Cranleigh Decorative
& Fine Arts Society


Home Page





Young Arts



Contact Us

Local Links


Cranleigh Arts Centre

West Surrey Area

National Links


Museums & Art Galleries

Mussolini Obelisk (1932)
in the Foro Italico

Rome, EUR and the
Architecture of Fascism
in Italy

Report of the lecture
given by Dr Sarah Pearson
on January 28th 2015

The title of this talk was one of the most puzzling we have had in Cranleigh.  Was EUR some spelling mistake?  We had heard before of Nazi architecture, mostly now destroyed, but how could a lecture be about architecture covering such a short period?  Our concerns were answered by a lively and focused talk that was both compelling and enlightening, but also rather sad.  Why are these buildings still there?  Will they disappear soon through neglect or developer’s bulldozer?

The story began where we are familiar, with Caesar Augustus, prominent in statuary and architecture, and the guiding force behind much of what we now visit in Rome.  Fast forward to 1922 and “M”, as we learned to recognise him, was setting up as Augustus’ successor.  Mussolini set about re-ordering the city of Rome as any dictator might choose, in grand gestures.  Sarah described two themes; the restoration of Augustus era buildings to their original state (The Theatre of Marcellus 1925) and the carving out of a design (The Piazza San Pietro post Bernini) where a grand vista was opened up from St Peter’s down to the river.

While the talk is titled “Architecture of Fascism” Sarah also used the phrase “Italian Rationalist” to explain that the style continued after Mussolini.  It included hints of Art Deco and also what became Brutalist.  The buildings lacked decoration and were often functional; post offices, railway stations and, especially, sports parks which glorified a Fascist view of sporting prowess by means of gigantic statues.

School of Mathematics in the Citta Universitaria

The Citta Universitaria is one of the still used legacies of this architecture.  Occasionally the obsession with history borders on the impractical, as in the mathematics school with its amphitheatre style lecture halls.  One wonders what today’s students think of the origins of their campus.  This raised an interesting theme of Sarah’s lecture; asking the question of whether the building outlives its political benefactor?  Certainly the Italian economy would have strained in the 1930’s under the scale of quarrying of Carrara marble.  Is it now irrelevant that its origins were Fascist?

And so to the Espositione Universale di Roma (EUR); an early attempt at Canary Wharf?  It demonstrates the vanity of a man who employed architects to start a 4km square area of buildings of such civic pomp, but never completed.  There are some intriguing visual forms like the Colosseo Quadrato and the harsh design of the St Peter and Paul church, a building impressive in size but of little beauty.  The EUR, now absorbed within the expansion of Rome, may yet achieve its original aim of becoming a new centre for the modern city.

Colosseo Quadrato

Sarah’s delivery was nicely balanced, not trying to eulogise any dramatic appeal or innovation in this architecture, and I wondered if she was seeking our support for the rationalist style or seeking our opinion as to whether its political associations justified its restoration.  I think we were all surprised that these buildings of that era still existed and appreciative that she has uncovered some fascinating designs which are interesting comparisons with developments elsewhere since World War II.  “Love or hate the style, I guarantee the lecture will provoke debate”.  Sarah certainly did that!

Stephen Dennison

with thanks to Sarah Pearson for allowing us to use her photos in this report

Dr Sarah Pearson (right) in conversation
with retiring Chairman, John Baker, and his nominated successor, Pat Butler