Fascism, Middle Class Ideals, and Holiday Villas at the 5th Milan Triennale

Flavia Marcello


With the diffusion of architectural modernism in the first couple decades of the twentieth-century, exposition pavilions presented new and daring forms, and tested structural possibilities and innovative materials. In some cases, the form and function of these pavilions reflected idealised versions of society, which could combine entertainment, tourism and propaganda. In this context, pavilions became integral to a constructed discourse of national identity and culture. This function was crucial for fascist Italy, where the aestheticization of politics was integral to the consent-building process and where architects played a central role in Fascism’s mission to transform Italian society. Through an analysis of prototype holiday homes from the Milan Triennale of 1933, it is argued that these pavilions manifested a nexus between four inter-related elements: 1) the technology, forms, materials and ideals of modernity; 2) the Mediterranean architectural tradition; 3) the socio-economic reforms of the fascist regime; and 4) the central role of the emergent middle classes in fascist political life. As examples of Italian Rationalist architecture, they combined the ‘international’ aspects of modernism with Italian regionalism and tradition. They applied modern technology to construction systems and materials, and incarnated the belief that architecture could act as an engine for social change. As physical manifestations of an idealised lifestyle, they cemented the position of the new ruling middle class, reflected the aspirations of the lower middle classes and offered a sense of opportunity to workers wanting to improve their lives.

Keywords: pavilion, fascism, Milan Triennale, exposition, housing prototype, middle classes.

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DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.5456/issn.2050-3679/2013w08fm

Biographical note

Flavia Marcello teaches architectural design and theory at the School of Architecture and Built Environment at Deakin University in Australia. Her long-time interest in 1930s art and architecture was explored in her PhD (University of Sydney, 2003) and has continued throughout her career. This has led her to explore the social, economic and political forces that shape architecture and the city rather than look at architecture as an object in itself.