Are Neoclassical Buildings Fascist Architecture?

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8th Feb 2020 Architecture Reference this

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Are Neoclassical buildings Fascist architecture, and should the political foundations of a building besmirch the aesthetics and style of the design?

Architecture should arguably take resource from the surroundings taking reference from context, politics and heritage. In the 1930s, queries about style gained both a grounding in aesthetic design and moral content, “the question of style developed into a question of cultural identity and integrity of the epoch”.[1] This means that existent but tenuous links can be made between both architectural movements and political standpoints as they exert influence on each other. Krier argues that to completely disregard the contextual fabric of a place when designing a building is to create a ‘cultural vacuum’[2], buildings are designed to fit the economic climate and eras of design tend to mould themselves around the civil requirements at the time.

Neoclassicism is renowned for its grandiose and imposing edifices inspired and adapted from the age of Classical antiquity, it prioritised the grace of scale and embraced the elegance of simple geometric forms focusing in on especially the Doric Order. Its looming grandeur makes Neoclassicism the subconscious choice if you aim to demonstrate your power over people as it physically embodies domination and was why the Ancient Greeks utilised the Order to build temples to worship deities as seen in figure 1.[3]

Figure 1. Temple of Segesta an example of a Doric order temple, notice the large undecorated columns and the monumental scale.

Therefore, for someone meaning to reify themselves and their regime it certainly acts as an effective way to aid solidifying their influence and portraying their wealth.  This raises the question whether it is socially acceptable to condemn a certain style of architecture especially one as deep rooted in history as Neoclassicism due to its relatively new connection created by war with horror, bloodshed and tyranny.

Fascist Architecture undoubtedly utilised an austere Neoclassicism to create “an impression of simplicity, uniformity, monumentality, solidity and eternity,”[4] the fundamental ideology of the National Socialist Party. Speer himself argued that his buildings although an elemental part of the movement they were not “solely intended to express the essence of the National Socialist movement”[5]. However, the formidable Spartan severity of his architecture demonstrated in the New Reich Chancellery scheme, as seen in Figure 2[6], suggest that the there was a perseverance through architectural means to enforce this cognitive obedience on the public by displaying their political potency.

Figure 2. Elevation and Floorplan of the New Reich Chancellery, the sheer length of the hallways and colonnades emphasising Hitler’s desire for monumentality

The 68 metre courtyard as seen in Figure 3[7], with high wall niches and robust columns exaggerated the contorted scale of the building aiding the psychological and physical belittlement of anyone who entered. Bronze statues portraying the Aryan ideals stood proudly on the way up to the entrance, they implore submission from their onlookers as they enter the portico.

Figure 3. The courtyard of the New Reich Chancellery designed by Albert Speer, the links between the classical Temple and the columns show how important the grandeur that the Greeks were able to convey in their architecture was to Hitler.

Hitler wanted travellers and citizens to be ‘crushed by what they saw’, however, his aims were not only to oppress, he used the overwhelming halls and stadiums to create a “singular unity with one spirit”[8]. The political climate at the time dictated their style and the magnitude of scale and power. The only new builds in Germany under the rule of the Third Reich that took on this classicist mould were the super structures built for civic duties and functions, buildings like schools and houses utilised traditional schema and methods for their design, emphasising the identification of classicisms importance to the propaganda machine. The Third Reich did not want their wealth and power demonstrated in diluted amounts instead they aimed to use certain cities as a nucleus of their dominance, an explosion of clinical grandeur and austere severity.

Fascist Architecture did not solely arise from just Germany, architects like Marcello Piacentini were judged negatively and renounced for their use of classical architecture as a means of propaganda for the Fascist regime. However, unlike Germany the Neoclassical style was less abrasive with the already existing architecture. It camouflaged itself into the fabric of the city with buildings like the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument a huge marble structure dedicated to a fallen hero as seen in Fig 4[9]. “Its design is a Neoclassical interpretation of the Roman Forum. It features stairways, Corinthian columns, fountains, an equestrian sculpture of Victor Emmanuel II, and two statues of the goddess Victoria riding on quadrigas.”[10]

Figure 4. The Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, although not built specifically for the Regime it became a figurehead of its power and might

Although not designed as a Fascist emblem when it was finally completed in 1935 it was born into the era of Fascism and was emblazoned in authoritarian regime emblems and used as a focal point of military marches, unlike the Chancellery in Berlin which was built solely for that purpose. This is potentially why when the war ended the politicians didn’t demand the destruction of the monolith. Although this could be a fair sentence for the monument, buildings like the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana as seen in Fig 5[11], with its pure marble walls forming a rectangular obelisk with abstract arches filled with Neoclassical statuettes lining its platform. Stands as a superstructure glorifying the Fascist regime constructed in 1943, it pledged its monumentality to strengthen the might of the regime it was built for. It stands unashamedly to this day stripped of its allegiance to what it once was dedicated to, “the building is, in other words, a relic of abhorrent Fascist aggression. Yet, far from being shunned, it is celebrated in Italy as a modernist icon.”[12] Mussolini cemented himself amongst the ancient roman buildings forming enduring links between himself and the emperors of old. It makes it nearly impossible to abolish his impact on Rome as “his name is written all over it”[13], however, due to the immersion of Fascism into Italian culture that Mussolini facilitated a lot of Fascist idols are still ingrained into the context of Italy. The word Fascism originated from the word ‘Faeces’ an ancient military symbol of an axe and a bundle of sticks. This symbol was sordid by the totalitarian regime like the swastika was, yet the abolishment of the symbols was inconsistent as it was an emblem used before the rise of Fascism masking the regime into the fabric of history.

Figure 5. Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana

 Krier argues that the disregard for the achievements of architects like Speer is an ignorant one shared by many architects. Speer’s work in his eyes is a puritanical indiscretion to most architects like “sex for the virgin”[14], it is rapidly condemned without any study into the intricacies of Neoclassical design and style instead its political standpoint and policy blind even the most balanced critic. Krier blames their “moral depravity”[15] for their repression of the Neoclassical style, architectural prowess seems to be intuitively masked by the horrors imposed on the World by the Third Reich. However, “Krier sees architecture as an “immediate source of ideological values by means of which the new conditions of life may be envisaged”[16], he suppresses the moral judgement and uneasiness that many enforce upon Neoclassicism in order to dissect the Spartan stripped back purity of the architecture disregarding its tyrannical birth forgiving it for its part it had to play as an “instrument of policy”[17]. However, a style unmistakably dripping in the blood of sordid crimes and assembled to impose a might of a state cannot be absolved by just stripping it of its Fascist symbols like they did in Italy, architecture in particular Neoclassicism was able to unite people even when they were fighting for the darkest means. Yet, they were in themselves symbols of a past that brought such pain and suffering for so many and even though Krier might have come into observing this style with an open mind he cannot expect the same cold analytical eye from people who were directly affected by the horrors of the Third Reich.

It was from here that the Architectural debate of the 1970s arose with many architects discussing the means in which to bury the memory of the Third Reich, they contested the correlation between the Neoclassical form and its political intent. The fact that Neoclassical architecture was not only restricted to the Fascist regimes of Germany and Italy so could therefore not be “regarded as inherently Fascist”[18]. This suggests that as Sacks says “it is not the buildings that are monumental but the thoughts of people that impose monumentality upon them”[19], however, although this may be the case of the public projecting their beliefs and ideologies upon a building, the building itself still has to be a worthy receptacle to evoke these thoughts. However, the prominent architects at the time that these buildings were built understood the reaction that they wanted to instil in people, Speer and Piacentini used policy and style to bolster the other to make them co-dependent and not tenuously linked like they had been previously. Therefore, the condemnation of these Nazi mega-structures is understandably accepted by many for what they symbolised and what they aimed to enforce upon citizens and wasn’t “implicitly condemned”[20] as Krier claimed. The stylised aesthetics of the building although astounding and monumental where fundamental in its ability to affectively convey its political message.

In conclusion, the sinuous links between the aesthetics of a building and the political context it stood in was manipulated by the Fascist regime. The Neoclassical style became the main vessel in which the Third Reich and Mussolini advertised their wealth and dominance, meaning that now in the aftermath of a time in history soiled by bloodshed and tyranny, the continuum between the two can not go unrecognised. Although not all Neoclassical architecture can be tagged with the term fascist architecture, the majority of Fascist architecture is Neoclassical in nature and style, this pollutes the elegance and grandeur of the facades of all those not rooted in authoritarian propaganda.

Bibliography

  • Ben-Ghiat, R., ‘Why Are So Many Fascist Monuments Still Standing in Italy?’, The New Yorker, 5th October 2017 <https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/why-are-so-many-fascist-monuments-still-standing-in-italy>, 01/05/2019.
  • Espe, Hartmut, “Differences in the perception of national socialist and classicist architecture”,  Journal of Environmental Psychology. 1, 1981, p. 33–42
  • Hays, K. M., Extracts from “Krier on Speer”, Architectural Review, volume 173 (1983), pages 33-38. Earlier version of “Krier on Speer” published as “Vorwärts, Kameraden, Wir Müssen Zurück”, in Oppositions, volume 24 (1981), Spring; reprinted in: “Oppositions Reader”, Edited by K. M. Hays, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1998, p. 401-411.
  • Krier, L., Albert Speer: Architecture 1932-1942, (Brussels: Archives d’Architecture Moderne), 1985
  • Larssen, Lars Olof, ‘Classicism in the Architecture of the XXth century’, in Leon Krier, Albert Speer: Architecture 1932-1942, (Brussels: Archives d’Architecture Moderne), 1985, (231-245)
  • Manning, J. R., «Die Bauten des Führers», Adolf Hitler-Bilder aus dem Leben des Führers, Hamburg 1936; English edition, Johnathan R Manning, Adolf Hitler, Authored by his ministers of the Third Reich, (Phoenix: Arizona, 1973), p. 72-74
  • Maxwell, R., “Architecture, Language, and Process,” Architectural Design 47, no. 3 (1977)
  • Page, M., ‘The Roman Architecture Mussolini, Still Standing’, The Boston Globe, 13th July 2014, <https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/07/12/the-roman-architecture-mussolini-still-standing/csZ70EN2fTnUUNqX0kRM9K/story.html> , 01/05/2019
  • Rosenfield, G. D., The Architects’ Debate: Architectural Discourse and the Memory of Nazism in the Federal Republic of Germany, 1977–1997, (Indiana, Indiana University Press, 1997)
  • Sack, M., “Nicht Grösse, sondern Geist zählt”, 1981
  • Speer, A., A Foreword, in Leon Krier, Albert Speer from Albert Speer: Architecture 1932-1942, (Brussels: Archives d’Architecture Moderne), 1985, (212-213)
  • Wikipedia, 23rd February 2019, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altare_della_Patria>, 20/04/2019

Images

  • Dirkedekline, Albert Speer, the liar who was believed, History of sorts, 15th February 2017,  https://dirkdeklein.net/2017/02/15/albert-speerthe-liar-who-was-believed/
  • Nikoleta Kalmouki, 10 Must See Ancient Greek Temples, The Greek Reporter, 14th July 2014, https://greece.greekreporter.com/2014/07/14/10-must-see-ancient-greek-temples/
  • M&J Place Hostel Rome, Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, All In Rome, 2nd June 2010, < https://allinrome.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/monument-to-vittorio-emanuele-ii/>
  • The Neoclassical Revival, Great German Architecture, August 2014, < http://deutschlandostmark.blogspot.com/>
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palazzo_della_Civilt%C3%A0_Italiana

[1] Lars Olof Larssen, ‘Classicism in the Architecture of the XXth century’, in Leon Krier, Albert Speer: Architecture 1932-1942, (Brussels: Archives d’Architecture Moderne), 1985, (231-245), p. 244

[2] Extracts from “Krier on Speer”, Architectural Review, volume 173 (1983), pages 33-38. Earlier version of “Krier on Speer” published as “Vorwärts, Kameraden, Wir Müssen Zurück”, in Oppositions, volume 24 (1981), Spring; reprinted in: “Oppositions Reader”, Edited by K. M. Hays, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1998, p. 401-411.

[3] Nikoleta Kalmouki, 10 Must See Ancient Greek Temples, The Greek Reporter, 14th July 2014, <https://greece.greekreporter.com/2014/07/14/10-must-see-ancient-greek-temples/>

[4]Espe, Hartmut, “Differences in the perception of national socialist and classicist architecture”,  Journal of Environmental Psychology. 1, 1981, p. 33–42

[5] «Die Bauten des Führers», Adolf Hitler-Bilder aus dem Leben des Führers, Hamburg 1936; English edition, Johnathan R Manning, Adolf Hitler, Authored by his ministers of the Third Reich, (Phoenix: Arizona, 1973), p. 72-74.

[6] The Neoclassical Revival, Great German Architecture, August 2014, < http://deutschlandostmark.blogspot.com/>

[7] Dirkedekline, Albert Speer, the liar who was believed, History of sorts, 15th February 2017,  <https://dirkdeklein.net/2017/02/15/albert-speerthe-liar-who-was-believed/>

[8]Albert Speer, A Foreword, in Leon Krier, Albert Speer from Albert Speer: Architecture 1932-1942, (Brussels: Archives d’Architecture Moderne), 1985, (212-213),  p. 213

[9] M&J Place Hostel Rome, Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, All In Rome, 2nd June 2010, < https://allinrome.wordpress.com/2010/06/02/monument-to-vittorio-emanuele-ii/>

[10]<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altare_della_Patria>, 20/04/2019

[11] <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palazzo_della_Civilt%C3%A0_Italiana>

[12]Ruth Ben-Ghiat, ‘Why Are So Many Fascist Monuments Still Standing in Italy?’, The New Yorker, 5th October 2017

<https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/why-are-so-many-fascist-monuments-still-standing-in-italy>, 01/05/2019

[13]Max Page, ‘The Roman Architecture Mussolini, Still Standing’, The Boston Globe, 13th July 2014, <https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/07/12/the-roman-architecture-mussolini-still-standing/csZ70EN2fTnUUNqX0kRM9K/story.html> , 01/05/2019

[14] Leon Krier, Albert Speer: Architecture 1932-1942, (Brussels: Archives d’Architecture Moderne), 1985, p. 217

[15] Leon Krier, Albert Speer: Architecture 1932-1942, (Brussels: Archives d’Architecture Moderne), 1985, p. 218

[16] Robert Maxwell, “Architecture, Language, and Process,” Architectural Design 47, no. 3 (1977), p. 190

[17] Extracts from “Krier on Speer”, Architectural Review, volume 173 (1983), pages 33-38. Earlier version of “Krier on Speer” published as “Vorwärts, Kameraden, Wir Müssen Zurück”, in Oppositions, volume 24 (1981), Spring; reprinted in: “Oppositions Reader”, Edited by K. M. Hays, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, 1998, p. 401-411.

[18]Gavriel D. Rosenfield, The Architects’ Debate: Architectural Discourse and the Memory of Nazism in the Federal Republic of Germany, 1977–1997, (Indiana, Indiana University Press, 1997), p. 196

[19] Manfred Sack, “Nicht Grösse, sondern Geist zählt”, 1981, p. 194

[20] Leon Krier, Albert Speer: Architecture 1932-1942, (Brussels: Archives d’Architecture Moderne), 1985, p. 217

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