Labirinto explores architecture seen as a vector for ideology thus permeating inhabitants’ thoughts. Architecture outlives its creators and may still smuggle fundamental ideas and atmosphere from past days. The Labirinto project is a starting point to discuss how architecture influences inhabitants and if a city, structured as a symbol of fascist ideology, can become a home for strangers.

Wiktoria Wojciechowska worked in the area of Agro Pontino in Italy: this former marshland was a challenge for authorities for centuries. The Romans, Popes and Napoleon all tried to drain, farm the land and build new settlements. Benito Mussolini finally achieved this goal, with the help of hard work by World War I combatants.
At the beginning of the 1930’s, the project to found New Cities (Città nuove) began. The best Italian architects of the day were involved, designing networks of streets on the Pontine plain as if on a blank page. They were told to arrange monuments, neighborhoods and buildings following contemporary rationalist architecture that had been adopted by the fascists as its official style for five cities: Littoria, Pontinia, Sabaudia, Aprilia and Pomezia. Created following the model of rural citie, they were to renew civilization (Bonifica della cultura) and fulfill Mussolini’s project for a new Arcadia, a “purified nation” of New Italians.

This is how Littoria was conceived in 1932, raised from the mud as the first of Mussolini’s five New Cities. Littoria was known as “Mussolini’s jewel”. A star-shaped network of streets entwined with curved ring roads radiates from the central Piazza del Littorio, now Piazza del Popolo. The labyrinth-like city awaited new residents from all around Italy to live in the empty buildings and appreciate the monumental solutions inspired by the Roman Empire.

After World War II, the city was renamed Latina to obliterate its fascist past and became a temporary asylum for displaced Italians and migrants. Between 1957 and 1991, 80 000 foreigners passed by this refugee camp. They came from Eastern Europe, fleeing communist regimes, from Vietnam, Northern Africa, etc. Although the camp was officially closed in 1991, migration has continued to this day. Most newcomers now are from sub-Saharan African countries, such as Nigeria, Gambia, Ghana and Mali.

In the middle of the day, during “siesta”, when the city is hot and stuffy, the streets are empty. The buildings’ pale facades blindingly reflect the sunlight like mirrors. The palisades play with chiaroscuro like De Chirico’s paintings. The emptiness creates the illusion we are back in the 30’s. Only scratches and colored patches on the walls unmask the timeworn city. From time to time, human figures flash by in the sunlight. They are new and lost in the labyrinth. They don’t know the city’s rules. Those who enter the labyrinth once may never be able to find their way out.

Today in front of Palazzo M - built in the shape of Mussolini’s initial, a queue of immigrants stands waiting for their documents.

Wiktoria Wojciechowska observes the city – a silent witness of changing times - and recent migrants as they strive to fit in. In conversation, they often mention discrimination, prejudice, how the locals both fear them and have a sense of superiority inherited from the colonial past. Racism. The immigrants feel “suspended”, trapped in the city, awaiting decisions and documents. The locals expect the immigrants to be removed from the cities; they should not be seen, they “change the landscape” and should be invisible. The ideology that gave birth to the cities is still present in their foundations. Hidden yet vivid, buried deep inside collective consciousness. Looking further, Labirinto can be a metaphor for the current sociopolitical situation in Europe, where newcomers from other continents seek asylum and acceptance. The fear of locals (who may have been migrants too) remains, and politics don’t promote reconciliation. The policy of fear enables the authorities to take control of people’s thoughts and define the enemy.

Labirinto juxtaposes fascist architecture - undefined street corners, walls, and remains of fascist sculptural iconography - and the portraits of recently arrived migrants. As they wander through a temporarily deserted city, occupying the scene of a petrified ideology, they reveal a striking contrast with the ideology embodied in the architecture.