Como and Milan: Capitals of Italian Modernism

Mosaic. Central Train Station, Milan. 1931. Il Duce-Deco Moderne? The era’s architects were expected to engineer iconic buildings reflecting Fascism’s political ideology although Premier Benito Mussolini never embraced an official Fascist architectural doctrine or style, approving both the Rationalist’s functional Modernism, and its flip side, the weightier adaptation of a Neoclassical Revival.
Como and Milan: Capitals of Italian Modernism
By Augustus Mayhew

When I discovered the façade of our former Beaux Arts lakefront hotel, Albergo Metropole-Suisse in Como, was remodeled during the 1920s, fascistinated as the Italians called it, to express the acceptable Mussolini Modernist style, I had not realized Como was once an epicenter for early Italian Modernism. Although Rome’s colossal mid-century behemoths are most often associated with Mussolini’s obsession in transforming Italy, Como and Milan offer a noticeable array of party-line and Mid-century Modern buildings.
Although it has been more than 65 years since Mussolini was killed, as he tried escaping Italy to exile in Switzerland, the dictator still enjoys a popular regard, as seen in these postcard racks we saw evident in several locations in Northern Italy.
Como
The Hotel Metropole-Suisse’s 19th-century splendor was defaced when architect Guiseppe Terragni applied a more regimented façade, introducing inlaid columns, marble courses and iconic graphics.
After graduating from Milan Polytechnic in 1926, Guiseppe Terragni (1904-1943) was briefly involved in the classicist group Novecento before opening his practice in Como the following year with his brother, Attilio Terragni, and Pietro Lingeri. The firm was a key part of Italy’s “Architectura Razionale,” the Rationalist Modern movement influenced as much by Le Corbusier as Fascist party decrees.
Colossal urns were appended along the hotel’s street-side entrances facing Piazza Cavour. Neo-Roman Revival light fixtures were affixed along the Piazza Cavour elevation.
Terragni added these bas-relief figures to the hotel’s interior.
The hotel’s entrance was re-engineered and marbleized. Terragni renounced the pretense of Art Nouveau, Neo-eclectics and Futurists. In 1928, Terragni joined the Fascist Union of Architects.
Novocomum, elevation facing the Sinigaglia Stadium across the street. 1927-1929. Guiseppe Terragni, architect. Known as the “House of Tomorrow,” Novocomum’s smooth concrete 5-story frame featured intersecting volumes of smooth planes and curved corners including a window wall of cylindrical rooms.
“A modern masterpiece,” opined Casabella magazine.
Novocomum, elevation facing the courtyard in front of Sinigaglia Stadium.
Novocomum, close-up.
Guiseppe Sinigaglia Stadium, c. 1925-1927. Giovanni Greppi, architect. Located across the street from the Novocomum apartments, the 13,500-seat stadium was one of several Mussolini built throughout Italy, as much for sporting events as political amphitheaters where the masses could appreciate his rhetorical rants.
Mussolini Modern architecture never wearied of decorative Fascist images, fasces emblems, eagles, helmets, knives, and all graphic forms of brute force.
The entrance to the lakefront Sinigaglia Stadium.
From Brunate, an aerial view of Como’s ensemble of modernist buildings and structures:

A: Novocomum
B: Stadio Sinigaglia
C: War monument
D: Temple of Volta, 1927
Casa del Fascio, main elevation facing Piazza del Popolo. Considered Guiseppe Terragni’s most influential work, Casa del Fascio was built in 1932 as party headquarters for the Fascist Federation, sited overlooking the immense Duomo of Como. The building grid contains numerous different façade openings, conveying Mussolini’s belief that Fascism was transparent. As construction began on what would become the architect and Fascism’s most iconic building, Terragni and his fellow architects, then known as Gruppo 7, exhibited their drawings and models at the influential exhibition Mostra Revoluzione Fascista in Rome.
As nationalism swept Italy, the Gruppo7 design firm articulated their dissent with tradition, espousing the belief that Italian Rationalism would lead Italy’s aesthetic values formulated with a rigid adherence to Le Corbusier’s rigid Modernist logic.
Casa del Fascio, interior. Tapping the spirit of the age, the building’s design was “liberated from ornamentation.”
Although Mussolini met with Terragni and other Rationalist architects, praising their work, he never formally acknowledged the Como-based group as Fascism’s prescribed designers.
The back of Como’s impressive Gothic cathedral is reflected in the front glass of Casa del Fascio.
Croce Rossa Italiana, Comitato Provinciale, via Vezio, 53. Como. c. 1930.
A front-and-side view of Como’s Red Cross building.
Red Cross building's interior staircase.
Questura, Polizia di Stato, viale Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 7. Como. c. 1929. Questura. The stonework resembles a forced march.
Questura, façade profile.
Isola Comacina

In 1939 on an island approx. a half-hour north of Como, Rationalist architect Pietro Lingeri was commissioned to design three villa-studios that would serve as a prototype for an artist’s village. Because of the oncoming war, only these three houses were ever completed. From Menaggio, where we were ensconced, there were only two boats that stopped at Isola, as the locals called it, during the afternoon we had planned to visit. Trying to get off the nearly-deserted island posed a logistic complication, as we ended up returning south to Como, then taking the hydrofoil back to Menaggio. Despite several attempts, we failed to gain entry into the houses, completely furnished in Mid-century Modern accessories.
Isola Comacina, drawings. Pietro Lingeri, architect.
House No. 1.
House No. 1.
House No. 2.
House No. 2.
House No. 2.
Isola Comacina, drawings. Pietro Lingeri, architect.
House No. 3.
House No. 3.
Milan’s Mid-century Modernism
Initially modeled from Washington’s Union Station, the main façade of Milan’s Central Train Station was sustained by massive ornamentation and abstract geometrical patterns.
Milano Centrale – Train Station
Piazza Duca d’Aosta, Milan
Milan’s French-inspired Beaux-Arts train station was demolished.
Central Train Station, Milan. 1931. From the original plan first dated 1912, followed by another plan in 1915, a series of towers and statues were progressively eliminated by the time the as- built design received final approval in 1924, reflecting Italy’s changed political climate, its massive monumental elevations and decorative winged horses and clocks gratifying Mussolini’s aesthetic preferences.
Today’s train station is a mega-transportation and shopping complex.
A view from the piano terra to the piano ammezzato.
Axial views.
A side entrance off Piazza Duca d’Aosta.
Façade facing Piazza Duca d’Aosta.
Station entrance along via Ferrante Aporti.
Façade detail, via Ferrante Aporti.
SPQR, floor mosaic centerpiece, representing ancient Rome’s government.
Station, detail.
Station, light fixture and bench.
Station, mosaic.
Piano binari, leading to the arrivals and departures.
Mussolini incorporated mosaics depicting Italian cities.
Central Station, center façade.
Facing the train station, a Mid-century Modern apartment building on the Piazza Duca d’Aosta.
At the end of via Montenapoleone, there were several buildings along Corso Vittore Emanuele II when it turned into Corso Venezia that caught our eye.
Piazza San Babila.
This garage park on Piazza San Babila was notably modern. The Banco di Sicilia building.
Banco di Sicilia, detail.
Milan’s Modernissimo!
Diagonally across the street from Spazio Orlandi at 45 Via San Vittore, this articulate 1970's apartment house remains in much of its original condition. The inner courtyard features open covered walkways.
The reception area has its original paneled wall and ceiling design.
The reception area ceiling and chandelier.
These embossed triangulated columns form supports for the main entrance with a cantilevered roof.


Photographs by Augustus Mayhew

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