Standing in the shadow of Modern masters such as Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier, the generation that graduated from architecture schools in the extended decade after World War II – Robert Venturi, Oswald Mathias Ungers, Aldo Rossi, James Stirling to name a few – were critical of the social and urban effects of Modern architecture. Yet they were reluctant to abandon Modernism altogether. Instead, they put forward a critique of Modern architecture and in doing so searched for an architectural language that might extend, overcome or break free of Modernism.
On one hand there was a tendency to extend the technological and functionalist approach of Modernism as is evident in projects such as Kenzo Tange’s Tokyo Bay proposal (1959) or the buildings of Paul Rudolph in America. On the other hand there was an approach that rejected Modernism and put forward a stylistic mimesis of historical architectural form exemplified in BBPRs Torre Velasca tower in Milan (1956-58) or the “Townscape” aesthetic in Britain.
James Stirling questioned both of these tendencies as can be seen in his University projects such as the competition proposal for Churchill College for the University of Cambridge (1959), the “canonical” Engineering Building for Leicester University (1959-63), the History Faculty at Cambridge University (1964-67), the Florey Building at Queen’s College, Oxford (1966-71) and Andrew Melville Hall for St Andrews University (1964-68). While the Engineering Building, the History Faculty and the Florey Building are broadly similar in their formal and material language – using faceted glass walls, brick and tile units in horizontal bands, building mass articulated as distinct volumes composed centripetally implying spatial force is directed from edge to centre – and remembering that Churchill is a square plan court within a court principle, Andrew Melville Hall departs from this language.
Andrew Melville Hall is a student residences in St Andrews on the East Coast of Scotland around 80 km north of Edinburgh. It is a picturesque town, and rather conservative in appearance and ethos. Stirling intended two pairs of identical buildings for the edge of town site, however only one single building was completed.
The building itself is composed of two slab-wings of unequal length – one rotated off the primary axis – extending from a central block, which creates a large outside court. An enclosed stair is adjacent to the central block. These distinct parts are connected by a glazed promenade gallery.
Andrew Melville Hall reads as composed centrifugally with implied spatial force stretching outward. We see this in the slab-wings which extend out in one direction, in the enclosed stair which extends in the opposite direction, and in the glazed promenade gallery which cuts through the building.
Furthermore, Andrew Melville Hall is not a unified mass but an assemblage of distinct volumes – slab-wings, central block, enclosed stair and promenade gallery – in formal and spatial dialogue with each other through shifting axes, rotations in plan and interpenetrations of opposing elements. The building departs from the language of Stirling’s prior University buildings and should be viewed as a transitional work that points obliquely toward the spatial complexity of his museum and gallery projects of the coming years in particular for its centrifugal composition.
It is interesting to remember that Andrew Melville Hall was completed in 1968 at the end of a pivotal decade in which seminal architectural texts were published including Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966), Aldo Rossi’s L’architettura della città (1966), and Manfredo Tafuri’s Teorie e storia dell’ architettura (1968).
This period and the years into the 1970s were a greatly productive period for architecture when architects engaged with the history of the discipline and viewed their role as a crucial contribution to architectural and intellectual thought more broadly. It was for sure the last major period in architectural culture when architecture was recognised as a significant intellectual pursuit.
Studying the era has a dual effect. It brings into relief the present condition of architectural production, which often seems weak, diffuse and committed merely to general consensus; yet simultaneously the projects of that period – theories, books, architectural designs – provide critical reference points from which we might project beyond the current architectural impasse.
This post condenses ideas from a longer essay entitled “An Archaeology of Fragments” commissioned for Scotland + Venice 2014 under the direction of Neil Gillespie of Reiach and Hall Architects, and published in the paper “Outsiders” at the Venice Architecture Biennale.
See here for full details: Outsiders
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
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.
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.
The Paper Gentlemen is a collaboration between three MArch students from the Material Unit at Dundee School of Architecture. Alliance & Rebellion is the first of a series of exhibitions which, according to the Gents, “aims to reactivate a dormant space and encourage collaboration within our varied arts community.”
The exhibition is currently on show at The Faircity Auction House, First Floor Gallery, 52-54 Canal Street, Perth.
The drawing continues the After Architect Aldo Rossi series. A montage of the twelve projects that illustrate Rossi’s A Scientific Autobiography, more of which in a forthcoming Post.
Continuing the After Architect Aldo Rossi series.”]
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.