Terragni, Como e i RagazziI have envied this cat since the moment I read about it in Alessandra Coppa’s Giuseppe Terragni: Minimum Architecture. Giuseppe Terragni’s cat bore the most extraordinary name ever given to a cat – Demiurgo -, a creature that has assumed Platonic proportions in my mind, apparently spending hours curled in the architect’s studio, as he worked through day and very often night looking at plans and drawings stretched over a large table, cigarette ‘dangling from his mouth’.

Demiurgo was given narrative voice in a 2006 book whose goal is to acquaint young readers with some of Terragni’s most important architectural works that have changed not only Como but also the flow of Italian and international modernist architecture. I have not read it but, given that the Archivio Terragni continues to leave my calls unanswered, I might as well do so, as it will probably give me a level of intimacy and closeness with his work that I am unlikely to emulate as a researcher.


I have joined a very long list of suitors, with not even the merest of chance. The stuff of design legends, the James Dean of modernist architecture, the obsessed genius with all its spectacular contradictions encompassing the full gamut of the colour spectrum. Fascist, nationalist, Catholic, cosmopolitan, inquisitive, committed, broken. A spectacular flash in the sky, blinding but gone in the most fleeting of moments. And that name – Giuseppe Enea Ercole. The crushing weight of universality on the fragile shoulders of a single human being.

I do not remember how and when I came across Terragni in my research on Italian modernism. It must have been quite a momentous encounter – and yet I cannot recall the moment. But I do remember encountering for the first time his plans for the Danteum – one of the many extraordinary designs that came so painfully close to fruition before taking a sharp, irreversible turn towards non-materiality. Thomas Schumacher brought the building back to life, publishing Terragni’s own description of the project, then producing a seminar study of its characteristics, symbolism, and significance. Peter Eisenman also had his own fateful encounter with Terragni that marked the most fruitful academic synergy between an architect and an insightful critic. I am part of the mainstream of admiring hordes who have discovered Terragni via the works of others. Nothing wrong with this; but I can only imagine what must have been like discovering Terragni and building an exclusive relation with his work.

Terming died at the age of 39. He came back from the Russian front a broken man, a haunting solitary figure in the streets of his native Como, collapsing first mentally before his final, sudden physical demise. Luigi Zuccoli narrates:

[quote]Tornato dal fronte russo non trova piu la serenita ; crolla una tragica sera sulle scale della fidanzata, la cara e fedele Mariuccia Casartelli, davanti ai suoi occhi, mentre si preparava come di consueto a passare alcune ore con lei in silenzio o scambiando poche parole sui fatti più minuti. Era il 19 luglio 1943, sei giorni prima del colpo di stato.[/quote]

I did my very own pilgrimage to Como in September 2013. Long overdue, a silly thought that had been brewing in my mind for years. I brought myself, first to the ex-Casa del Fascio, and then to his home and studio, on Via Indipendenza. I tried to look through the windows but I could not reach high enough. I took photos, walked away and came back, took more photos, no doubt seeking to capture an illusion of intimacy. Strangely, I found the carefully staged encounter even more haunting.

The Archivio Giuseppe Terragni has yet to answer my calls for some kind of access to their documents. I am still trying.

Bus 492, from Termini to Valle Giulia, never turned up. It did not help that I arrived in Rome in the midst of a sciopero (a very familiar word to the Italians, meaning strike) of public transport. It took me less than three hours to fly from Edinburgh to here – but more than four to get from the airport to my new temporary ‘home’ at the British School at Rome. I did arrive, dragging two suitcases and a backpack full of electronic equipment, in the midst of a sweltering afternoon, exhausted, covered in sweat, contemplating how quickly three months will pass and how much they will leave behind.

Hence this record. I came to Rome with what can only be described as the uncertain beginning of the inception of a project. Or of many potential projects from numerous encounters with the unexpected. My mind is buzzing with ideas but drops no anchors. It is exhilarating and disquieting at the same time. No matter. (A little less than) 100 days will pass through my hands but I want to keep something more substantial, more retrievable than scraps of memories and copies of documents and scattered photos of buildings on my camera roll. Hence this record.


PS: Only the facade from the original design by Lutyens for the building was completed according to plan, sadly.