What happens to fascist architecture after fascism?

“Leave the monuments on the spot allows you to contemplate the context in which they were created,” explains Di Michele, who was also a member of the cross-community working group. “It creates a dialogue about them and about fascism in general, and allows us to better understand the strong urban impact of fascist architecture and the considerable dimensions of artistic interventions. If you move them to a room in a museum, you can’t understand what impact they were meant to have and have had on the city, on urban planning and symbolism.”

The artistic interventions were a huge success, hailed by politicians and members of civil society from both communities. There are still occasional community tensions, but not on the buildings. This chapter has been closed. They even managed to neutralize the extremist gatherings that were ravaging the city.

“Italy’s far-right used to gather every year in front of the bas-relief and give the fascist salute,” says Obermair. “But with Arendt’s quote there, they feel humiliated. So they stopped coming. Likewise, far-right groups from the German-speaking community used to gather in front of the Victory Monument to say ‘Look how Italy is oppressing us'”, but now they can’t say that anymore. We destroyed their toys, so to speak.”

Obermair is excited that the Bolzano model can be successfully replicated in other parts of Italy, as well as other countries struggling with complex and divisive fascist legacies, such as Spain. The model also offers a solution to the statue debate in the UK and the US. “Of course, the social context in Bolzano is important, and each community has to imagine its own artistic intervention,” says Obermair. “But the basic idea, that monuments should not be destroyed but radically transformed, is powerful. It provides people with the tools to reflect on history, question ideology and critically examine the built environment that surrounds them. No architecture is neutral. In the end, it is us, not the monuments, that should have the last word.”

If you want to comment on this story or anything else you’ve seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or send us a message on Twitter.

And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

Comments are closed.