CIRCULATING INTERIORS: THE LOGICS OF ARREDAMENTO AND THE FURNISHING NATIONAL IMAGINARIES IN ITALY 1922-1945
Ignacio Gonzalez Galan
This dissertation examines the transformation of architectural interiors in Italy throughout the fascist period, considering the changing forms of articulating domestic spaces both at the scale of the home and at that of the nation. Throughout this period, Italian discourse on interiors conceptualized its object of concern primarily as "arredamento"—a term meaning both furniture and the ensemble of elements that furnishes a livable space. While the word "interni" was also used at the time, the emphasis on "arredamento" signaled a distinct interest in the material elements that construct an environment, different both from the association between interior and interiority of the German philosophical tradition and the insistence on social control of French modern practices of the interior. Italian discourse transformed the interior from a unified and enclosed realm, as it was hitherto understood, into an ordered arrangement of elements that moved beyond stable boundaries: Curated displays of furniture and interior ensembles were shaped by the transfers of objects in the market, reconfigured by processes of information circulation, and articulated in relation to the movement of people throughout the territory.
A number of architecture and design practices articulated their work with different agents, institutions, and technologies leading these circulatory operations, and consequently put in motion the transformation of domestic interiors throughout the nation. Rather than being dependent on the fascist government as a unified center of power, or being the result of the isolated work of any single author, the interiors of the nation were shaped in heterogeneous platforms in which architects and designers participated together with an array of political, commercial, and cultural agents and institutions. The culture of arredamento consolidating throughout the fascist period was manifested in the regime’s programs addressing the household, the concerns of different institutions with the market for applied arts, and an increasing number of exhibitions aiming at the development of the modern interior for bourgeois audiences. At the same time, films and magazines particularly featured domestic interiors, including modern designs that opened the Italian population to the possibility of life styles beyond those promoted by the regime. Concurrently, other agents promoted arredamenti that became essential to the simultaneous constructions of locality and foreignness supporting colonialism and tourism.
Within this context, the role of architects and designers went beyond the realization of a single piece of furniture or an interior ensemble, becoming instead the key to the mediation of distinct interests and their effects upon different constituencies, markets, and audiences. Gio Ponti was central to this constellation of actors and interests, concerned both with the changing styles for the design of interiors as much as with their dissemination: his impetus to contribute to the Corriere was not an isolated initiative, but one among many that characterized his activities throughout the period, including his role as editor of magazines such as Domus (and later Lo Stile) and his collaborations with the department store La Rinascente. Other significant figures articulated the relation of interiors with different media technologies and circulatory processes: Milanese architect Carlo Enrico Rava simultaneously engaged in the design of arredamento for film, as well as with the furnishing of the colonial expansion. The networks in which these architects performed included a significant number of entrepreneurs related to the fascist regime such as the aforementioned Aldo Borelli, as well as Guido Marangoni (organizer of the first Monza Biennali exhibitions, later transformed into the Triennale di Milano), Senatore Borletti (founder of La Rinascente with Umberto Brustio), and Luigi Freddi (promoter of the film studios Cinecittà) among many others.
The diverse activities and interests of these different actors resulted in ensembles of disaggregated elements (both cultural and material) including chairs in exhibitions, lamps for sale, and couches on film stock. These elements consequently manifested themselves (both conceptually and formally) in hybrid assemblies and were sustained by a sort of analytical “limbo,” as the architecture critic Rafaello Giolli described it). But this lack of framework (this placeless limbo) appealed not only to the lack of stylistic or critical coherence, but also to the changing relationships between spaces, objects, images and locations, in a way that is embedded in the very term arredamento: an interior exclusively defined as the ensemble of its constitutive elements, struggling to secure any form of rooted permanence, stable identity, or clear enclosure. And, still, it was as spaces, objects, and images in motion, and as characteristically hybrid arrangements, that the interiors spreading throughout the nation (including film stages, specialized magazines, and commercial showrooms) resulted not in increasing diversity, but rather in the consolidation of the nation’s interior—that is, the homogenization, management, and articulation of Italian society. Despite being crossed by different networks and exploded within different circulatory operations, interiors continued to gather and manage different constituencies and to organize territories, and resulted in systems of inclusion and exclusion beyond the material definition of their boundaries. The culture of arredamento mediated these opposing economic, cultural, and social processes, negotiating the unfolding of modern forms of circulation with the simultaneous (and contradictory) efforts of control and stabilization developed by the fascist regime. Pieces and ensembles of arredamento—through their dissemination in processes of broadcasting, exchange and territorial expansion—were entangled in processes and narratives of national formation and, eventually, in their international propagation. By considering the changing typologies of architecture interiors, their technological and aesthetic definitions, I unveil the underlying logics of their transformation and its consequences in the arrangement of the house and in the consolidation of the nation.