The MA Architecture + Urbanism course is the Manchester School of Architecture's taught postgraduate course which conducts research into how global cultural and economic forces influence contemporary cities. The design, functioning and future of urban situations is explored in written, drawn and modelled work which builds on the legacy of twentieth century urban theory and is directed towards the development of sustainable cities.

Saturday 29 January 2011

Aldo Rossi (1931-97): The Architecture of the City



The architecture of the city is a significant departure from the past models of urbanism in the contemporary context of Italy . The first version of the book was published in 1966. Rossi in his writings has tried to redefine the ‘architecture of the city’ with a concentration on ‘urban artefacts’, the catalysing monuments from the past.

Daedalus, the architect of mythology, in his creation of labrynth explains the corelation of the book with its cover page; the form is interpreted in two ways, one, spiral as mausoleum, symbolically a place of death. In case of book unconsiously on his part – death of humanism and two, spiral as labrynth which is symbolic to transformation. The spiral has further message for Rossi which symbolizes his own right of passage – his role as a part of generation progressively more distanced from the positivism of modern architecture by the collapse of historical time and left drifting to an uncertain present.

Urban artifacts and Theory of the city

According to Rossi, costruction is a process that is inseparable in value to time. Ever from its evolution, mankind has built favorable surroundings with its roots in its civilization. These built forms transform themselves over the years overlapping the theme of its own development and thus there is a contrast in the existence of the structure over time. The change of nature of the ‘urban artifact’ may diminish the value of the evolution, overriding the rational design of ‘locus’. Singularity of one region of the city is what characterizes them as locus solus. Urban singularity has to take care of these artifacts. The development of the city about these artifacts or a group of them in a certain locality constitutes the nature and morphology of the city and this frame of reference helps Rossi to define ‘Urbanism’.

Individuality of urban artifacts

The form of the city can be studied with respect to the works of engineering and massive structures, and structures characterized by their own history. The mis-corelation of these two entities imples the complex reality which needs to be addressed for an urban future. Richness of the history is the characterstic of an urban artifact, its auspicious character and omnious moments of life makes it an indispensable part of the city. An urban artifact is a work of art. A city is always seen as a piece of human achievement over the years and this piece of art holds the major contribution for the collective individuality of the city.

Typological questions and critique of naive functionalism

Since architecture is distinct with reasons of its own; typology, classification and their characterstics influencing the city are important features of urban perspective. The individual classicism to lowest classifications initiates the theory of typology. The loweset featured element that is co-product in different constructions is a vital basic element of the city. Type is thus constant and manifests itself with the character of necessity. Even though it is pre-determined it reacts dialectically with technique, function and style.

The term function is not being discussed for typology considered with urban artifacts. For urban artifacts the function changes with time and its typology may become uncertain for the instance. If cities were classified on a broader perspective, it would delimit its typology to the commercial, cultural, military etc. Rossi questions the change of function for urban artifacts. The change of its naive function may obstruct the transfer of culture, of which the city is an important element. Urban artifacts are not the elements of consumption for the city, till considered in the domain of architectural and moral value. Typology and functions contradict if they are studied from the urban artifact point of view, hence the naive functionalism of the structure in time is considered.

Complexity of Urban Artifacts and the Theory of Permanence

After discussing Milizia’s work which explains the perception of building as private and public based on its streets and architecture. In other words the description of function is easy to verify which goes beyond naive functionalism. Rossi was often asked for his considerations o why only a historian can give a complete picture of city, to which Rossi replies, it is only the historians who are in totality concerned with the defining of urban artifacts and their evolution in different eras.

To think of urban science as historical science is a mistake, history contributes to urban science and hence is very important. This statement concerns the theory of permanence. The city is always considered as a man-made object and the past will always be partly experienced and gives meaning to permanence. This permanence can be experienced in terms of the existence of form and a direction that the city is directed to with ‘propelling’ elements and ‘pathological’ elements. Rossi explains that there is nothing new about these analogies but is an attempt to formulate the theory of urban artifacts.

Primary elements and dynamics of urban elements

Rossi defines urban artifacts as primary elements because their existence has contributed to the morphological and cultural evolution of the city. Any element capable of accelerating the process of urbanization in the city is a primary element, including an empty space.

At the end of the pax romana cities had marked boundaries by erecting walls around them, at times well furnished items were abandoned and cities enclosed a smaller surface area, but the potential of the urban artifacts helped develop the new cities in their current form. For example the amphitheatre at Nimes was transformed to a fortress and became a small functional city of two thousand inhabitants. The city beyond the wall grew with the form of the amphitheatre as a major element.

Monuments, Geography and History

Rossi advancing this theory for urban artifacts and with a novel vision for urbanism says that a city is a collective memory of its people, and like memory it is associated with objects and places. The city is locus of collective memory. This relationship between locus and citizenry then becomes a city’s predominant image, a great shape history moulds its future to. A related example of the roman forum will explain the co-relation between the parameters talked about here.

The Latins and the Sabines lived near the forum valley. The principal city was formed by tribes which scattered throughout the hills. The fifth century forum ceased as a market place and changes its function to a place of worship. The dynamism of these urban artifacts played an important role in the development of the space.


In his attempt to evolve the city with the perspective of urban artifacts, Aldo Rossi has convincingly proposed his theory. Not only considering the hypothetical idea of developing a city in words, Rossi also tries to incorporate the facts of politics and other socio-economic issues, citing Athens and its strong theoretical base for its existence, he concludes his idea of this manmade object as an achievement to mankind and its existence. The architecture of the city is a physical sign in man’s biography, indulged beyond the meanings and feelings with which we may recognize it.


  1. I need this book for reading.
    I shall be thankful for your cooperation

  2. It is very nice Summery of this book.
    I think i should read the entire book


Related Posts with Thumbnails