There has clearly been a great reluctance to tackle buildings so tainted by ideology
In his memoir Picasso’s Mask (1974), the French statesman André Malraux evokes the slow process by which a building becomes a ruin. ‘During the period of Asia’s great sleep, admirable small fragments of faience and mosaic used to fall gently into the silence. I heard chips of mandarin tiles from the Imperial City fall… and turquoise chips from the Koranic School at Isfahan, where roses grew wild again behind silver doors.’
There’s the same sense of structures disintegrating piece by piece in some of Dan Dubowitz’s photographs in Fascismo Abbandonato, but instead of exotic faience we see spalling concrete, peeling plaster and shattered tiles.
On trips with the architect Patrick Duerden, who provides a brief text, Dubowitz has tracked down a number of the colonie (children’s holiday camps) that were built in Mussolini’s Italy in the 1930s. They were meant to provide model citizens for Il Duce’s brave new world but today they are mostly abandoned. Saplings and shrubs now partly obscure their streamlined or rationalist forms.
’I’m not convinced that these colonie are, as critic Penny Lewis claims in the introduction, ‘some of Europe’s best modernist buildings’, but they’re certainly camera-friendly, whether in the postcards that recorded them at the time or in today’s disarray’
The real architectural opportunity came in catering for the colonie’s parades and gymnastic displays. This was the raison d’être for such striking features as the 12-storey tower at the Colonia Marina delle Montecatini and the dramatic sequence of ramps at Mario Loreti’s Colonia Marina Costanzo Ciano. Now a habitat for fig trees and exposed to the elements, those ramps are the skeletal centrepiece of a building that looks better as a ruin.
Not everything Dubowitz shows us is falling apart. One colonia houses a gym and an archery club, while another has been part-painted orange and turned into holiday apartments. Other schemes for re-use are mentioned, including a 1980s one by Aldo Rossi, but there has clearly been great reluctance to tackle buildings so tainted by ideology.
The cruelties of the Imperial City were far enough in the past for Malraux to think just of aesthetics on his stay there, but that’s not the case with the colonie, whatever their architectural merits. Duerden says: ‘Fascism has not been consigned to history. It cannot be exorcised either by the obliteration of its monuments or by packaging them as heritage.’ This book leaves us with that dilemma.
Author: Dan Dubowitz
Publisher: Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2010