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GIUSEPPE TERRAGNI
 
 
 
 
  Name   Giuseppe Terragni
       
  Born   April 18, 1904
       
  Died   July 19, 1943
       
  Nationality   Italy
       
  School   FASCIST ARCHITECTURE
       
  Official website    
     
 
BIOGRAPHY
   

Giuseppe Terragni was among the most talented and esteemed of the Italian modernist architects working in the period between the world wars. His Casa del Fascio (1936) in Como is generally considered the emblematic modernist building to have been built under the Fascist regime, and his Sant’Elia Nursery School (1937), also in Como, ranks as a tour de force of modern European architecture.

In December 1926 Terragni burst onto the Italian architectural scene with the first of four magazine articles on which he collaborated with six of his contemporaries. These essays, published in the esoteric and unillustrated magazine La Rassegna Italiana, later came to be known as the “Rationalist Manifesto.” Terragni and his friends of the Gruppo Sette (Group 7) argued in these essays against revivalism in Italian architecture and that rationalism must shape all decisions about form, structure, and function. The avant-garde in Italy were henceforth known as the “rationalists.”

Terragni’s first major building was the Novocomum Apartment House (1927–29) in Como. A controversial building from the moment of its unveiling, it was hailed as the first rationalist work in Italy. Terragni went on to design a total of 26 built works and numerous unbuilt projects in a 15-year career that was cut short by World War II.

Terragni’s undisputed masterpiece—the Casa del Fascio in Como (a local Fascist Party headquarters that the architect named the “Glass House of Fascism”)—was begun in 1932 and completed in 1936. The building is a prismatic exercise in modern geometric form and structure, with four different facades that nevertheless together possess compositional coherence and harmony. The building contains a two-story atrium space encased by a system of clerestory windows, one of the first of its kind in Europe and an influence on post-World War II atria. The play of transparency and opacity created by Terragni’s use of materials (glass and marble, respectively) results in fascinating visual contradictions. The building was initially condemned by the local Fascist Party chief as being too ordinary for an important state edifice. To appease his critics, Terragni employed an artist and industrial designer, Marcello Nizzoli, to develop a decorative figural design scheme for the building facade. The ensuing panels were never added as envisaged, however.

By 1936 Terragni had built five apartment houses in Milan (in collaboration with Pietro Lingeri) and had gained recognition in the competition for the National Fascist Party Headquarters (1934) in Rome. In 1937–38 he built several significant villas including the Villa Bianca in Seveso and the Sant’Elia Nursery School in Como. Terragni’s plan for the nursery school drew on a radical sense of interior transparency, using glass partitions in the design of the flexible free plan derived from Le Corbusier.

In 1938 Terragni and Lingeri designed the Danteum project for Rome. The building was to have been an exercise in the relation of architecture to literary and political themes, with its composition derived in part from Dante’s Divine Comedy and its forms referencing the iconography of the resurrected Roman Empire, which Benito Mussolini had declared after the Ethiopian War (1935–41). With its thick marble walls and processional promenade, the Danteum building previsioned much of the massive architecture of the postwar period.

Terragni’s last major work—the Casa Giuliani Frigerio Apartment House (1939–40) in Como—was completed by his assistant, Luigi Zuccoli. It was realized when Terragni (now serving in the Italian army) was on his way to the Russian front. At the battle of Stalingrad, he suffered a nervous collapse, and after being returned to Italy in the winter of 1943, he died in Como six days before the coup that deposed Mussolini.

 

THOMAS SCHUMACHER

Sennott R.S. Encyclopedia of twentieth century architecture, Vol.3 (P-Z).  Fitzroy Dearborn., 2005.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE
   

18 April 1904 Born in Meda, Italy;

1921 moved to Como as a child. Attended Liceo Scientifico in Como, graduated;

1921–26 attended Politecnico di Milano, Facoltà di Architettura;

1926 degree granted, Politecnico di Milano, Facoltà di Architettura;

1926 Founding member, Gruppo 7 ;

1927 Hired Luigi Zuccoli as assistant ;

1927–39 in pair with Pietro Lingeri worked together on competitions, five apart ment houses in Milan, and the Danteum Project for Rome. Worked with brother Attilio, an engineer, on buildings in and around Como;

1933 formed partnership with Pietro Lingeri;

1934, 1937 Participated in Palazzo Littorio competition;

1939 won second prize in Palazzo dei Congressi competition, Rome ;

1937 Founder and editor, Valori Primordiali ;

Inducted into Italian army shortly after the start of World War II, served in the Balkans and the USSR.

19 July 1943 Died of a brain embolism. Rumors of suicide have persisted until today, but have not been substantiated.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
FURTHER READING
   

De Ghirardo, “The Vicenda of the Decoration of the Facade of the Casa del Fascio, Como, 1936–39,” The Art Bulletin (October 1980)

Eisenman, P., “From Object to Relationship,” Casabella 344 (January 1970)

Eisenman, P., “From Object to Relationship II,” Perspecta 13/14 (1971)

Mantero, Enrico, Giuseppe Terragni e la città del razionalismo italiano, Bari, Italy: Dedalo, 1969; 2nd edition, 1983

Schumacher, Thomas L., Il Danteum di Terragni, 1938, Rome: Officina Edizioni, 1980; 2nd edition, 1983; as The Danteum: A Study in the Architecture of Literature, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1985; 2nd edition, as The Danteum: Architecture, Poetics, and Politics under Italian Fascism, 1993

Schumacher, Thomas L., Surface and Symbol: Giuseppe Terragni and the Architecture of Italian Rationalism, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1991 Tafuri, M., “Terragni, Subject and Mask,” Oppositions 11 (1978)

Zevi, Bruno, Ommagio a Terragni, Milan: Etas Kompas, 1968

Zevi, Bruno, Giuseppe Terragni, Bologna: Zanichelli, 1980; as Giuseppe Terragni, London: Triangle, 1989

 

Selected Publications

“Architettura” (with Gruppo 7), La rassegna italiana (December 1926)

“Gli stranieri” (with Gruppo 7), La rassegna italiana (February 1927)

“Impreparazione, incomprensione, pregiudizi” (with Gruppo 7), La Rassegna Italiana (March 1927)

“Una nuova epoca arcaica” (with Gruppo 7), La Rassegna Italiana (May 1927)

“Architettura di strato?” and “Lettera sull’architettura,” Ambrosiano “La constuzione della Casa del Fascio di Como,” Quadrante 35 (February 1931) (1936)

“Discurso ai Comaschi,” Ambrosiano (March 1940)

“Relazione sul Danteum 1938,” Oppositions 9 (1977)

 

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