Aldo Rossi. L’architetto e le città – The Architect as an explorer

Aldo Rossi. The Architect and the Cities will run until October, with over eight hundred designs, sketches, notes, letters, photographs, models, and documents from archives and collections all over the world, selected and displayed in association with the Aldo Rossi Foundation and with the support of two exceptional sponsors, Molteni&C and Unifor

by Carla Pagani

“ARCHITECTURE SHOULD BE A REFLECTION OF ITS AGE”, said Walter Gropius just over a century ago. So that is why it is worth starting afresh from urban design to rethink our near future. As Aldo Rossi did, to whom the MAXXI gallery in Rome has dedicated a major retrospective that looks at his extraordinary career over twenty years after his death.

A point of reference of international architecture, an established designer who was also known by everyday people, Aldo Rossi is a perfect model, especially at a time like the current one in which we have been called upon to redesign the future and the cities that we inhabit.

La Città Analoga, Aldo Rossi, Eraldo Consolascio, Bruno Reichlin and Fabio Reinhart
Architettura con Santo. MAXXI Architecture Collection. Archive Aldo Rossi ©Eredi Aldo Rossi

His Città Analoga, a large drawing which is on display, is the plan for a utopian metropolis, one that is fragmented, and plural, which includes within itself the characters of different cities.

In 1919 Bauhaus rewrote the history of applied arts and rebuilt post-war Germany. The Gropius school started a new era, a style, and invented the design industry. It rebuilt a common feeling and contributed to the fabric of a society that had been frayed and battered by the conflict. It is no accident that today that same school has inspired the newly-launched great European “New Bauhaus” project. And so, the lesson given to us by Aldo Rossi, who from an early age was involved in reconstructing post-war Italy, has become more important than ever. A lot of people want to call him post-modern, even though he was never too happy about being constrained by a label.


Multi-faceted and visionary, somebody who defied categorization, was immune to fashion and difficult to put a label on. Aldo Rossi built and “rebuilt” in Italy and cities throughout the world.

What is beyond question is that Aldo Rossi was able to design with a global view, in a very current way. He was, above all, an architect who traveled. He went around the world to discover those complex organisms that are cities, a place where different architectural styles and artistic eras come together. «Perhaps it is just being snobbish, but the more of the world I see, the more I feel that I am a citizen of it and the more I return to the ancient feel of things», he said. An ancient feel true, ancient like the voyage of Ulysses, brave, curious, and wise. And besides, what can feed imagination and one’s creativity if not travel? Aldo Rossi worked in Milan, Berlin, Barcelona, Amsterdam, New York, and Tokyo.

Cimitero Modena, Aldo Rossi, Gianni Braghieri, MAXXI Architecture Collection. Archive Aldo Rossi © Eredi Aldo Rossi

And more. Amongst the most celebrated projects featured in the exhibition, there is the residential unit in the Gallaratese area of Milan, the restructuring of the Carlo Felice Theatre in Genoa, the block between Kochstrasse and Friedrichstrasse in Berlin, and the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht. Then there is Modena’s San Cataldo Cemetery, which is from 1971 and is the focus of part of the exhibition, with its archetypal cone and cube shapes. And then there is the project to rebuild La Fenice Theatre in Venice, which unfortunately Rossi did not live to see completed.

Student house project Chieti, Aldo Rossi, G. Braghieri, A. Cantafora. MAXXI Architecture Collection. Archive Aldo Rossi © Eredi Aldo Rossi
Cimitero San Cataldo, Aldo Rossi, G. Braghieri. MAXXI Architecture Collection. Aldo Rossi Archive © Eredi Aldo Rossi
«Cities are the stars of this exhibition on Aldo Rossi, observed and confused together with the sensibility of a poetand the depth of an academic combined in a figure who traveled across the entire international landscape in an entirely singular manner». Alberto Ferlenga, Exhibition Curator

There is much on display that was the result of a long-standing collaboration with the Molteni group. It was Luca Meda, with a generous feeling of intuition, who brought Aldo Rossi to Molteni&C.

Sedia, Aldo Rossi – Courtesy Molteni Museum
Carteggio, Aldo Rossi – Courtesy Molteni Museum
Interno Milanese con persona che guarda Duomo con nebbia – Courtesy Molteni Museum
Parigi Armchair – Courtesy Unifor

«The show is an offer for the communities of today who are rethinking how our cities should be. The lessons that Aldo Rossi has for us are still current and contemporary». Giovanna Melandri, Director of MAXXI

The relationship with the Molteni family was also one of great friendship: they shared work, travel, and passions. And a precise idea of design: «Being able to translate fantastic personal elements into a rational and repeatable design». Many Aldo Rossi designs have Molteni and Unifor branding and have written chapters in the history of Italian design. Like the Milano chair from 1987. But even before that came the celebrated Cabina dell’Elba (a beach hut) from 1980.

Milano and Carteggio – Courtesy Aldo Rossi Foundation

And, in 1987, Carteggio, a tall, thin piece of furniture for paper and small objects: how can you not think of a small, portable museum of marvels for a person who collects unique items on their trips around the world? 1989 was the year of the Parigi armchair. Two years later, the Piroscafo sideboard. But the exhibition doesn’t showcase projects he created for Molteni. Amongst other things, there is also the Alessi coffee maker that has found a place in all Italian households: La cupola and La conica. The exhibition at the MAXXI also includes Aldo Rossi’s mind-blowing drawings: it is like a window for us spectators on his rich imaginary world. Designing to imagine “as if” That “as if”, which is at the heart of theatre set design. 

And so perhaps it is no coincidence that Rossi was always a keen theatre-goer, precisely because of its ability to reproduce and recreate other worlds, possible worlds that are both imaginary and at the same time real and true.

Teatro Series, Luca Meda, Aldo Rossi

A starchitect (before the term was coined) in Europe, America, and Asia. In 1990 he became the first Italian to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize.

Un’altra Estate – Courtesy Aldo Rossi Foundation
Tre amici con cane conversano – Courtesy Fondazione Aldo Rossi

«Imagination and fantasy can only stem from knowledge of what is real». Aldo Rossi, Quaderni Azzurri (1969)

In 1980 he created one of his most revolutionary works, the Teatro del Mondo (“Theatre of the World”), a floating theatre that was moored in front of the Punta Della Dogana in Venice for the Biennale that was then under the directorship of Paolo Portoghesi. The theatre sailed to Dubrovnik before returning to Venice to be dismantled. It was an ephemeral structure, but one that was also eternal owing to shapes that could resist the passage of time. Pure, geometric, absolute volumes. A “crystal church” to use the celebrated definition that the great art historian and critic Cesare Brandi used many years ago to describe Armenian churches.

Papyro – Courtesy Molteni Museum

At the top, Piroscafo Aldo Rossi, Luca Meda – Courtesy Molteni&C

(Aldo Rossi. L’architetto e le città – L’Architetto esploratore – – May 2021)