CAN A TRULY GREAT BUILDING OVERCOME THE POLITICS OF ITS DESIGNER?
The recently released Italian film The Family Friend takes as its setting the city of Latina, using its decaying Fascist-era architecture as the backdrop to the actions of a central character who is repulsive, evil and corrupt, yet fascinating enough to hold the viewer's attention. The director, Paolo Sorrentino, who owes a great debt to Fellini, treats architecture in a way that makes most viewers entirely comfortable. Fascism is evil, hence the architecture is tainted, and an appropriate setting for a malign anti-hero.
Engaging with architecture of this era becomes much more uncomfortable if one admires it. This is the situation elucidated by Jonathan Sergison in our Building Study on the work of Giuseppe Terragni (see pages 23-37), and by David Wild in his witty collage for the cover.
Given that Terragni's key building is the Casa del Fascio, there is no room for pretence. The only slight comfort is that Italian Fascism has a somewhat less evil reputation than Nazism.
Architecture occupies the middle ground in relation to the politics of its creators. Music, especially without lyrics, can be abstract enough to escape ideological taint. The written word, because it is so explicit, is tied much more firmly to its creators' beliefs. The visual arts sit somewhere in between, with architecture having the additional baggage of a social programme.
You can't ignore the position of the designer, but can a truly great building overcome it?
Consider another Italian building - Wilkinson Eyre's just-unveiled design for the ideologically impeccable Amnesty International in Milan (see pages 12-13). Suffering through being a building that has as yet no site, and thus no sense of context, it is uncomfortable in a totally different way from Terragni's work. Reminding us that ideology is not everything, it returns us to Terragni with the understanding that, while we may not condone the position adopted by the man, we can still appreciate the architecture.