Architectural scholars frequently identify Benito Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia and subsequent “Declaration of Empire” speech on 9 May 1936 as critical moments in the Fascist state’s turn toward an aesthetically impoverished reactionary cultural agenda. Consequently, the monumental neoclassical buildings associated with the final, imperial phase of Mussolini’s Fascist regime have with few exceptions been given only cursory treatment by scholars of modern Italian architecture. Brian L. McLaren’s groundbreaking book Modern Architecture, Empire, and Race in Fascist Italy suggests a strategy for arriving at a more nuanced understanding of this period’s cultural complexities and, more specifically, of how empire and race—an issue frequently overlooked in architectural histories of this period—shaped Fascist architectural design, art, and city planning.

The book focuses on the design and planning of two significant state-sponsored exhibitions: the 1942 Esposizione Universale di Roma (known as E42), and Naples’s 1940 Mostra Triennale delle Terre d’Oltremare (Mostra d’Oltremare). Through...

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