Saturday, 24 February 2007

Continuity in urbanism: Aldo Rossi's Gallaratese block

Aldo Rossi’s early substantial projects approached the issue of urban space in a stealthy manner, as if to break cover would impede the success of his strategy to recover urban values in architecture. The housing Rossi designed between 1969-70 at Gallaratese on the outskirts of Milan revealed the particular characteristics of his evocative use of typology. The principal public feature is the colonnade which runs the length of the block, providing a portico to the development on two related levels, the junction of which is negotiated by a monumental set of steps and four overscaled cylindrical columns. The daunting abstraction of this space is ameliorated by the delicate use of scale, with the endless colonnade made of frequently spaced fin walls, their dimensions related to the distance between the hands of an outstretched figure. The regularity of its form reflected its origins in traditional types of Lombard housing, however the refusal to articulate the uses to which its public element could be put meant that it was regarded as heartlessly oppressive and interpreted as a late flowering of fascism. Rossi’s principal references, historical tradition and the experience of the modern, were shared with fascist architecture. But he was working in a context where historical form had been mistrusted and modernity had became an internalised search for novelty. Its recovery and continuity of past forms is not dependent on amnesia with regard to the modern city, but the assimilation of its divergent strands. Rossi’s modest stance was that the city was beyond the capacity of design as control. Its political status had a symbiotic relationship with its form, where ends and means became one.

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