Unheard Workers

Dr. Angela Gigliotti

Behind a Foreign Diplomatic Architecture of the 1960s in Rome.

This HM Queen Margrethe II’s Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship is an individual research project that aims to investigate the historic export dynamics of architectural production, framing cross-cultural processes in the built environment that led architects to build beyond national borders in the post-war period. To elucidate this investigation, the project studies the construction of three buildings that embody, by virtue of their ontological function of hosting diplomatic legations, such dynamics and that have allowed domestic ‘islands’ to be built in host countries. Specifically, the case studies used are: Det Danske Institut i Rom (1967), the Japan Cultural Institute (1962) and the British Embassy (1968). Their construction in the 1960s in Rome (Italy) was permitted under ad hoc bilateral agreements with the foreign countries in response to what happened under the Ventennio, the Italian fascist dictatorship (1922-1943), with the construction of a significant number of foreign premises in the city (e.g. Netherlands 1933, Romania 1933, Austria 1937, Belgium 1939, and Sweden 1939).

The three case studies have many converging aspects, in that they all demanded exceptions to urban planning legislation at the time, generating fervent debate in the municipal building committees about the granting of building permits. In addition, all the buildings in the case studies were based on a mono-material construction, using their own architectural building traditions (i.e. the Danish bricks, Japanese Heian wood, and British prefabricated concrete), though displaced and performed on Italian ground by Italian workers. Also, their authorship was forged around a singular dominant master, each conceived by a famous architect, the Danish institute by Kay Otto Fisker, the Japanese by Isoya Yoshida, and the British embassy by Basil Spense.

This postdoc project reclaims a more inclusive authorship, arguing that the establishment of foreign diplomatic architecture was strongly conditioned by hosting Italian materials, people, and labour practices though these have been, so far, neglected circumstances. Method-wise, the project reappraises current architectural historiographies about the three cases to include diversity and social justice (i.e., labour and class disparity) as alternative keys of research. The scope is thus to widen the field, through recognising its many ‘blind spots’ and to include all those actors not yet credited or recognised: the unheard workers.

Image: Frame extracted from the Official Movie for the Cornerstone Ceremony on April, 22nd 1964 – Det Danske Institut Arkiv – Rome

This research project is hosted by Det Danske Institut i Rom and it is affiliated with the ETH Zürich / gta – Chair of the History and Theory of Urban Design Professor Dr. Tom Avermaete and the Arkitektskolen Aarhus / Research Lab 2: “Technology, Building Culture and Habitation”.

This research project is funded by the Carlsberg Foundation from 2021 to 2023.