MONUMENTS TO FASCIST FOLLY
UNREALIZED EDIFACES PROPOSED TO RAISE THE PROFILE OF
MUSSOLINI’S IMPERIAL CAPITAL
This afternoon, David and Ann Wilkins arrived at the Wolfsonian library to conduct some research on some of the Italian architects’ proposals for radically transforming the skyline of Rome during the Fascist era. David (University of Pittsburg professor emeritus) and his wife, Ann, taught for three semesters at the Duquesne University Italian campus, and will again be teaching and leading guided tours in Rome as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations. During their visit to our own rare books and special collections library the husband-wife research team looked at some of the published works of some important Italian architects.
As the couple discovered, the library holds a good number of works by the architect Mario Palanti (1885-1979). Born in Milan, Palanti gained notoriety for a number of important monumental Renaissance Revival and Art Nouveau-style edifices he designed between 1909 and 1919 in the capital cities of Buenos Aires, Argentina and Montevideo, Uruguay. On his return to his homeland in 1930, Palanti produced a number of drawings and published several books with designs for lofty monuments for Mussolini’s Rome and other Italian cities.
Other totalitarian regimes also flirted with monumental architectural projects aimed at dwarfing the skyscraping “cathedrals to capitalism” built in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. The Russians, for example, held an architectural contest between 1931 and 1933, and construction began in 1937 for a monumental “Palace of the Soviets” to be built on the ruins of a cathedral in Moscow destroyed by the Bolsheviks. The world war brought a premature end to the plans, however, and the imposing people’s palace was never realized. Ironically, after the collapse of the Soviet state, the cathedral was rebuilt on the original foundations.
The Fascists were not inclined to leave their Capitialist and Communist competitors with a monopoly on monumental buildings, and in the context of such rivalry Mario Palanti began producing drawings and proposals for collosal construction projects for Rome and other Italian cities. His plans were nothing if not grandiose, but while the heroic style might have impressed Il Duce, the huge scale he envisioned was not deemed practical or desirable. Consequently, the designs remained little more than dream-like—(or nightmarish)—visions of an urban future-scape never to be realized.
Palanti’s ideas, of course, were not conceived in an intellectual vacuum. Palanti’s designs for re-envisioning Rome with his architectural monstrosities (or monster cities!)–drew inspiration from other contemporary architectural visionaries and works, such as Hugh Ferriss’s influential, Metropolis of Tomorrow, published in 1929.