Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Moretti, and the Problem of Loving the Architecture and Hating the Ideals

Though it is worn and degraded from time and change, Luigi Moretti's youth sports facility from the 1930s, originally known as La Casa della Gioventu Italiana del Littorio -- the house of  fascist youth -- remains one of the finest works of that period.  By finest, I mean in terms of architecture, although as I write those words, I recognize that I am contradicting my general belief that separating architecture and ideology is dangerous business.  Moretti was a true believer in Mussolini, to the very end, and not just an unwilling architectural soldier (though those architects who quietly were against Mussolini but nonetheless designed buildings for the regime should not blithely be given a free pass).  The function, form, and ornamentation of the building are of a piece -- the glorification of the regime, the investment in the fascist youth in preparation for future combat, and a celebration of Italy's new empire.  The exterior declares:  "It is important to win; it is more important to fight."  Inside the front entrance, oddly accompanying an image of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun, are the words calling on the youth to be the future.  The bust of Mussolini stood at the end of the axis of the main entrance hall; and still today a ten-foot by fifteen-foot map is embedded in the wall, almost completely taken up with Africa.  Italy's two colonies -- Libya and Ethiopia -- are highlighted, but the implication is that the whole continent awaits the uplift to be brought by the fighting fascist youth being trained in this building.

The massive map of Africa, showing Italy's two colonies, Libya and Ethiopia.   The round sculpture replaces a bust of Mussolini which once sat there.  It has disappeared, although the eagles that once adorned the balcony over the front entrance will be reinstalled. (One needed balconies on fascist-era buildings, in case Il Duce came by and needed to give a speech).

In this conference room, reliefs of "previous" emperors Caesar, Augustus and Flavius sit above the fireplace.

On the first floor, the stairs are rectilinear; from the second to the third floor, Moretti let loose.

Luigi Prisco, the project architect

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