The fascist beach

Nach dem Meeting bei der Eni fuhren wir vom römischen Stadtteil E U R zum Baden nach Sabaudia ans Meer; auf der Fahrt in Jürgens schwarzem 159er las Ina uns aus der Dissertation (Vol. 1, Vol. 2) von Hanne Storm Ofteland vor:

Sabaudia was intended as an example of how living should be in the stato nuovo that the Fascists were constructing. The new town would be a rural town, or really a rural center, co-dependent on other structures (hamlets and farms) within its own closed economic and social system—a model town for the corporate state. To inhabit the area, the Fascists wanted war veterans, but very many of the new colonists were in reality troublesome anti-fascists, nominated to be sent south to a new destiny in the Pontine Marshes by local authorities in the north, grasping the opportunity to get rid of unwanted elements in their own society.

Piazza della Rivoluzione, ceremonial part of the square. With the Town Hall
tower, torre littoria and the belfry in the background

The main problems discussed here are: First, the negotiation between an avant-garde group of architects (representants of the rationalist style, an Italian version of functionalism), eager to test out new ideas regarding town planning, buildings, dwellings, etc., and a more complex patron, the Fascist state, here represented by the Opera Nazionale dei Combattenti, in search of an expression that at the same time would emanate tradition (Italianità and Romanità), be a modern town of the 20th century, as well as fullfill all the functions demanded of it within its own socio-economic system. The Fascists also meant for Sabaudia to be a show case, both for the Italian people, as well as for foreign countries. Even though the architects gave the town a modern appearance, a closer look at the system reveals many similarities with the latifundium and colonia systems of Ancient Rome.

“inspired by a grand sense of modernity without loosing out
of sight the practicality”

Unlike the regime, the young architects did not consider the re-establishment of the grandeur of Ancient Rome to be a task of high importance. At least not by using the architecture of Antiquity. The young designers were eager to make an architecture and a town worthy of Fascism, all right, but they wanted a new town, built in the style of the modern age, of the twentieth century that is. They wanted to show the world and the Italians that they were capable of undertaking the enormous challenge it was to construct a modern town plan, suited to all the needs of the new age, solving the problems of housing, traffic, the distribution of the different functions, etc. Piccinato and the others responded to the call for a new corporate town/rural center, to function as a Fascist nucleus. They were eager to build the new Fascist society, both practically and ideologically. And they were eager to attack the social problems that both Europe and the U.S. were facing at that time; that of housing the population, constructing new, healthy, practical dwellings and tearing down the old. And of constructing the scenery for modern life—a lifestyle that included going to the movies, going for a ride in the automobile, dancing in the restaurant ballroom, and other such leisure time activities.

Architects: Gino Cancellotti, Eugenio Montuori, Luigi Piccinato, Alfredo Scalpelli

Having studied the town planning and architectural theories of influential architects such as Sitte, Howard, Unwin, and especially Wright, Piccinato [one of the four earlier members of the “Gruppo urbanisti romani” who won the competition for Sabaudia; the other three were Cancellotti, Montuori, and Scalpelli; ed.] was well informed about the events in Europe and the United States. The main problems architects of the younger generation in Europe and the U.S. were occupied with in the 1920s and ’30s were the the same issues as mentioned above; decent, hygienic, economic housing; traffic solutions; and a better utilization of the new technologies and materials available. The design team for Sabaudia was no exception. In the introduction to the catalogue for the first rationalist exhibition, Esposizione Italiana di Architettura Razionale, held in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome in 1928, a definition of rationalist architecture was offered for the first time:

Rational architecture, as we understand it, rediscovers harmonies, rhythms and symmetries in new schemes of construction, in the nature of the materials, and in a perfect response to the requirements for which a building is intended.

Architects: Gino Cancellotti, Eugenio Montuori, Luigi Piccinato, Alfredo Scalpelli)

In his article The Importance of Sabaudia from 1934 Piccinato elaborates his ideas regarding twentieth century town planning. He has studied the major 19th and 20th century models, but boldly exclaims that the goals of modern town planning have not been reached—until the construction of Sabaudia:

The agricultural and industrial regional plans in England, and Germany, the urban mining centres of the Ruhr and the industrial town of Autosroy in Russia can be seen as initial attempts at urban decentralization: but Sabaudia and Littoria are a first fundamental step towards a new form of urban life. The problem of collective living, and not simply the question of building typology as in the German Siedlungen for the unemployed, is tackled and resolved in these Italian examples. Littoria and Sabaudia live a life of their own and their existence as urban centres is fully justified. They are in fact not towns but communal rural centres inextricably tied to their surrounding territory and their productive soil. Their purpose is not to live off the reclaimed land but, on the contrary, they were founded as a service to the reclaimed zone. It is therefore clear that the basic socio-economic system is radically different from that of a traditional city.

ONC Agricultural Concern, office building.
(ONC villa in the background.)

In the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959), we find the main source for Piccinato’s anti-urbanist ideas. Wright’s studies for the Broadacre City (1924–’30s), and his ideas from 1928 for an egalitarian culture in a future American society that he coined “Usonia” (a word quite similar to “Utopia”!) both explores new, anti-urban ways of living for modern man (plate 91). The two concepts were inseparable to him. Wright intended a grass-root individualism, as well as the realization of a new, dispersed form of civilization. The rationale of his low-density decentralist scheme “rested on three innovations – the car, electrical intercommunication and standardised machine shop production.” In the Broadacre City concept the concentration of the 19th century city was to be redistributed over the network of a regional agrarian grid. Usonian (American) families would construct their homes on basic housing plots, choosing from prefabricated components. Wright first spoke out against the traditional city in the last of his Kahn Lectures presented at Princeton University in 1930, which began: “Is the city a persistent form of social disease, eventuating in the fate all cities have met?” […]
According to Wright “the city-dweller had become a machine and a parasite.”

The Town Hall seen through the portico fencing in the Piazza della Rivoluzione
to the northeast. To the left, the hotel.

Wright referred to his little towns as “country seats” while the Fascist architects called the Pontine towns “rural centers.” – But this is as far as the likeness between Wright’s Broadacre City/Usonia and Piccinato’s (and the other architects’) Sabaudia goes. In creating his ideal society, Frank Lloyd Wright drew on Henry David Thoreau’s transcendentalist individualism, Thomas Jefferson’s naturalism and concept of self-government, and Henry George’s ideas about the right to land ownership. Broadacre City corresponds “more closely than any other form of radical urbanism to the central precepts of the Communist Manifesto of 1848, advocating ‘the gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the population over the land.'” In Fascist Italy, on the other hand, what was sought was redemption through the collective. The suppression and sacrifice of the individual for the benefit of the nation was requested. As for the urban cores, Wright imagined his centers to possess banks and public buildings while large institutions such as universities and factories would be broken up and located among the houses. In the center of Sabaudia, however, no factories would be constructed, and Fascist organizations and military/police structures made up a large portion of the public buildings permeating the town.

“Thus, Sabaudia possesses a particular exquisite beauty of its own that stands out with a
harmonious composition of natural elements, in which the most stupendous classicism melts
together with the dreamiest romanticism. Because of these qualities it is certainly
destined to become, in rapid order, a fantastically frequented tourist resort, and for
that reason be added to the necklace of Italic cities and landscapes in which sparkles
superiorly the august and divine face of this our immortal Fastherland.”
(V. Patti, “Sabaudia”)

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