The late Aldo Rossi has achieved distinction as a theorist, an author, an artist, a teacher and as a architect, in his native Italy as well as internationally. Vincent Scully, in an introductory essay to a book on Rossi published by Rizzoli, compares him to LeCorbusier as a painter-architect. Ada Louise Huxtable, architectural critic and Pritzker juror has described Rossi as "a poet who happens to be an architect."
Rossi was born in Milan, Italy where his father was engaged in the manufacture of bicycles, bearing the family name, a business he says was founded by his grandfather. While growing up during the years of World War II, Rossi studied at the School of the Somaschi Fathers in Lake Como, and later at the Collegio Alessandro Votas in Lecco. Shortly after the war ended, he entered the Milan Polytechnic receiving his architecture degree in 1959.
Although early film aspirations were gradually transposed to architecture, he still retains strong interest in drama. In fact, he says, "In all of my architecture, I have always been fascinated by the theatre." For the Venice Biennale in 1979, he designed the Teatro del Mondo, a floating theatre, built under a joint commission from the theatre and architecture commissions of the Biennale. It seated 250 around a central stage. It was towed by sea to the Punta della Dogana where it remained through the Biennale. Rossi described the project in its site, as "a place where architecture ended and the world of the imagination began." More recently, he completed a major building for Genoa, the Carlo Felice Theatre which is the National Opera House.
In Canada, the first Rossi project in the Western Hemisphere was completed in 1987 when the Toronto Lighthouse Theatre was built on the banks of Lake Ontario.
In his book, A Scientific Autobiography, he describes an auto accident that occurred in 1971 as being a turning point in his life, ending his youth, and inspiring a project for the cemetery at Modena. It was while he was recuperating in a hospital that he began thinking of cities as great encampments of the living, and cemeteries as cities of the dead. Rossi's design for the cemetery at San Cataldo won first prize in a competition in 1971, and is being built in stages.
At almost the same time period, Rossi's first housing complex was being built on the outskirts of Milan. Called Gallaratese, the structure is actually two buildings separated by a narrow gap. Of Gallaratese, Rossi has said, "I believe it to be significant, above all, because of the simplicity of its construction, which allows it to be repeated." He has since built a number of solutions to housing, from individual homes to apartment buildings and hotels.
The Pocono Pines Houses in Pocono, Pennsylvania represent one of his first completed buildings in the United States. In Galveston, Texas,a monumental arch for the city has been completed. In Coral Gables, Florida, the University of Miami has commissioned Rossi to design the new School of Architecture.
Other housing projects include an apartment building in the Berlin-Tiergarten district of West Germany, and another called Sudliche Friedrichstadt. There have been numerous residence designs in Italy. His Il Palazzo Hotel and Restaurant Complex in Fukuoka, Japan is still another extension of his solutions for living quarters, completed in 1989.
Five important projects were completed in 1988: the Palazzo Regionale in Perugia (a civic center); a funerary chapel in Giussano built for the Molteni family; a town hall for Borgoricco; the Centro Torri Shopping Center in Parma; and in Turin, Casa Aurora, an office headquarters for GFT, parent company to the designer labels of Valentino, Emanuel Ungaro and Giorgio Armani.
These accomplishments in turn, gave clients in other countries the courage to call for Rossi's services as well, i.e., Canary Wharf Offices in London, an art gallery in Japan, a large residential quarters in The Hague, Netherlands, a restoration and addition to a monastery in Seville, Spain, and in his own country, a sports arena and many other projects. Also in 1989, Rossi won the competition in Germany over some 200 other entrants for the design of the Deutsches Historisches Museum in West Berlin.
When Rossi was introduced at Harvard to deliver the Walter Gropius Lecture, the chairman of the architecture department, Jose Rafael Moneo said, "When future historians look for an explanation as to why the destructive tendencies that threatened our cities changed, Rossi's name will appear as one of those who helped to establish a wiser and more respectful attitude."
In the essay titled The End of the Century Finds a Poet, and quoted earlier, Vincent Scully calls Rossi "the incomparable Italian builder, the shaper of the most beautiful, almost entirely man-made country in the world."
The Pritzker Architecture Prize jury has once again recognized qualities in an architect that may have seemed, if not hidden, certainly not broadly proclaimed.
Citation from the Pritzker Jury
Architecture is a profession in which talent matures slowly. It is a discipline which requires many years of thoughtful observation, of testing principles, of sensing space, and experiencing the many moods necessary for seasoning and nurturing. Wunderkind in architecture are extremely rare.
The array of abilities that permit an architect to work with a sure hand and achieve the intended result allows for no shortcuts. An architect who would be the best he can be must serve a lifetime apprenticeship, well beyond that required for official licensing. He must know human behavior, understand structures and materials, and how to shape forms and spaces to serve intended purposes in inspired and original ways.
The Pritzker Architecture Prize Jury has found these qualities and more in Aldo Rossi, and have selected him as the 1990 Laureate.
Known for many years as a theorist, philosopher, artist and teacher, Rossi has spent time developing his architectural voice, and pen. Words as well as drawings and buildings have distinguished him as one of the great architects. As a master draftsman, steeped in the tradition of Italian art and architecture, Rossi's sketches and renderings of buildings have often achieved international recognition long before being built.
His book, Architecture and the City, published in 1966, is a text of significance in the study of urban design and thinking. Out of this theoretical base came designs that seem always to be a part of the city fabric, rather than an intrusion.
Each of Rossi's designs, whether an office complex, hotel, cemetery, a floating theatre, an exquisite coffee pot, or even toys, captures the essence of purpose.
Rossi has been able to follow the lessons of classical architecture without copying them; his buildings carry echoes from the past in their use of forms that have a universal, haunting quality. His work is at once bold and ordinary, original without being novel, refreshingly simple in appearance but extremely complex in content and meaning. In a period of diverse styles and influences, Aldo Rossi has eschewed the fashionable and popular to create an architecture singularly his own.
On a solid foundation of theory, he uses his talents and ability to solve design problems in memorable and imaginative ways. His influence is extensive and expands with every new commission. With this honor, Aldo Rossi joins a dozen architects already singled out for their contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.
Aldo Rossi's Acceptance Speech
Today is a very special day, and it is with a great pride and joy that I accept this prize. However, in some way it is also difficult to receive this prize. In a way, I feel like a school boy who is about to take an exam. A moment to recollect. A moment of guilt. A moment of truth.
I also take this opportunity to meditate on my architecture. I will not bore you with a minute anylysis; just a few words.
I have always felt that my architecture is timeless. I hope that this prize bears witness to that thought. I have always stayed away from the gossip that surrounds groups, school, magazines, newspapers, architects, and so on. But above all, I have always rejected styles and fashions.
I am not obsessed with architecture, but I have always tried to make architecture in an honest way, like all those that honestly practice their profession. Like the stone masons or workmen who build the cathedrals, the factories, the big bridges, the big works of our time. Searching for truth in my profession, I have ended up loving architecture. Maybe it is a simple but strange satisfaction that makes one love his own profession. So let me call it "cara architettura," or in English, "dear architecture," or with your permission, "darling architecture."
I have never believed that any profession could be disjointed from culture, and, for this reason, during my youth I had the privilege of styudying the relationship between theory and architecture, and I was happy to find significance in those studies.
But today I prefer to design and build, and I am fascinated by the possibility of building in different places and countries. It is as if all the cultures of these diverse countries make up my architecure and come together to form a whole. A unity that has the capacity to recompose the fragments of those things that were originally lost. Like many architects today, I am working in many places around the world—in Italy, Germany, England, America, and Japan. This is a sign of a new architecture that supersedes style and personal character, a universal architecture.
I'd like to speak about something like a contamination between different cultures. We live in a time similar to the period of Palladio, when the architecture of this city, of this country, made a special contamination in Russia, in England, and in America. Every building is the same, but at the same time, it is very different. For this reason, I believe in a great civic architecture that has the capacity to recompose our cities, making our lives more free, more visible, more beautiful.
During the development of my work I have been helped by many friends. As friends, I would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Pritzker who have honored me with their prize, and the members of the jury, who represent a part of our modern culture. And I'd like to say a special thank you to America—the first country to recognize my work—and all the young students who filled the American universities during my lectures, and the American press, like the New York Times and Time, which published a lot of beautiful articles.
Ringrazio particolarmente (special thanks) to Signore Agnelli for the opportunity to enjoy the ceremony here at the Palazzo Grassi, in this nice building with the beautiful restoration done by my friend Gae Aulenti, and in this city of Venezia, where I have worked as assistant professor, professor, director of the Biennale, and architect. The city where I built the happy and unhappy Teatro del Mondo. The city where I have lived a great part of my life.
In conclusion, I thank all of you and I hope to be able to continue in my work with the same dedication and persistence. And honor it, this prize, which I have received today.
Grazie, thank you.
Aldo Rossi's Architecture of Recollection:
The Silence of Things Repeated or Stated for Eternity
by Kurt W. Forster
One can wear a Rossi wristwatch, sit in a Rossi chair sipping espresso from a Rossi coffee pot, don clothes from a Rossi armoire, promenade through a Rossi mega-shopping center near Parma, see an opera in his Genoese theatre, and even reserve a plot in the giant Rossi cemetery at Modena. Soon sports fans in Milan and architecture students at the University of Miami will use new quarters designed by an architect whose hotel in Japan, schools and town halls in Italy, and housing estates in Milan and Berlin have begun to rise, like the proverbial tip of the iceberg, from the immense reservoir of his imagination. Rossi has also laid down his ideas—many among them first expounded in the line of his editorial and teaching duties—in books, and over the years he has created an impressive body of drawings, paintings, exhibitions, and product design. Only knowing this can we begin to grasp how completely he manifests his profession, a profession that is nothing without mastery of the crafts but never masterly without the arts.
It is startling that an architect of such capacity should have embarked on his practice with a villa of strictly Loosian design, giving an early hint of the lasting importance the Viennese architect and the sources of northern classicism and poetry would command in his thinking. Even more startling is the fact that he should advance ideas on the colossal scale of some of his most recent projects while retaining a deep affinity for a world of toylike size and silence. Rossi, whose early writings identified the city as the true theatre of architecture, took the long road home and, along its lonely path, remained identified for years with a single enigmatic monument at Segrate. Cast in rough cement and composed of the parts of an ancient coffin, its roof-shaped lid having slid off and come to rest on a stump of a column, this monument to the resistance inscribes death into the time of passing shadows and the flow of water into the solitude of its square. Rossi articulated with precocious assuredness both the monument's pristine volumes—cube, cylinder, and prism—and a public arena for their elemental identities as tower, column, and fountain. If Cezanne's dictum on the pictorial reduction of nature to the sphere, the cube, and the cylinder was intended to distill synthetic and lasting images, Rossi's affirmation of basic stereometry springs from a resistant, even an archaic will. Against the ravages of history and the corrosive consequences of functionalism, Rossi poses his pure and simple shapes in an aura of wholeness which, exposed to the razzle-dazzle of the contemporary city, tinges the surroundings with their surreal presence, casting a spell of silence over them.
Rossi's buildings affirm themselves in the power of forgotten events. Time has escaped, but the objects remain like childhood memories, at once tiny and gigantic, or rather measured by an unchanging scale of their own. Like toys and childhood memories, they survive traumatic experiences wholly intact and resist change or resolution in adult thoughts. Instead of being shattered or dissolved, they bob like corks on the water, tossed about but impervious to disaster. No other work of Rossi's revealed the power of his imagination so much as the Teatro del mondo of 1980, whose wood clad tubular scaffold forming a tower had to be towed into Venice on a barge for the Biennale. The fate of Rossi's objects may be fulfilled in their future role as cenotaphs of our time, but in the present, they stand as beacons for the city. Rossi's coffee pots shaped like domed towers, and his Teatro del mondo tugged through the Venetian lagoon are only two of the phantom vessels he has launched on the ocean of architectural imagination. They make their appearance again and again, like mountebanks turning up at every fair, but for the architect they are "the silence of things repeated or stated for eternity."
In his search for norms, Rossi confronts the typological schemes of modern architecture with their ancient and vernacular counterparts; in his formulation of an architecture for present conditions, he plumbs the first truly normative concepts that undergird neoclassicism. He has no use for period ornament, no interest in cut-rate imitation; what he intimates, instead, is the possibility of an order of things that allows us to experience the present as a suspended moment in the passage from the past into the future.
It is no accident that school building have been the testing ground for some of Rossi's ideas about architecture's capacity to address the question of time and the passage of generations with peculiar poignancy. For it is here that the architect can allow his personal memory to mingle with collective traditions, "under the huge clock, which indicates both a particular time and also the time of childhood, the time of group portraits, with all the merriment that such photographs usually cause. The building thus seems pure theatre, but is the theatre of life." Photography and theatre constitute the global media for Rossi's stage, upon which he captures the literary and pictorial reflections of his native Lombardy in the figurations of a Pavese or a Sironi. This rarest of architectural capacities, the power to be radically of a place and to impart a meaning to objects far beyond their origin, makes of Rossi an architect whose reflections, lectures, and buildings capture our attention. He has escaped the sacrifice typically exacted for such ubiquity—uncritical servitude to economic interests and schematic reduction of ideas to mere patterns and fads—and continues to expand the sheer magnitude and depth of his projects across countries and continents.
Rossi's international recognition is in no small way connected to the interest with which he was first received by American architects and schools. Foremost among them was Peter Eisenman's Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, which, by means of exhibitions and the publication of Rossi's writings, laid the groundwork for a steadily widening audience and helped position Rossi's thought in the area of architectural controversy during the 1970s. When Eisenman contrasted Rossi's use of history "with the plunder of history prevalent in America today," he propelled the Italian architect's work headlong into a debate from which few have emerged with the confidence of Pritzker Prize winners Richard Meier and Frank Gehry, who are now joined by Aldo Rossi. "While American has always expressed a nostalgia for a history that never was," Eisenman continued, "Rossi's merging of analogue and history in Segrate guarantees a history that will never be... Rossi's modernism denies the possibility of choice from history, the idea that styles may be selected... His drawings offer 'nothing new' precisely because anything new which can be offered is, in the present condition, nothing."
Rossi's apartment and studio, located in nineteenth-century enclaves of the city of Milan, appear, at first sight, unlikely laboratories for his far-flung projects; but their somewhat haunted familiarity, studded as they are with neatly framed drawings, models and objects of the architects invention, evokes a visit to the residence of a latter-day John Soane. The latest projects somehow assume the appearance of relics from another time, while early work seems to place Rossi's buildings outside of the familiar cadence of periods and styles. As his uncanny shifts of scale suddenly magnify a corner column or a schoolhouse clock, so the unexpected appearance of his urban insertions falls into a historic zone that belongs as much to recollection as it does to reality. He contemplates the monuments of industry with the awed eyes of a child, but treats the traditions of his art with the weary wisdom of a master. When you descend the granite stairs from his apartment and return to the din and hurry of modern Milan, the realm of Rossi's imagination yields to the memory of a truant afternoon spent in the attic among the objects whose magic is as complete as their power and origin are incomprehensible.