Josep Lluís Sert, Spanish
Pavilion,Paris International Exhibition
The Mediterranean

Structural innovation and imaginative forms, which dealt with the climate and
topographical concerns of the region, best characterized the architecture of the
region in the 1930’s.  One of the major figures was
Pier Luigi Nervi who devised a
number of intriguing structural solutions to industrial facilities evoking Gothic
forms, such as the
Aircraft Hanger (1936) at Orvieto, Italy.  There was also
Eduardo Torroja who devised a corrugated concrete roof that could be cantilevered
over the spectator seats of the
Zarzuela Racecourse (1935) in Madrid, Spain. Both
were engineers with well-developed historical senses, able to transform the
principles of antiquity into modern technology.

Architects attempted to adapt the International Style to differing regions.  
had addressed the subject of “Regionalism,” evoking what he called the
“female principle” or the middle ground between industrial usage and the
abstraction of rural and antique sources, Curtis noted.  He chose barrel vaults that
recalled Tunisian vaulted vernacular architecture in an unbuilt project for an
Agricultural Estate in North Africa.  He also devised
brise-soleil façade for a high
rise in Algiers, which provided a shading device from the intense sun of the

The Spanish wing of
CIAM was formed in Barcelona, led by Josep Lluís Sert,
which brought modern architecture to the Iberian Peninsula.  Sert and other
leading Spanish architects formed a Master Plan for Barcelona in 1933, which
incorporated many of the ideas of Le Corbusier’s “Contemporary City.” Their Casa
Bloc was a variant of the immuebles villas, adjusted to the warm climate of the
Spanish coastline.  One of the few projects to be realized during this time was the
Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exhibition in1937.  The pavilion took on
an overt political tone.  It was at the height of the Spanish Civil War.  Sert used a
steel frame to essentially serve as a relief structure for huge photomontages,
sculptures, diagrams and objects proclaiming the progressive nature of Socialist
Spain.  Picasso’s
Guernica was first displayed in this pavilion.  Sert spoke of the
ideal of a ‘meridonial architecture’ in which local principles and traditional devices
would be transformed in modern terms, but the victory of Franco squashed these
socialist visions.

Dictators tended to identify with traditional cultural symbols that evoked a
nationalist spirit.  However, Mussolini gave freer rein to modern architects in Italy
than did dictators in other countries.  In large part this was because Italian
modernism was more evocative of classical precedents than was the International
Gruppo 7 made no attempt to break from tradition, but rather transform it
along modern lines.  
Guiseppe Terragni was the most recognizable member of
this group.  He enjoyed transforming classical forms into abstract compositions
noted for their stern simplicity.  One such example was the
Casa del Fascio (1932-
6) in Como, reworking the proportions of a classical façade into modern spatial
terms.  The main entrance opens onto a courtyard, with the offices of the Fascist
party to either side of it.  He makes a translucent divider between the people space
and that of the state, suggesting a much more open relationship between the two
than actually existed.  He sheathed the building in a polished white marble that
served as a gleaming reminder of the power of the state.  He seemed to combine
Le Corbusier’s idea of “a house, a palace.”

He carried these ideas even further in an unrealized proposal for the
(1934) in Rome, creating a monumental screen of polished black porphyry,
with a projecting balcony jutting out of a vertical slit in the curved wall, on which
Mussolini would deliver his speeches.  It was like a huge theatre set against the
classic monuments of Rome.  In plan, the curve corresponded with the entasis of
the Parthenon and the porphyry alluded to Mussolini’s desire for Egypt, where the
black stone was found.  For Terragni the poetic and the political were inseparable,
Curtis noted.  He seemed to want to monumentalize Mussolini, who imagined
himself as the reincarnation of the Emperor Augustus.
Casa del Fascio (1936)

One of Hitler’s first acts when gaining the chancellorship of Germany was closing
down the
Bauhaus.  He had no interest in modern architecture.  Instead, he
favored a stripped down classicism that was monumental in scale.  Hitler was
himself a frustrated architect, Curtis noted, who perhaps saw statecraft itself as a
kind of monumental design.  He wanted to create an imperial Berlin.  He was
drawn to the early work of
Schinkel, which he felt best combined Greek
monumentality with Teutonic culture.  In 1934,
Albert Speer became Hitler’s
architect, designing many of the pompous buildings of the Third Reich, and the two
worked together on a master plan for
Berlin (1937-40), shortly before the break out
of WWII.

Zeppelinfield arena in Nuremburg, built in 1934, was one of the more overt
examples of this form of monumentality.  It was a colossal stadium designed for
enormous Nazi rallies.  Speer combined numerous elements from the past,
paring them down to a regimental discipline that suited Hitler’s temperment.  
Speer saw these buildings in the same way Terragni did, as stage sets for the
totalitarian regime.  He used slender shafts of light rising high into the night sky to
create what he called “the Cathedral of Light,” using such spectacle to awe the
masses.  Speer pandered to Hitler’s megalomania, using highly polished
materials, pompous axial regimentation and interweaving Nazi insignia into
furniture and wall coverings which stressed the supremacy of the state, whereas
Terragni had established a more subtle relationship between the state and the
people in his buildings.

Stalin’s selection of
Boris Iofan’s design for the Palace of the Soviets, in 1934,
signaled the end of the modern movement in the Soviet Union.  Stalin also turned
toward a monumentality in architecture that expressed his imperial ambitions.  He
likewise instituted massive urban renewal projects.  There was also a parallel
drawn between Marxist ideology and Greek democratic ideals, which
tried to embody in the overt classical forms which would later become
known as “Stalinist architecture.”

Most modernists rebelled against these totalitarian states, seeking out new
countries in which they could practice their ideas.  
Mies van der Rohe, who had
stayed on in Germany, continued to submit designs for national competitions,
before leaving for America in 1937.   He finally saw that there was no work for those
who felt that their “idealist” visions could somehow remain untainted by political
realities, Curtis noted.

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Modern Architecture Expands its Boundaries
The Diversity of a New Tradition