Harald Bodenschatz (ed.), Urban Design Under Mussolini. Fascist Italy in Search of the New City, (“Schriften des Architekturmuseums der Technischen Universität Berlin 4”), Berlin: DOM, 2011.
Review by Stefano Serafini
Professor at the Berlin University of Technology, and Author of relevant researches, such as Renaissance der Mitte: Zentrumsumbau in London und Berlin (Salenstein: Braun, 2005) and Stadtvisionen 1910/2010: Berlin, Paris, London, Chicago / 100 Jahre Allgemeine Städtebau-Austellungen in Berlin (Berlin: DOM, 2010), Harald Bodenschatz is one of the major experts in the Italian architecture of the first half of the 20th century. In this book, collecting contributions by himself, Uwe Altrock, Lorenz Kirchner, and Ursula von Petz, and a surprising iconography (more than 600 illustrations) he presents a deep study about Italian architecture at the time of Fascism.
Not many people know, that Italy had developed more urban planning projects than any other Country, between the ’20s and the Second World War; a fact that historians of architecture begun to evaluate in the last twenty years only. Yet, they are inclined to focus not on the ideology of Fascism, and its role in urbanism and aesthetics.
Professor Bodenschatz’s work, provides instead a clear and systematic overview of fascism city planning, digging down to the political roots of Italian Rationalism. Most importance is given to the main construction site of the regime, that is Rome, and to the different schools at work there, from Gustavo Giovannoni to Marcello Piacentini. Mussolini in fact longed to give birth to a New Eternal City, meant to become the glorious symbol of Fascism as a new imperial era.
Fascists were also engaged in founding new cities as such, as they actually did. Just during the huge reclaiming of the Pontine Marshes, Littoria (1932, now Latina), Sabaudia (1934), Pontinia (1935), and Aprilia (1935), have been built between Rome and the Tyrrhenian Sea – an effort that resulted in international admiration for the regime. Cities of foundation were established in the Regions of Veneto, Friuli, and Emilia Romagna also.
A relevant part of the book is devoted to the urban policies in African colonies, stressing the demonstrative role of architecture and city planning, as expression of power. An effort, though, that often gave rise to beautiful results.
Particularly interesting, it’s the analysis of parallel contexts in urban planning. So, the Author compares the urban designs of Mussolini’s, Stalin’s, and Hitler’s regimes. It may sound surprising, that autocratic urbanism (of which Bodenschatz shows the biopolitical issue), had a wide international consensus among urban planners at the time.
On the other hand, Bodenschatz stresses several time the value of some architectural and urban solution, despite the ideology they were apparently coming from. An observation, that has been shared by Pier Paolo Pasolini, whilst commenting on the human quality of such cities as Sabaudia, especially if compared to post World War, “democratic” planning. In fact, as Pasolini also stated, urban planning during the Ventennio did not represent an unconditioned product of Fascism. Rich debates, and differences in schools, contributed so far to the quality of regime’s urban programs. “Mussolini had to work with the people who were available and who were willing to serve him – or, as graduates of the new universities, might be willing to serve him in future. His rewards for individual experts were motivated by the need to encourage the commitment of the profession as a whole.”