There is something eerily beautiful about 1920s–’30s Italian Rationalist architecture (aka Fascist architecture). A neoclassical-neobaroque veneer gives its brutal and futuristic aesthetic a type of beauty from the beast. The best example of how rationalism has been represented is seen in the art of Giorgio de Chirico, founder of the Scuola Metafisica movement. His paintings of arch- and shadow-filled surreal piazzas are evocations of a newly ordered political and social landscape. What looks like fantasy is, however, quite real. Italian architects were encouraged to build these ideological structures as homage to the new man in the Fascist state; the most demonstrative example is Rome’s EUR (Esposizione Universale Roma) the once-planned-but-never capital of Mussolini’s Italian empire.
Recently, while deciding whether to hunker down in New York City or travel to Rome, I splayed out an old portfolio of de Chirico’s reproductions and imagined being transported into his surreal Roman landscape through an imaginary combination of Star Trek’s pre-VR holodeck and contemporary virtual reality tech. (If it can be accomplished for van Gogh, why not other artists too?) Instead of allowing VR to conjure his rationalist vistas, however, I surfed the web and stumbled by chance upon an Italian town that I had never heard of before: Tresigallo. It’s among the most fascinating examples of Italian rationalism—part urban utopia, part failed Fascist experiment. Built between 1927 and 1934, Tresigallo is a veritable tableau vivant of a de Chirico ideal metaphysical city. With 4,700 inhabitants in the province of Ferrara, the region of Emilia-Romagna, it boasts special design offerings from a (permanently) bygone epoch.