While it is clear that architecture is not autonomous from culture, it is possible to understand architecture as autonomous in relation to culture because architecture is a discipline with its own rules, values, formal and conceptual principles which are put forward in theories, drawings, built and unbuilt examples. Yet architecture gives concrete form to culture and came into being with the first traces of the city. Architecture is rooted in the formation of culture and civilisation so that the history of architecture, which is the city, is also the history of culture. Architecture, culture and the city are therefore relational and co-determinate. The purpose of the following notes will be to briefly reflect on these points.
“Mind takes form in the city;” said Lewis Mumford in The Culture of Cities “and in turn, urban forms condition mind.” Mumford’s words remind us of architecture’s formal condition and that the city embodies the sensibility, attitude, and dominant worldview of any given culture. Then, urban forms – architecture as such – condition the sensibility of any given culture because the architecture of the city is both a human creation of manual as well as mental labour and the willed expression of power, whether in the name of the state, religion, corporate patronage or some other authority such as a single figure. The city thus embodies private passions and desires, shared beliefs and needs, as well as the conflicts of a people, which always results in both the construction and destruction of the city. Think of the construction of great arches during the Roman Empire to celebrate war victories; or infrastructural projects like Haussmann’s Paris boulevards that destroyed vast areas of the city to represent an affluent Paris as a crucial centre of Europe; or the production of “iconic” buildings in the 1990s and 2000s that attempted to turn relatively unimpressive cities into global tourist attractions. By understanding architecture and the city as the embodiment of culture – of shared beliefs and needs as well as common sensibilities and attitudes – we can ask what is the culture of our current condition and how is this formalised in architecture?
There has been considerable recent discussion by commentators who describe culture today as a “crisis of social imagination.”  Let us note two examples. According to Paul Virilio, “Progress has become excess.” In the past, progress was the shared improvement of living, working, and education conditions. As Virilio states in The Administration of Fear progress is now excess. For Virilio, excess means the proliferation of unnecessary objects so that we are saturated with images, sounds and words. These are produced at an excessive speed with the purpose of feeding our desire for immediate satisfaction. The excessive speed of contemporary culture and the constant speed of post-industrial society has caused the fragmentation of rhythm, whether daily and habitual, seasonal, or something other. Virilio extrapolates this to various scales including human, city, and military. He comments that society accelerates at all times and without pause for reflecting on our desire for new things. The planned obsolescence of technologies such as phones and computers (as well as cars and new homes) is an example. We dispose of them at a quicker rate because they are produced at a quicker rate so we endlessly consume. Virilio reminds us that the need to constantly update our Facebook and our Email is another example of the acceleration of reality. The implication of the desire to “update” is that we are always behind where we need to be: behind on work, family, and friends. Because of its banality the sense of “being behind” goes unnoticed as a way of controlling our sensibility that results in deep feelings of anxiety. Lastly, Virilio reminds us that modern culture equates progress with economic expansion and the excessive proliferation of facts, figures, percentages, profits, and statistics, which is what Virilio calls the “mathematicisation of reality.”
Let us recall another example. In Factories of Knowledge, Industries of Creativity Gerald Raunig says the following: “Knowledge economy, knowledge age, knowledge-based economy, knowledge management, cognitive capitalism – these terms for the current social situation speak volumes. Knowledge becomes commodity, which is manufactured, fabricated and traded like material commodities.” Here, contradictory keywords are conjoined: knowledge and economy, knowledge and management, cognition and capitalism. Knowledge is understood as collectively produced shared thinking and is founded on human cognition which is immeasurable and cannot be controlled nor quantified. By contrast economy, management, and capitalism represent mass-individualisation, extreme competition, and hierarchical control. In Raunig’s reflections, we can read the struggle between the human value of knowledge versus its gradual commodification by dominant power.
The points made by Virilio and Raunig on the quantification of life and knowledge help frame the following architectural examples which can be read as symptomatic of a deeper cultural pathology that increasingly rejects the human sensibility for critical and creative imagination. Koolhaas’ (et al) Mutations, although now a dated text, is worthwhile recalling because it is the model of numerous recent texts. It surveys contemporary global urbanisation from cities and city-regions in Europe, America, and Asia. The text measures cities through statistics and indexes, and is illustrated by countless charts. Significantly, Mutations opens with a series of page spreads that comment on global population trends. The first reads: “At the outset of the twentieth century, 10% of the population lived in cities. In 2000, around 50% of the world population lives in cities.” This is a tiring statistic which is constantly repeated.
Another text, Content, is a history of OMA/AMO since S,M,L,XL of 1995 and situates Koolhaas’ practice within the scope of global culture. In the chapter entitled “An Autopsy” global culture between 1989 to 2003 is charted in relation to the production of “iconic” buildings and the Dow Jones Financial index. It makes clear the link between architecture and its commodification within the framework of economic markets. In the photomontage that illustrates the chapter, we see buildings by Zumthor, Gehry, Foster, and SOM amongst many others. We also see photographs of Kofi Annan, Princess Diana, Bill Clinton, and images of nuclear tests by India and Pakistan, as well as art exhibitions such as Damien Hirst’s in MOMA, New York. Comment should also be made on the objecthood of the book: a small, thick, glossy paperback magazine, saturated with images, photomontages, ideograms, advertisements, essays, interviews and statistics about global culture. It is an analogical reflection of the loud consumerist ethos of our age. Yet, to qualify this, Content still asserts the role of culture and understanding the city as a prerequisite for the production of architecture. While these are only two examples, we can cite many others to indicate the recent emphasis on quantifying the city, architecture and culture via technological-scientific language. For brevity, a few book titles should suffice: Weak and Diffuse Modernity, Recombinant Urbanism, The Endless City, A New Urban Metabolism.
The preceding examples – from the critical reflections by Virilio and Raunig on the implications of “mathematicisation of reality” and social imagination, to the quantitative analyses of Koolhaas and others – serve as illustrations of our current cultural condition and its interplay with architecture in general. To end, here is the crucial point: instead of constructing complex mathematical models to “measure” architecture or endlessly analysing the city through “data,” we should remember that architecture is a form of cultural production and based on human sensibility, which is of immeasurable importance. Let us remember that architecture is an intellectual inquiry that questions urban life as such by putting forward alternative ways of living and critical interpretations of existing conditions.
 See for example the following: Franco Berardi, The Uprising: On Poetry and Finance (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2012); David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (London: Profile Books, 2014); Eric Hobsbawm, Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the Twentieth Century (London: Abacus, 2014); Antonio Negri, Art and Multitude: Nine letters on art, followed by Metamorphoses: Art and immaterial labour, trans. by Ed Emery (Cambridge; Malden, MA: Polity, 2011); Paul Virilio and Bertrand Richard, The Administration of Fear (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2012).
This essay can also be found at http://issuu.com/level6portfolio
One place to situate the theme of autonomy in architecture is in Emil Kaufmann’s discussion in the 1930s on the work of Enlightenment architect Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. Kaufmann emphasised formal aspects such as: cubic masses, bare walls, frameless apertures, and flat roofs. For Kaufmann, the isolation of parts, their dialogue as either repetitive or oppositional elements, represented a formal autonomy. Autonomy re-emerged in the 1970s when architects challenged pseudo-scientific and technologically-driven projects, such as: Kenzo Tange’s 1960 project for Tokyo Bay with its raised roadways from which residential units could endlessly aggregate, Buckminster Fuller’s 1962 domed geodesic smog shield over midtown Manhattan, Archigram’s pop-image megastructures like the 1964 Plug-in City, Paolo Soleri’s anamorphic urbanism, and in Italy, Archizoom’s anarchic No-stop City, a continuous urban structure “without architecture.” In projects like these, formal issues are replaced by statistical analyses, technological optimism, and the potentially infinitely extendable, “open-form.” This path of development is opposed by those architects who follow the theme of autonomy in architecture. In recent years, autonomy has been discussed once again in texts by Pier Vittorio Aureli, Michael Hays, Reinhold Martin, and Anthony Vidler. 
The introduction of historical critique into the discipline of architecture is a characteristic the theme of autonomy. However, it is complicated by two general positions that refer to the argument about what kind of historical critique is appropriate. One kind of critique proposes an ideological critique of the history of architecture. An examination of all the contributing factors around architectural form, such as the social, cultural, economic and political, in order to understand how architecture is produced through power. The other kind of critique proposes a typological critique of the history of architecture and its formation as the city. An examination of typological-form in order to understand the processes, principles and formal operations that underline the production of form. In particular, the relationship between the form of the individual building as it relates to the wider collective realm of the city, and the history of architecture. It is important to say that both attitudes are independent of one another, but share a commitment to the repositioning of the “I” of architecture to the “us” of the city. Whether through understanding the form and role of architecture within the city as a product of social, cultural, economic and political concern. Or as much for architecture as a product of the historical, urban and typological structure of the city itself. Again, both positions prioritise the collective mind over the individual.
There is a problematic overlap in these positions because architecture supports social, cultural, economic and political aspects and is their concrete manifestation. Thus, architectural form cannot be considered as a single, isolated event because it is bounded by both the material and immaterial reality in which it exists. However, what the theme of autonomy can do, is open a discussion on what it means to view architecture as autonomous. Thus autonomy refers to notions of separation, resistance, opposition, confrontation, and critical distance, which can be instrumentalised by the architect through the production of images, and texts, aswell as buildings. It is worthwhile to note a few specific examples in the recent history of architecture.
Manfredo Tafuri, in Architecture and Utopia bleakly surmised architecture to be an instrument of capitalist development used by regimes of power, thinking it useless to propose purely architectural alternatives. However, he said that it is the conflict of things that is important, insisting on the productivity inherent in separation. In Critical Architecture Michael Hays writes that architecture is an instrument of culture, and also is autonomous form. The former view emphasises culture as the content of built form, and depends on social, economic, political and technological processes. The latter concerns the formal operations of architecture, how buildings are composed, and how architectural form is viewed as part of a continuing historical project. Aureli develops an autonomy thesis in The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture, in which he articulates an engagement with the city through confrontation. Aureli writes that it is the condition of architectural form to separate and be separated. In this act of separation, architecture reveals the essence of the city, and the essence of itself as political form. For Aureli, it is the process of separation inherent to architectural form that the political is manifest.
In the work of Aldo Rossi the autonomy of form produced critical distance between the legacy of modern functionalist architecture and its critique, of which Rossi was a key proponent. To outline an example, we can refer to two projects undertaken in the early 1970s. A school at Fagnano Olona, and a cemetery outside Modena. Both projects share a precisely defined bi-lateral plan-form. Extending perpendicular from this axis are wings which arrange classrooms in the school, and graves in the cemetery. Either end of this central axis is marked by a circular and a square element. At the school, the circular element is a library which enters into the courtyard, and the square element is a gym hall. At the cemetery, the former is a conical grave and the latter, a monument to the war dead. Both plans refers to the axially arranged institutions of prisons, hospitals and asylums. In so doing, function is superseded by autonomous form, and the history of architecture is collapsed into a single building.
By way of conclusion it is illuminating to recall the political category of agonism posited by Chantal Mouffe in her book On the Political. We can think once again of the I/us relationship of the opening paragraphs, and more particularly the interrelated, we/they relationship. For Mouffe, the agonist principle develops from the idea of the political as a space of permanent conflict and antagonism, and hence a constancy of the we/they opposition. In antagonism there is no shared ground in the we/they opposition, so opponents are enemies. While in agonism, there is recognition of the legitimacy of the opponent, so enemy becomes adversary. Remembering that autonomy refers to notions of separation, resistance, opposition, confrontation, and critical distance, we could say that a crucial meaning of autonomy in architecture is to constantly produce a form of agonism through the production of images, texts, and buildings.
 See for example: Aureli, Pier V. The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture (MIT Press, 2011), Aureli, Pier V. The Project of Autonomy: Politics and Architecture Within and Against Capitalism, Reprint 2012 (Princeton Architectural Press, 2008), Hays, K. Michael. Architecture’s Desire (MIT Press, 2009),
Martin, Reinhold. Utopia’s Ghost: Architecture and Postmodernism, Again (University of Minnesota Press, 2010),
Vidler, Anthony, Histories of the Immediate Present: Inventing Architectural Modernism (MIT Press, 2008).
This essay can also be found at http://www.aefoundation.co.uk
Typology in architecture gives us an apparatus to study the history of architecture, which can also be understood as a way to examine the collective memory of the city. As can be seen in canonical texts since Vitruvius, such as those by Alberti, Serlio, Palladio, during the Renaissance, to Durand during Enlightenment, Hilberseimer in the early twentieth-century, Rossi in the 1960s and others, we can view the process of architectural history unfolding, treatise to treatise, manual to manual, and manifesto to manifesto. Although not all of these works use the word typology, or type, the concept is implied because each use classification, description, and historical precedent to formulate a position. For example, in De re aedificatoria Alberti distinguished between public and private buildings in the city, assigning the Orders to certain classes of building. Serlio’s books on architecture catalogued buildings from Ancient Rome in plans, elevations and perspectives, before describing the typological-form of temples: circular, square, six-sided, eight-sided, oval and cruciform. Palladio’s Four Books organised the Orders, private buildings in rural and urban settings, then public buildings and, buildings of historical significance. In Durand’s books, the Recueil et Paralléle, and the Précis des leçons d’architecture, the former catalogued existing works of architecture from different cultures and historic periods at the same scale. While the latter was divided into three: on architectural elements, on composition, and on analysis of building types. Hilberseimer’s Groszstadt Architektur was organised into ten chapters with the first two and final describing the urban condition and proposing a response. Those inbetween address in succession the building programmes of the city from residential, commercial, high-rises, halls and theatres, transport, industrial, trade construction.
I have noted these texts because as Rossi wrote in The Architecture of the City, the concept of type became, “the very idea of architecture,” a fact attested to by both practice, he says, and by the treatise. Although in this sketch of a few texts that deal with theories about type, an emphasis is seemingly placed on type as it relates to classification. It should be made clear, however, that the idea of type is a dialectical principle, because it always reacts with, say: form, construction technique, site irregularities, means of production, cultural particularities, history, and also, the autobiography of the architect. Later in The Architecture of the City Rossi discusses the concept of collective memory, via the sociologist Maurice Halbwachs, who wrote that historical memory reaches us through written and visual records. The concept of collective memory and of type are closely interrelated, because collective memory relies on material reality. A material reality which is manifest both in built form and as images in treatise. Built form because buildings witness the evolution of the city. Images because they embody values, experience, ideas. What is important is that type constructs a link with history, and produces transmittable knowledge. Accordingly, architecture communicates its own history through typological ideas.
One of the premises of the AE Foundation is to understand the history of architecture as central to the education and practice of the architect. Undertaken within the framework of the AE Foundation Graduate Programme, the project opposite is for a school in the Lochee part of Dundee. The typological approach has been to distinguish three volumes that articulate three conditions of the site. The tower fronts the street edge and contains the entrance, administration, dining, gym hall, and a nursery. Classrooms are arranged around a courtyard which opens into the school grounds. Between the courtyard and tower is a rectangular volume which holds a library and an art studio. In order to leave and to arrive at the classrooms, children (and teachers) must always pass through the art and library spaces. The spaces of creativity and of knowledge.
For further information about the AE Foundation, an open and independent forum for the discussion and exposition of architecture, see http://aefoundation.co.uk/
A thesis that starts with an image. A collage by the author, titled Three Propositions. Fragments of images are cut out and pasted onto cartridge paper which has been coated with a layer of white chalk, over which marks have been made using pencil and the long side of the chalk. At its centre is Aldo Rossi’s Analogical City, itself a collage that uses photocopies. Rossi’s image is around two metres square and consists of projects by Rossi, his collaborators and his references, drawn in a mixture of projection techniques: orthographic, oblique, perspective. So we get plan, elevation, perspective, and oblique sharing the same space and with equal authority. Rossi has drawn a figure, which, in my collage is displaced vertically and overlaps onto Canaletto’s vedute painting of an alternative Venice, which Rossi used to illustrate his concept of the Analogical City.
Canaletto’s painting depicts three buildings by Palladio as if they were composed in an actual cityscape. They are not. The bridge is unbuilt and the buildings either side are in Vicenza. Rossi says that an imaginary Venice is built on top of the real one. The painting is aligned with Sebastiano Serlio’s 10×10 square grid which is at the start of his Renaissance treatise in Book I On Geometry. In Book II On Perspective, Serlio illustrates the technique of perspective using the theatre sets that Vitruvius’ described in De Architettura: Tragic, Satyric, and Comical. I have cut out the one Serlio draws without the set, leaving only a gridded pattern and the outline of where the walls of the set would be, and placed it underneath the Analogical City image. On the oblique is another part of Serlio’s theatre, the semicircular seating.
On top of this and aligned with the seating is a notebook extract by Rossi. To the left of the Analogical City is Jacques Lacan’s diagram of the image-screen from the chapter “What is a Picture” in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. Following the diagram, Lacan says the screen is the “locus of mediation.” As Freud has said, memories are projected onto this screen as images, where they are superimposed on one another. Images are thus built on top of other images. Rossi says the city is the “locus of collective memory,” and I place Lacan’s diagram between Serlio’s geometric grid, and Rossi’s Analogical City. It directs the view toward another of Rossi’s notebook extracts in which he writes about collage in architecture, the construction of the city by parts, and the Analogical City as a compositional system that uses existing elements in new combinations, like the Canaletto painting.
The two quotations at the bottom of the collage, in their juxtaposition constitute a narrative framework:
“Forgetting Architecture comes to mind as a more appropriate title for this book, since while I may talk about a school, a cemetery, a theatre, it is more correct to say that I talk about life, death, imagination.”
Aldo Rossi A Scientific Autobiography 1981, p. 78.
“I would define the concept of type as something that is permanent and complex, a logical principle that is prior to form and that constitutes it.”
Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City 1966, p. 40.
Established in May 2011, the AE Foundation provides an open independent forum for the discussion of architecture. The Foundation brings together an international community of practitioners, academics and graduates who wish to pursue architecture seriously with a view to contributing to and disseminating architectural knowledge and understanding. To, “promote the significance of the discipline, to encourage scholarship and foster an active architectural culture, in partnership with individuals in practice and academia – and to be a centre ‘par excellence’ for intelligent dialogue and debate in architectural theory, history and practice based in Scotland.”
One such discussion was undertaken during the Spring months of this year, 2012, under the general question: can we talk about fundamentals in architecture? Our exchange was at times flippant, at times philosophical, and at times biting of each other’s position. Some of us decided to formalise our thoughts in short essays. What follows is a summary. An extended version of the essay can be found on the AE Foundation website.
I started with Aldo Rossi’s rumination on the alternative title for his book A Scientific Autobiography,
“Forgetting Architecture comes to mind as a more appropriate title for this book, since while I may talk about a school, a cemetery, a theatre, it is more correct to say that I talk about life, death, imagination.”
It links the building types: school, cemetery, theatre; with their conceptual analogues: life, death, imagination. In this space of association type in architecture is both material and idea. In a theory of types, we can view the process of architectural history unfolding, treatise to treatise, manual to manual, and manifesto to manifesto. That is, from Vitruvius, De architectura, Serlio and Palladio’s books during the Renaissance, to Durand’s manual which codifies buildings, Venturi’s manifesto, and the pamphlets of Holl. In Rafael Moneo’s 1978 essay On Typology, republished in a 2004 edition of El Croquis he writes that typology raises the question of the nature of the architectural work itself. In my view, it is therefore legitimate to postulate type as one place to begin a discussion about fundamentals in architecture.
For the first part, type is a way of thinking in groups, which is, analysis through classification. In architecture, the most common theories of classification by type have been according to use: national monuments, town halls, prisons, banks, warehouses, factories, as can be seen in Nikolaus Pevsner’s 1976 A History of Building Types; and according to form: centralised plan, linear arrangement, courtyard. Aldo Rossi tell us that the former understanding is limiting because the use of a building is independent from its form. Buildings evolve over time, so a warehouse becomes an apartment block, an apartment block becomes an office block, an office block becomes a brothel. Or as, for example, Atelier Bow-Wow show us in Made in Tokyo, all of these can be contained as a hybrid, so that above the warehouse is an apartment block, which is below an office, and the building terminates with a penthouse brothel.
Rossi’s quote, “I would define the concept of type as something that is permanent and complex, a logical principle that is prior to form and that constitutes it,” is significant for its location within The Architecture of the City. It mediates between a quotation by the Enlightenment architectural theorists Antoine Chrysôthome Quatremère de Quincy and Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand. Both Quatremère de Quincy and Durand acknowledged, in different ways the relationship of memory and history in the idea of type. Quatremère de Quincy linked type with that which is archaic, elemental and primitive, and we could say to memory. Free from this metaphysical speculation, Durand’s technical understanding geometrised history. And as Rossi has said, history is the material of architecture. Thus in the adjacency of each quote we get the opposition between the conceptual and the material once more. Rossi’s quote then, mediates between the “permanent and complex,” which is archaic and elemental, something “prior to form;” and of the “logical principle,” which is that constituted by a reading of history.
And of forgetting, Rossi writes,
“In order to be significant, architecture must be forgotten, or must present only an image for reverence which subsequently becomes confounded with memories.”
Freud tells us that in forgetting, we commit something to the unconscious, where it is worked over during regression, which is an impulse to the archaic; and then to surface again when remembered, only now transformed, and reverent. The type is worked over within the collective history of architecture, to be transformed by a kind of temporal and formal regression.
“Town plans are thus no mere diagrams, they are a system of hieroglyphics in which man has written the history of civilisation, and the more tangled their apparent confusion, the more we may be rewarded in deciphering it.” (Geddes, Cities in Evolution, 1915)
A transect drawing made for the Geddes Institute for Urban Research at Architecture, Dundee. It represents Dundee and its environs from the agrarian north toward the Cairngorms, through to the post-industrial city, and water edge of the Tay. The rail bridge and oil rigs are ghosted in.
Since commencing our PhD in 2009, three of the design-based researcher’s at Architecture, Dundee, have presented a modest Work in Progress, free-style exhibition. A grab from the Dundee website reads, “PhD research at Architecture, Dundee is pursued through design and focused around two interrelated themes that support priorities in creative practice and sustainability: Architecture and Intellectual Culture; and Architecture and the Environment.”
I presented study drawings of Fagnano Olona Elementary School, Italy by Aldo Rossi and used the analysis to speculate about Rossi’s analogical praxis in the Aldo Rossi in his Study montage and accompanying sketch studies. These examine the relationship between observation, memory and imagination within an analogical framework and depict the type-forms, type-elements, monuments and anonymous architecture which are at the foundation of Rossi’s praxis.
Fagnano Olona Elementary School is defined by its courtyard plan-form and axially-arranged accommodation. Within the courtyard, wide steps lead to the double height gymnasium, from which one can look toward the cylindrical library with its glazed roof. We can read this analogically and equate the gymnasium with fitness and physical health; opposite the library which is for knowledge; between these are the square and steps which is where the life of a city unfolds. The school is thus a city in microcosm.
The city is where Aldo Rossi’s thesis begins. He developed a theory of types in The Architecture of the City, which was a theory for the building forms that repeated and endured most in the history of architecture and the city. Out of this evolved his concept of the Analogical City, a conceptual framework for transposing collective types and individual monuments from architectural history to be repositioned alongside the most anonymous elements of the city. Mixed, like Canaletto’s vedute and Freud’s composite dream-image.
The recently established Foundation for Architecture & Education is an independent forum for the exchange of ideas about architecture and founded by Samuel Penn and Penny Lewis, who tell us, “Architects work within a rich canon. Defining the position of contemporary work in relation to the vast body of work that has gone before it is important.” The Foundation for Architecture & Education organises events, produce publications and coordinate a post-graduate course in architectural studies. The premise of which is to provide a framework in which each participant can develop their understanding of the discipline through the study of built work. The year long course is split into three parts: Model, which involves the study of a building that exemplifies a particular idea about architecture; Axiom, which demands that participants develop a clear position on their own practice in the context of a broader appreciation of shared concerns for architecture; and Locus, which offers the opportunity to design a building in a specific location. The building chosen to study in Model provides the building type to design in Locus. Each year, a new question is asked, which will be returned to in all of the work undertaken. This year is the question of size: what size should a building be?
This post is about term one Model, which concludes with an Open Review this Saturday 5th of May after a talk and presentation by architect Raphael Zuber and Christoph Gantenbein on Friday night. The building selected to study is Aldo Rossi’s school at Fagnano Olona, a small town, 40 km northwest of Milan. Designed in 1972, Rossi had built only the Segrate town square in 1965 and the Gallaratese housing block in 1970, completing the school at Fagnano Olona in 1976. Thus, it is considered one of Rossi’s early works.The selection of this building is: first, Rossi is regarded as a significant architect and Fagnano Olona school is recognised as significant in the development of Rossi’s built and theoretical work. Second, when published, it is often illustrated in plan only and as with all of Rossi’s projects, is accompanied by beautiful sketch studies and photographs. However, the site context and sectional drawings are almost always missing. Third, the building type is sufficiently complex to use as a base for term three, Locus. Finally, and from a personal point of view, Rossi forms the foundation of my PhD, and as readers of this blog will know, there was really no other choice…
Fagnano Olona school is defined by its courtyard plan-form and axially-arranged accommodation. The elevation is punctured with large square openings set in line with the internal wall thus articulating the shadow that falls on the external surface. One enters underneath a large clock, and with the adjacent conical brick chimney (containing the plant), it is like walking into a painting by de Chirico or Sironi. When I visited (see this post), it was the Summer holiday so the school was empty and the association of de Chirico was perhaps intensified by this. The chimney marks the entrance and primary axis of the school, which is organised northeast to southwest between an assembly hall and a linear pergola. Within the courtyard, wide steps lead to the double height gymnasium on the northeast, from which one can look toward the cylindrical library with its glazed roof. Double-corridor wings surround the courtyard and contain twenty-two classrooms (over two floors), staff facilities and a dining hall.It is interesting to note a recent AR. The February 2012 issue has a short section on schools, in which Christian Kuhn offers four attributes for the building type: flexibility, clustering, common core, and connectivity. We can analyse Fagnano Olona via these attributes.
Kuhn’s attribute clustering, is the division of the school into a hierarchy of smaller clusters. We can see this at Fagnano Olona in the blocks that extend outward from the central courtyard. The longer ones contain four classrooms with a corridor that is 2.5m, and repeat over two floors. The shorter ones contain three classrooms and a room off the corridor (the courtyard end), used as an informal teaching/learning space. These cluster blocks are a single storey with a 2m corridor. The blocks frame an external space with trees and grass.
Flexibility is about the granularity of room sizes and not necessarily about open-plan layout. At Fagnano Olona, the classrooms are repeated units, arranged within the four linear blocks. The other two block contain staff rooms and the dining hall. There is variation in this. At the end of each block the final classroom extends to the width of the corridor. A further subtle variation exists in the northwest end classrooms because the corridor is widened to 2.5m, from the 2m width of the southeast block. Thus, there are three classroom forms, although a fourth informal one exists as the teaching/learning space, which is roughly half the size of the small classrooms and constitutes both circulation space and space for learning.
At Fagnano Olona the common core is the central courtyard with steps. A playground, assembley space, town square and theatre. But also the informal teaching/learning spaces act quite readily as an indoor meeting place.
The final attribute that Kuhn offers is connectivity: the school as a node in a wider network of learning. He cites other learning institutions including secondary/primary school, nursery, and library at the local level; with ICT connections at the global level. At Fagnano Olona, the school includes a library, the circular element in plan, which is also part of the courtyard and adjacent to the entrance. One imagines this space to be used by the community as, for example an exhibition space.
The significance of Rossi’s work is in it’s associative links and typological investigation. Fagnano Olona is no different. A de Chirico clock and chimney mix with the pergola as a reference to the archetypal hut. The courtyard is a typological form, a town square, its steps like an amphitheatre. The library which looks like a baptistry. At Fagnano Olona my interest is in the clarity of composition and investigation of repetition and variation.
Although Rossi is often attacked for dismissing human scale, studying Fagnano Olona in detail reveals the opposite. From the over-scaled square windows which contain four smaller-sized square windows within, to the subtle difference in corridor width, the modest teaching/learning spaces and in particular I was struck by the ledge at the entrance vestibule where children can sit and shelter from the rain, peering, and thinking about that strange chimney, framed by a large square window.
Dundee School of Architecture and Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art run a Seminar series in which one (or two) PhD Candidates present their work in progress. It runs fortnightly at lunchtime, and last week was my turn.
The timing was good. I delivered a lecture to Year 3, two weeks before, which allowed me, first to consolidate my thinking on how to introduce Rossi (in broad terms); and then, Year 3 were subjected to a minor speculative foray… They may or may not have known this.
The second half of that lecture was on Rossi’s Analogical City Panel from 1976. An enigmatic montage of Rossi projects, superimposed with projects of his references, condensed, into a single image. The PhD Seminar started from here and I visually de-condensed the image, speaking about Rossi’s conversation with Palladio, via Canaletto and locating some of the primary urban types. The panel was published in Lotus International number 13, where Rossi writes of the relationship between reality and imagination, or in his words, the “dialectics of the concrete.” Imagination as a concrete thing.
Something between remembering and forgetting? The dialectic that exists in memory, I mean the mis-
In The Architecture of the City architect Aldo Rossi says that the past is being partly experienced in the present. With Paris and the thesis of sociologist Maurice Halbwachs on Collective Memory in mind Rossi writes, “… the actual configuration of a large city can be seen as the confrontation of the initiatives of different parties, personalities, and governments. In this way various different plans are superimposed, synthesised, forgotten, so that the Paris of today is like a composite photograph, one that might be obtained by reproducing the Paris of Louis XIV, Louis XV, Napoleon I, Baron Haussmann in a single image.” Forgotten. This passage brings to mind one by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud who in, Civilisation and Its Discontents uses the city of Rome as an analogy to illustrate the accumulation and preservation of material in one’s unconscious. Freud writes that in mental life nothing that has once existed is ever lost. He asks us to imagine Rome to be like the unconscious, “a psychical entity with a similarly long, rich past, in which nothing that ever took shape has passed away, and in which all previous phases of development exist beside the most recent.”
And back to Rossi. He concludes A Scientific Autobiography by re-drawing twelve projects. His selection dates from 1962 to 1980, and each are signed summer, “estate 1980.” These fragments exist alongside one another in the present.
In my investigation of this, each of Rossi’s twelve projects are superimposed. Like in Freud’s Rome, a composite image is built. Starting with Gallaratese (1970) in Milan, then Segrate (1965), Modena (1979), Venice (1980) and others, each project is drawn, and then painted over. Drawn then painted over, and the process is repeated for each. Rossi’s twelve projects exist in a single image, superimposed. The present image partly experienced by the previous one, or two or three. The drawing sits somewhere between remembering and forgetting. A kind of mis-remembering.