exterior, the inside precisely articulates different volumes, juxtaposing open and closed surfaces—this is a very classical approach to architecture. However, the building is also very modern. It uses materials such as glass and steel and has a clean white surface.
*The image below to the left is the exterior of the Palazzo dei Gongressi; the image to the right is the interior.
The E.U.R. expresses the language of classical architecture as well as modernism on multiple different levels. The buildings have classical elements such as colonnades, porticoes and interior courtyards, but are also very modern in their materials used, such as glass, steel, and concrete. The E.U.R. differs greatly from other examples of modernism dating from the same period; while most of the world was building in the international style and rejecting historical architectural elements completely, the E.U.R. was actively combining both to create a new Roman center that represented the fascist government.
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