Research project, ECAL 2018


Archigraphiæ. Rationalist Lettering and Architecture in Fascist Rome 

Letterforms carry messages – in public space, they are powerful propaganda tools. Witness to this fact are the inscriptions placed on display by Emperors to showcase their power across the Roman Empire.

During a Summer School at the Swiss Institute in Rome, ECAL MA in Type Design and ISIA Urbino students explored a more recent avatar of this communication tool. During the fascist era in Italy (1922–1943), the rise to power of Benito Mussolini made his revolutionary political party a ruling institution, which had, as its ambition, the creation of an empire modelled on ancient Rome. The visual aesthetic of the Caesars was captured and used by the fascists to position themselves as successors to a glorious tradition. Imagery and photography also played a part in this endeavour, as did architecture and inscription letters. The buildings and monuments of the 1930s frequently display mottos and texts carved in white marble. Latin and Italian were used, and full capitals, in the ancient Roman tradition. While the design of these letters is based on Ancient models, their shapes are definitely modern; sans serif geometric letterforms.

In the first instance, Archigraphiæ sought to collect images of inscriptions on monuments, public buildings, graveyards, street plaques in Rome. Then some of those original designs were digitised to reveal their construction, and the ways in which small elements can be capable of turning a neutral geometrical font into a very Italian-style fascist symbol. By mapping this conspicuous feature of fascist propaganda, the Summer School aimed to deconstruct the mechanisms used to promote political ambitions, and to compare this font with other modernist sans serifs of the time. An analysis of the storytelling behind the use of the letterforms allowed students to develop critical thinking about current (political, commercial, militant) uses of type and lettering.

Research team
Project leaders:
Matthieu Cortat
Davide Fornari
Jonathan Pierini

Lecturers and researchers:
Chiara Barbieri
Gianluca Camillini
Pippo Ciorra
Emilio Gentile
Alessandra Tarquini
Paul Shaw
Carlo Vinti

Leonardo Azzolini
Simon Mager


ECAL MA Type Design
Quentin Coulombier, So Hee Kim, Kyung Jin Lee, Dávid Molnár, Luca Pellegrini, Maharani Putri, Shuhui Shi, Benedek Takács, Mingoo Yoon

ECAL MA Photographie
Alina Frieske

ISIA Urbino MA in Communication, Design and Publishing
Gianluca Ciancaglini, Alberto Malossi, David Mozzetta, Giuseppe Romagno

ISIA Urbino
Istituto Svizzero di Roma

Supported by 
ECAL/University of Art and Design Lausanne
Istituto Svizzero di Roma

Summer school 
Archigraphiæ. Rationalist Lettering and Architecture in Fascist Rome (1921–1943): a Fieldwork, Rome, Istituto Svizzero, September 2–9, 2018.

Emilio Gentile, Politica di massa in regime totalitario, Rome, Istituto Svizzero, September 3, 2018.
Chiara Barbieri, Graphic design and designers under Fascism: education, practice and exhibitions, Rome, Istituto Svizzero, September 3, 2018.
Carlo Vinti, Modernist and traditionalist typography in Fascist Italy, Rome, Istituto Svizzero, September 4, 2018.
Pippo Ciorra, Gli architetti di Zevi. Storia e controstoria dell’architettura italiana 1944–2000, Rome, MAXXI, September 4, 2018.

Archigraphiæ. Rationalist Lettering and Architecture in Fascist Rome (1921–1943): a Fieldwork, Rome, Istituto Svizzero, September 8, 2018.

Matthieu Cortat, Davide Fornari (eds.), Archigraphiæ. Rationalist Lettering and Architecture in Fascist Rome / Architettura e iscrizioni razionaliste nella Roma fascista, Renens: ECAL 2020 (with contributions by Chiara Barbieri, Gianluca Camillini, Joëlle Comé, Jonathan Pierini, Paul Shaw, Alessandra Tarquini, Carlo Vinti).

September 2018

Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, also known as Palazzo della Civiltà del Lavoro, or simply Colosseo Quadrato (Square Colosseum), at EUR in Rome, designed by architects Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto Bruno Lapadula and Mario Romano in 1937, stared in 1939 and completed in 1953. © ECAL/Matthieu Cortat

The lettering of the fountain in Piazza Mazzini, Rome. By Raffaele De Vico and Ermenegildo Luppi, 1927–1930. © ECAL/Dávid Molnár

Inscription on a tombstone in the Verano Cemetery, Rome. 

© ECAL/Matthieu Cortat

Opening talk by Emilio Gentile at Istituto Svizzero, Rome. 

© ECAL/Alina Frieske

Installation views of the findings exhibited at Istituto Svizzero, Rome. © ECAL/Alina Frieske