It may be Rome's most important building--that is, among those that were never constructed. Certainly the architects and engineers involved--Pier Luigi Nervi, Adalberto Libera, Gino Covre, Vicenzo di Berardino, among others--were top-notch. And the stakes were high. According to one authority, had it been built "it would have become the symbol of modern Rome." Likely true.
|Via dell'Impero, 1938 illustration|
The arch was not to be. The war intervened, of course, and the half-finished grounds of EUR--the Esposizione Universale di Roma--would become a staging area for German and then American armies. But it wasn't only the war. An arch on the scale imagined, up to 600 meters wide and 240 meters high, proved an enormous technological challenge.
|Virtual reconstruction of the final plan for E42.|
|Ortensi/Pascoletti, et. al. design in steel, set against|
model of St. Peter's
|Libera/di Berardino design in cement, 1938|
Materials made a difference. One issue that seems a trifle silly now, but was then of considerable importance, was whether the materials for the arch were "autarchic"--that is, able to be produced within Italy, rather than imported. The Libera/di Berardino group's first proposal, in 1937, envisioning an arch in non-reinforced concrete, had appeal because Italy produced concrete. The group also presented a proposal for an arch in reinforced concrete, somewhat less autarchic, perhaps. Nervi argued later that both arches--in reinforced and non-reinforced concrete--were feasible and could be built with Italian materials. Steel, the favored material of the Ortensi/Pascoletti group, would have to be imported.
As it happened, steel and concrete were both thrown under the bus in April 1939, when E42 President Vittorio Cini announced that the arch would be built in "Italian aluminum''--that is,
|Vittorio Cini, gesturing center right, picture of|
arch behind and, in the model, at right
|Ad campaign idea from the Mussolini regime. Ship|
owners nixed it as unsafe.
|Ludovico Quaroni's 1937 poster for|
E42. Saarinen's St. Louis design (1948)
was- for some - uncomfortably similar.
argues, even then all about peace and solidarity with other countries. Not so. From the beginning, the Arch was deeply identified with Italian Fascism and with Fascist ideology: the drive to the sea, the desire for territorial expansion. From the beginning, it was understood as "The Arch of the Empire." That's why Mussolini so desperately wanted it built.
|St. Louis Arch, under construction, c. 1965|
It's not hard to imagine that an arch would be an attractive complement to EUR and perhaps draw tourists to the area. Unfortunately, it's been done. It seems likely that architect Eero Saarinen got the idea from posters and designs and publicity for E42. Regardless, he built the arch, on the west bank of the Mississippi River, in St. Louis, almost 50 years ago. The horse is out of the barn, as they say.
For photos and commentary on the E42 arch--past and present configurations--see L'Arco dell'E42, Supplement to C.E.S.A.R, March-April 2009, a softcover large-format book available in Rome at the Casa dell' Architettura bookshop in the l'Aquario building, near the Termini station. On the relationship between the arch intended for E42 and Saarinen's St. Louis Arch, see William Graebner, "Gateway to Empire: An Interpretation of Eero Saarinen's 1948 Design for the St. Louis Arch," Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies, 18 (1993): 367-399, reprinted in Italian in Ventesimo Secolo (May-December, 1994).
|Design for "Arch of Peace" with a new square, 2009.|