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Tainted love

The Architect

It was my friend and sometime neighbour John Stewart’s recent “Blog 7” which started me thinking about the discrediting of historical buildings as well as historical figures.

He was writing on Guiseppe Terragni’s Casa del Fascio in Como, which is quite rightly regarded as one of the seminal buildings of the ‘heroic period’ of modern architecture. Designed in 1932, when Terragni was aged just 28, this was the local headquarters of Mussolini’s Fascist party. 

As John writes, “Modernism has been seen predominantly as an expression of liberal social democratic ideologies and yet here is one of its icons celebrating a totalitarian regime. As a result of the quality of Terragni’s architecture, many have sought to excuse his complicity with those who were in power in Italy while he was working, but he would have been appalled at this suggestion of double standards. Like many of his contemporary young Italian architects, he was an enthusiastic and committed Fascist and he regarded the Casa del Fascio commission as a great honour […] it remains both a fascinating piece of architecture and an equally fascinating relic of a once hugely popular and now entirely discredited Italian political movement.” 

Judging by the feedback left by others on John’s blog, this building is in the top ten of a lot of architects’ favourite buildings. It is now occupied by Guardia di Finanza, an Italian law enforcement agency under the authority of the minister of economy and finance. I will leave that there.

In the contagious spirit of Black Lives Matter, there has been a great revisiting of our past. There was a hope that we would all take time out to understand and learn more from history, but there was also a danger of rewriting it. Having myself been involved on a project in Plymouth for well over a year, the sole objective of which was to coincide with the Mayflower 400 celebrations, Sir Francis Drake was caught up in the maelstrom and went from hero to zero overnight so that much of the design content had to be quickly and forensically reviewed. Covid-19 put the brakes on the project in any case, so completion has been stalled and the neat segue with the muted anniversary celebrations interrupted. 

Some of us in my profession might now question how we should view historical pieces of engineering or architecture

The way such powerful movements transfer and transmute can be seen with Premiership footballers and match officials ‘taking the knee’ before kick-off. This was originally a protest gesture made by American footballer Colin Kaepernick against standing for his national anthem, but it was adopted as a wider symbol of support for the unfair treatment of Black Americans and is now made in support for the wider BAME community. The gesture is powerful, but it is also by its nature transient and time will be the arbiter of its lasting influence. 






The Architect

About Richard Rose-Casemore

Richard Rose-Casemore

Richard Rose-Casemore is a practitioner and an academic. Having worked for some of the leading practices in the UK, he co-founded Design Engine Architects in 2000, and enjoys working in all sectors and at all scales, from masterplanning to interior design, with architecture at the centre. He has been the recipient of numerous national and international awards during 25 years of practice, and received the Stephen Lawrence Prize for his own house. Richard has travelled widely in his teaching and practice, and worked in South Africa for a year as an undergraduate. He has a particular passion for teaching and led a Masters studio at Oxford Brookes University School of Architecture between 1995 and 2010. He continues to act as a visiting critic and external examiner at various UK Schools. Richard is currently a Fellow of Royal Society of Arts, a Fellow of Oxford Brookes University, an Academician of Urbanism, a Member of the Chartered Society of Designers, and sits on the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Validation Board. He was a CABE Representative for five years and now chairs or sits on various Design Review Panels and the Higher Education Design Quality Forum (HEDQF).

Articles by Richard Rose-Casemore

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