Hunting For The Architectural Relics Of Totalitarianism

A three-year project documents structures that date back to the reigns of Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini.

All across Europe in the first half of the 20th century, totalitarian regimes began their steady rise to power. With Hitler in Germany, Stalin in Russia and Eastern Europe, and Mussolini in Italy, these dictators ruled with military might and fear. Today, the remnants of these reigns of terror can be found in museums, history books, and living memory. But they’ve also been preserved through architecture.


Curated by the Italian artist collective Spazi Indecisi for the European cultural organization ATRIUM, the project Totally Lost captures these abandoned buildings that still stand as monuments to another time. Since its beginnings in 2013, Totally Lost has issued open calls for photographs of totalitarian architecture, and has collected the works of nearly 400 international photographers and videographers in its online archive. The photographs have been presented to the public periodically in exhibitions–but they’ve also been
geotagged to an interactive map that enables visitors to explore these buildings across Europe online, or perhaps on their own in real life.

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The architecture is diverse: the Krajan factory in Ukraine, for one, was used to build cranes for the Soviet Union before it was abandoned. The 11-square-kilometer Zeppelin Field in Germany was the site of Nazi rallies; today it lies unused. The Umberto Maddalena sanatorium in Rovigo, Italy, was originally emblazoned with the words “Istituto Nazionale Fascista della Previdenza Sociale,” or “Fascist National Institute for Social Security.” It was closed in 1999.

Over the course of September, the best photos from the project’s second open call–which mapped 300 places with more than 2,600 photographs from more than 25 countries–are being displayed in an exhibition near Forlì, Italy. The exhibition will travel between three underused locations linked to the fascist regime’s architecture: Casa del Mutilato in Forlì, Acquedotto di Spinadello in Forlimpopoli, and Casa del Fascio in Teodorano.

Part of the project’s mission is to situate these places–the hospitals and military encampments, but also the cinemas and summer camps and houses that provided the backdrop to a horrifying history–within a 21st century context. Often abandoned, underused, or under reconstruction, the structures are architectural echoes of the past, which have often faded into the background of contemporary life. Totally Lost refuses to let them disappear. Instead, the project uses documentation to transform them into monuments to a history that should never be forgotten.

[All Photos: courtesy Spazi Indecisi/ATRIUM]


About the author

Katharine Schwab is the deputy editor of Fast Company's technology section. Email her at and follow her on Twitter @kschwabable