By Jennifer D. Webb

Modernist architect, Adalberto Libera, died on March 17, 1963. Although best known for his projects for the Fascist regime in Italy, at the end of his career he worked on post-war rebuilding, served as a city planner, and taught. Over the course of his career, he was a graphic designer, a painter, designed stage sets and furniture, as well as authored theoretical treatises.

Born in Upper Adige (now in Trentino) in 1903, he moved to Parma after World War I for training. By 1926 he had joined Gruppo 7, the Italian movement which included Giuseppe Terragni and which advocated for Rationalism in architecture. The group’s multi-part manifesto emphasizes logic and order in design in a way that echoes the contemporary ideas of Le Corbusier. Libera’s interest in rationalist design led to his participation in the 1927 Weissenhof Siedlung Exhibition in Stuttgart built for the Werkbund. He, like many of his contemporaries, sought to design housing that was efficient and affordable.

By 1928, Libera was practicing in Rome and helped establish Movimento dell’Architettura Razionale (MAR) and the Movimento Italiano per l’Architettura Razionale (MIAR). His first large project in Rome came in 1933 and 1934 when he executed, in partnership with Mario De Renzi, the Post Office in Rome (on Via Marmorata). Combining a C-shaped office building rising from the hillside and a ground-level public hall for general services, the structure embodies Italian modernist architecture.

Libera completed a conceptual drawing for a home on Capri for author Curzio Malaparte. There is much argument about the role that Libera’s initial design played in the vision of Casa Malaparte as built but the way that the geometric volume both embraces the  island’s geological features and rises above the cliff parallel other aspects of Libera’s oeuvre. A UOMO fragrance ad captures how the home was to be experienced.

Through the 1930s and during World War II, Libera aligned himself with the fascist government, working on designs for the National Fascist Party Headquarters, on the Palazzo delle Espozioni at EUR, and on the facade for the 10th Anniversary of the Fascist Revolution. His vision for a monumental archway as a gateway to the planned E’42 exhibition may have influenced Eero Saarinen’s design for the Gateway to the West in Saint Louis.

References: Galofalo, Francesco & Luca Veresane. Adalberto Libera. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2002; Talamona, Marida. Casa Malaparte. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1992. “Gateway Arch ‘Biography’ Reveals Complex History of an American Icon.” (NPR, Weekend Edition, May 25, 2013); Schumacher, Thomas L. “Libera, Adalberto.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press.; Andreotti, Libero. “Gruppo 7″. Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press.

Image credits:

View of E42, Rome, Italy ( Frankie Zoff, Wikimedia Commons)

Palazzo dei Congressi, EUR, Rome, Italy (begun 1938) (Alberti1492, Wikimedia Commons)

With C. Galeazzi, Cathedral, La Spezia, Italy (1956) (Davide Papalini, Wikimedia Commons)

Casa Malaparte, Capri, Italy (1939) (Peter Schüle, Wikimedia Commons)

UOMO Fragrance Ad. (Youtube)

Further reading: Aristotle Kallis, The Third Rome, 1922-43: The Making of the Fascist Capital. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014; D. Medina Lasansky, Renaissance Perfected: Architecture, Spectacle, and Tourism in Italy (Buildings, Landscapes, and Societies). University Park: Penn State University Press, 2005.

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