Casa del Mutilato is a building from the Fascist period located in Palermo, Italy. It means House of the Mutilated and it was built in 1936 in order to give assistance to the veterans of World War I. The building embeds elements that glorify soldiers as national heroes and embraces their existence as a victim of an honoured war. Moreover, it constitutes an instrument within a larger ideological strategy that used the built environment to create a national identity and promote Fascism in Italy.
After 80 years, exact the same building is still present in the Italian built environment shaping the country public memory and remembering glories of Fascism. The physical building is in need of restoration. Therefore it becomes urgent to ask how to preserve such contentious heritage, and what are the opportunities that a preservation project offers to restore not the physical aspect of the building, but it’s meaning and historical representation.
At the same year of the construction of Casa del Mutilato in 1936, Italian troops invaded Ethiopia with mustard gas, committing war crimes that were never condemned in Italian public realm. The building praises Italian soldiers and applauds the creation of the Italian Empire while hides its history of violent invasion, colonialism and wars. The orthogonal lines of that beautiful exemplar of Fascist architecture and the horror of the Fascist war are part of the same history but Casa del Mutilato exalts only one side of it. Therefore it can be understood as a mutilated building since it represents an insufficient and defective narration. Considering the building as an amputated body, what sort of element comes to complete the structure while thinking in a preservation project that seeks reparation and transformation?
The monumental architecture of Casa del Mutilato evokes religious buildings; it has even the title ‘Temple’ expressed in an inscription in the main façade. The entrance atrium has an aura of sacred space and it is coronated by a circle that insinuate a base of a cupola that is not present, instead, the circle frames the sky and proposes direct contact with God. In religious building the cupola functions as a connection to the divine as well, it commonly exposes drawings of another dimension with angels in a heaven representation. The mutilated Casa del Mutilato misses the cupola, which has censored the connection with the other dimension, and the other stories.
Conservation is the field within architecture that preserves buildings in it original form to narrate history through our built environment, therefore that original form must be always revised and edit when necessary. In case of Casa del Mutilato what constitute the original form if something has always missed in the narration?