When Giuseppe Terragni enrolled in the high school of architecture of the Polytechnic of Milan, in the autumn of 1921, he was a handsome boy of almost eighteen years, of good family, with a brilliant future ahead of him. The last of three sons of a master builder who became an established building contractor, he was born in Meda in 1904. The family moved to Como in 1909 and in the capital of Como the young Terragni lived a serene youth and graduated from the local Technical Institute.
At the Politecnico Giuseppe, he reveals himself as a promising student but intolerant of academic teaching, still based on an obsolete conception of the figure of the architect; he graduated in 1926 and immediately felt free to work as he truly believed, opening a study with his brother Attilio and his dear friend Luigi Zuccoli, who would be his faithful collaborator until the last.
In 1926 Terragni, together with other architects, gave life to Group 7 and with the motto “we need to bring Europe to Italy and Italy to Europe” open the important season of Rationalism. Terragni is its most brilliant interpreter.
Already between 1926 and 1927 Terragni is tirelessly committed, as he will do in the remaining years of his career, in projects and competitions for public and private works. In the projects of the first and second degree for the Monument to the Fallen of Como, in the facade of the Hotel Metropole-Suisse in the same city, in the Monument to the Fallen of Erba, one already understands those elements of novelty that will bring Terragni to make a change in the Italian architecture, freeing it from eclectic and historicist nostalgias to create a modern language, in step with the trends that are emerging in Europe but at the same time intrinsically linked to Italian architectural culture.
The very young exponents of Group 7 publish their beliefs in a small magazine, Rassegna Italiana and the year after the Biennial of Figurative Arts in Monza, the organizing committee supports those who propose works with an innovative language. Thanks to the Monza Biennale, the exponents of Group 7 are called to represent Italy at Stuttgart’s Werkbund, the great international design show led by Mies Van de Rohe. After the Werkbund the consecration, with the First Italian Exhibition of Rational Architecture inaugurated in the spring of 1928 at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome.
On the occasion of the Roman exposition, Terragni presents a project that will become his first important work actually realized: the Novocomum. A work that arouses a sensation and brings rationalist architecture out of a purely theoretical framework. The new idea of home that carries forward Terragni solves the ornament in the fluid relationship between interior and exterior spaces, in the play of volumes and materials that must ensure functionality, brightness, hygiene.
In 1930 the Miar is born, the Italian Movement for Rational Architecture and the fascist cultural ruling class welcomes the rationalist turn. Terragni adheres to fascism in 1926, profoundly sharing some values and the revolutionary and innovative impetus of the early times, especially in the cultural sphere; many designers like Terragni followed a syllogistic type of reasoning: if fascism was a revolution and modern architecture was revolutionary, modern architecture had to be the architecture of fascism.
La casa del fascio
Just for a party headquarters Terragni designs and builds its most important building: the Casa del Fascio in Como. For the work that represents the place where one had to live and realize the ideals in which the architect believed he chose pure volumes, light, color and transparency; finds an archetypal motif, that of the frame, which proposes in the intersection of the longitudinal and transversal lines of the facades and which will become the leitmotiv of its architecture. Behind the historic Duomo it avoids a possible combination in style in favor of an absolute modernity given by abstraction, avoiding any rhetorical or propagandistic temptation.
In 1933 Terragni, with the collaboration of his friend and colleague Pietro Lingeri, opened a new studio in Milan. “… You will see me shaken off the dust and inertia of my provincial life. Active, indeed very active, in the controversy and in the works … “
The economic engine of the country, the Lombard capital also becomes the center of the new architecture and from here Terragni and Lingeri work tirelessly on projects and competitions that involve the whole Italian territory.
The work is not lacking and new works are born, five “houses of income” in Milan, multi-storey buildings divided into rented apartments; two villas in the Como area, the Villa del Floricultore and the Villa Bianca of Seveso, another of his masterpieces. Between 1934 and 1937 saw the light, the Asilo Sant’Elia, dedicated to the visionary futurist architect, a model for all modern designers. This bright and white nursery, still in operation, is Terragni’s third major work in the city of Como, after the already mentioned Casa del Fascio and the Novocomum residential building, and consecrates the city of Como as capital of rationalism.
In 1939 he was called to arms. From the front he writes: “… Here I have already done some pencil drawings and I would like to cultivate this risen artistic desire during the pauses of the war. Because this country is of a truly singular interest and it would be nice to find it as well as in the photographic documentation even in the personal art, after many years … ”
He will be seriously tried again, both physically and above all psychologically, a condition that would eventually lead to his death.
Cade struck by a cerebral thrombosis on the landing of the stairs of his girlfriend’s house, in Como in 1943.