by Diane Y.F. Ghirardo. Yale University Press, May 2019. 280 p. ill. ISBN 9780300234930 (h/c), $65.00.
Reviewed September 2019
Kathy S. Edwards, Research Librarian, Emery A. Gunnin Architecture Library, Clemson University, firstname.lastname@example.org
In this brilliant revisiting of an iconic architect’s legacy, the author--a professor of the history and theory of architecture at the University of Southern California and an established authority on Rossi’s work--is on a mission. With tactical precision, unimpeachable scholarship, and one tour-de-force formal analysis after another, she dismantles any lingering critical misapprehensions of Rossi as a postmodernist, a Neo-Rationalist, a bloodless formalist--and sets things straight. Along the way, she names names and takes no prisoners. The Aldo Rossi that emerges is a profound theorist and deeply spiritual humanist whose design genius transfigured histories and traditions into architecture that captivates without constraining and resonates without repressing.
The author’s excavation of her subject’s motives, architectural references, and design thinking draws upon his writings and personal papers [particularly The Architecture of the City (1966), A Scientific Autobiography (1981), and the notebooks he kept throughout his life] along with his extensive ouevre of sketches, paintings, and graphic illustrations. The book’s real momentum, however, is the skill, insight, and authority Ghirardo brings to looking at and talking about the buildings and projects themselves, each time addressing the question “What did he mean?”
The book’s first chapter is a brief intellectual biography, situating the architect’s professional emergence in relation to the political and architectural currents of early post-WWII Europe, beginning with Loos, Schinkel, and Boullée as early influences. Each of the next five chapters addresses a specific building type or context within Rossi’s overall body of work: commercial and other urban-based projects (office buildings, mixed-use blocks, hotels, transit facilities, shopping mall); monuments; cultural buildings (schools, libraries, museums, municipal complexes); theaters and stage sets; and cemeteries. The structure of each chapter is similar, beginning either with an overview of major projects of the type or a singular, exceptional one, then an exploration of Rossi’s ideas about the type and its themes (drawn from his biography, writings, and graphic works) and, finally, the specific forms, resources, and precedents he drew upon in designing each cited project.
In the final chapter, the author challenges Rossi’s critics and delves more deeply into the intellectual and spiritual underpinnings of his design philosophy, along the way invoking Jung, Wordsworth, Dante, Palladio, St. Augustine, T. S. Elliot, and more—the list is daunting.
This is a well-designed, high-quality publication, beautifully illustrated with color photographs of built and unbuilt projects, reproductions of Rossi’s sketches and presentation drawings, and photographs of specific observed and remembered design elements he transformed into tools for his creative process. A bibliography, index, and comprehensive chronology of Rossi’s work (1959 to 1997) complete the book.