BRUNO ZEVI was the doyen of Italian architectural historians and critics and the foremost European interpreter of the American "Organic" tradition in architecture. He introduced the work of Frank Lloyd Wright to Italian colleagues at the end of the Fascist era, offering his work as a palliative to the Neoclassicism and quasi- Rationalism from which he felt they had suffered for far too long.
Zevi was born in 1918 to a prominent Jewish family close to the Via Nomentana home he was to reside in from his first year. This house became the offices and studio for his magazines, his television station and a venue for extravagant political receptions.
From the time of his architectural studies at Rome University (1936-39) he was actively opposed to Fascism. After graduation he travelled to London, where he enrolled as a third year student at the Architectural Association while working simultaneously with the Italian anti-Fascist resistance. A year later he joined the anti- Fascist group Giustizia e Liberta in Paris before moving to the United States, where he led the American Branch in Boston while pursuing a Master's degree at Harvard under Walter Gropius. In 1943 he was back in London to aid the fight for the liberation of Italy making clandestine broadcasts and working as an architect for the US Army in Europe.
His stay was not helped by British Intelligence, who demanded he should desist from broadcasting but remain as their "house guest" in London. Eisenhower, it appears, had sent a message to London demanding the end to the Giustizia e Liberta activities as sensitive negotiations were going on with the Italians. He refused and in 1944 returned to Rome.
Zevi's battle against Fascism did not end with war. It lasted well into the 1950s in Rome directed against the grip that Mussolini's architect Piacentini had on "official" architecture. Zevi was furious and declared that the "larger cultural political battle had to take precedence of the fight for organic architecture". His attitude underlines most clearly a basic difference between British and Italian public life. In Italy politics and architecture are taken seriously. They are part of the political agenda and the status of the architect is often enhanced and recognised by election to high public office. In Zevi's case, this meant becoming a member of the Chamber of Deputies, and for a time Director of Urban Design for the first post- war Italian government.
Zevi had other grievances. He declared war on the so-called "International Style" in architecture popular in the 1940s. He felt it was "anonymous, impersonal and cold" and had become far too influential in Italian architectural circles. In particular, its European champion Sigfried Giedion's Harvard lectures and book Space, Time and Architecture (1941) had a perverse effect on architectural thought. Fundamentally, it failed to acknowledge Modernism's parallel tradition which he was to term "organic" architecture.
Americans, such as Sullivan and Wright, had, he claimed, through their buildings and publications, made a vital contact with the ideas of the European architects. "As a result of their influence," he wrote, "a new architectural movement [had] arisen." That movement was, and indeed still is the "organic" one.
In 1945 he was to publish his first book on it in Italian and at the same time the Association of Organic Architects was set up in Rome. Earlier before his expulsion from London in 1943 he had completed the "chronicle", as he called it, entitled Towards an Organic Architecture which significantly acknowledged Le Corbusier's Vers une Architecture but set out for Italians his discovery of "a common direction in contemporary building" based on organic architecture and not on a style ending with an "ism". The book was issued in English by Faber in 1950, the same year they brought out Wright's An …