Building Fascisms: Architecture, History, and the Right

Thursday Lecture Series

  • Audience open exclusively to Columbia faculty, students, and invited guests
  • All others interested in attending, please email SOF/Heyman at [email protected].

From the planning of entire city landscapes to the construction of monuments, walls and homes, fascist regimes have long held claim to the power of the built environment to construe their ideology. Spatial and building practices, that is, have been powerful instruments to prefigure, test, and materialize nationalist agendas, often while promoting modernization and the promises of development in the very same breadth. As both academia and the broader public come to terms with fascism as synchronic, rather than locked in a region and period, and we begin to speak of fascism as a global phenomena that goes beyond the so-called “successful fascisms” of Italy and Germany, this talk posits architecture and the writing of its histories as a particularly privileged instrument to unpack ideological and programmatic developments of the right. With Franquista Spain as a as unique context to understand the historical and ideological progression of fascism after its alleged demise in 1945, the talk also argues for the capability of architectural history to unlock some of the least evident and perhaps most efficient mechanisms through which nationalist regimes have construed their systems of thought and forms of social organization—specifically those mechanisms of social imagination yielded at the intersection of technological processes of production and aesthetics. This is an intersection that architecture occupies rather uniquely and fascist regimes mobilized rather successfully. For architectural aesthetics are here taken to encompass not only the realm of the image and the much-discussed relationship between style and nation-state but also, and more pressingly, the realm of the sensorial, the construction of social emotion and the production of a moral regime at every scale of everyday life. This was, as per Walter Benjamin’s acute observation in the mid 1930s, fascism’s defining thread, in that it activated politics and technology as sensorial experiences of daily life, and specifically not in terms of reasoned debate or the pursuit of truth, historical or otherwise.