‘The dictator who failed to dictate’: free-range architecture under Mussolini

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'The dictator who failed to dictate': free-range architecture under Mussolini
Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, the new home of Fendi / © Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images
'The dictator who failed to dictate': free-range architecture under Mussolini
Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, the new home of Fendi / © Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images

He made a documentary about architecture in Nazi Germany and followed the Stalinist heritage trail. For his latest BBC4 film, Jonathan Meades is turning his camera towards Il Duce – one fascist monument at a time

“After Jerry and Joe” was the cryptic subject line of the email from Jonathan Meades to promote his latest documentary. “The third and final piece on dictators’ architecture,” read the body of the message, followed succinctly by Meades’s address: Cité Radieuse le Corbusier, Marseille.

A man who resides in Corb’s “machine for living in” understandably has some interest in the architecture of dictators. It’s a subject that has occupied Meades for the last 20 years. Having covered the architecture of Nazi Germany in Jerry-Building (1994), followed by the Stalinist heritage trail of Joe-Building (2006), the besuited, bespectacled critic is back with a documentary about his third and final tyrant, Benito Mussolini.

It’s a trickier pitch, if only because Mussolini, at least for his first decade in power, wasn’t quite as interested in architecture as his fellow dictators. While enthusiastically censoring film-makers, writers, academics and journalists, he let architects do as they please. “He neglected to exploit architecture’s potential to affect his subjects,” as Meades puts it. “He failed to harness its capacity to suppress and control them, to exhilarate them, to bend them to his will.” […]

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