The Books of the Architecture of the City

February 21 – March 11, 2017


February 21, 2017
discussion among Emanuel Christ, François Charbonnet, Luca Ortelli, Thomas Padmanabhan.
Moderated by Kersten Geers, Victoria Easton and Guido Tesio

In 1966, Aldo Rossi published a book that refuted the then current arguments on the city and its design, and whose reception exceeded all expectations: L’architettura della città was fast internationally hailed as a classic.

Built upon a combination of unconventional fragments from various disciplines, cultures and authors, the book engendered a conceptual framework – as opaque as it appeared – for effective exploration of the complexity of the contemporary city, the success of which persisted at least until the work of Rossi himself, with all its later simplifications and cartoonesque positions, began to colour people’s perceptions of his theories. Now, on the 50th anniversary of the original launch of L’architettura della città, this exhibition presents itself as a formal exercise both in celebrating this ‘mythical’ work and taking it off its pedestal, dusting it down so as to be able to (re-)engage with its tenets.

The importance of the book manifests in the uncertainty that accompanies us still, when interpreting and designing the city today. The issues raised by Rossi in the 1960s have by no means been resolved: cities are still complex; their physical configuration still mirrors their history in a non-linear, contradictory manner; and urban phenomena remain inexplicable unless approached in the light of the city as a whole. Is Rossi’s ‘city-as-a-book’ or ‘book-as-a-city’ a metaphor we need to hang on to? Perhaps it is, given that the construction of this book results in many ways from the construction of the architect: the architecture of the city built Aldo Rossi, so to speak. Or should it perhaps be dismissed or deconstructed once and for all? We – in presenting here a Difficult Whole, scrutinised but not unravelled – take the liberty of not letting that happen.

In returning to the sources on which Rossi drew in order to construct his book, in recovering the original editions so as to expound both their literary and iconographic value, The Books of the Architecture of the City exhibition celebrates the generosity of the book, beyond the fame of its author, and therewith proposes that Aldo Rossi be regarded as only one among many contributors to an intimately multifaceted and collective project called L’architettura della città: a book made of books.

The Books of the Architecture of the City does not present a thoroughly researched ‘new’ claim regarding the truth (or not) of Rossi’s flawed masterpiece. It is rather, a simple survey of all that Rossi explicitly included within its pages. Thus, the exhibition shows everything and nothing simultaneously. Here, all the books of The Architecture of the City are brought together and made accessible for the first time. They are displayed alongside a set of books made of facsimiles in which all the quoted text excerpts and graphical excerpts from the original editions are compiled. A photographic essay by Stefano Graziani visually resonates with the fragments of text. In drawing on more than 150 books, on a multiplicity of origins and references, L’architettura della città is resolutely an organism that prompts the on-going mutation of its own content as well as ample opportunities for a continuous internal and external dialogue. By showing nothing but what was already there, The Books of the Architecture of the City plainly exposes the contents of the original text, thus calling upon the visitor to explore Rossi’s fiction as well as to venture into building new sets of analogies and correspondences.

The exhibition has been funded by the Istituto Svizzero and realised in collaboration with Form-ENAC-EPFL and Fondazione Aldo Rossi

Victoria Easton
Kersten Geers
Guido Tesio

 Exhibition views