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The Haunted City

Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Rome (1952), black-and-white photograph

The arcades begin on the left and, through a foreshortened perspective, run almost to the horizon. Ten round arches can be discerned. Above nine of them are rectangular windows; a tenth, located on the top edge of the picture, is built into a vertical extension, which appears equally as sparse and unornamented as the rest of the facade. Strictly speaking, the windows are no more than black gaps, as black and aloof as the empty space within the arcades. A heavy shadow falls like a huge finger over the sand-colored square, hits the structure, glides bent and lightened over the white wall, and is ultimately swallowed by the first arch. The shadow emanates from the dimly sketched tower-like building located on the other side of the square, which slopes downward to the foreground. A silhouette of a locomotive dominates the lower half of the picture. Toward the horizon, the deep-blue sky becomes significantly lighter, flowing into a piercing yellow. Behind the deserted piazza, which has been warped into a triangle by the large, slanting shadow, a dark stripe is still recognizable. That’s where the ocean must be.

Twenty-four-year-old Giorgio de Chirico, born in Volos, Greece, painted this austere painting, La Matinée angoissante, in 1912 in Paris, one of his first with diagonal arcades. Like the literary images of Franz Kafka, the other seismograph, these painted ones by de Chirico became literal reference points and figures of contention for modernism. Richard Serra once described Berlin’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe as a “cross between de Chirico, Kafka and death.”1 Barack Obama discovered the ominous shadows on Plaza Mayor in Madrid in 1988.2 But the pre-life of images is at least as complicated and controversial as their afterlife.

Alongside building facades, in most cases with arcades, these dystopian views also contain huge towers with strange little flags, factory chimneys, and lonely statues. Are they outposts on the edges of modernity? Or are they its ruins, doomed to disappear? In the attempt to read them, one becomes a time traveler and a tourist. A clock, as in La Récompense du divin (1913), where there are only eleven digits, indicates that we are dealing with a train station. Two mourning figures, very small and lost, stand on the piazza. On the horizon, behind a wall, a train often travels through the imperial desert. In Paris, these motifs are soon joined by others: exotic fruit (bananas, pineapples), palm trees, artichokes, an antique bust or its plaster cast, a red rubber glove, children’s toys. These were the years shortly before World War I, when the Italians occupied Tripolitania, Cyrenaica—today’s Libya—and the Dodecanese Islands. At about the same time, the Greek army was fighting in the first Balkan War against the Turkish army in Thessaly, where de Chirico had grown up with his younger brother, who also became an artist and went by the name Alberto Savinio. The military used the railway that de Chirico’s father had built from Volos to Milies. Giorgio and Andrea de Chirico most certainly followed the Parisian newspapers’ coverage of the Balkan War and Italy’s colonial escapades. Marinetti’s war reports from Tripoli and Adrianople were published in French in L’Intransigeant and Gil Blas.

According to the painter’s memoirs, a hot African wind, which the Greeks called livas, was blowing over the city at the time of his birth.3 Livas (or Lips) was the god of the southwest wind that originated in Libya; the Romans called it Africus. Volos, by the way, is ancient Iolcos, where, according to the saga, Jason and the Argonauts departed from to steal the Golden Fleece. De Chirico is a classical discourse artist, well versed in ventriloquy and mimicry; Thus Spoke Zarathustra and Pinocchio coalesce in his work. It is not difficult to cite templates for his architecture, from the classicism of the Feldherrnhalle and the arcades of the Hofgarten (Court Garden) in Munich to Piazza Santa Croce and Brunelleschi’s Ospedale degli Innocenti in Florence, to the endless arcades in Turin. Friedrich Nietzsche, the favorite philosopher of the fatherless, discovered the city on the Po in 1888, the year of de Chirico’s birth. Turin is the city of great squares and equestrian memorials. Among the Roman reminiscences are the mausoleum of Caecilia Metella on the Via Appia and the Vesta Temple, but, first and foremost, the ubiquitous classical rounded arches. In Ferrara, factories and the Castello Estense were added during World War I.

Yet equally important is painted architectural history, from Giotto to Böcklin. All young artists have already seen countless images before creating any of their own works. The oddly displaced perspectives still bring to mind depictions of the ideal city known from the three quattrocento panels once attributed to Francesco di Giorgio. One might ask if the corner building in Nature morte: Printemps à Turin and Le Jour de fête (both 1914) can be traced back to a photo taken by Eugène Atget three years earlier, from the series L’Art dans le vieux Paris. Atget lived on Montparnasse, only a few houses away; a sign on his door read: “Documents pour artistes.” De Chirico also copied out of the handbook Répertoire de la statuaire grecque et romaine by the art historian and religious scholar Salomon Reinach, who gave well-attended lectures at the École du Louvre. He was probably familiar with the engravings by Piranesi, the great memory artist, since his student days in Munich. The foreword to Prima parte di Architettura e Prospettive (1743) mentions “speaking ruins.” In Piranesi’s plates, too, we can find disproportionately minute people in contrast to the stony remains. The influence of Carceri (1750) on George Dance’s architecture parlante was tangible in the new architecture of his Newgate prison in London. In a similar way, de Chirico’s buildings seem to return during Italian Fascism, to then finally bid farewell to history as popular cultural code, entirely post-historically.

Backstage at “Chirico City”4 is an uncanny dramaturgy rife with family secrets and other anomalies—for example, the disturbing perspectival depiction with multiple vanishing points. The allegorical, palimpsest-like city is fraught with the pathos of emptiness and absence. Like every city, it has its own memory. Even in the 1950s, in his Formulaire pour un urbanisme nouveau, a young, crazy Ivan Chtcheglov, member “from afar” of the Situationist International, fantasized in Paris of the future possibilities of this architecture and its influence on the masses.5 Two decades after the end of Italian Fascism, in his text L’architettura della città (1966), Aldo Rossi expanded on the fact that cities are sites of memory where the past constantly clashes in conflict with the present, a critique of modern urbanism in the Corbusier era. A more radical formulation was the Monumento Continuo storyboard by Superstudio.

De Chirico’s roving architecture is not timeless, but rather a special case of anachrony. At around the time he delivered several retrospective essays and manifestos on Metaphysical painting, after World War I, and immediately prior to his self-decreed retour à l’ordre, Sigmund Freud published his essay on the uncanny. During his lifetime, the founder of psychoanalysis took twenty-four vacations in Italy, despite his declared phobia of train travel. Without naming the city, Freud recalls in his text an episode from his short period as a medical student in Trieste (where Winckelmann was murdered in June 1768), a case of “unintended recurrence of the same thing.”6 Freud describes how he gets lost on the unfamiliar, deserted streets one hot summer afternoon. He ends up in a neighborhood where “[n]othing but painted women were to be seen at the windows of the small houses,” and hastens to leave the narrow street. But a short time later he finds himself at the same place again, and his little odyssey repeats again, yet a third time: “Now, however, a feeling overcame me that I can only describe as uncanny, and I was glad enough to find myself back at the piazza that I had left a short time before, without any further voyages of discovery.”7 It is the psychogeography of a Mediterranean city that both confuses him and saves him from his plight.

Giorgio de Chirico, Étude pour L’Après-midi d’Ariadne (1914–15), pencil on paper, 18 × 14 cm. Musée Picasso, Paris

For Freud, the unconscious was timeless and unchangeable—like a landscape of ruins, waiting for the archaeologist. Old Rome with its architectural remains from all possible epochs lying over and next to one another served him as a model for the modern psyche. At the age of eighty, Freud came back to a “disturbance of memory,” which had haunted him in the late summer of 1904 on the Acropolis in Athens. Standing before the famous ruins on the Acropolis after having spontaneously decided to make the crossing from Trieste via Brindisi, he thought in amazement: “So all this does really exist, just like we learnt at school!”8 Ruins do not decipher themselves.

In May 1911, a young draughtsman from Peter Behrens’s Berlin office set off with a friend on a long journey, which would lead over the next months through Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest, and Constantinople to Athens and onward to Naples, Pompeii, Rome, and Florence. Admiring the beauty of Turkish women through their dark veils, he was delighted when one, in return, asked: “Sprechen Sie Deutsch?” He was busy with countless photos, diary entries, and drawings. In Athens, he explored the Acropolis for weeks, undisturbed; there were not many tourists because of the cholera epidemic (which Thomas Mann met in Venice). The young man from La Chaux-de-Fonds was Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris.9 In 1912 he submitted several of the drawings to the Salon d’Automne, where he saw La Maison cubiste, and where de Chirico, who was nearly the same age, exhibited three of his paintings.

Two decades later, at the end of July 1933, Le Corbusier, as he now called himself (since 1920), hosted a cruise in the Mediterranean aboard the SS Patris II. The fourth Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) was actually meant to take place in Moscow, but after Le Corbusier’s competition entry for the Palace of the Soviets was rejected (Stalin had other ideas), the decision was made to take a summertime cruise from Marseille to Athens. The chosen theme was “the functional city.” Piero Bottoni, Giuseppe Terragni, Gino Pollini, and Pietro Maria Bardi, the editor of the cultural monthly Quadrante, came from Italy. This time, also the wives of the international architects’ guild and several guests were admitted; László Moholy-Nagy documented the swimming congress with his film camera. The scene vaguely brings to mind Godard’s Film Socialisme, in which Alain Badiou once muses on Husserl and geometry—in an empty hall, with no audience—aboard the Costa Concordia. One result of the fourteen-day journey, with stopovers and excursions to antique excavation sites—including Stone Age ruins on Gozo, Khirokitia, and in the Cyclades—was the influential and likewise fateful “Athens Charter.” First published by Le Corbusier in 1943, it would shape global modernist urban planning for decades.

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret on the Acropolis (September 1911), black-and-white photograph

Emptiness is seductive; it invites us to digress in colonial fantasies. Architects and exhibition photographers know that, and play with it. How should Chirico City be handled? How can an imaginary city be conquered? In the early 1920s, André Breton and Man Ray met for a photo performance using Chirico’s Énigme d’une journée (1914) as backdrop. Breton rests in a seer pose in front of the large canvas, his head leaning against the painted arcades. His posture is reminiscent of de Chirico’s Ariadne depictions, as well as Murnau’s Nosferatu. A light from the side falls onto his face, in a precisely calculated continuation of the light-flooded piazza with the parked wagon and two tiny, anonymous figures further back. Breton blocks the sharp shadow, which has fused with that of the authoritarian Cavour statue.

Several years later, after the Surrealists had pronounced de Chirico dead and gone astray (“ci-gît Giorgio de Chirico”), yet nonetheless continued to exhibit and publish his early works, they organized a survey on L’Énigme d’une journée. The original was meanwhile in the hands of Breton, who had become a member of the Communist party in 1927. Paul Éluard authored the fifteen questions, including: Where is the ocean? Answer: Behind the statue; in the arcades; ten kilometers behind the chimneys. Where would the ghost appear? In the second arcade; in the center of the square; climbing out of the wagon. Where would one make love? In the base of the statue; behind or on the wagon; at the locomotive or between the arcades and the left chimney.10

Man Ray, André Breton in front of Giorgio de Chirico’s L’Énigme d’une journée (ca. 1922), gelatin silver print, 22 × 16.5 cm

A reproduction of L’Énigme de la fatalité (1914) is among the illustrations in Breton’s novel Nadja. Walter Benjamin wrote on the desired poetic-political program sketched out in the book: “To live in a glass house is a revolutionary virtue par excellence.”11 Around the same time, in July 1929, Mussolini announced that Fascism was a glass house into which all could look. Terragni gave this vision a lasting memorial with his Casa del Fascio in Como. A retouched photo shows the masses gathered in front of it, on the Piazza dell’Impero, listening to Mussolini’s broadcast speech on the occasion of the capture of Addis Ababa.

Photography freezes time, and yet, apart from attesting to presence, it reveals how history is staged. The promiscuity of time lurks in the dialectical image and causes unrest. A black-and-white photo shows the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in Rome, designed by La Padula, Guerrini, and Romano. It is a landmark of the Esposizione Universale di Roma (EUR), which was meant to take place in 1942 on the twentieth anniversary of Mussolini’s takeover. With its 216 false round arches on six stories, the Colosseo Quadrato—a construction of reinforced concrete clad with travertine—is among the most prominent examples of the architecture of Chirico City. The number of arches corresponds vertically with the six letters of “Benito,” and horizontally with the nine of “Mussolini.” Strangely, the architects are missing in the inscription over the arcades, which reads: “A people of poets / artists / heroes / saints / thinkers / scientists / navigators / travelers.” The photo from 1952 documents the postwar situation, after the EUR structures had been left to their own devices for several years. It shows the northeastern corner with a monumental, empty platform that runs askew backward. In 1940 the sculptor Publio Morbiducci, a true adorner of the Fascist ventennio, began work on the statues of Castor and Pollux and the rearing horses; they were erected in 1956. On the stairs before the first series of arcades stands the figure of a man in a dark coat, shrunk to a symbol. The photographer’s intended effect is immediately recognizable.

Mass gathering in front of Giuseppe Terragni’s Casa del Fascio in Como, May 5, 1936, black-and-white photograph published in Quadrante, no. 35/36 (1936)

Nevertheless, the orphaned architecture did not have to wait long to celebrate its resurrection as film set. In Italy, neither a damnatio memoriae nor any special recoding was necessary. The beginning was unavoidably made by Roberto Rossellini’s melodramatic reenactment, which a lot of people understood as documentary realism. In Roma città aperta (1945), the Gestapo chief is the one who has turned the Eternal City into a cartographic project. In front of the Colosseo Quadrato, Italian resistance fighters attack a Nazi convoy and free their comrades. In L’eclisse (1962), Antonioni’s uncompromisingly modernist film, the building appears just for the blink of an eye. In the same year, it serves as a stage for Anita Ekberg’s larger-than-life appearance as a sex goddess in Fellini’s first color film Le tentazioni del dottor Antonio, an episode of Boccaccio ’70. In the late 1960s, Bertolucci chose the Palazzo della Civiltà and Adalberto Libera’s Palazzo dei Congressi as locations for several scenes of Il conformista, completed in 1954 after a ten-year pause. The Last Man on Earth (1964), an elegiac B-movie vampire flick based on the science-fiction novel I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson, probably comes as close as possible to the auratic architectural specter of Fascist modernism.12

Sventramento and isolamento are the two standard rituals of urban modernization under Mussolini. In a certain sense, de Chirico made use of similar techniques in his paintings. The demolition of entire streets and blocks led to the destruction of organically evolved urban structures and neighborhoods, and the relocation of thousands of inhabitants to new suburbs; entire pieces of urban and social history disappeared along with them. At the same time, architectural memorials from the Roman Empire were isolated, whereby historical building fabric classified as inferior fell victim to the politics of the pickaxe (“la parola al piccone”). Archaeology was assigned a function as equally rhetorical as architecture’s: it aimed at the recapture of glorious antiquities and their transformation into accomplices of coming greatness. It was all about romanità and its most effective propagation. The Duce decided what was worth remembering, and what should be forgotten. It was as though he were carrying out a war against the civilizational sedimentation of past centuries. Fascism not only brought an ambitious building program to fruition—the extent of modern architecture arising in Italy in the interwar era was greater than in any other country—but also had a lasting influence on our perception of classical antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. One proof among many is the elaborate restoration campaign carried out by the Brigata Aretina degli Amici dei Monumenti, together with Giuseppe Castellucci and Umberto Tavanti, to transform Arezzo into a tourist attraction.13

Anita Ekberg in Federico Fellini’s Le tentazioni del dottor Antonio (1961), an episode of the anthology film Boccaccio ’70 (1962), production still

We still see Rome the way Mussolini wanted us to. One of the most famous examples is the Via dell’Impero—today, Via dei Fori Imperiali—between Piazza Venezia and the ancient Colosseum, which divides the Forum Romanum and the Imperial Fora in two. Taking a cue from Baron Haussmann, in 1931, in one of the most thickly settled city districts, more than 5,000 residential units, churches, palaces, and garden sites were leveled to produce an unobstructed view of the isolated Colosseum, which had been converted into a traffic island. When Mussolini declared the return of Empire “sui colli fatali di Roma” from the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia on May 9, 1936, he certainly no longer thought about the fact that just a few years earlier, he had had one of these hills removed. The Velia hill was sacrificed for the Via dell’Impero, without any further archaeological examinations. Approximately 300,000 cubic meters of earth, full of relics from 2,000 years of Roman urban history, were carried away and dumped somewhere outside the city, near the coast. Mussolini’s four-lane boulevard was the modern Via Sacra of the Fascist military parades. In an interview with the magazine L’illustrazione italiana in 1938, de Chirico, just back from New York, spoke of Italy’s rebirth as a great accomplishment: “The Via dell’Impero has surprised me with its beauty.”14

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia knew from Marcello Piacentini, the Duce’s most powerful architect and supervisor of the EUR master plan, that his architectural forms could be traced back to de Chirico’s pittura metafisica. After the young Rationalists around Pietro Maria Bardi failed to establish Rationalist aesthetics as the official Fascist architectural style, Piacentini proved to be a moderate dictator of Janus-headed Italian architecture. He designed, built, awarded commissions, and taught. Achillina Bo—Lina Bo Bardi after her marriage—studied under him at La Sapienza University in Rome, whose campus he had designed. Piacentini provided the Brazilian government the plans for a monumental Cidade Universitária in Rio de Janeiro. For the redesign of the colonnade-lined Via Roma in Turin and the Piazza della Vittoria in Brescia, he had entire rows of old buildings razed to the ground.

In early February 1974, RAI broadcast the short documentary Pasolini e la forma della città. Pier Paolo Pasolini gives a monologue, which starts with the difficulty of preserving the form of a city as a whole. He clarifies this with his camera in front of the small, old city of Orte, located north of Rome, comparing it with Sana’a in Yemen and Bhaktapur in Nepal. He then proceeds to talk about Sabaudia, one of the five città di fondazione in the drained marshes of the Agro Pontino. This flagship city of Razionalismo had been built in just a few months between August 1933 and April 1934, based on plans by Luigi Piccinato, Gino Cancellotti, Eugenio Montuori, and Alfredo Scalpelli. Le Corbusier, who unsuccessfully attempted to win the commission for Pontinia, criticized it as too dreamy and romantic. Standing in the midst of the sand dunes, Pasolini praises Sabaudia’s metaphysical de Chirico qualities. Although the city was, indeed, built by the Fascist regime, he saw it as a realization of provincial, rural, “paleoindustrial” Italy. In Pasolini’s ambivalent polemics, homogenization through consumer society presented a far worse form of Fascism.

According to Latin lore, the close-by Monte Circeo was home to the sorceress Circe, who could transform men into animals, as we know from Homer’s Odyssey; she must have become stranded at some point in Italy. Founded in 1934, the Parco Nazionale del Circeo became a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 1977. Sandy beaches stretch for more than twenty kilometers along the Tyrrhenian Sea. Alberto Moravia and Pasolini built a duplex here in the dunes; there are also a few photos together with Maria Callas. Sabaudia reminded Moravia of Africa—and of de Chirico. Bernardo Bertolucci, who shot the opening sequences of his film La luna (1979) in Sabaudia, explained in London in 2014 how the perception of the city had changed over the course of time. In the 1950s, it was still associated with the reviled Fascist regime. In the 1970s, as though by magic, it became a symbol of Rationalist architecture, admired throughout the world—and tailor-made for a film.15

The Colosseum, visible from Piazza Venezia after Monte Velia has been abraded, September 6, 1932, black-and-white photograph

Since February 2015, the city has its Piazza Moravia; a Pasolini street is also planned. Was Moravia thinking of the Italian colonies when he mentioned Africa? Pasolini avoided them in his films; he preferred to look for locations in Uganda, Yemen, Nepal, Cappadocia, and Tanzania. Piccinato worked on several projects in Libya and in 1933 was awarded the grand prize at the Triennale in Milan for Casa coloniale. In 1936 he published three articles on architecture in the colonies in the magazine Domus. Giovanni Pellegrini, who had moved from Milan to Tripoli, published his Manifesto dell’architettura coloniale that same year. At the Istituto Nazionale di Urbanistica conference in Rome in 1937, the new cities of the Pontine Marshes—Littoria, Sabaudia, Pontinia, and Aprilia (Pomezia was added later)—were presented as models for settlement policies in Africa Orientale Italiana (AOI).16

The nearly modular-like modernist villages designed by Pellegrini, Florestano Di Fausto and Umberto Di Segni for Italian settlers in Libya—mainly commissions for the Ente per la Colonizzazione della Libia (ECL)—bring to mind de Chirico’s architecture. Di Fausto had been active on Rhodes, Kos, and in Albania since the 1920s. He built the Italian embassies and consulates in Belgrade, Algiers, Cairo, Ankara, and Tunis; as a specialist for mediterraneità he soon became the most employed architect in Tripoli.17 The new Libyan settlements were named after Italian politicians, war heroes, and Fascist idols such as Garibaldi, Crispi, D’Annunzio, Oberdan, Battisti, Maddalena, Oliveti, and Breviglieri. Villaggio Oliveti is now called Jaddā’im; Crispi is Tumminah; Battisti is Qarnadah; and Breviglieri, al-Khadra.

Villaggio Breviglieri, Tripolitania (1938), architect: Umberto Di Segni, black-and-white photograph

In Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, settlements were conceived as ethnic, Italian islands on ousted land. Following the capture and execution on September 16, 1931, of the Libyan freedom fighter Omar al-Mukhtar—who had organized the Senussi brotherhood’s grim resistance against the occupiers—one of the most horrific colonial wars came to an end. Nearly half of the deported local population died in the Italian concentration camps. Ente Turistico ed Alberghiero della Libia (ETAL) opened eighteen new hotels to make the country accessible for tourists. In addition to the Casino Hotel Uaddan in Tripoli (today, the Al Waddan Hotel is operated by the InterContinental Hotels Group), Di Fausto also built and worked on hotels in Nalut, Yafran, and in Ghadames, the legendary oasis city. Di Segni designed the Albergo delle Gazzelle in Zliten. Regardless of how small, all of the new settlements looked like an Italian city. Several essential buildings were grouped around the central, self-referential piazza: town hall, Casa del Fascio, church, school, post office, hospital, and police station. The roughly ten new postcard settlements for Arabs and Berbers, for example, Villaggio Fiorita (al-Atrun), were composed of a mudīriyya, a mosque, a school, café, and a market.

Perhaps it’s because of the arcades that one encounters everywhere in the villages and cities built during Fascism: “African sentiment. The arcade is here forever.”18 Or because of the sand-colored soil, which in Libya is very similar to that in de Chirico’s paintings. Over the course of history, the blinding white of the early years, as handed down in the black-and-white photographs, has aligned with the colors of the landscape. Chirico City appears best suited for the provinces and former colonies. Although seemingly quite clear, one never knows what will happen there. However, it has nothing in common with the città nuova, which Antonio Sant’Elia dreamed of, whose traces can be rediscovered in Rem Koolhaas’s characterless, generic city of “bigness,” and in the magical formula “Fascism minus dictator.”19

From Torviscosa in Friuli to Segezia in Apulia and Borgo Bonsignore in Sicily; from Arsia (Raša) in Istria to Carbonia on Sardinia, more than 140 new cities and settlements were built in Italy during the ventennio.20 This in addition to the many building projects in the colonies: on the Dodecanese Islands, in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Libya. When looking at photos or drafts of these cities, similarities with Chirico City become evident. Nothing is simpler than scribbling Roman arches on a sheet of paper: it’s like a magic trick. All architecture begins with a drawing, especially in the pre-digital era. But the sensations we get from real architecture are different from those from painted, sketched, or photographed architecture. A perspectival representation is different from a three-dimensional structure, which one sees from a particular perspective.21

Cities do not need any incognito. One can observe them, like Constantin François de Volney, who while gazing at the ruins of Palmyra and the Syrian Desert in 1784, the eleventh year of Abdul Hamid I’s reign, indulged in his reveries about the revolution. Les Ruines, ou méditations sur les révolutions des empires was published in 1791, when the French National Convention decreed the founding of the Louvre. Three years after the opening, the painter Hubert Robert, noted for his depictions of ruins, imagined a reconstruction of the large gallery in the form of a painting; in unison he painted another view of the museum in ruins. Modernism invents and produces ruins; they belong to its inventory. They remind us that the political does not have any sites, acts, and forms of its own. Age and neglect remove the horror from architecture. According to Georg Simmel, ruins “often show a peculiar similarity of color to the tones of the soil around them.”22 But the life expectancy of architecture has dropped drastically. Nowadays, decisions about how long a building should exist are made already in the planning stage. Sometimes, for example in Dubai, buildings remain investment ruins. Materials such as concrete, steel, and glass do not weather the same way as marble and sandstone. They defy a return to nature. Authentic ruins, as have existed since the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, have a hard time in the present. Nothing can prevent their total commodification. The brave new fetish world grows and thrives in postcolonial limbo.

In a futuristic Nike advertisement for the 2000 European soccer championship, war is exercised in the age of hypercapitalism. The setting is once again Rome’s Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, at night. An elite troupe, made up of soccer stars, such as Davids, Figo, Bierhoff, Guardiola, and Totti, are given the mission of trespassing the building—apparently, the metaphysical stronghold of evil—and getting hold of a precious Nike ball (“it’s rounder”). The elite men climb up the arcade’s façade on ropes, storm inside, and skillfully kick free their escape through hundreds of masked ninjas and samurai robots. While a helicopter sweeps them away into the Roman night, the square Colosseo explodes. The Mission is the title of the ninety-second-long clip.

After an extensive restoration between 2008 and 2010, the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana shines again in fresh brilliance. A sophisticated Armani event for invited VIPs took place in June 2013, with a major fashion show and the exhibition Eccentrico, presenting selected designs and accessories by the fashion designer from 1985 through to the present. Back then, in 1985, “Re Giorgio” had chosen the statues of naked athletes in the Stadio dei Marmi at Foro Italico (formerly Foro Mussolini), located west of the Tiber at the foot of Monte Mario, as the inspiration for an Emporio Armani advertising campaign. A few weeks after the event, in July 2013, word was out that the EUR S.p.A. had come to an agreement with a new tenant for the next fifteen years. Ninety percent of the corporation, founded in 2000, is controlled by the Italian Ministry of Finance and ten percent by the city of Rome. The corporation is responsible for the administration and marketing of the EUR real estate and is, meanwhile, so heavily in debt that there has been open speculation about the sale of several structures since early 2015.

Colosseo Quadrato’s new tenant is the fashion house Fendi, which belongs to Bernard Arnault’s luxury imperium LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and has resided since 2005 in the former Palazzo Boncompagni on Largo Goldoni. As Tod’s and Bulgari had done earlier for the antique Colosseum and the Spanish Steps, the fashion label sponsors a restoration of Rome’s world-renowned sites. “Fendi for Fountains” is dedicated to the crumbling Trevi fountain and the Quattro Fontane on the Quirinal. Karl Lagerfeld personally attends to the photo souvenirs: platinum prints and daguerrotypes entitled The Glory of Water. In the specter arcades of the new Fendi headquarters, he, too, did not let the reference to de Chirico slip by. Fashion loves the tiger’s leap back into the past.

 

Translated from German by Lisa Rosenblatt

Villaggio Oliveti, Tripolitania (1937), architect: Florestano Di Fausto, black-and-white photograph

1 Cited from Kieran Long, “Peter Eisenman,” Icon 25 (July 2005), pp. 66–72.

2 Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (New York: Broadway Books, 2004), p. 454. The first edition was published in 1995, before Obama began his political career.

3 Giorgio de Chirico, The Memoirs of Giorgio de Chirico (1945), trans. Margaret Crosland (New York: Da Capo, 1994), p. 14.

4 The expression was coined by the British painter Gordon Onslow Ford (1912–2003).

5 Ivan Chtcheglov, “Formulaire pour un urbanisme nouveau,” in Ivan Chtcheglov, Écrits retrouvés (Paris: Allia, 2006), p. 12.

6 Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 17, ed. and trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1953–74), p. 246.

7 Ibid., p. 237.

8 Sigmund Freud, “A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 22, ed. and trans. James Strachey (London: Hogarth Press, 1953–74), p. 240.

9 See Le Corbusier, Journey to the East, ed. and trans. Ivan Žaknić (Cambridge, MA/London: MIT Press, 2007).

10 “Sur les possibilités irrationnelles de pénétration et d’orientation dans un tableau: Georgio [sic] Chirico, L’Énigme d’une journée (11 février 1933),” Le Surréalisme au service de la révolution 6 (May 1933), pp. 13–16.

11 Walter Benjamin, “Surrealism,” in Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, vol. 2, pt. 1: 1927–1930, trans. Edmund Jephcott, ed. Howard Eiland, Michael W. Jennings, and Gary Smith (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), p. 209.

12 The film was a role model for George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968).

13 See the chapter “Urban Politics: The Fascist Rediscovery of Medieval Arezzo,” in D. Medina Lasansky, The Renaissance Perfected: Architecture, Spectacle, and Tourism in Fascist Italy (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004), pp. 107–45. See also Lasansky’s case study “Urban Editing, Historic Preservation, and Political Rhetoric: The Fascist Redesign of San Gimignano,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 63, 3 (September 2004), pp. 320–53.

14 De Chirico, interview with Leonida Repaci, L’illustrazione italiana, February 13, 1938. Quoted in Maurizio Calvesi and Gioia Mori, De Chirico (Florence: Giunti, 1988), p. 45.

15 See Alessandro Allocca, “Sabaudia faceva vomitare Moravia e mio padre. Poi si sono ricreduti,” Corriere di Latina, February 19, 2014.

16 Mia Fuller, Moderns Abroad: Architecture, Cities and Italian Imperialism (London/New York: Routledge, 2010), p. 147.

17 Florestano Di Fausto, “Visione mediterranea della mia architettura,” Libia 9 (December 1937), pp. 16–18.

18 Giorgio de Chirico, “Paulhan Manuscript (c. 1911–14),” in Giorgio de Chirico, Hebdomeros and Other Writings, ed. John Ashbery (Cambridge, MA: Exact Change, 1992), p. 210.

19 Rem Koolhaas, “Junkspace,” in Rem Koolhaas, Content (Cologne: Taschen, 2004), p. 166.

20 See Antonio Pennacchi, Fascio e martello: Viaggio per le città del Duce (Rome/Bari: Laterza, 2010).

21 See Peter Eisenman, “L’ora che è stata,” in Peter Eisenman, Written in the Void: Selected Writings 1990–2004 (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2007), p. 118.

22 Georg Simmel, “The Ruin” (1911), in Georg Simmel, Essays on Sociology, Philosophy, and Aesthetics, ed. Kurt H. Wolff (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), p. 263.

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