Aldo Rossi – Poetry gone too far

By Vat Jaiswal, February 28, 2013

Aldo Rossi was an Italian architect, writer and theorist around mid 1960′s – early 90′s. Called “a poet who happens to be an architect” by the Pritzker prize juror, his strong theoretical background started with his writing “Architecture of the city“. He then started practicing architecture based on his theories reflected in his writing. There is not much to be said about his buildings itself but there is a lot to be said about his writing and it’s theoretical influence on his buildings. Let’s see what his beliefs were.

Architecture of the city

To summarize his design philosophy, we must first understand the concept of urban artifact. These are elements of built architecture that define our ‘memory’ of a city. For example – Empire state building or Guggenheim museum in New York. According to Rossi, these urban artifacts must be reflected in new buildings to continue our collective memory of the city. So much so that, literal representation of shapes and forms must take precedence over function of the building. Function follows form. To draw an analogy- instead of a making new artwork, he wants you to collage from famous pieces of work to pay homage to other artists.

This philosophy tells you to not only ignore the function of the building to achieve ‘collective memory’, it also supports complete ignorance of the architectural style in the neighbourhood (see the first image below of his hotel in Japan). I think of cities as collection of neighbourhoods rather than a large board with repeated units that must be similar.

 A perfect backdrop for horror films

While all his peers around the world believed in progressive architecture, Rossi was caught up in his own poetry- designing of out of context cemeteries and theatres. His architecture comprises of minimalist bold shapes and colours with hauntingly small windows. Generally lifeless and eerie, his buildings seem inspired by classical architecture stripped of all ornamentation and painted in strange colours.

Poetry gone too far

Unlike engineering which is strictly functional, architecture involves art which gives it beauty and life. But architecture is also not exclusively art. Rossi had completely ignored that fact that buildings are built for a purpose and that some forms of the building might be reflective of the function. As an example he deliberately bricked the entire ocean facing side of a hotel providing no windows to satisfy his poetic inspirations. Maybe people want to see the ocean?!!

It seems he always wrote a justification (as opposed to explanation) of his work. Why depend on it? While explaining your work and inspirations might help architects and curators to appreciate your design, architecture is truly is for its habitants to appreciate. Therefore, producing architecture that strikes a balance between art and functionalism that is legible to the layman’s eye is more worthy of appreciation than winning an award for making an artistic statement in architecture which is mostly conveyed with architectural jargon.


If you are interested in reading about Rossi, I recommend reading “Aldo Rossi Architecture 1981-1991″ by Morris Adjmi. Credit for all images goes to original photographers mentioned in this book. This article is a part of my SMA project, don’t forget to check out the other architects!

Vat Jaiswal

About the author- I am currently:

1) Researching the 50 most acclaimed architects in the world.
2) Doing a Master in Architecture degree
3) Doing timelapse and hyperlapse photography in Canada
4) Practicing Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin and Korean

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One Comment

  1. Olivia says:

    Thank you for your blog! I am studying interior design and architecture right now, and I find it very inspiring. Good luck throughout your travels. It is one of my dreams to travel the world.

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