Aldo Rossi Locomotiva 2 Research

The idea of a Centro Direzionale was advanced by many in Italy during the 1960s as a solution to several urban planning problems. To alleviate congestion and reverse the conversion of housing stock to office use in central cities, the strategy proposed was to build complexes of offices and municipal administrative facilities outside the historic city centre. The scale of a complex imagined as a Centro Direzionale was large enough to constitute a self-contained new district and determine the direction of urban expansion.

Competitions for the design of such facilities have frequently become the ideological battlefields on which opposing ideas about land use and the future development of historic cities are advanced and criticized. In this project, submitted under the name of Locomotiva 2 to a competition for a Centro Direzionale outside Turin, the nature of the program as a large-scale intervention in the suburban landscape is emphasized. The main building masses present a fortress-like appearance, representing “a modern conception of the centralization of services and vertical communications.” Walls nearly 30 meters high are punctuated by elevated highways and surround a vast open-air public square dominated by the steel dome of the conference hall.

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Rossi’s continued research on urban planning culminated in the publication in 1966 of his L’architettura della città.

  1. Pen and ink on translucent paper, 89.2 x 103 cm. Aldo Rossi fonds, CCA Collection. AP142. S1. D4. P1.
  2. Peter Arnell and Ted Bickford, Aldo Rossi: Buildings and Projects (New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1985), p. 40.
  3. Alberto Ferlenga, ed. Aldo Rossi: The Life and Works of an Architect (Cologne: Konnemann Verlagsgessellschaft mbH, 2001), p. 34. On Rossi’s ideas about urban planning in the Italian context, see: Mary Louise Lobsinger “The New Urban Planning in the Italian Context: On Aldo Rossi’s Architettura della città” in Journal of Architectural Education, Volume 59, Issue 3 (February 2009), p. 28-38.

Keywords: Locomotiva 2, Aldo Rossi, Centro Direzionale di Torino, Turin, L’architettura della città, Italy, urban planning.

Aldo Rossi and Gianugo Polesello wrote “Peter Behrens e il problema dell’abitazione moderna” in Casabella Continuità, n. 240 (1960); it is also included in Rossi’s Scritti (107-11). In reference to the same work, Rossi later stated in The Architecture of the City (1984): “Behrens’ work appears to Rossi and Polesello as stylistically eclectic but consistent in the development of fundamental urban themes” (107-38).

In the meantime, Manfredo Tafuri was developing his first significant historical, critical, and theoretical contributions in the framework of urbanism and planning. Tafuri, a 1960 graduate of the Faculty of Architecture in Rome, edited a special issue of Casabella with Giorgio Piccinato and Vieri Quilici on City-Territory and published his first book on modern Japanese architecture, in which he paid special attention to the urban-planning work of Kenzo Tange and the Metabolists.

To compare Rossi’s and Tafuri’s positions on the city, Alice Bulla presented an unpublished paper called “Inheritances” at the Architectural Reflection Seminar in TUDelft in 2004-2005. Bulla examined the conceptual and structural problems of the city, problems that were related to architectural expressions.

According to Rossi, architecture that showed awareness of the problems of the modern city could be seen in the work of Alessandro Antonelli, Behrens, Loos, Hannes Meyer, and Atelier. Their work finds its language in the empirical ground of urban reality, from which the practice of architecture extrapolates the principles of its development. In this sense, one of the most concise definitions of typology, considered a fundamental link between the reality of the city and the concreteness of the architectural event, is found in the essay on Behrens that Rossi co-authored with his colleague Gianugo Polesello.

Behrens’ work appears to Rossi and Polesello as stylistically eclectic but consistent in the development of fundamental urban themes. “Behrens built relatively few urbanistic works,” they wrote, “nonetheless, in the characteristic monumentality of his great complexes there is a profound link with the city; great works such as the Mannesman factory in Dusseldorf or the Farben offices in Frankfurt are clearly developed around the form of the street.” Rossi later ascribed this concept to the idea of the urban event; that is, that an architectural form takes a typical element of the city and develops it as an exceptional one.

Here it is possible to see how, for Rossi, typological study, as a form of rational study, was based not on normative facts but on the possibility of architectural form to evoke urban themes. Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation in Marseille with its rue intérieure, or the Smithsons’ project for the Golden Lane residential complex in London and its “streets in the air,” are among the examples Rossi considered true representations of the city in the form of urban themes. Here, type is rendered not through universal rules but by the immediacy and singularity of an architectural event.

Architecture vs. Urban Planning: Rossi vs. Tafuri

Rossi’s position was strongly based on architecture as a basic yet partial unit of the city. This was particularly polemical in the early ’60s when architects saw emerging urbanity largely through the lens of urban-planning methodologies. In 1963, the Olivetti Foundation organized an urban planning seminar in Arezzo, headed by Ludovico Quaroni, Giancarlo De Carlo, and Edoardo Detti, in which Rossi participated as an instructor, along with other young architects, including the 28-year-old Manfredo Tafuri. (Giorgio Piccinato, Vieri Quilici, Manfredo Tafuri, “La città Territorio verso una nuova dimensione,” Casabella Continuira, n. 270 (1963).) (41) (Bruno Gabrielli, “Una esperienza con Aldo Rossi,” in Per Aldo Rossi, Salvatore Farinato, ed. (Venezia: Marsilio, 1997), 63.) (42)

Tafuri, through his architectural and urban planning practice (Associati), which he co-founded in Rome with Vieri Quilici and Giorgio Piccinato, proposed a greater degree of integration between urban planning and design as the agenda for the seminar. This reflected an emerging tendency in architecture for a more organic collaboration between architects and other disciplines to facilitate a more integrated and collective planning method that would grasp the new dimension of the city region.

Responding to the new political, social, and cultural challenges of the city-region concept, Tafuri, Piccinato, and Quilici introduced the concept of city-territory, a search for a new scale of urban planning in which urbanism absorbed the informality and openness of new geographic, economic, and political structures. This new perspective on urban-planning methodologies could be seen as partially inspired by the wave of hope for urban planning generated by the first center-left-wing government in Italy in 1963 and the full affirmation of the welfare state in Europe.

The seminar in Arezzo, as participant Bruno Gabrielli later recalled, was “a sort of fine-tuning of the themes and problems to be faced in order to relaunch proactive planning in Italy.” But for Rossi, the seminar, which he always recalled as his passage from research to theory and the most decisive experience in his education, became an opportunity to radically question urban planning as a discipline itself. Confronting Tafuri’s view of urban planning as a new dimension for architectural practice, Rossi accused urban planning of representing nothing but a discursive and ideological practice, without any actual tools or immediate commitment to the real problems of the city.

As Gabrielli recalled, Rossi strongly criticized the vague foundations of the urban-planning reforms proposed by Quaroni, De Carlo, and Tafuri, as well as the most fashionable urban methodologies of the time, such as the notions of city-region and megastructure, to the point where the seminar became deadlocked. Rossi’s reintroduction of the architectural dimension of the city did not represent the recovery of a historical form, as is commonly maintained, but rather a search for the concreteness of objects as opposed to the vagueness of planning.

Rossi made clear that the analysis and project of the city had to go beyond the totalizing, demiurgic, and diagrammatic attitude of planning, which he believed was too general and simplistic for confronting the reality of an urban territory irreducible to an abstract common denominator. His critique of urban planning was clearly opposed to the position of Tafuri, who, at the beginning of his career, assumed that the scale of regional planning and megastructure was the only means for architecture to identify itself with the new problems of contemporary cities. Thus, Rossi radicalized not only the continuation of the trajectory of the Modern Movement but also an idea of architecture as a circumscribed and realized phenomenon, as an element of concreteness and empirical rationality upon which it is possible to project a personal commitment to reality.

The source of the following text is AIda Rossi, Emilio Mattioni, Gianugo Polesello, Luciano Semerani, “Citta e Territorio negli aspetti funzionali e figurativi della pianificazione continua,” Proceedings of the X Congress of INY, Istituto Nazionale di Urbanistica (Trieste, 1965). My translation. In collaboration with Luca Meda and Gianugo Polesello, Rossi presented “didactic demonstrations” of his argument in Arezzo. Working against the early ’60s fashions of iconic exuberance, total design, and the naive use of technology and cybernetics as techniques of urban design, Rossi and his colleagues developed an elementary architectural vocabulary of simple forms that would merge monumentality and the common experience of the everyday urban landscape.

Projects such as their competition entry for the Monument to the Resistance in Cuneo (1962), the entry for a monumental fountain in the new Centro Direzionale in Milan (1962), and the impressive Locomotiva 2, a competition entry for the new Centro Direzionale in Turin (1962), showed an intense detachment from the formal complexity of urban design typical of that time and a predisposition for a zero-degree formal language that aspired to be a stage for urban life rather than its infrastructure or iconic representation.

These projects summarized Rossi’s idea of architecture as an event, interacting with the complexity of the city through the extreme simplicity and finitude of its form. Rossi and Polesello later wrote a polemical text against the fashion of “open form” as a metaphor for the total design of the city: “Only a defined and finite form, by virtue of its clear limits, allows for its continuity and for the production of further actions and the adaptation to unpredictable events.” On several occasions, Rossi maintained that an architectural intervention always takes the form of a subjective decision to confront the existing context rather than to overcome it.

This decision, however, is not arbitrary but relies on a specific and shared methodology that, while it becomes concrete through individual examples, always represents the diversity and traces of an intersubjective knowledge of the city. This is why at this moment Rossi felt the urgency to systematize his intuition on typology into a “scientific” framework. The Arezzo confrontation between Rossi and De Carlo, Quaroni, and Tafuri was one of the fundamental provocations that seemed to push Rossi to further define his field of theoretical action around the idea of typology as both a concrete and a general criterion of analysis and design.

Luciano Semerani wrote “Arrivi e Partenze” in Aldo Rossi’s book “II Teatro e la Città” (Milan: Edizioni Unicopli, 2003), page 9. The publication of Rossi’s first essays on typology in 1964 coincided with three important events in his career. Firstly, the end of his collaboration with Carlo Aymonino on Continuità magazine, after Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers were fired for expressing leftist views. Secondly, he received a grant to conduct urban research in Milan offered by Ernesto Nathan Rogers and Giancarlo De Carlo. Finally, Rossi was appointed as an assistant professor at the Istituto di Architettura di Venezia (IUAV), where he started his own university chair.

These three synchronistic events converged in Rossi’s decision to develop his work on typology as a theoretical method. In his teaching at Venice, Rossi systematized his research methods which until then had only been based on rough and discontinuous editorial work, in the form of a teachable theory. Typological analysis became the main focus of Rossi’s thinking. On one hand, he aimed for treatise-like rigor, and on the other hand, he was constantly focused on the intermediate and uncertain scale that connects architecture and the city, analysis and design, in a complex whole.

Luciano Semerani, a professor at IUAV and a close friend of Rossi, recalls that “during a confrontation in nearby classrooms with Giuseppe Samona, then dean of IUAV, Aldo gave a few improvised lectures on type. Samona maintained that typological study concerned a possible intermediate element between sensible and intelligible, between form and content. Aldo, on the other hand, referred to studies of geography and natural science, as well as anthropological interpretations of life and human culture, that see the coincidence between species and forms as having an inbred, predetermined structure.”

Both Rossi and Samona were aware of Saverio Muratori, who was the first to reintroduce the notion of type at IUAV, where the subject had previously been reduced to statistical surveys and professional manuals.

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Aldo Rossi Locomotiva 2 Research. (2016, Sep 18). Retrieved from