Aldo Rossi (May 3, 1931 – September 4, 1997) was an Italian architect and designer who accomplished the unusual feat of achieving international recognition in three distinct areas: theory, drawing, and architecture. Rossi was born in Milan, Italy. He graduated in architecture in 1959 from the Politecnico di Milano and later went on to become a lecturer there in 1965. Rossi’s theoretical and practical work made him an influential name in the second half of the 20th century. He was an instrumental figure in reshaping and reclaiming the landscape of cities as ever growing and criticized the moralism of early 20th century modernism. Rossi received the Pritzker Prize in 1990. At the time he was the most well known Italian architect worldwide.
Rossi’s work has been based on the rereading of rational models, such as Giuseppe Terragni’s 1920s Italian modern movement and the “logical system” of the works of Boullée, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Adolf Loos. Correlations have also been drawn between the drawings of Aldo Rossi and the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio De Chirico. A youthful trip to the Soviet Union to study Stalinist architecture also marks an important point in making Rossi an architectural thinker. Impressions of which Rossi recalls in his 1981 published book Autobiografia Scientifica (A Scientific Autobiography).
Rossi’s critical confrontation with the early 20th century modernism started with his early writings for the renowned italian magazine Casabella. He later became the magazine's editor from 1959-1964. In his writings for Casabella Rossi criticized the post war, top-down, totalitarian approach in architecture and planning and their lack of understanding of the city. He argued that a city must be studied and valued as something constructed over time and that buildings only emerge and are alive once they are inhabited by the people and in its surroundings. An advocate of “collective memory” and a believer in urban artifacts that withstand the passage of time, Rossi held that the city remembers its past, and that we use that memory through monuments (i.e. monuments give structure to the city).
His critical thinking and writing for Casabella prepared him with a collection for his book published in 1966, “L'architettura della città” (The Architecture of the City), which changed the course of the profession from the totalitarian modernist beliefs towards a more humanistic, contextual and coherent approach. To this day the book is considered a pioneering work in urban theory. This, along with his expanding body of built work and second book Autobiografia scientifica (A Scientific Autobiography, 1981) gained him immense recognition in the late 1970s and 1980s.
During the 1960s, Rossi’s work was mainly dedicated to architectural theory and academia, but it took a different direction in 1970 when italian architect Carlo Aymonino, invited him to design a building for the Monte Amiata Housing complex in the Gallaratese quarter of Milan. Aymonino and Rossi interlaced their urban ideologies and set out to realize their respective utopic visions for an ideal urban micro-community. The result of which is a complex of five buildings: A1, A2, B, and C designed by Aymonino, and D designed by Rossi. His independent work on part of the San Cataldo Cemetery in Modena, Italy (1971-1984) is considered one of the first and most important postmodern buildings in the world and is one of Rossi’s larger-scale works. In his discreet but equally recognized work for the Venice Biennale: Teatro del Mondo (The floating theatre, 1979), Rossi got to pay his respect to his passion of 18th century Venice. Rossi said “The theater, in which the architecture serves as a possible background, a setting, a building that can be calculated and transformed into the measurements and concrete materials of an often elusive feeling, has been one of my passions.”
IBA 1984/87 and Aldo Rossi
Rossi's urban and theoretical work had a significant impact on the conception of the Internationale BauAufstellung 1984/87 which gave a new identity to urban renewal schemes in West Berlin under the management of Josef Paul Kleihues. Rossi in his article, “Aspetti della tipologia residenziale a Berlino, 1960” for Casabella praised Berlin for its fragmented, multi loci, multi fabric urban typology. Berlin supported his argument of smaller city zones, urban artefacts and a method away from the totalitarian master planning of modernists before him. With his built projects for IBA on Kochstrasse and Wilhelmstrasse and his second project, a contribution to the city villas on Rauchstrasse, Rossi got the chance to practice his theories and place his urban artefacts in the multi layered, collective memory of Berlin.
Rossi is considered one of the founders of the Neo-Rationalist movement known as La Tendenza (the trend). His influence in shaping European architectural thinking during this period is often compared to that of Robert Venturi in the USA. Along with Venturi, Rossi became one of the prime examples given by architecture critic Charles Jencks of Postmodern architecture. When Rossi was introduced at Harvard to deliver the Walter Gropius Lecture, the chairman of the architecture department, Jose Rafael Moneo said, "When future historians look for an explanation as to why the destructive tendencies that threatened our cities changed, Rossi's name will appear as one of those who helped to establish a wiser and more respectful attitude." In 1990, Rossi won the Pritzker prize and Ada Louise Huxtable, architectural critic and Pritzker juror described him as "a poet who happens to be an architect."
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