Few people know that Fascism was born in Milan; it was founded there in 1919 by Benito Mussolini. Fascist architecture left a permanent mark on the city, with some iconic buildings and urban interventions like S.Babila square, the left hand side of Duomo square, the Milan Stock Exchange building and the Orwellesque Palace of Justice.
I recently had the chance, thanks to FAI, to visit a military facility in Milan built during the Fascism: the Italian Air Force headquarters in Piazza Novelli.
This “minor” building clearly shows that Fascist architects and urban planners had a precise and consistent cultural plan. Every public building, no matter its size or function, was meant to convey a precise propagandistic message.
This is clear from the façade: the marble tower had to show strength and futuristic will to reach new heights. The curved walls were built with orange bricks, unusual in Milan, which were a clear reference to the Roman Empire buildings. The stone-carved symbols themselves remind of Roman triumph arches.
Inside, the building maintains the severe strength of the exterior, with a large use of marble, straight lines and high ceilings. The rationalist decorations are indeed beautiful and modern in their minimalist austerity.
A remarkable statue celebrates the exploit of Italo Balbo, who in 1933 led 24 Italian seaplanes across the Atlantic towards Brasil and the US. Sustained by 24 birds, the statue is at the same time expressionless and threatening.
In the corridors, other paintings celebrate the exploit. The Fascists needed examples, brave men who could be used as models, and they needed records to be shown as signs of superiority. The fact that the Italian aviation in its entirety was becoming more and more outdated was less important than having some highlights to be celebrated. Image was more important than substance. In a similar way, Soviet Union celebrated astronauts while its economy was sinking.