Photography exhibit at AAR celebrates activist architecture, 40th anniversary of “Battle of Valle Giulia”

It was, as historian Alessandro Portelli notes, the moment when an entire generation found its voice.

On 1 March 1968, the Valle Giulia School of Architecture at the University of Rome became a flashpoint for the Italian student movement. It marked the first time that Italian students staged protests—in this case against proposed university reforms as well as the Vietnam War—and fought back against police.

That day has since become known as “The Battle of Valle Giulia”—what John Cary (FAAR’08) describes as “a poignant confluence of architecture and social activism”.

Cary, winner of the Rolland Rome Prize in Design, has curated at the American Academy in Rome an exhibition of this transformational moment, THE BATTLE OF VALLE GIULIA: PHOTOGRAPHS BY FAUSTO GIACCONE. Some of the images shown here rank as icons, but many are previously unseen.

The exhibition, which also chronicles the events leading up to and following this historic student protest, opened at the AAR on 30 June and runs until 27 July 2008. The opening attracted over 200 visitors to the courtyard studio in the McKim, Mead and White building where “Valle Guilia” is mounted. Plans are afoot to show the installation next in New York, and later elsewhere in the United States.

The unusually striking photographs in this exhibition are the work of Fausto Giaccone, an architecture student at the school in 1968, whose subsequent career as a photographer was profoundly shaped by the events of that year. Born in Tuscany in 1943 and raised in Palermo, Giaccone is now based in Milan.

Says John Cary of the Valle Giulia students who took to the streets in 1968, “They marched. They sang. They occupied campus buildings like the School of Architecture, until their forced removal. In the process, these students were thrust into the limelight, some more willing than others. Their faces and stories adorned every major news outlet in Italy, often labeled as radicals, while others hailed for their bravery.”

John Cary is the Executive Director of Public Architecture, a group recognized as the pioneer in making pro bono work a staple of the architectural profession. Cary stresses that “The Battle of Valle Giulia” continues to offer crucial lessons. “As our current political climate increasingly reflects that of the ’60s, the need to synthesize activism, design, and politics has become more pressing than ever.”

The exhibit THE BATTLE OF VALLE GIULIA: PHOTOGRAPHS BY FAUSTO GIACCONE was made possible by the generous support of Wendy and Peter (FAAR’78) Rolland, Raymond Lifchez, Mary Margaret Jones (FAAR’98) and Doug Argue (FAAR’98), and the American Academy in Rome.

Update 15 December 2008: the exhibition is now on display in Prato, Italy, and was written up in La Repubblica. A dozen or so of the images can be viewed here.

Unframed prints of the exhibition photographs are also available for purchase from Fausto Giaccone; the prints are direct exposures from the original negative and printed by the same photo lab and technician that produced them in ’68.  You can see more of Giaccone’s work here.

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