The University city of La Sapienza in Rome was built, following’s Mussolini’s orders, between 1932 and 1935, under the direction of architect Marcello Piacentini.
The University city of La Sapienza in Rome is a great example of rationalist architecture. In the late 20’s and early 30’s, in fact, the rationalism movement supporters had been attacking the old architect’s generation, proposing their new architectural ideals to support the fascist revolution in the “Rational architecture manifesto”, submitted to Mussolini in 1931. In the same year the architects’ union founded R.A.M.I. (Raggruppamento Architetti Moderni Italiani – Modern Italian Architects Group).
Despite the fiery debates which ensued, the plans for the University city of La Sapienza in Rome were grounded in a spirit of compromise. Architect Piacentini’s idea was to prefere young professionals, with the exception of two seniors, himself and architect Arnaldo Foschini, the outgoing director of “Architettura”, the National Fascist Union of Architects magazine; putting together a team that will get its best from the convergence of different experiences and positions.
From Turin and Milan came Giuseppe Pagano, director of “Casabella” magazine, and Gio Ponti, director of “Domus” magazine, from Florence came Giovanni Michelucci, from Rome came Pietro Aschieri, Giuseppe Capponi and Gaetano Minnucci of M.I.A.R. (Movimento Italiano per l’Architettura Razionale – Italian Movement for Rationalist Architecture), and Gaetano Rapisardi.
After and extensive examination of each architect skills and experiences, Piacentini assigned the design of the buildings: the monumental entrance, Hygiene and Orthopedics to Foschini; Physics to Pagano; Chemistry to Aschieri; Mathematics to Gio Ponti; Biology, Geology and Mineralogy to Michelucci; Law and Political Sciences, Arts and Philosophy to Rapisardi; Botanic to Capponi.
He chose for himself the most representative building: the great Rectorate, right in the heart of the La Sapienza University city.
The Dopolavoro (Recreational Association) and Circolo Littorio soon followed, executed by Minnucci, who alongside with Eugenio Montuori also designed the Barracks for the “Benito Mussolini” University Legion, and the Students’ House by Giorgio Calza Bini, Francesco Fariello and Saverio Muratori.
Piacentini’s masterplan for the University city of La Sapienza in Rome intended to include “very Roman” buildings made of bricks and travertine, but the young designers used these materials primarily as final cladding upon structures built instead with the latest technologies but stripped of ornament in an ancient Roman interpretation of international Modernism. Piacentini also strictly requested that architects gave up to the principles of originality and fashionable trends, but despite his rules some buildings appear innovative, albeit within limits specified by general criteria. This is certainly the case with Gio Ponti’s Mathematics building, with its hidden curves of the front façade, in line with those of the other buildings in the central square, from which it distinguished itself thanks to a decorated glass wall, sadly destroyed during the war.
Another example of peculiar architecture is the Physics building, with its external parts in contrast with the interiors. Capponi’s building is a full expression of Italian architectonic rationalism thanks to its great transparencies, creating a communication between the interior and exterior.
Several buildings are decorated with simple frescoes and statues, both in interior and exterior spaces, in accordance with a precise decorative programme which involved some reknown artists like Mario Sironi, Arturo Martini, Mirko Basaldella, Fausto Melotti, Corrado Vigni and Alfredo Biagini.
Inaugurated on 31st October 1935, the University City of La Sapienza in Rome is a “place of knowledge”, steeped in the full expression of the relationship between architecture and art. The complex stands in contrast to the future EUR district, built several years later, as La Sapienza represents Fascist modernism yet, unike the EUR, it still retains a human sense of scale.