Rationalism (1922-1945)

As far back as Aristotle’s doctrines, many argued that reason and rationale represent the pinnacle of human intellect. Such beliefs, through time, blended into multiple fields of study and work to create Rationalism.

Milano - Palazzo di Giustizia: A large, flat light stone building with three cutouts along the front.
Palazzo di Giustizia Arch (1929-47) by Marcello Piacentini

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Reason as a Paradigm

In architecture, the concept of Rationalism refers to a building devoted to logical, functional and mathematically ordered design. While many edifices may possess rational characteristics, a full commitment to these qualities is required in order to qualify a structure as fully rationalist.

In stylistic terms, Rationalism occurred in three main eras: 17th century, early 20th century, and late 20th century. However, its roots trace as far back as Ancient Greece, as their palaces and temples, notorious for having perfect symmetry and geometry, were built through carefully calculated mathematical principles.Further, these concepts and techniques were later co-opted and further expanded upon by the Romans, who first, formally, codified architecture as a rational deduction.

The Athenian Parthenon; symbol of Greek architecture and exemplar use of ''sacred geometry'' in a building. Acropolis, Greece
The Athenian Parthenon – Acropolis, Greece

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The turning point for rational-based architecture came in the 17th century Enlightenment, which marked the rise of a new intellectual and philosophical era where science and reason were championed as humanity’s prime driving force.As such, Enlightenment architects created a structural language that complemented human logic and rationality; building on theRenaissanceinterpretations of classical architecture, the first unified style of rationalism began.

The Image of a Regime

Between the 1920s and the 1930s, Italian rationalism came into the spotlight as the main entity in the movement, fueled by the newly installed fascist regime. Further, this style was not represented aesthetically, but was linked to the classical Roman legacy it sought to emulate as well.

This short-lived expression begun, in 1926, with the creation of theGruppo 7, a group including Luigi Figini, Gino Pollini,Giuseppe Terragniand Ubaldo Castagnoli (soon replaced byAdalberto Libera). The group grew further through a later merge with MIAR (Movimento Italiano Architettura Razionale).

Rationalism Gains Popularity

In these two decades, Rationalism established itself as Italy’s most prominent style. Moreover, it strives, above all, to balance the tension between its core elements: the search for a “new architecture” and societal renewal, the use of new materials and technologies (such as reinforced concrete),the influences of European modernism (such asLe Corbusier,路德维希密斯van der RoheandWalter Gropius)的意愿question the absolute value of these models, and the continuity with the legacy.

The use of rationalism as the regime’s image came to an end after the collapse of the MIAR, during the mid-1930s. As fascism cut its ties with the movement, preferring to identify itself with the monolithic weight ofPiacentini’s monumental buildings, rather than Rationalism’s more abstract classicism.

Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, Rome; by Ernesto Lapadula and Giovanni Guerrini: A large white stone building with arched-window cutouts.
Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana by Ernesto Lapadula and Giovanni Guerrini

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Rationalist Characteristics

Taking its first steps from the Enlightened revival of classical styles, this style emphasized the ordered geometry and structural logic of antiquity. Ideally, it bridged the modern philosophies of human agency and people’s rights with the conquests of Greek democracies and the Roman Republic.

Its language focused on breaking complex elements into basic shapes (squares, circles, triangles…), as a rejection of the more ornate and baroque movements. As such, everything deemed excessive or superfluous was no long present, revealing the bare shapes, elements and materials as an expression of stylistic honesty.

To summarize, the most important characteristics of the movement are:

  • Priority of urban planning on the architectural project
  • Increasing number of houses to solve lack of housing
  • Rigorous rationality of forms
  • Systematic approach to industrial technology and standardization
  • Conception of architecture as a key determinant of social progress

Most Important Rationalism Architects

Adalberto Libera was one of the most important Italian Rationalist architects, considered the author of many key projects designed under the Fascist regime. Some of his most famous works are Casa Malaparte, Palazzo dei Congressi and the many post offices in Rome, Italy.

Casa Malaparte. Capri, Italy. The unique beauty of Villa Malaparte also struck the director Jean-Luc Godard, who filmed the second part of Contempt.
Casa Malaparte – Capri, Italy

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Casa Malaparte

Casa Malaparte is a brick-red colored house with stairs shaped like an inverted pyramid, located on the Gulf of Salerno. It is completely secluded from civilization, only accessible by foot or boat.

Casa Malaparte, Adalberto Libera. 1963: A brown colored structure with stairs along the right side.
Casa Malaparte (1963) by Adalberto Libera

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Italian artist Curzio Malapart, commissioned the structure. Additionally, his eccentric demeanor led him to oversee the entire design process, often clashing and arguing with Libera. Malaparte wanted the house to recall his own intimate persona. Thus, it became a place for loneliness, contemplation and writing.

Casa del Fascio

Giuseppe Terragniwas an Italian architect who worked during the fascist regime and pioneered the Italian modern movement. His most important project, the so-called Casa del Fascio, begun in 1932 and finished in 1936.

Giuseppe Terragni- Casa del Fascio, 1932-36: A large apartment-like structure with four floors and rectangular balconies.
Casa del Fascio (1932-1936) by Giuseppe Terragni

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Giuseppe Terragni- Casa del Fascio, 1932-36: A close up of the previous photo. A cement building with large rectangular windows.
Casa del Fascio (1932-36) by Giuseppe Terragni

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Casa del Fascio, also known as Palazzo Terragni, is a perfectly regular prism whose height is half the base length. Terragni used few materials, all chosen with symbolic intention. Further, he troubleshooted, of course, the practical aspects of the daily destination of the edifice.


宫殿Gualinois an office structure in Turin, built in 1928–30. Architects Gino Levi-Montalcini and Giuseppe Pagano built the structure for the entrepreneur Riccardo Gualino. It is a famous mark of early Italian rationalist architecture. Further, the design inspired by the simplification of lines, functionality, and technical necessities. The building features a symmetrical facade and several rigorously geometric elements.

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