The EUR was a central project of Mussolini’s architectural and urban planning ambitions. Meant to be another building endeavor commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the March on Rome, in 1942, this city was not meant to disappear like others being built for the Exposizione Universale di Roma (E’42).
Instead, the EUR would become a new quarter of Rome, where the planners molded an open area as opposed to a crowded urban fabric, where they could start from scratch. This notion of a new start, an open space where a whole city could emerge, was a modernist dream: the dream of an unburdened space where the ideals of a modern city could be achieved. As Giulio Carlo Argan has said, “It is easier to design cities of the future than those of the past.”*
Fascism had the same aspirations as modernism in this sense, and this common goal was echoed in the team responsible from the E’42 project: on one hand the fascist state’s favorite architect, Marcelo Piacentini, and on the other the leader of the modernist rationalist group in Italy, Giuseppe Pagano. Thus, the EUR manifested Mussolini’s version of aesthetic pluralism and embodied the dreams of renewal and strength that the Duce promoted in his speeches.
Among the first buildings constructed in the EUR and certainly one of the most iconic, the Palazzo della Civilità Italiana, known as the Colosseo Quadrato (Square Colosseum), has a specific affective power engendered by its connection with the Colosseum and its imposing monumentality. Along with the seriality and clean lines central to a modernist structure, the Colosseo Quadrato embodied the fascist discourse in its size and evocation of the triumphal Roman past. This monument is an interesting point of intersection of fascism and modernism and highlights some of the commonalities between these discourses and architectural approaches, which have been many times treated as opposites.
The ethics of space has to be a central question when analyzing dreams of the birth of entire cities, Brasília, the capital of Brazil, being the example per excellence. This is because the city is the space of the body, the space that receives the body, but also molds the body physically and affectively. It is important to take a step back in the analysis of fascist dreams of modern cities, or modernist dreams of fascist cities, and think about what these cities were suppose to do the bodies that inhabited them. What discourse the central monument of the EUR, the Square Colosseum, was meant to illicit? And what does this example unveil about other modernist and fascist projects of this time?
*Giulio Carlo Argan, “Foreword,” In: Roma Interrotta: Twelve Interventions on Nolli’s Plan of Rome (Roma: Johan & Levi Editore, 2014), 23.