Architecture for Youth in Fascist Italy: Research Fellow Stephanie Pilat

“There was a belief that getting children into the sun and fresh air and out of polluted urban environments would prevent them from getting tuberculosis. Under Fascism, summer camps for children, or colonie, were a weapon in the struggle against tuberculosis,” says Stephanie Pilat, a research fellow at The Wolfsonian for four weeks during May and June.

Pilat, an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Oklahoma, is in the early stages of research for a book on the architecture of the colonie in Italy. Her first book, Reconstructing Italy: The Ina-Casa Neighborhoods of the Postwar Era (Ashgate Press), published this month, also considers Italian architecture, focusing on social housing projects.

Originally, Pilat intended to explore sports complexes and stadia as well as the summer camps as expressions of the emphasis on health, youth, and architecture in Fascist Italy. “The Fascist regime’s obsession with youth and health was translated into architectural projects,” she explains.

The Wolfsonian exhibitions that comprised Rebirth of Rome proved extremely helpful to Pilat, in particular the material on the Foro Mussolini (now the Foro Italico), the grand sports complex designed by Enrico Del Debbio, built between 1928 and 1938, and only partially completed.

While Pilat’s formal research is in its initial phases, she has spent the past ten years seeking out the sites of former colonie and photographing them. Her research fellowship uncovered a depth of information on the colonie that spurred her to reconceive her project to focus almost entirely on the camps. 

During the late 1920s to the early 1930s, the number of summer camps in Italy exploded, increasing from 571 to 2,022 between 1929 and 1933. The children attending the camps in those years also grew exponentially, from 102,498 to 385,637. Pilat’s research at the museum enabled her to make strong connections between concerns about tuberculosis and both the growth of the camps and their architecture. Uncovering the evidence of the connection was “a delightful surprise,” she says. As the camps proliferated, tuberculosis statistics improved—there were 54,267 deaths from the disease in 1927 and 35,420 deaths in 1933, Pilat says.

“The camps were initially rustic and playful,” Pilat says. She theorizes that the tuberculosis epidemic spurred a design change. “They became rationalist and Modernist in style, with an emphasis on access to light and ventilation, and to getting the children off the ground, which was thought to be healthier. They became more hospital-like, and became very interesting buildings. Some of them had towers and ramps, and many dramatized movement and put the children’s bodies on display.” In addition to preventing disease, the camps also had a military agenda of helping to prepare the nation for war by training children, Pilat explains.

Pilat is one of three scholars awarded a fellowship for 2013–14 through The Wolfsonian’s Fellowship Program. Inaugurated in 1995, the program has hosted more than eighty scholars from colleges, universities, and other institutions in the United States and many foreign countries. Research conducted during the program has contributed to books, dissertations, articles, exhibitions, university courses, and more.

Captions (click below to enlarge):

Top:

Book, La Lotta contro la tubercolosi in Italia / La Lutte contre la tuberculose en Italie [The Fight Against Tuberculosis in Italy], 1934
Federazione Italiana Nazionale Fascista per la Lotta Contro la Tubercolosi, Rome, publisher
Officine dell'Istituto Italiano d'Arti Grafiche, Bergamo, printer
11½ x 8¾ inches (29 x 22 centimeters)
The Wolfsonian–FIU, Miami Beach, Florida,
The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection
XC1991.417
Photo: David Almeida

Bottom:

Postcard, La Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde a ricordo delle colonie marine e montane organizzate dai Fasci di Combattimento nell'anno XIII [The Savings Bank of the Provinces of Lombardy to Commemorate the Seaside and Mountain Summer Camps Organized by the Fighting Leagues in Year Thirteen of the Fascist Revolution], c. 1935
Gino Boccasile (Italian, 1901–1952), illustrator
Cassa di Risparmio delle Provincie Lombarde, Milan, publisher
Turati Lombardi E C., Milan, printer
5 7/8 x 4 3/8 inches (15 x 11 centimeters)
The Wolfsonian–FIU, Miami Beach, Florida,
The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection
XB1992.324
Photo: David Almeida

Photograph, Foro Mussolini under construction, 1932
Romolo Del Papa, photographer
Gelatin silver print
The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, XX1990.4037.3

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Architecture for Youth in Fascist Italy: Research Fellow Stephanie Pilat
Architecture for Youth in Fascist Italy: Research Fellow Stephanie Pilat