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«Monumental architecture is the aestheticization of the rules of repression. It is the aestheticization of a society rather than its realization.» «L’architettura monumentale è l’estetizzazione delle regole repressive. L’estetizzazione di una società invece della sua realizzazione». Ugo La Pietra, Il Monumentalismo, 1972
its imposing structure. But are we actually convinced though, that from the very same «flawless» facade, we are capable of perceiving its ideology? Perhaps because of how obvious, pompous and somewhat abstract the exterior is, one could guess that something is concealed or purposely «left out» within such strict formalism. It’s almost when something is too perfect, candid and clean, in order for it not to be what is seems. In fact, the apparent flawlessness of it all is so aggressive that it immediately introduces a level of suspicion. It is precisely for this matter that it is constructed with an intent—hide its most libertarian side, which will not do exception to the rule: that it needs to conform.
Banality is his habit. His suit and hair, his impeccability. His eyes, impenetrable. Strict geometrical patterns, his construction. His legs move as precise columns equally distanced from each other, his fingers as a set of precise orders to conceal his most slight difference. Yes-difference, because Marcello Clerici knows to be different. He believes he is. And in order to hide his difference, he conceals it within the dullest of dark granite greyThe essay is attempting to reorganize the concept toned suits. of a facade and that of its A twofold condition, between totalitarian architectural the Fascist ideology and that of representation through this the building fi l m . T h e f a c a d e i s t h e in Adalberto Libera’s Palazzo architecture. I would argue dei Ricevimenti e dei Congressi that it is simultaneously the (1938) is explicitly architecture of the triad materialized, behind closed system, the Fascist motto of doors, in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Dio, Patria e Famiglia, (God, The Conformist (1970). They Religion and Family) and the are purposely shut, as a architecture of the building, hermetic container for the which in Bertolucci’s film, acts concealment of an interior as an object that is perceived fulfillment: that of one’s always and strictly from the individuality and desires. i n t e r i o r. T h e r e i s n o «Bernardo Bertolucci has a externality. re putation as a Marxist The facade thus is the artist.» 1 A 1971 freshly pressed system that contains the review of the Conformist quite interior, and its containment is sarcastically associates him to exactly what permits highly stylized Fascist scenes. re p re s s i o n . R at h e r t h a n Nichols continues, « Bertolucci Il Conformista, Adalberto Libera’s 1938 Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e dei separating an exterior from an Congressi. Marcello Clerici (Jean-Louis Trintignant) walking belongs to the tradition of parallel to the facade’s interior interior, it separates two forms legal Marxism which affords of interiors: the more an uneasy accommodation architectural interior, the minister’s office, from the between political intent and commodity culture.» other interior, that of one’s own morality. We are Infact, his artistry mainly focuses on highly stylized introduced to the minister’s office through Clerici’s patterns of «consummate aesthetic design.»2 This eyes, and through peeking behind a black velvet same consummate design, or in other words, the curtain we see that both the minister and the idea of flawlessness has been carried out by the young blonde woman who let herself be kissed same Fascist regime itself, and it is therefore «turned hiding both their faces behind the broad exactly in the overlaying of two stylized patterns brim of the hat [as an object metaphor for the between the individual and the totalitarian system, more architectural facade] His thick, coarse hand that a tension arises within the cinematic slid over the woman’s buttock.3 […] Marcello felt representation of the Palazzo’s interior. no «simpatia» whatsoever for the worldly, It is clearly difficult to negate the concrete womanizing minister; on the contrary, he disliked presence of its exterior facade, simply because of him.»4 Marcello at this point was faced with a 1
Bill Nichols, Cinéaste, Vol.4, No.4 (spring 1971) «The Conformist»,19 Ibid. Alberto Moravia, Il Conformista, 1951 p.75-76 4 ibid. 2 3
decision. and decides to continue to believe in the which they operate.7 The film reveals that there is aestheticized and apparent system of morals. «But no externality to the system, there is no way of none of this affected Marcello’s political faith even escaping it, one can only exist inside of it. The minimally.» 5 He is confronted with evidence that facade does not hide an inside from an outside the moral system is hypocritical-he sees the fascist point of view, but organizes an interior which is minister breaking the «creed»6 of the very political the totality of the architecture of the political structure he should be org anizing and system and its ideological expression through representing. Clerici accepts the fundamental moral codes. hypocrisy of the system and personalizes the The film cannot show facades of the problem of the minister’s libertine fling. Of course, Palazzi because the point that the film is making is he believes in the moral articulation of the system. that there is no exterior. The exterior is the mental The act of preferring the system over the ideological construction that people create in order individual being a hypocrite, that is exactly the act to escape the hard reality that they must exist withof repression. in and not with-out. The exterior is exactly what The facade becomes the object that Marcello convinces himself about, that he is an organizes the two, a double articulation between assassin and therefore needing to hide this by the interior of knowing from that of believing. being the most banal of the conformists. The interior space in which the In a short text written in the minister has his affair with the architectural magazine «La young lady is simultaneously Casa» in 1960, Libera-as a the same interior space that retrospective critique to his represents the moral order. experience as an architectThe cover photograph is reminds us about the cultural crucial in that aspect: the atmosphere of the interwar sensual, modestly passionate years, especially within the on the bottom, in the construction of the E428 framework of the monumental referencing, indirectly, to the space and aestheticized Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e Congressi: repressive rules. But again, the « I f w e w o u l d n o t h ave space is not represented included columns in the through the space of the room facade, especially after having itself, but through the image of won the national competition, an interior facade that the fascist commission would organizes the interiority of the have rejected our project and subject. wo u l d h ave t o l d u s : n o T h e f a c a d e re d u c e s t h e columns, no building.» representation of the moral Libera, in a second system to purely aestheticized moment, in order to justify his forms, and at the same time, it colonnade portico, will specify Il Conformista, Minister’s Office enables the production of a that «they are not decorative cognitive dissonance of the columns because they sustain a subject, which leads one to believe the upper 50% formidable weight, they are columns of a and regard the minister’s behavior as simple rationalist»9 . In the context of post war Italy, «white noise.» Libera described such facade construction as colonne imposte (imposed columns). The only fact of The perception of the interior, and how the having placed columns where they were not interior as organized by the facade, organizes the strictly needed, (especially within the context of structural understanding of the political system. other rationalist architects such as Giuseppe In fact, Bertolucci’s filming structure does not lead Terragni, Marcello Piacentini, Giulio Pediconi) has us to an analogous and historical reading of the been considered by Libera himself as a sin he Fascist period. Rather, we respond by displacing needed to amend. The term itself, colonne imposte, analysis of the characters and setting from their clearly outlines the gesture. What Libera witnessed historical counterpart to the aesthetic structure in in first person was an act of repression, the
A. Moravia, Il Conformista Patria, Religione e Famiglia Bill Nichols, Cinéaste, Vol.4, No.4 (spring 1971) «The Conformist»,19 8The urban and architectural planning of the Universal Exposition of Rome, 1942. (EUR 42) 9 Adalberto Libera, La Mia Esperienza Da Architetto in «La Casa», pp. 173 6 7
repression to conform and to organize the structural understanding of the political system through the facade of precise columns equally distanced from each other. Libera reminds us that «[The Fascists] start delineating from the outside the object of their construction, and then, from the inside, they start justifying the practical reasons of such object, but firmly keeping the involucre that contains it.» 10 As Libera concretely materializes the facade repression through the colonnade in the Palazzo, Bertolucci materializes and personifies this condition through the very Marcello Clerici, who is the facade «of tall dark grey granite and equally distanced columns». He is the hinge between the morality and the indulgence, the «fascist» and the «anti-fascist.» Through Clerici, what is exalted is the revelation of a paradoxical condition within Fascism itself, that being the moment in which fascism becomes a sort of «general and universalized condition that helps extrapolate repressed energy»11 within and beyond the space of the interior. This was demonstrated not only through the ministers office as seen earlier, but also through another central anti-fascist figure in the film, Professor Quadri (Enzo Tarascio), Marcello’s university professor residing in Paris. I will attempt to say that the indulgence which happens beyond the facade (the very same indulgence that Marcello experiences) is completely the same, fruit of the same seed. Professor Quadri does not appeal to the fascist ideology, and by his very nature is an anti-conformist because of the facade constructed in Italy and appeases his pleasure in a hedonistic way with his lesbian inclined wife, Anna Quadri (Dominique Sanda). The fascist minister on the other hand needs the facade to hide his indulgence and sexual fulfillment without being seen. The facade is as much needed for a fascist as it is for an antifascist. This duality (of the person) within and without of the facade evokes in the spectator Pirandello’s theory of masks in Uno, Nessuno e Centomila. A novel published, certainly not by chance during the Fascist regime in Italy in 1926. Marcello wears throughout the whole film his own mask, the face of his conformism. In the theater of Pirandello, an author who researched, throughout his entire life, an «absolute truth,» the only elements that Pirandello deems true, pure and natural are the masks and their characters. In fact, according to the Sicilian dramaturge, the only 10 11 12 13
moment in which the conformism imposed by society or by any societal conventions can be stripped away is during the theatrical act itself, in order to reveal the true essence of the person.12 The social conceptions, values and the judgement of the society become for the protagonist a synonym of «oppression» of his own being. In Bertolucci’s film, the theatrical act informs the way in which a specific formal, highly ideological architecture is just such in its appearance, and indeed not in the «act.» It is in the Fascist minister’s office in the Palazzo Dei Congressi, whose architect Adalberto Libera deemed as a «solemn and auric»13 space, far away from the interaction of everyday life, where the facade precisely at this moment ceases to exist as an architectural construction and the repressed indulgence takes over. Equally though, the indulgence and the facade are collectively exhaustive, because a conformist facade cannot work without the mise-en-scene indulgence the minister wants to repress, and the repressed indulgence (as in Marcello) has to be hidden from the vox populi, the public opinion. Through this oppression, the idea of a pirandellian society emerges, or rather that of an element that tends, through its fictitious conventions, to estrange the person from his own subjectivity, his own thought, which is the repression, as it is the beginning of the most stylized of conformism.
Ibid. Bill Nichols, Cinéaste, Vol. 4, No.4 (spring 1971) ‹The Conformist› p.22 Luigi Pirandello, Uno Nessuno, e Centomila, Einaudi Edizioni, 2014
ACS Esposizione Universale di Roma E42 envelope n. 131 file 713. Report of the Architects in the Palazzo dei Congressi in Vieri Quilici, E42 EUR, Un Centro per la Metropoli, «VI. Competition for the Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e dei Congressi» p. 78.
I did think about using bright white marble for a building, the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, which may have been of no use, but which was made of such pure matter, blocks of pure, anachronistic, stone; I wanted to create something sense-less, as the necessary part was at its foundations.14 Mario Ridolfi, Amara Confessione (Sour Confessions) in La Casa n. 6, 1960.
building can be read not as the ‹rear facade,› rather as the interior facade, a second front enclosed within the walls of the palazzo. This would be experienced as the ultimate facade one would reach by walking through the building. It clearly shows the results of the internalized repression through the squared granite pillars, and how Libera, through its design, indulges in it.
The condition of inter nalized For the interior facade to function as a repression, manifested in the film by Marcello front facade, the typological reference of the Clerici, is architectonically portrayed through Templum Veneris et Romæ should to be considered. the figure of the architect, Adalberto Libera, in The use of an analogical method in the process the interior facade of the palazzo. of the construction of the E42 reveals a distinct Bertolucci’s facade did not hide an inside from similarity between these two an outside point of view, but buildings. 16 In fact, the Fascist organized an interior which is the r e g i m e ’s a r c h i t e c t M a r c e l l o totality of the architecture of the Piacentini described its’ plan as an political system and its ideological «analogous classic vision.»17 Firstly, expression through moral codes. at an urban scale with the axis urbis, Whilst Ridolfi (coeval to Libera) because the Palazzo’s placement is reluctantly tends to highlight his axial to the Palazzo della Civiltà own anguishing sensation of a Italiana (the ‹squared coliseum› to cultural emptiness which bears which Ridolfi refers too), as the witness to his own confessions and 15 Temple of Venus and Rome is axial anachronisms, Libera in turn, a to Flavian’s Amphitheater. Secondly, few pages later in the same Libera designed the building to architectural magazine La Casa, function along an axis, by means of tried to justify his design of the its placement. The front columns as imposed columns, or monumental facade is to be seen «colonne imposte». He felt to justify the Templum Veneris et Romæ (A.D. 121) from the outside, but back facade is design as a sin he needed to amend meant to be seen from the inside especially where columns were not because that is the ultimate strictly needed. Driven by an culmination of one’s progression ideology of a rationalist, Libera through the space. witnessed the repression to conform In the palazzo, the columns are a n d o rg a n i ze t h e s t r u c t u r a l encased inside the void, and understanding of the Fascist because the presence of the side political system through an exterior walls demarcate the two spans for monumental facade of fourteen the openings, they define two closed dark grey-granite neoclassical sides and two open sides in the columns, equally distanced from archetypal form of the Temple of each other. They function as a veil Venus and Rome. The temple does for an interior facade, both in the not have a rear, but rather has two film as in the architecture, because symmetrical separated facades its purpose was not to define an facing two separate interiors. exterior but the containment of an Ground floor plan of the Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e dei Congressi. 14 Columns in This aspect is seen precisely in the interior. Thus the rear facade of the the front facade, 10 Pillars in the rear facade. palazzo, where it doesn’t have a 14
« Io avevo pensato di usare marmo bianchissimo per un edificio, il Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, che magari non servisse a niente, ma che fosse fatto di una materia pura, di blocchi di pietra pura, anacronistica; volevo creare qualcosa che non avesse nessun senso, poiché la parte buona che serviva stava in basso» 15 Vieri Quilici, «Adalberto Libera : l'architettura come ideale» (Roma : Officina Edizioni) 1981. p. 22 16 Construction of the Universal Exposition of Rome, E42, 1942. 17 E.Guidoni, Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e dei Congressi, in M. Calvesi, E. Guidoni, S. Lux, E 42. Utopia e scenario del regime, II, Marsilio, Venezia 1987, p. 37.
backside, because the back colonnade is facing and is enclosed in the interior. The Roman-ness in Libera’s design is articulating and underlining the interiority of the way the rear facade, seen from the interior, functions as an expression of his indulgence in the very act of repression.
cruciform columns the ultimate and last facade one encounters. In the perspectival overlaying within the lobby, these two elements manifest Libera’s repression in the interior of his own designed building. This facade could not have been the front facade seen from the exterior precisely because it did not confor m to the ideals and monumental vision of the Fascist regime, but more specifically, to the demands of Piacentini. The exterior facade is the system that contains the interior, and its containment is exactly what permits repression. In fact, «Libera accepts such condition of submission and transforms it into a working tool to counteract any generic and empiric Piacentinian attempt of mediation.»20 Thus he decides to design his own facade, his own aesthetic version of the totalitarian system—because it would have been in the interior and it would have not been noticed from the outside. This is exactly the reason why the interior facade needs the flawless exterior facade to function. It’s intent is to hide its most libertarian side that is perceived strictly from the interior. Nonetheless, it will not do exception to the rule, as both Libera and his facade needed to conform.
In 1931, at the second exposition of Rational Architecture on Via Veneto in Rome, the clash with Marcello Piacentini’s neoclassical modernism becomes explicit, creating a concurring antagonism with the head of fascist architecture. Libera reminds us, in the postwar years, that if he would not have included columns in the facade, especially after having won the national competition, the fascist commission would have rejected the project and would have told him no columns, no building.18 The column therefore embodies the impossibility to do at his will. He utilizes the rhetoric of the Roman column on the exterior, whilst containing that of a rationalist in the interior. The journalist and writer Eugenio Giovannetti monumentalizes the columns in the magazine of the Universal Exposition of Rome ‹Civiltà› describing Study for cross steel fusiform column frames in the them as «the columns that «[The Fascists] start rear lobby of the Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e dei Congressi, ca. 1938 afar resembled St. Paul, delineating from the outside which will closely resemble the object of their the granite mass of the construction, and then, from Pantheon, without their capitals.»19 the inside, they start justifying the practical A friction is created within Libera’s preliminary reasons of such object, but firmly keeping the sketches for the interior facade. Inside the latter, involucre that contains it.»21 he encases 10 pillars cladded in white marble. The column thus acquires the qualities of a Libera’s instinct and thrive as a rationalist, fragmented element, as it collapses in its structurally resembles the cross steel column in construction the very same repression and the 1929 Barcelona Pavilion. impossibility for Libera to do at his will. In the palazzo, the fusiform cross steel columns— The architect is not just simply designing the as shown in the sketch— frame the glass panes facade as he is ordered to, but is integrating the behind the pillars in the same lobby, making the colonnade within a wholistic architectural Adalberto Libera, La Mia Esperienza Da Architetto p. 173 Eugenio Giovannetti, in Civiltà n.2 1940 «Scendete ed avvicinatevi e le colonne che da lungi ricordavano San Paolo, sembreranno da vicino, per granitica mole, quelle del Pantheon, tolti di mezzo i capitelli» 20 Vieri Quilici, «Adalberto Libera : l'architettura come ideale» p. 11 21 Ibid. p. 22 18 19
framework. His focus shifts from rejecting the imposition of the colonnade, to designing around the column as a fetishized and fragmented object. He sketches it as a pilaster but clearly it is not. The power of this sketch lies in its ambiguity. He sensually indulges in the act of designing a yonic resemblance on paper, contouring this form twice with a darker updown stroke on both sides, creating a double rimmed contour, and strongly framing it within the open void created between the two side walls. This tension between the written and the drawn pilaster is what makes its translation into built form compelling.
repetition is symptomatic to his repression, as he indulges in his symptom through the construction of the interior facade. The architect’s submission to the architectural rule of an idealistic vision is itself a vehicle for the colonnade becoming the object of fetishization through its repetition. Indeed, the architecture is about the colonnade.
It is possible now to introduce the translation into architecture of the still frame from the Conformist where the act of debauchery by the minister with the woman, seen through the eyes of Clerici, is happening in front of the fascist symbol within an interior constructed «The architectural object of the Italian facade. The act of him preferring the system Rationalists, but that of over the individual is exactly Libera in particular, is the the act of repression. The symbolic object of a facade reduces the conceptual order that for it representation of the moral to be meta-historical in codes to purely aestheticized respect to […] the dominant forms, where there is no i d e o l o g y, r e s u l t s i n externality to the system, generating pregnant—but there is no way of escaping metaphysical—images of an it, one can only exist inside all interior of of it. 22 propaganda.» With Libera, the act of Thus the object-column is a indulgence is the pillar-like cause of desire of an idealist column. This is not vision which Libera engages happening on the front of in through obsessive the palazzo, rather in the repetition. The moment in interior facade. T his which he realizes being ultimate architectural object repressed, is the moment in is embodying the way in which he indulges in the which repression is «per pilastri ric. e Congr.» system. By justifying himself Study for pilasters in the rear lobby of the internalized and sublimated Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e dei Congressi, ca. 1938 for the columns twenty years into pleasure, by the later, saying that they held a architect who has become, in formidable weight and that the process of designing this they are columns of a rationalist,23 he building, the conformist himself. demonstrates that he was consciously repressed by the same architectural construction of the system he was part of. Libera’s obsessive
Vieri Quilici, «Adalberto Libera : l'architettura come ideale» p. 22. «L’oggetto architettonico dei razionalisti italiani, ma di Libera in particolare, è l’oggetto simbolico di un ordine concettuale che per essere meta-storico rispetto ai processi reali di trasformazione urbana e al tempo stesso funzionale all’ideologia dominante risulta generatore di immagini pregnanti-ma metafisiche- di una «città di propaganda» tutta interiore» 23 Adalberto Libera, La Mia Esperienza Da Architetto. see note 9 22
Bibliography Bertolucci, B. Il Conformista (Italy, France and West Germany: Mars Film, Marianne Productions, Maran Film). 1971 Giovannetti, E. «Il Palazzo dei Ricevimenti». Civiltà n.2. 1940. Guidoni, E. «Palazzo dei Ricevimenti e dei Congressi» in M. Calvesi, E. Guidoni, S. Lux, E 42. Utopia e scenario del regime, II. Venezia:Marsilio. 1987. Libera, A. «La Mia Esperienza Da Architetto». La Casa n.6 . 1960. Moravia, A.. Il Conformista. Oscar Mondadori: Milano. 1951. Nichols, B. «The Conformist». Cinéaste Vol.4, No.4. 1971. Pirandello, L. Uno Nessuno, e Centomila. Einaudi Edizioni:Roma. 2014. Quilici, V. Adalberto Libera : l'architettura come ideale. Officina Edizioni: Roma.1981. Quilici, V. E42 EUR, Un Centro per la Metropoli.Olmo Edizioni: Roma. 1996. Ridolfi, M. «Amara Confessione» in La Casa n. 6, 1960.