The book is structured around a series of case studies that exemplify the numerous ways civic construction projects were used to shape social identity in Milan during the Fascist era (1922–43). The city’s unique role as Italy’s financial center and cornerstone of its industrial heartland, as well as birthplace of the Fascist Party, found concrete expression in buildings commissioned by a range of municipal, federal, party, commercial, and private clients. The buildings chosen are all important to the transformation of Milan in the twentieth century, yet they are not well known outside Lombardy, and so Maulsby’s text offers the first extended English-language analysis of these important yet understudied structures.
Three chapters focus on buildings whose construction involved the reconfiguration of surrounding neighborhoods and whose prominence reflected the importance of commerce, state authority, and mass media in the growing metropolis. The Trading Exchange (Palazzo delle Borse, 1928–31) and its plaza (the Piazza degli Affari, 1928–39) by Paolo and Vittorio Mezzanotte, the Palace of Justice(Palazzo di Giustizia, 1932–40) by Marcello Piacentini and the headquarters of the Popolo d’Italia newspaper (1938–42) by Giovanni Muzio offer excellent examples of the varied concerns and constituencies that shaped the city and its architecture. With a critic’s eye for detail, Maulsby specifies numerous ways these designers reconciled complex programs with difficult and irregular sites and used historically rooted architectural gestures and figurative arts in order to infuse abstract architectural projects with recognizable iconographic symbolism. The author weighs the arguments of stakeholders in the local business and legal communities and explores the significance of building sites, which were often selected through contentious political processes.
Maulsby also devotes two chapters to the neighborhood Fascist Party headquarters buildings (called a casa del fascio, gruppo rionale, sede federale, or palazzo del littorio) that served as administrative, social service, cultural, and recreational centers for both working- and middle-class neighborhoods. She explores how each structure engaged the surrounding district in a manner analogous to the party’s attempts to penetrate the daily lives of Italians. Divided by period, the chapters explore the differences in party-sponsored architecture and urbanism in the first and second decades of Fascist rule.