Aldo Rossi. Urban Construction, project. 1978

Aldo Rossi Urban Construction, project 1978

  • Not on view

Rossi, one of Italy’s most famous and influential postwar architects, is among the more important representatives of postmodern architecture. His imaginary cityscapes are marked by an exploration of what he called the “type”: the model or norm. In this painting of a fictional urban landscape, Rossi combines painterly illusion and imagination with a passion for structural and spatial types; symbolic volumes stand in for the functional structures that are integral to city life. His work affirms architecture as an intellectual construct, just as his pure, vernacular forms evoke a city filtered through memory and narratives constructed over time. In the combination of these elements, architecture emerges as a cultural practice capable of offering different layers of meaning to those who use it.

Gallery label from 9 + 1 Ways of Being Political: 50 Years of Political Stances in Architecture and Urban Design, September 12, 2012–March 25, 2013.
Additional text

The city . . . is to be understood here as architecture. By architecture I mean not only the visible image of the city and the sum of its different architecture, but architecture as construction, the construction of the city over time. -Aldo Rossi

Aldo Rossi's imaginary cityscape is marked by an exploration of what he called the type, the model or norm that gives rise to architecture. Types are prior to and constitutive of forms, which themselves in turn are the ideal geometries into which urban elements are distilled. In this painting Rossi's buildings take the forms of a cube, a cone, a cylinder, and volumes based on the octagon and the rectangle, all forms that recur in his work, and all signifying functions integral to city life. The cube offers a public meeting place, housing political offices and enclosing a plaza; the octagonal tower is a town hall or civic center; the cylinder could be a school, a theater, or a library; and the conical smokestack is an urban monument, the element, for Rossi, through which a city creates its sense of place. Long, fingerlike buildings at ground level contain more public offices, while structures suspended on columns and piers provide housing above and colonnaded walkways below. In the middle ground lie the forms of the single-family house, forms culled from the Italian vernacular—from cabins on Elba, Lombard abbeys, Milanese arcades, industrial landscapes, and other places and scenes.

Influenced by Canaletto's paintings of Venice, Rossi combines a painterly feeling for illusion, and for the space of the imagination, with a passion for structural and spatial types. The metaphysic behind his work, this drawing shows, is architecture as an intellectual construct, but his fantastic elements of pure and rigorous form stir the imagination, evoking a city filtered through memory and constructed over time.

Publication excerpt from an essay by Tina di Carlo, in Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002.
Oil and crayon on canvas
51 3/16 x 35 7/16" (130 x 90 cm)
Gift of the Architecture and Design Committee in honor of Marshall Cogan
Object number
Architecture and Design

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