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Aldo Rossi: The Architecture of the City (1966)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Reviewed by Xiaoxue Bu
Aldo Rossi (1931—1997)was the leader of the Italian Neo-rationalist architecture movement, and was also one of the most influential theorists in the architecture field during the period 1970s and 1980s. He accomplished the unusual feat of achieving international recognition in four distinct areas: theory, drawing, architecture and product design. In 1966, Aldo Rossi published the book ‘The Architecture of the City’, which subsequently was translated into several languages and enjoyed enormous international success. This book is an important work about building and urban theory. Originally some thought that this book was defined as a study of architecture, in fact, its subject is the whole city, not only different buildings in the city and the urban visual image, but also the city's construction process. In this book, Rossi re-evaluated the modern architecture movement and at the same time he also analyzed the rules and forms of urban development. Rossi did not focus on reviewing the forms of buildings, or the standard images of modern architecture, but he especially discussed the neglect and destruction of "people's collective memory". On the one hand, he attacked functionalism and the modern movement; on the other hand, he tried to restore the position of compositional techniques, and make it become the only correct study object of architecture research. Long ignored values in urban research have appeared in different forms in various periods. The language of urban architecture is an important means to improve the image of the city. In Rossi's view every architectural style is connected to certain dominant building types, such as the Romanesque is represented by the abbey church while gothic is represented by the civic cathedral. These building types are the iconic structures in some cities, which provide the city image. When we look at a city, and are moved by it, what kind of role do these forms play? When people generally consider the structure of the city, is the city spirit shrouded in these buildings being ignored? "So we should pay attention to urban geography, urban topography, architecture and other disciplines" Rossi declares. Surely, in addition to melting into the city environment, and reflecting the local characteristics, it is also an important characteristic of the buildings in the city that it contributes spirit to the city, since every city has its own soul. The soul is the city's personality and characteristic. What architecture has to do is to reflect the city's spirit and only in this way, can it become the real urban architecture.
Rossi proposed that as an organic part of the whole city, the creation of any building should not disturb the organization of the city, and should be combined with the existing living space. The actual city forms condensed the meanings and characteristics of human living. In his view, "although the building just reflects one part of the complex and huge entity structure, as the final and established fact of the entity or structure, buildings constituted the most specific actual starting point of discussion". And "type" replaced the concept of function because the standard of classification can contain much broader city information and provide helpful permanence to comprehend the urban structure. The city is the form most closely related to specific human life in time and space, including history. It is the performance of human culture in urban form. Therefore, Rossi thought he should put aside all shallow fantasy about functionalism, proposing architecture return to another form of order, so as to find a morphological relationship - defined by the relationship "architecture is a small city and the city is a big building". Finally Rossi raised architecture to a new height: The rules of the city may be just like the rules that controlled personal life and fate. Each biography has its own span, although is limited between birth and death. Certainly, urban architecture is the collective embodiment of this biography, beyond the meanings and emotions of the city that we know. In Rossi's philosophy, building types are closely related to the people's life style. A way of life seems to be a kind of type, the specific form due to different societies and having very different expressions. Forms are just the skin of things; the way of life is the deep structure of buildings. We need to access this kind of deep meaning from history and memory, and archetypes. In a particular place, the architect must rely on collective memory to determine the model of buildings to create a city.

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