Project for the Borgo by Brasini

Armando Brasini: a dubious ‘Roman master’

What do you get when even Mussolini dismisses one of your proudest creations an ‘infortunio’? Armando Brasini – visible yet maligned architect, urban planner, member of the Academia d’Italia, prolific visionary of the most dubious taste, judge of some of the most important competitions of the Fascist period, chief architectural curator of the Vittoriano – left behind a register of works in Rome (as well as elsewhere in Italy and in the Fascist colonies) that puts other architects, far more respected than him, to shame.

Even ‘academic’ architects took immense pleasure out of belittling his work and ridiculing his aesthetic taste. Marcello Piacentini threatened to resign from the expert committee for Rome’s 1931 regulatory plan if any of Brasini’s ideas and suggestions were to be taken seriously into account. Pier Maria Bardi, the enfant terrible of the ‘rationalist’ cultural circles of interwar Italy, used his as the straw man of everything that was wrong with Italian architecture – ad nauseam historicism, fanciful revivals of a unique brand of Roman neb-baroque, a complete lack of content with modern currents, a regressive attachment to backward-looking monumentalism. Yet Brasini built and built and built. His Palazzo INAIL is probably the only major building constructed within the historic core of the city. He designed churches (Sacro Cuore Immaculate di Maria in Parioli) and bridges (Ponte Flaminio) and entire quarters (Flaminio again) that he was lucky to see completed, even if his most grandiose projects (the ‘Foro Mussolini’ at the heart of the Renaissance quarter; the Mole Littoria; the Beacon of Christianity) were shelved at the last minute. With the exception of Piacentini, Aschieri, Del Debbio, and the ICP-related architects, such as Sabbatini, Brasini left a built legacy in Rome where others failed abjectly.

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Maybe I am missing something about him. Robert Venturi did manage some seriously effusive praise:

[quote]What you see is a harmonius and dissonant architectural symphony of complexly layered elements — formal and symbolic, masterfully defined by shade and shadow, combining rhetoric and substance, Baroque fanfare in Palladian drag, and whose juxtapositions — or rather, collisions — of curves, rectangles, diagonals — as squat columns, gross piers, useless buttresses, eloquent walls and voids, domeless drum, protruding and receding segmented pediment — must in the end compose in the Fascist era a glorious final gesture of what can be considered Baroque survival.[/quote]

It is undoubtedly unfashionable to even tolerate Brasini’s brand of architecture – not so much for what it was and looked like but for what it represented at the precise time that it was conceived and executed by him. He was a nuisance, bypassing established processes to seek privileged direct access to Mussolini in order to kill off competition. Surely his blatant disregard for ‘modern’ architecture at a time that it was vying for cultural hegemony in Italy is both disturbing and strangely admirable. A Roman master? Maybe. There is after all something strangely compelling in his ability to fuse through utterly excessive juxtaposition. Yet, for me Brasini always screams for attention, stretching his aesthetic freedom to the limits of balance and eloquence – and quite often, well beyond it, into a sphere of devastating, irreverent yet self-absorbed anachronism. His stark incapacity for change, for absorption and mediation or at least critical rejection of new experiences, I find unique, and uniquely disturbing.

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