October 30: Ducetecture

2016/10/30 § 2 Comments

On this day in 1922 Benito Mussolini was made Prime Minister of Italy.

In his role as Il Duce (first as prime minister, later dictator), Mussolini drew from various cultural sources to foster national pride and the strength of his Fascist party.  Among them, architecture was primary.  Mussolini’s architects had a rich store of precedents from which to draw, as even in their ruined state the buildings of the Roman Empire communicated crushing might and cultural solidarity.  His favorite architect was Marcello Piacentini (1881-1960), planner of the EUR and Via della Conciliazione.  Both of these vast urban projects revisited the ancient Roman preference for sweeping axes, dominant symmetries and massive monumental structures to formalize the urban environment and direct attention to specific symbols of power.  As an architect, Piacentini’s monument to the “martyrs” of the Great War in Bolzano is a triumph of Neo-Classicism on behalf of Fascism:  an imperially-scaled triumphal arch sparsely ornamented with simple figural sculpture and for which the decorative applied and structural columns are replaced by the fasces.

Piacentini was to Mussolini as Speer was to Hitler, but was not his only architect.  Il Duce required a phalanx of designers to complete his many projects throughout Italy, most of them in the stripped Neo-Classical form identified with not only Mussolini but Hitler as well.  Before one rules against the buildings as inherently evil, one must consider how fair the judgement–guilt by association.  Indeed, other governments were using the same language of architecture to express their own strengths, value for the Classical world, and aspirations for global dominance.

Image: Mussolini speaking from the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia (from this source)

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October 24: Monsieur Cret

2016/10/24 § Leave a comment

On this day in 1876 Paul Philippe Cret was born.

Cret hailed from Lyon, where he attended the local Ecole des Beaux-Arts before working at an atelier in Paris.  At the age of 27 he emigrated to Philadelphia, bringing with him the pure French system into the architecture program at U Penn, where he taught for some three decades.  He exercised a decisive influence over the development of many architects, probably most notably, Louis Kahn.

Before his death in 1945, Cret designed dozens of major projects in the US and Europe.  His weapon of choice is generally called Stripped Classicism: the early twentieth-century Neo-Classicism that tends towards broad clean surfaces, crisp volumes, and precise, forceful ornament somewhat isolated within the overall composition.  Some of the most delicious dishes in his impressive menu include the Benjamin Franklin Bridge (1926) and Rodin Museum (1926) in Philadelphia; the real Barnes Foundation (1923) in Merion PA; the Detroit Institute of Arts (1923), the Organization of American States Building (1908), Folger Shakespeare Library (1929), and the Fed (“Eccles Building” 1932) in Washington; the Indianapolis Public Library (1916) and the Château-Thierry American Monument (1930) in France (1937).

Image: The Rodin Museum, Philadelphia (Clio’s)

October 30: l’architettura del duce

2012/10/30 § 5 Comments

On this day in 1922 Benito Mussolini was made Prime Minister of Italy.

In his role as Il Duce (first as prime minister, later dictator), Mussolini drew from various cultural sources to foster national pride and the strength of his Fascist party.  Among them, architecture was primary.  Mussolini’s architects had a rich store of precedents from which to draw, as even in their ruined state the buildings of the Roman Empire communicated crushing might and cultural solidarity.  His favorite architect was Marcello Piacentini (1881-1960), planner of the EUR and Via della Conciliazione.  Both of these vast urban projects revisited the ancient Roman preference for sweeping axes, dominant symmetries and massive monumental structures to formalize the urban environment and direct attention to specific symbols of power.  As an architect, Piacentini’s monument to the “martyrs” of the Great War in Bolzano is a triumph of Neo-Classicism on behalf of Fascism:  an imperially-scaled triumphal arch sparsely ornamented with simple figural sculpture and for which the decorative applied and structural columns are replaced by the fasces.

Piacentini was to Mussolini as Speer was to Hitler, but was not his only architect.  Il Duce required a phalanx of designers to complete his many projects throughout Italy, most of them in the stripped Neo-Classical form identified with not only Mussolini but Hitler as well.  Before one rules against the buildings as inherently evil, one must consider how fair the judgement–guilt by association.  Indeed, other governments were using the same language of architecture to express their own strengths, value for the Classical world, and aspirations for global dominance.

Image: Mussolini speaking from the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia (from this source)

October 24: Monsieur Cret

2012/10/24 § 4 Comments

On this day in 1876 Paul Philippe Cret was born.

Cret hailed from Lyon where he attended the local Ecole des Beaux-Arts before working at an atelier in Paris.  At the age of 27 he emigrated to Philadelphia where he imported the pure French system into the architecture program at U Penn, where he taught for some three decades.  He exercised a decisive influence over the development of many architects, probably most notably, Louis Kahn.

Before his death in 1945 Cret designed dozens of major projects in the US and Europe.  His weapon of choice is generally called Stripped Classicism: the early twentieth-century Neo-Classicism that tends towards broad clean surfaces, crisp volumes, and precise, forceful ornament somewhat isolated within the overall composition.  Some of the most delicious dishes in his impressive menu include the Benjamin Franklin Bridge (1926) and Rodin Museum (1926) in Philadelphia; the real Barnes Foundation (1923) in Merion PA; the Detroit Institute of Arts (1923), the Organization of American States Building (1908), Folger Shakespeare Library (1929), and the Fed (“Eccles Building” 1932) in Washington; the Indianapolis Public Library (1916) and the Château-Thierry American Monument (1930) in France (1937).

Image: The Rodin Museum, Philadelphia (Clio’s)

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