Italian architect and proponent of Rationalism
Giuseppe Terragni (born April 18, 1904, Meda, Italy–died July 19, 1943, Como, Italy) was a very influential Italian architect of the first half of the 20th century. Though his career was relatively short, lasting only 13 years, Terragni’s Rationalist architectural work is still considered one of the most influential drivers of the modernist architecture in Italy. It is important to note the lamentable fact that his work and style, as those of other Italian architects of his time, were heavily influenced by the fundamental elements of Fascism and its aesthetics.
Terragni was born in Meda, a small town north of Milan, in the early years of the 20th century. He followed his brother, Attilio, into the field of architecture, and shortly after his graduation from Politecnico di Milano, Terragni and his brother opened a joint architectural office in nearby Como in 1927. Attilio was the mayor (podestà was the right title under the Fascist regime) of Como and had strong ties to the Fascist party, and thus many of Giuseppe’s works explored the language of the regime’s design and philosophy. At around the same time that Giuseppe Terragni teamed up with his brother, he cofounded Gruppo Sette, a collaborative entity of leading Italian architects, including Luigi Figini, Giuseppe Pagano, and Ubaldo Castagnoli, that sought to promote the aims of Rationalism in an architectural era dominated by the excessive ornamentation and Classical references of the Baroque Revival, or Neo-Baroque, style.
By the end of the 1920s and during the 1930s, Terragni had put many of the Rationalist theories and approaches into practice in prominent architectural projects in Como and beyond. In addition to the innovative Novocomum apartments, built between 1927 and 1929, Terragni designed the Casa del Fascio, an office building to house the local offices of the Fascist government in the heart of the city of Como, between 1932 and 1936. Built in the shape of a cube yet employing cantilevered terraces and stairwells to animate each façade with geometric rhythm, Terragni’s Casa del Fascio became a key milestone in his growing acclaim as a designer. It was during this time that the young architect Ico Parisi became his apprentice and did an important and influential photographic architectural study of Casa del Fascio, which he published in Quadrante magazine.
Shortly afterward, Terragni developed plans for the Danteum, a monument to be dedicated to the famed 14th century Italian writer Dante Alighieri and to be installed along the Via dell’Impero in Rome. Terragni’s vision transformed the medieval author’s realms as presented in The Divine Comedy through a modernist’s interpretation. However, the monument itself was never built.
Giuseppe Terragni produced several furniture pieces and designs, mostly for the office building Casa del Fascio. Some were for his few other buildings, such as Casa Stecchini, but all of them were originally produced in very small quantities. In 1971, Zanotta reintroduced Terragni’s popular Lariana chair, designed in 1936. The Lariana side chair was designed to be comfortable but also to discourage slouching or lounging, as Terragni thought that there was no need for bureaucracy under the Fascist regime. Later on, Zanotta also introduced the Follia chair, originally designed in 1934.
Unfortunately, Terragni’s career and life would be severely truncated by World War II. In 1939, he was sent into military service that would eventually take him to the horrific eastern battlefronts of the Balkans and Russia. Overcome by the atrocities of war, Terragni suffered a psychological breakdown and was repatriated to Italy on January 20, 1943. He died in Como shortly after, succumbing to a cerebral thrombosis in the summer.
Last updated: February 22, 2019
For additional information on Giuseppe Terragni, please visit the following:
“Giuseppe Terragni.” About Italian Design.
“Giuseppe Terragni.” BiografieOnline.
“Giuseppe Terragni.” San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
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