Eleven Canonical City Plans and a Note on the Conceptual Practice of Architecture: A few reflections on a recent teaching project
The city itself is the concrete embodiment and the collective historical sum of manual and mental human labour. The city plan – whether theoretical or as built, a precondition of the city, or not – is the representation of singular values, common beliefs, critical sensibility, and a manifestation of a particular way of looking at the world, and of ways of living.
With this position in mind, we assigned our students a canonical city plan as a lead-in to this years Rooms + Cities Masters Unit. The selected city plans were the following: Filarete’s Ideal City of Sforzinda (c1460), Giambattista Nolli’s La Pianta Grande di Roma (1748), Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Campo Marzio (1762), Ludwig Hilberseimer’s Hochhausstadt (1924), Le Corbusier’s Ilot insalubre no. 6 (1937), Archigram’s Instant City (1969), Rem Koolhaas’ Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture (1972), Oswald Mathias Ungers’ (et al.) Berlin: A Green Archipelago (1977), Costantino Dardi’s panel for Roma Interrotta (1978), Bernard Tschumi’s Street in The Manhattan Transcripts (1978), and finally Pier Vittorio Aureli’s Stop City (2007). Each plan, in different ways, analyses the city and sees something in it – features, qualities, forms, objects, events, geometries – that was not seen by others. Once seen, the particularities become the basis for project thinking and design.
Most of the city plans are theoretical projects by architects motivated by the possibility of influencing the urban condition through architecture’s formal potential by means of framing and representing the space of confrontation and coexistence, which is the city; and who take the view that architecture is a conceptual practice and intellectual pursuit.
The emphasis on architecture as a conceptual practice – as a theoretical project – is important because it is by being presented as theory – a category autonomous yet in dialogue with design – that architecture goes beyond the art, craft or pragmatic construction of building to propose an intellectual contribution that addresses the potential for an alternative future urban life.
After being assigned a plan, each member of the Rooms + Cities Unit was required to produce a series of diagrams that describe the formal, conceptual and organisational principles of their plan, and to delineate a room within their city plan. Then a representative area of 500 metres square was redrawn at the scale of 1:500. Accompanying these drawings was a short explanatory text to historically situate the city plan.
The purpose of this project can be summarised in the following three ways. First, the act of redrawing the city plan is itself a form of architectural inquiry by means of architecture’s quintessential critical tool: the drawing. For this reason the drawings produced should not be viewed as illustrations of a canonical plan (although they are that as well), but as critical examinations into the ideas that underline each city plan and therefore produce knowledge about the particular plan.
Second, by discussing the principles of each city plan a conceptual vocabulary was developed to help describe the relation between room and city. Theoretical categories particular to each plan were debated – including “cell,” “event,” “bigness,” “limit,” to name a few – as well as categories common to all plans, including “enclosure,” “context,” “type,” and “the other.”
Third, the city plans act as critical reference points to be manipulated and transformed, and which can be used to generate ideas and city forms for the studio projects that follow.
This project is developed with Lorens Holm in the Masters Unit entitled Rooms + Cities at the school of architecture in Dundee.
“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.
First published by Marsilio in Padova, Italy 1966, Aldo Rossi’s The Architecture of the City celebrates its forty-fifth anniversary this year with a new 2011 Italian edition. In honour of this, the IUAV University of Venice organised an international conference and exhibition, supported by the Fondazione Aldo Rossi, the MAXXI Architettura, Rome and Casabella, the journal that Rossi first wrote for and then edited.
Aiming to promote an open and wide discussion on all things Rossian, the conference first recalled the original context that generated the text; then mapped the network of translations that The Architecture of the City undertook; and finally it investigated the contemporary threads of Rossi’s legacy.
Alberto Ferlenga, Director of Doctoral Studies at IUAV and author of many texts on Aldo Rossi, introduced the conference by stating that The Architecture of the City was conceived as an, “in progress synthesis of a particular time period for urban studies.” He said that the matters mentioned by Rossi are still only partly developed and waiting for further consideration by an architectural community looking for theoretical orientation. Ferlenga compared the text to one of those “unfinished works” that Rossi continuously re-worked: a sketch, a plan, a building.
Many presentations emphasised the importance of Ernesto Rogers and Casabella had on Rossi. Serena Maffioletti, and others, said that the journal was the first to publish Rossi’s writings and was among the first to publish his designs. The individual writings for Casabella were thus the route towards The Architecture of the City. The book, then is a collage. Diego Seixas Lopes considered the fragmentary nature of The Architecture of the City to be a collage-like construction. He noted that the wide range of sources from disparate fields intertwined with mentions to Milizia (Enlightenment architecture), Poete (French geography), de Saussure (linguistics) and memories of cities walked by Rossi. Showing preliminary photographs of the making of the book, it looks similar to the way Rossi makes the Blue Notebooks. Freehand writing, with sketch drawings and photocopies of “things” pasted together.The Verbal and Non Verbal”]
I learned via Elisabetta Vasumi Roveri that the alternative title of The Architecture of the City was to be The City Planning Manual. Uncannily timely, my own contribution noted the alternative title of Rossi’s second book A Scientific Autobiography was to be Forgetting Architecture. I used the article by Adam Caruso titled Whatever Happened to Analogue Architecture and published in AA Files 2009 as my starting point to investigate a lineage of Analogue Architecture from Aldo Rossi to the contemporary Swiss architects Christian Kerez and Valerio Olgiati. I outlined the article by Caruso, who offered a concise section on Aldo Rossi’s two tenure’s at ETH Zurich in the 1970s (Kerez and Olgiati are one step removed from being students of Rossi), and then considered the opposition offered by Carl Jung to Sigmund Freud on analogical thinking. Jung said that analogical thinking was both verbal and non verbal, which invites speculation on the relationship between writing and built form. I suggested the image mediates. Similarly when we speculate on Rossi’s alternative title, Forgetting Architecture, the opposite of forgetting is remembering; and via Freud it is mis-remembering that mediates. Equating these two mediating principles, I offered an analogical reading of Kerez and Olgiati, and suggested thus the contemporary state of Analogue Architecture. A controversial implication. The title of my own contribution was rather cheekily Whatever Happened to Analogue Architecture? Perhaps I should drop Caruso an email…and Caruso A (2009) Whatever Happened to Analogue Architecture [article title] Mis-remembering the Image. Somewhere between the verbal and non verbal”]
Now for the exhibition. The publishing history of The Architecture of the City was presented as original books, artefacts; around which, a timeline according to Rossi’s Blue Notebooks was charted. Extracts of which were scattered as loose fragments. A little bit lost looking.”]
The publishing history reads: Italy 1966, Spain 1971, Germany 1973, Portugal 1977, Italy 1978, France 1981, Spain 1982, USA 1982, Greece 1987, Japan 1991, China 1992 (2 of), Brazil 1995, Italy 1995, Portugal 2001, Italy 2006, and the new 2011 Italy Edition. It is interesting to note the front covers. For example, the first edition of Italy 1966 superimposes a Renaissance Ideal City over an aerial landscape; Italy 1978 shows the Mausoleum of Hadrian (later transformed into the Castel Sant’Angelo). While France 1981 the Analogical City appears five years after it was first presented, then Japan 1991 the Mausoleum again after it was used by Eisenman in the 1982 USA introduction where he juxtaposed a drawing of a labyrinth, setting up ideas about journey and transformation. The China 1992 shows the Analogical City for the second time. The new Edition for 2011 is from an ArtForum article titled Fragments and depicts a storyboard dated 1987 New York.
And those enigmatic Blue Notebooks. Text-based notes, diagrams of objects and projects, self portrait sketch studies, fragments of train tickets, photocopies of newspapers and photographs of views are pasted within. Indeed, I took pleasure in finding out that the Notebooks measure 220mm by 175, when laid flat.
These are just a few highlights in a short Blog Post. The conference was dense with knowledge, intensely focused and in true Rossian style, it was both lucid and murkily ambiguous. I am grateful for the opportunity to share such a platform and thank those who selected my proposal. Indeed, especially to Eamonn Canniffe who forwarded me the Call for Papers and Graeme Hutton for allowing me the short leave. My only criticism is that there was very little questioning of Rossi in general, and considerably less questioning directed at the speakers, in particular. Perhaps this is okay but resistance is welcome, and criticism directed at the individual research presentations should have been encouraged.
Two views of the Exhibition “City That Thinks” by Paul Guzzardo, a media artist and attorney based in St. Louis and Buenos Aires.
Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art until November 11
To walk on the digital sublime click here…
Ordinary housing largely forms what we call the built environment, the city. Italian architect Aldo Rossi said that the city is built around fixed points, “monuments.” These are large collective elements surrounded by ordinary housing. In the 1966 The Architecture of the City Rossi developed a theoretical framework for the typology of buildings and their relationship to the city writing, “the study of the individual dwelling offers one of the best means of studying the city and vice versa.” The dwelling is thus both individual and collective. It refers to both itself; and analogically to the wider city, like Alberti’s analogy.
”]In 2002, two 15-storey tower blocks were demolished in Lochee, Dundee. In 2006, four 17-storey blocks were demolished in Ardler. Yesterday, a further four 22-storey blocks were demolished in Hilltown. Such slabs sit in parallel rows, located in an expanse of concrete, often perceived as monuments to social discontent.
What now for this particular brownfield site in Hilltown, an edge of city centre location? High density housing that reinforces the street, includes shops and community facilities, in opposition to the vertical slabs that do little or nothing for street continuity? No, from one form of social discontent to another, plans are underway for low density, single family homes. The kind that also do little for street continuity and serve only to intensify the sprawl of the city.”]
After Architect Aldo Rossi: The Spider’s Web of Milan and Rossi’s Duality of Extremes at Segrate and Gallaratese
Embellished with patches of public parks, the remains of the city gate and a couple of canals, Milan is a dense tangle of streets in the pattern of a web. Rossi’s monument in Segrate is located at the southeast end of the red metro thread. At the other, is his unité d’habitation of Gallaratese located in a northwest suburb. At Milan’s centre is the vertically articulated Duomo, from which one can access the roof and survey those tangled streets. The vast rectangular open space defined by the Duomo leeks into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a thirty metre high vaulted street designed by Giuseppe Mengoni c1870, and connects to a smaller open space just north. The sequence of spaces is quite lovely.
Rossi conjures a romantic vision for the Gallaratese housing writing that the open corridor “signifies a life-style bathed in everyday occurrences, domestic intimacy, and varied personal relationships.” One component of architectural meaning is “association” and as such Rossi’s corridor not only suggests the potential for a romantic chat with ones neighbour, but also signifies the repetitive element of open-sided tunnels, and perhaps a reference to the prison. Rossi, the once agent provocateurof Italian architecture was always aware of such dualities. In the June 24 postI wrote of the cold and controlled San Cataldo cemetery, the route suggestive of some “final solution.” Indeed, Rossi writes of the relationship between construction and destruction as complimentary aspects of his design process.
Composed of a series of simple forms balancing upon one another, the 1965 Monument to the Partisans of World War II, at Segrate is an early demonstration of Rossi’s duality of extremes: it is a monument to the dead; the fountain is a symbol that celebrates life. On my visit, a hot summer day, the tray where the water collects, was eerily dry. Formally, the monument is a coffin, on top of which is an extruded triangle balanced upon a single cylindrical column. The triangle signifies the pitch of a primitive hut, a life-giving archetype of building.
Destruct the monument and transpose the individual elements to Gallaratese and one can read Rossi’s reflective process of construct; destruct; transpose. Like Le Corbusier’s unité, Gallaratese is a slab that contains houses perched above a colonnade. The first floor links to the housing designed by Carlo Aymonino by a bridge on one side and a large open space on the other. Between this are a series of shop units, on my visit all of which were empty. Around one third of the way along the slab, an incision breaks the housing in two and is defined by four large cylindrical columns.
The After Architect Aldo Rossi foray to Italy has been an informative incursion into the built projects of Aldo Rossi and a thoroughly enlightening experience to tour some of his most cited references: retreating into the Sant’Andrea vaulted space, interrogating Canaletto’s Venice and climbing into the head of Rossi’s Saint have all been pleasurable. Viewing the modification of form and scale from project to project, it is fascinating to note the formal and theoretical relationships that exist between Rossi’s built works and their written/drawn counterparts. However, I am still trying to work out which is the analogue: the built work, the drawn study, or the written narrative.
Cameron McEwan July 2011
Lining almost every street, from the stateliness of Via dell’Independenza to the claustrophobic alleys around the University, porticoes defined my experience of the radially planned city of Bologna. At its centre the two interconnected open spaces of Piazza del Nettuno and Piazza Maggiore are defined on one side by the Palazzo Communale, inside of which, the Museo Morandi contains a huge collection of that painter’s work. Characterised by a consistency that borders on the incessantly monotonous, a museum dedicated to Morandi might only appeal to true Morandi-ites… However, the collection offered variety by presenting a range of media (oils, watercolour, etchings and pencil drawings) at the same time as exhibiting work by Wayne Thiebaud alongside Morandi. The line drawings in particular are so spartan and ambiguous that they can be read as both streetscape and still life.
If the porticoes of Bologna were vividly ornate, the opposite can be said of Rossi’s porticoes at the San Cataldo cemetery at Modena. Cold and controlled, the cemetery is a monument of silence and image of death. The typological form is characterised by porticoed paths that lead from wall and gate; through pitched roof columbaria, the “long house;” to cubed shrine to war victims, the “abandoned house.” In April 1971, Rossi was involved in a car accident and writes often about this incident, seeing the skeletal structure of the body as a series of fractures to be reassembled. At San Cataldo he identifies death and the morphology of the broken skeleton with the modification of the plan. Construction started in 1977 and halted in 1979. It remains unfinished.
Vedutisti, or “view-painting” is an eighteenth-century painting genre in which the artist paints scenes from life. Inherent to this tradition is the opposition vedute estate and vedute ideate. This is the relationship between an exact view of a recognisable site; and a view of a site with the intention to create something imaginary, “ideal.” In the subdued lighting of the National Gallery in Parma, Canaletto’s La Basilica di Vicenza e il Ponte dia Rialto (photograph on the right) measures 68×92 cm and hangs beside the slightly larger (70×96 cm) Riconstruzione di Castel Sant’Angelo (left). Both paintings depict real works but in an entirely imagined composition. Canaletto has re-drawn Palladio’s monuments (the Vicenza Basilica, the Palazzo Chierecati, also in Vicenza, and Palladio’s unbuilt project for the Rialto Bridge in Venice) and montaged them into the Rialto Bridge site, offering two alternatives. To my surprise (and excitement), Canaletto’s paintings were often conceived as pairs or sets. So, Canaletto the dualist? Perhaps even a serialist…
Italian architect Aldo Rossi writes in A Scientific Autobiography: “Perhaps the observation of things has remained my most important formal education; for observation later becomes transformed into memory. Now I seem to see all the things I have observed arranged like tools in a neat row; they are aligned as in a botanical chart, or a catalogue, or a dictionary.”
The chart and catalogue; observation and memory. The axis of Rossi’s thesis is, on one hand, the relationship between building types to urban morphology and thus to catalogue; on the other it is the temporal relationship of history and memory. My own knowledge of Rossi has up to now been limited to the many translated texts of his, perhaps the most significant being The Architecture of the City (1966), A Scientific Autobiography (1981) and the two texts of 1976 An Analogical Architecture and The Analogical City: Panel. With the exception of the museum of art in Maastricht, the Netherlands and his hotel in Fukoaka, Japan, I am yet to fully immerse myself in the built analogue of Rossi’s writings.
However, for the following two weeks I will study the palazzo’s, the piazza’s and the porticoes of northern Italy, fuelled by Illy espresso and in search of all things Aldo Rossi… A preliminary itinerary is thus:
Bologna’s “Bilbao” is the MAMBA. A former industrial complex turned hub of film, theatre and contemporary art.
In Modena, I will visit Rossi’s unfinished cemetery of San Cataldo.
I struggle to get through a presentation, seminar or paper without some reference to the analogical representation of Palladian artefacts that is Canaletto’s Capriccio view of Venice (1759); potentially a major highlight in Parma.
The real Palladian artefacts lay in wait in Vicenza: the Palazzo Chierecati and the Piazza dei Signori and Basilica. Inside the Teatro Olimpico is Scamozzi’s theatre set based on Serlio’s perspective street scenes: the Comical, the Satyric and the Tragic. Another reference that my student’s have to put up with…
Rossi’s “propelling permanence,” the Palazzo della Ragione, a medieval town hall, Renaissance court, and now market place, is a primary element in Padua.
Directed by Bice Curiger and titled “Illuminations” La Biennale at the Giardini and Arsenale in Venice is the next stop. A pleasing aside to this art fest will be the facade of Ca’ d’Oro, Piazza San Marco, a few more Palladio’s, a Guggenheim and Filarete’s Column.
The environs of Milan provide another dose of Rossi. To the north, the elementary school at Fagnano Olona and perhaps if I have time, Arona with that much drawn and re-drawn hand of San Carlone.
Broni is south of Milan and is the location of another school.
Alberti’s San Andrea in Mantua is a worthwhile pause, before visiting Rossi’s first built work, the monument and town square in Segrate.
My Rossi trip concludes with a visit to the Gallaratese housing block; while my Italy trip ends with a city sketch from the Duomo, or maybe a camminata through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuelle II.
“… But this catalogue, lying somewhere between imagination and memory, is not neutral; it always reappears in several objects and constitutes their deformation and, in some way, their evolution” (Rossi, 1981). A catalogue of observations (some Rossian, some Freudian) via photographs, drawings and anecdotes to follow…
Cameron McEwan June 2011