PRINT December 1981


IN BOTH THE MODERN AMERICAN and the modern European city historical roots are replaced by an abstract neutral grid that situates architectural forms within the urban fabric.

According to the European critic Manfredo Tafuri, it was the grid structure that rationalized and controlled the pattern of economic investment and building(s)—which were forced toward rational, self-contained, fragmentary forms within the overall grid.

In the American city, absolute liberty is granted to the single architectural fragment, but this fragment is situated in a context that it does not condition formally: the secondary elements of the city are given maximum articulation, while the laws governing the whole are rigidly maintained.1

The grid made it possible continually to erect and dismantle buildings without destroying the order or functioning of the city. The architect of the modern period came to link building to a technology whose goal (ideology) was to create “progressive” forms using continually new and continually replaceable materials. Materials and ideas were rapidly produced as new kinds of buildings replaced old, used-up ones, and the architect became the speculative businessman.

Tafuri sees the history of urban design during the capitalist epoch as a series of individual and symbolic statements about society. He gives as examples the works from the time of the French Revolution of Etienne-Louis Boullée and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. The expressed aim of their architecture was rhetorical—to have their structures enter into direct communication with “The People.” Boullée and Ledoux were building individual works whose rhetoric was conceived in opposition to the conventionally built environment; it was manifested in “master works,” each one separate from the other and also from the urban fabric as a whole. At this historical juncture, Tafuri notes, architecture became a matter of individual forms and lost its connection to the city as a whole. From that point on an individual architect’s private vision was seen as capable of rewriting history. Each architect presented his prescriptive analysis and individual solution to social problems. These architectural solutions joined the architect’s material and spiritual personas: the visionary and the progressive, private entrepreneur.

Although since then the architect has believed that his or her moral task is criticism of society, architecture has functioned to support ideologically the dominant order of society. The “criticism” is to make each building a blueprint for a better society—a utopia. The architect presents ideal solutions through individual “masterpiece” buildings that would rewrite history in the image of a new society (for which the building is a model). The visions of a utopia projected for the future by the architect are usually regressive utopias, intellectualized and nostalgic idealizations of the past. Each architect’s “utopian vision” clashes with the visions of other architects. Not only are their buildings in competition with each other, but a “clash arises between the architectural object and the form of the city as a whole.”2

Recent European architects, such as Leon Krier, now propose a return to precapitalist reality, rejecting the Bauhaus notion of design, in which technology and form effect a progressive synthesis, as well as what is perceived as American industrial imperialism.3 Krier is simultaneously the William Morris conservative and the Marxist in his approach. He criticizes late-modernist, capitalist architecture in terms of its dependence on industrialization and sees it as concerned primarily with stylistic elaboration—the very expendability of each superficial change generating more consumption and more production.

Industrialization . . . far from being socially economical in the long term . . . has been the most radical means to include building into vast cycles of industrial production and consumption, its profound motivation having been the maximization of profits . . . the manual and artisanal culture of building became destroyed. . . . The vulgarity of late capitalist architecture is as much caused by the random profusion of building types as by the endless invention of building materials . . .4

Krier sees “post-modernist” architecture as simply an apologia for mass consumption of useless styles. His solution is to reconstruct the European city by reconstructing a public realm. Whereas modern architecture has seen the building as a “masterpiece” set against the negative backdrop of the void land between buildings and the mundane architecture of the existing city environment, Krier wishes to use architectural forms to enhance this public space between buildings. The so-called negative space of modern individualistic architecture is reconstructed into plazas, streets, and archetypal civic forms that encourage mass gathering. In various projects Krier proposes the construction of a linking form that helps to unify the separate buildings. An example is Krier’s plan for a series of towers that surround and close off the ends of various open squares about Rome. These structures, with their enormous pillars and slanted roofs giving shelter, not only close and reunify the space, but provide an archetypal sense of common, public space. Krier wants “the huge pillars which carry the roof” to house rooms for a “new . . . social center . . . open 24 hours,” which would “house restaurants, clubs, rooms for games and artistic performances.” These social centers, Krier hopes, will “replace . . . institutions like the church, the municipio, and finally, the school. . . . The largest of the new piazzas will . . . function . . . [as] an international center. It would contain an airport terminal and each pillar would carry a huge clock which will indicate simultaneously the local time of the major cities of the world. These large glass discs would be lit by night and appear like so many moons in the semi-darkness of the piazza.”5 Krier’s other basic strategy is to rethink the overall city plan. In a proposal for a new quartier in Paris and in another for the restructuring of Luxembourg City, he divides the larger city into smaller, self-contained cities or quartiers, which become quasi-autonomous cities within the city. Traditionally, Krier notes the quartier has always had its own identity:

Against the amorphous social and physical form of a neighborhood, the quartier represents a part of the city with definite social and physical structure, size and history . . . If the space of the neighborhood is the private garden and the cul-de-sac, the space of the quartier is the urban street and square as the two basic formations of European culture.6

The boundaries of the newly defined quartiers are to be “natural or artificial elements, rivers, valleys, hills, but also parks, canals, railroads, motorways, avenues, boulevards.”7 “Thus transportation between distant work and home is not necessary . . . By reintegrating all the activities and functions of urban life, work, leisure living, etc. into the Quarters of the [city’s] periphery, daily communications between centre and periphery will become gradually eliminated. Most people will reach their work place on foot in less than ten minute’s walk . . .”8

The “decomposition” of the European city has political root causes. At the time of the revolutionary period of 1848–51, Paris was divided into distinct quartiers, each with sharp class identities:

In the west were the fashionable new strongholds of the bourgeoisie . . . In the centre . . . was a wretched and proletarian city, a city of filthy and crowded lodging-rooms crammed with migrant workers . . . On the outskirts . . . grew up a newer and uglier industrial sprawl: makeshift housing following the factories and warehouses, makeshift communities, poor and violent, spawning crime and disease. . . . These too were peasant communities, but here the quartier absorbed its recruits, and taught them crime and rudiments of class consciousness . . .9

After the ascension of Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann widened the streets, creating vast, linear boulevards that had the dual purpose of allowing the military control of the city’s arteries and previously unapproachable districts, and that also turned the city into a hygenic, formal, countrylike “park.” These tree-lined thoroughfares were like “some infinitely long and straight park . . . [bringing] airy greenery and light into crowded districts . . .”10

The notion of the urban park (or the city as a park) safely contained (represented) an idyllic, cultivated countryside within the confines of the city. Suburbia was a later development. Krier sees the 19th-century garden-city as a practical, as well as idealized, answer to the bourgeoisie’s fear that the barely assimilated workers from the country would revolt. Krier writes: “The very concentration of people in the cities, which was a conditio sine qua non for the industrial production represented . . . [a] threat . . . widespread suburban settlements . . . [led to] the dissolution of the political explosiveness of the traditional working-class districts into the ever-green peace of suburbia.”11

Today, Krier says, the reduction of the city to “natural,” picturesque parkscape comes from Marc-Antoine Laugier’s theories: “Whoever knows how to design a park will have no difficulty in tracing the plan for building a city . . . There must be regularity and fantasy, relationships and oppositions, and casual, unexpected elements that vary the scene.”12 Tafuri notes:

Urban capitalism was already clashing with those economic structures based on pre-capitalist exploitation of the soil. . . . the insertion of the picturesque into the city and into architecture, as the increased importance given to landscape in artistic ideology all tended to negate the now obvious dichotomy between urban reality and the reality of the countryside.13

The movement of population to the marginal “green belt” had the effect of separating work-life from home-life and the worker from the employer. An individual “house in the country” helped to re-establish the nuclear family as a secure ideological unit for social reproduction as well as creating a new private consumer market after the dislocations caused by the Industrial Revolution. Today, the city’s central core is used exclusively for business by day, and deserted at night, as workers return to their separated residences in the suburban margins. Modern zoning laws support this pattern, where political homogeneity was lost following industrialization.

After World War II, American technology had emerged as the purveyor of a new international, industrially-based style. Functionalist architecture, originally derived from the Bauhaus, became a new standard of American technology, especially as this style was easily exported to other areas of the world by American big business.

In the early 1960s certain influential younger architects, such as the American Robert Venturi and the Italian Aldo Rossi, emerged, publishing polemics against functionalism, but each from a different ideological perspective. Venturi proposed a semiotic and essentially nonjudgmental approach.

Aldo Rossi rejects what he takes to be Venturi’s linguistic acceptance of socially conventional present codes because they merely reflect capitalist development at the current moment. He wishes to recover the dimension of history concealed behind the modern ideology of “progress”.

Rossi sees Venturi as proposing a semiotic or communicational model of architecture. Rossi argues that if architecture includes, as its content, all other signs present in the surrounding environment, then it is subsumed into this system. He sees Venturi’s extension of present-day codes as passively reflecting the environment. If it accepts present ideologically coded “reality” as given, it forgets its autonomy and loses perspective.

Venturi’s populism is also regarded with suspicion by Krier, who sees Venturi’s “typology of signs” as a “superficial slapping on of vernacular signs” that

denies the possibility of creating places of socially different reality. For the Coca-Cola or Holiday Inn signs are the same in Los Angeles as they are in Las Vegas. Venturi may plead for a greater diversity of signs, but wherever a merchant society existed, there existed commercial signs. To make a commercial iconography and its dimensional hollowness become the most important carriers of cultural endeavor and expression, is but a thinly veiled attempt to lift the narrow minded commercial imperialism onto a badly needed cultural pedestal which its bad conscience needs more and more after having polluted the world from the Amazones to (ex) Saigon.14

European and American cities, like their politics, developed out of different historical realities. Rossi’s and Krier’s analyses are predicated on the European city; Venturi’s relates to the American city.

Manfredo Tafuri sets up a relation between the two poles of American urban ideology. New York City, which uses “a regular network of [traffic] arteries as a simple, flexible support for an urban structure in its continual transformation . . .” could be seen as a prime example of American free-enterprise economics as a functional reality.15 Washington, D.C., designed by Thomas Jefferson and Pierre Charles L’Enfant, is seen as “the nostalgic evocation of European values.” Tafuri points out that the paradox of Washington’s plan is that Washington was “the capital of a society whose drive to economic and industrial development was leading to the concrete and intentional destruction of those [European] values. Washington thus constitutes a sort of American ‘bad conscience,’ which, however, can exist undisturbed alongside the iron-clad laws of industrial development. What makes this . . . possible is that the city is a monument,”16 not part of real time. Unlike Alexander Hamilton, who

interpreted the aims of the . . . American Revolution to be economic, and . . . lucidly pursued an accelerated development of American financial and industrial capital, Jefferson . . . remained faithful to a democracy arrested at the level of a utopia. Agricultural economy, local and regional autonomy . . . and the restraining of industrial development all . . . were symbols of his fear . . . of the transformation of democracy into a new authoritarianism, brought into being by capitalist competition, urban development, and the birth . . . of an urban proletariat. . . . With him [Jefferson] came into being . . . the ambiguous conscience of American intellectuals . . . Jefferson’s democracy . . . was a utopia of the rear guard.17

In general Tafuri sees post-Enlightenment architecture as tending toward the production of “regressive utopias.”

Washington, D.C. is a city metaphorically visualized as a park, being partly based on the grounds of Versailles. Within its double network of orthogonal and radial roads (of urban forest—i.e., of nature made into an object of civic use) are 15 public squares, for the then 15 states of the Union. L’Enfant’s plan used two basic orders, which overlap.

The giant order correspond[s] to the diagonal avenues terminated by important statues or buildings while the local street rectangular grid describes a minor order . . . The diagonals relate to the monumental scale of the Federal city, the rectangular pattern to the local scale of the neighbourhoods. Where the two geometries intersect circles and squares sometimes occur to mediate between the two scales.18

The historic city plan, as against the present reality, and the overlapping order of local rectilinear streets as against large diagonal boulevards, are the subjects of Venturi and Rauch’s (now Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown) original proposal for a new public square off Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington (1978; a modified plan was built). It consists in part of a three-dimensional and two-dimensional map of L’Enfant’s original plan for the city, the street plan inscribed on the marble court, scale models of the White House and the Capitol buildings, and a replica of the Mall (which, like the original, is covered with real grass). The plaza reads as a miniature city of Washington, which, in the context of the actual city surrounding it, juxtaposes Jefferson and L’Enfant’s original, ideal plan with the city’s present reality.

The map and miniature models align themselves with the local, rectilinear street grid. Two monumentally scaled pylons (not realized) relate to the diagonal or “giant” street order. They also relate to the reality of present-day Washington’s overblown scale, which deviates from the historic plan. The pylons function as abstract markers on the plan, “correcting” present-day Washington, specifically the nearby Treasury Building, which, when it was constructed, broke L’Enfant’s original visual order, blocking the intended clear view along the diagonal from the White House to the Capitol. This happens because from a diagonal perspective the pylons seem to frame the Treasury building. Seen from a distance, the pylons appear clearly monumental, oversized, “purposefully abstract and simple,” like other symbolic monuments of present Washington (for example, the FBI building). Unlike the neo-Classicism of the original plan, Venturi’s two pylons are subtly “askew . . . only parallel perceptually when you’re far away . . . Classical from the long view, but it breaks down when you get closer.”19 The pylons are decorated with “bas relief ornament . . . polychromatic red lettering on the front, blue stars on the back, and yellow sides painted on the white marble in the manner of some earlier Classical ornament in architecture.”20

In Venturi’s Washington outdoor “museum,” which has the city as its subject, the relation of the past to the contextually present city is made accessible to public scrutiny in situ; placed in a public square, functioning somewhat like a Greek democracy’s agora.

Napoleon I planned to turn Paris into a museum. The city would become an exhibition designed for the education of the emerging middle class; “a collection of permanent reminders” of the historical greatness and continuity of, not only “the French nation, but also, of the comparable [though surely slightly lesser] contribution of a mostly subservient Europe.” This idea is perhaps the first appearance of a recurrent 19th-century theme: “the city as a museum . . . a positive concert of culture and education . . . as a benevolent source of random but carefully selected information . . . The city as museum mediated . . . classical decorum . . . [with] the . . . liberal impulse . . . and free trade.” Paris, and then Ludwig I’s Munich, are cities of ‘free trade’ and ‘wish fulfillment’ . . . assemblage[s] of Greek and Italian mementos, of a few Nordic fragments, of a sporadic technophile enthusiasm, of maybe a brief flirtation with the Saracenic remains of Sicily.21 Gradually, as the city became subject to a large number of individual private owners, the public realm being lost to a fragmented system of building, the museum became enclosed in its separate architectural structure.

Michael Asher’s recent work for the “73rd American Exhibition” at the Art Institute of Chicago involves the symbolism of the entrance to the museum’s building, which faces the public in the street. A first proposal was to reverse the positions of two sculptures of lions at opposite sides of the main entrance’s steps. These lions, looking outward, function as iconic guardians of the institution, and as symbols of its power. Being “trademarks” of the museum, the reversal of their right/left positions would place in doubt the other symbolic elements of the building exterior’s architectural syntax. It also would affect the usual relation of the building to a human spectator; as the lions gazed directly at each other, either at or through the person ascending the entrance stairway, their presence in relation to the position of the spectator would take on a certain self-consciousness. Asher’s second proposal, also not executed, was to remove only one of the lions and place it on the first floor of the Modern Wing along with other works in the exhibition. “The one lion . . . would have been considered solely in its sculptural capacity as a large animal rendering of the nineteenth century . . .”22

The Asher proposal that was actually realized for the show was to remove to the inside of the museum, a bronze, life-size copy of an original statue by Jean-Antoine Houdon of George Washington from 1788 (recast in this century), situated at the top step in the center of the front entrance, facing the street. There, it was placed within its historical context, in the 18th-century room. It stood in the room’s center, facing a portrait likeness of Washington. Transferred to the galleries of the museum, “George Washington” must be viewed, in its new frame, in purely esthetic terms, as very much an art work from a certain period by a certain artist. Its potency as a public symbol has vanished. The art work’s relation to the museum’s architectural frame, the relationship between its being inside and its being outside, and between the function of the museum’s interior and its public exterior, is didactically clarified. Viewed from outside, “George Washington” connects in its patriotic connotations to the present and to broad public symbolism. Placed inside the 18th-century room within the museum, the same statue is contextualized to past history, art history, or purely esthetic concerns, although retaining, on a subliminal level, some vestiges of present-day connotations of patriotism.

Venturi and Rauch’s Franklin Court, Philadelphia, 1972, involved the restoration of Benjamin Franklin’s printing works and post office (later converted into a commercial apartment building), a new underground Benjamin Franklin Museum, and an iconic “re-creation” of the Franklin family’s private house. As the exact plans for Franklin’s own house were not recorded by history—although its location is exactly determined by the archeological evidence below the ground—its likeness could only be suggested. To represent the former presence of the house and our incomplete knowledge of it, Venturi constructed a “ghost house,” a work of conceptual art: A schematic, painted-steel framework whose linear outline approximates the form that the earlier house took, two open-framed cubic forms topped by a schematic chimney. Portions of letters from Franklin to his wife containing “instructions” on the construction and outfitting of the soon-to-be-built house (instructions that were often altered with new ideas) are either inscribed into the stone pavement beneath and around the frameworks or placed, written in a replica of the original handwriting, on signs nearby. Vitrines give visitors views of excavations of the foundations of the original house. Visible shards of domestic items are further illustrated by diagrams, and other family letters about their private life are placed on signs above the vitrines.

Venturi’s use of lavender off-white frames for the “ghost house” picks up the reddish-brick facades of old and new Philadelphia buildings. As a signifier of 18th-century Philadelphia and the “complete” form of the rebuilt 18th-century apartment, the use of an obviously 20th-century grid section to represent the former existence of the house is more than merely ironic. It alludes to the invisible, neutral, and conventionally atemporal space-grid utilized in compositions of Bauhaus architecture and city planners, a grid, assumed to run throughout the city. This grid is made actual, a positive, not a negative, element; it represents a contemporary city. It also represents the “invisible” Franklin house and the reconstructed apartment house in terms of the present skyline of Philadelphia. The “incomplete” cube frameworks and the inscribed information on the stones suggest Sol LeWitt’s open cubes and his “instructional” wall drawings, but, significantly, Venturi’s forms are not self-reflexive. They are representational rather than abstract, and function as contextual and historical markers. Because of their transparency and two-dimensional “three-dimensionality” (i.e., their occupancy of real, outdoor space), the “ghost house” schematically places in perspective the 18th-century apartment house and the “real” 20th-century city of Philadelphia’s buildings. Franklin Court has been landscaped to evoke simultaneously an 18th-century garden and a 20th-century suburban patio. A mulberry bush stands behind the ghost house, of the sort Franklin usually sat next to when he received visitors. Underneath the Court is a museum and movie theater, with Disney-style presentations of Franklin’s life and place in history. One exhibit consists of a drive-in-theater-like arrangement of phones to be dialed by visitors. On a large board in front of them, visitors see names of Franklin’s contemporaries and their phone numbers. Dialing the correct number (including the present area code of each country) brings the voices of luminaries of Franklin’s time (complete with appropriate accents) who discuss the Franklin of their time, not just the 20th-century version.

Venturi’s approach, in its cultural ambivalence and poetic irony, relates to that of American Pop art:

Pop art looks out into the world; it appears to accept its environment, which is not good or bad, but different. The heroes depicted in comic books are fascist types, but I don’t take them seriously, a political point. I use them for purely formal reasons, and that’s not what they were invented for.
—Roy Lichtenstein23

Pop art, in order to demystify the Abstract Expressionist’s belief in the artist’s romantic gesture and idealistic, intuitive expression of his genius, adopted an ironic antihumanism.

The reason I’m painting this way is because I want to be a machine. Whatever I do, and do machine-like, is because it is what I want to do. I think it would be terrific if everybody was alike . . . Machines have less problems. I’d like to be a machine, wouldn’t you?
—Andy Warhol24

Venturi’s Pop-like architecture appears to equivocate in its attitude toward commercial, vulgarized mass culture, its “populism” passively reflecting or ironically adopting some of mass culture’s sentiments and conventions. Advertising images and consumerism are depicted in his architecture as simple facts of life, neither good nor bad, but to be dealt with realistically by a nonconstructivist, nonutopian architectural strategy. He also sees the ascendance of mass culture as somewhat positive in that it expresses the real (not manipulated) tastes of the lower and middle classes as against upper-middle-class architectural values. Venturi, like the Pop artists, is not unaware of the political irony and complexity of this strategy. Pop, through its neutral, deadpan gaze, wishes to undermine the liberal system’s ideological belief in the transparency/neutrality of representation. By mimicking the forms of consumption they make the art object itself, ironically, into just another packaged product or advertising-like icon; Warhol’s Brillo boxes or Lichtenstein’s reproduction of printed comics package themselves, commenting on the already packaged, stereotypical images they reproduce. Pop is a representation of a representation, which is in a secondhand removed relation to “reality.”

Pop’s “new” “realism” does not pretend to represent “reality” directly. Pop art is the first art form to be aware that mass media predetermine the context in which all art forms may be read and that media (films, magazines, show business, advertising) function fascistically as propaganda for capitalist, consumer society. Fascist societies in the ’30s had invented the mass propaganda icon using the new technologies of film, show business spectacle and advertising. Fascism didn’t simply “die out” with the end of World War II, to be replaced by liberal democracy, but became the repressed, unconscious, subjective reality of the present. Fascist propaganda was replaced by the spectacle of the advertised product (which was propaganda for the “free enterprise” system against Communism), which psychologically penetrated the subjectivity of the spectator experiencing the world via media.

Venturi, like the more academic of the Pop artists, never accepted popular culture simply on its own terms, but correlated it to formalist and architectural-historical readings that placed popular readings in a dialectical perspective. A Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown building may be read from both a “high” architecture framework, as well as one assimilable to popular, ephemeral readings. Both readings are correct. Owing to its seeming ephemerality in terms of the popular code, such work cannot be immediately assimilated into academic architecture; conversely, the work cannot be immediately assimilated and coopted by mass culture because of its anchoring in “high” architecture. The fact that it cannot be easily assimilated allows the work to question both positions, but from within (not in contradiction to) popular cultural and architectural values, both formal and historical.

As stated earlier, Aldo Rossi does not accept an architecture based only on media codes. He wishes to restore the archetypal, essential forms of the historical city and thereby restore collective memory. This becomes possible, Rossi contends, if we see “memory . . . [as] the connecting thread of the . . . structure [the city] . . . [so that] urban facts arrange themselves into the same urban structure. Within this structure memory becomes the conscience of the city.”25 Rossi sees the role of architecture as “political,” political being identified with its root word, polis, the Greek word for city. Like Michel Foucault, he views collective memory as connected to a political struggle of the urban working classes—their representation of themselves in history. Foucault notes, “if one controls their dynamism one controls them . . . for [media’s] intention is to reprogram, to stifle . . . ‘popular memory’; and also to propose and impose on people a framework in which to interpret the present.”26

Rossi’s rejection of a “utopian” dimension to architecture is parallel to Tafuri’s analysis, which sees architecture as a series of socially critical individual statements that in the end only function as a rationale for capitalism. This rationale—progress—has worked to fragment the modern city. Rossi wants a specific work to reflect only the city as a whole. Michel Foucault’s theory of the relation of a regime of power to new disciplines of knowledge in terms of division of architectural space—such as the school, the prison, and the medical clinic—is reflected in Rossi’s work.

Where modernist architecture once viewed the isolated building as “positive” and saw the “negative” space around it as void or ground, Rossi sees a dialectical relation between groups of buildings correctly proportioned and the land between these buildings, which forms archetypal streets, plazas, and other public, politically active areas. Rossi wishes to eliminate the single building, and he revives (following the example of Sitte) typological qualities applicable to the whole city: streets, squares, arcades, yards, boulevards, walls, columns, roofs, temples, cemeteries, houses, fortresses, etc. Instead of behavioristically connecting the architectural work to the present environment, Rossi uses these types to connect the present to the past in order to restore coherence and memory to the city.

The revival of typology is analogous to the re-emergence in fine art of the problems of representation, realism, and iconographic content after their suppression by abstract art. In Rossi’s view, type can be defined as a form based on collective memory and reduced to general comprehensibility, which give architecture a public sense. It implies the reintroduction of history. According to Rossi, a simple combination of established types would guarantee the city’s construction. Type evokes a principle that is rooted in the collective memory. Type refers only to its own essence as architecture. Rossi, like Laugier, deduces architecture from an elementary typology, but turns Laugier’s naturalism on its head. Modern architecture as a self-conscious, rational construct derives from Laugier’s notion of the “first primitive hut” as architecture’s natural first principle: “The small rustic hut is the model upon which all wonders of architecture have been conceived . . . The pieces of wood raised vertically give us an idea of columns. The horizontal pieces that surmount them give us an idea of pediment.”27 The diagram accompanying this text shows that the hut is built from cross-branches that are as straight as beams and connect to form a perfectly geometrical square. The boughs of the trees bend over at the top to form a perfectly triangular roof.

Like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Laugier set up his model to criticize the degradation of modern society: architecture would be derived from an uncontaminated Nature; the “rustic hut” was supposed to be a reduction to man’s and architecture’s original nature when, needing only its [his] own self-sufficiency, and when there was no oppression of men by men, architecture and man were closest to nature. Whereas Laugier wished to return to natural conditions and spoke of the “city as a forest,” Rossi turns his premise upside down and sees architecture as the city. If Laugier began with “the city as a forest,” Rossi says that the concept of architecture is interchangeable with the concept of the city.

The cemetery as a typological form negates the living city. During the early Enlightenment a change took place in the form of the cemetery and its relation to the city. Formerly the cemetery had been simply a dumping ground for bodies that bred disease; it was now relocated in a bucolic environment on the outskirts of the city. New designs for its construction and symbolic layout were introduced. One early but short-lived vogue was for the Egyptian-style cemetery. Boullée developed several monumental projects of this type in the form of Egyptian pyramids with a buried, underground level that symbolically evoked “an image of timelessness . . . set upon an arid field, expressive of ‘immutability.’ In such a burial ground, death was no longer a defeat or humiliation dependent upon redemption . . . but rather . . . a triumph which could be seen in the ascendancy of the vast pyramid.”28 Another type of cemetery, the form of which has become classical, was landscaped to suggest an arcadian park: “. . . individual monuments set picturesquely within groves of trees linked by winding paths.”29 The nostalgia the city-dweller felt for the remembered country environment (in fact the location to which the cemetery now had been removed was the countryside) was utilized sentimentally by this setting, so “the living might imagine their relation’s eternal rest and even anticipate their own . . . The dying . . . would expire with the happy assurance of a ‘cherished memory.’ ”30 The thought would be maintained through constant trips to the grave. “The design of the cemetery represented in microcosm that of the architectural problem of the city as a whole.”31 By the 19th century the cemeteries were filled with monuments for dead people, each uniquely distinguishable from the other and expressing the unique character of each individual buried there. The tomb had to express the uniqueness of the person—their interior lives—as well as serving to mark their social status. As in real life, the wealthy enjoyed elaborate gravesites and monuments, while the poor were crowded together, their gravesites marked by common gravestones. The lowest of the hierarchy were the unrecorded dead, buried in common, unmarked graves. Toward the end of the 19th century, the concept of the cemetery as a religious sanctuary died, as did respect for the dead; the dead person, having lost his or her social value for those living, was no longer revered as a living person who had gone beyond life.

Aldo Rossi’s Modena Cemetery project (1971, never realized) revives Boullée’s “Egyptian” archetype of the cemetery. As in a Giorgio de Chirico painting, the elements appear both overly rational and in a state of metaphysical tension, while the overall image suggests archetypal familiarity. The major elements are a large, hollow, cubic “house,” and a monumental, hollow, conical form. Separating these are a series of arches arranged in rows of horizontally aligned tiers. In the center of these rows runs a ramp that slopes downward from an elevation in the cube to its passage into the cone. In the archetypal imagery of the cemetery, the cubic form—a house without floors, roof, doors, or windows—is a “house of the dead.” This metaphoric house does serve a function: it is a public sanctuary where religious and civil funeral services are performed. The hollow cone functions as a common grave, in which lie “the remains of the abandoned dead . . . persons coming out of madhouses, hospitals and jails—desperate or forgotten lives. To these oppressed ones, the city builds a monument higher than any other.”32 Like Boullée’s projects, there is an underground sector; it is traversed by a second passageway connecting the cube to the cone, recalling the ancient myth of Hades as well as the Egyptian tomb complexes, and is a subterranean “city of the dead.”

But the entire cemetery, aboveground and underground, “is configured like a city,” which has at least two metaphorical meanings: it is the “remembered city of the past” and it is, in its entirety, “a city of the dead.” As a “city of the dead,” it is in dialectical, negative relation to the present-day “living city” to which it belongs. (This is the opposite of the traditional role of the garden-cemetery, which is a utopian alternative to the demands of the city and at the same time a metaphoric projection of its form.) The cemetery’s elements, in their totality, are meant to refer analogously to the relationship between life and buildings in the contemporary city, while at the same time alluding to a dialectically “other” city, that of the past. Thus, paradoxically, the cemetery when it is walked through and experienced as a “city of the dead” in all its horrors—a reference to the real city outside of today—can at the same time be read as a rational alternative to the brutal disorder of this living city.

Rossi chooses an empty form, a modern cemetery serving as public religious sanctuary for a present-day civilization in which death has only private meaning, but no public significance, in order to express the empty form of the city in the modern world. Rather than providing a “plan” for a “new society” that would only serve the present ideological apparatus and collapse architecture back into society, Rossi creates closed but archetypally readable forms, which relate simultaneously to architectural language as such and to the city as historical form. The city represents people’s history (as the city is, by his definition, constituted by and for the people). By using analogy, Rossi’s forms may replicate a metaphorical aspect of the city, which is both its present and its historical condition. The cemetery as the “city of the dead” is both metaphor for the past city and for the future of the present “living” city. Furthermore, it makes the living city into the “real” city of the dead.

The “city of the dead” of the Modena project evokes the historical archetype of the past (dead) city, which has the potential of making the “dead” living city of the present, living again. Instead of architecture being “an image” of society, tending to hide its own role/function, “Architecture” signifies only itself as a historical form.

Rossi’s buildings produce an “alienation effect,” separating “the Architectural” from its specific meaning. One example of Rossi’s production of a deliberately alienating, perhaps even authoritarian, building is his 1972–76 “Elementary School” at Fagnano Olona. The complex is walled, simultaneously an allusion to the walled city of history and to the metaphor of the school as a “prison” or factory, both designed to (re)produce the alienated subject/worker. Modern pedagogy, according to Michel Foucault, involves architectural, as well as temporal, divisions: an enclosed site (school, factory, convent, prison), a cellular geometrical organization and subdivision (classrooms, levels, grades), a uniform system of time division (clocks), and an optical staging that permits total surveillance of all individuals. This involves imposing a regular, compulsory inspection of the students, workers, or prisoners.

To enter the school, one walks along a main pathway, underneath a canopy without its covering, consisting only of its skeletal frame. The path abruptly terminates against a functionless, chimneylike form—suggestive of concentration camp incinerators or factory smokestacks. A second pathway leads around the side of this form. Where the initial path had no paving (underneath the “awning”), this path is paved with concrete but has no “awning.” To its right a bicycle shed’s roof reflects the peaked form of the first path’s overhead support, at a small, hutlike scale. Approaching the interior, the visitor enters an empty, cubical room with only one window. The window faces a conical, abutting chimney form, which obscures all but peripheral views of the outside. A large clock of standard design, but square, hangs from a ceiling support, at right angles to the window. It is placed just above a series of steps leading to two closed doors. Other clocks are placed near the bicycle stands and in the classrooms, lobbies, and yard. The entire complex is walled off from the town, but has its own central “plaza,” an open interior court: it is a public realm inside the miniature city, the school. A cupola covers a large, common classroom, which leads to an upper-level library with a conical glass ceiling. This is in contrast to the regular classroom spaces, which are uniformly square and have square windows subdivided into either four or six equal panes. Rather than “correcting” the authoritarianism of the school as social institution, Rossi rejects liberalism’s utilitarian, melioristic, or humanistic utopianism. Rossi’s “antihumanism” is different from Venturi’s ironic, Pop “acceptance” of present social codes.

Rossi’s private house at Borgo Ticino, 1973, is a somewhat comic analysis of the situation of the modern family. It consists of a long, tubular form that is the common living space. Four lesser tubes of equal length are attached perpendicularly to one side of the larger form; these are individual bedrooms for separate members of the family (or guests). The house is built out onto a lake (as were houses of the region in neolithic times) and raised on stilts. Each of the four private rooms culminates abruptly in a veranda above the lake, alongside—aligned with but separate from, with water between them—the others.

Dan Graham is an artist whose articles, “Art in Relation to Architecture/Architecture in Relation to Art,” and “Signs” appeared in the February 1979 and April 1981 issues of Artforum respectively.



1. Manfredo Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development, Cambridge. Mass.: The MIT Press, 1976, p. 38.

2. David Dunster, “Tafuri’s Architecture 8 Utopia,” Architectural Design, vol. 47, no. 3, 1977, p. 204.

3. Krier’s prescriptions are indebted to observations of Camillo Sitte. Sitte was a late 19th century Viennese city planner, the author of City Planning According to Artistic Principles. Looking for the origins of the European city in Greek and Roman culture, Sitte noted that classical cities made no distinction between the house or public building and the city fabric. The agora (market place), the private dwelling, and the temple were uncovered enclosures—“courtyards open to the sky encircled by a number of rooms of various sizes . . . From this point of view there is little difference between the theater, temple, house and [between] a public square.” See: Camillo Sitte, City Planning According to Artistic Principles, New York: Random House, 1965.

4. Leon Krier, “The Reconstruction of the City.” Rational Architecture, 1978, p. 41.

5. Leon Krier, “The New Rione Centers,” in the catalogue Roma interrotta, Incontri Internazionali d’Arte, 1979, p. 195-204.

6. Leon Krier, “A City Within The City.” A + U, no. 84, November 1977, pp. 69-152.

7. Leon Krier, “A City Within The City,” A+ U, no. 84, November 1977, pp. 69-152.

8. Leon Krier, “The City as a Federation of Quarters,” Architectural Design, vol. 49, no. 1, 1979, p. 25.

9. T.J. Clarke, Image of the People, Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society, 1973, p. 148.

10. Anthony Vidler, “Promenades for Leisure,” Oppositions, no. 8, Spring 1977, p. 49.

11. Leon Krier, “The Reconstruction of the City,” Rational Architecture, 1978, p. 40-41.

12. M.A. Laugier, quoted in Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia, p. 4.

13. Tafuri, p. 8.

14. Leon Krier, “Urban Transformations: The Blind Spot”, Architectural Design, vol. 48, no. 4, 1978, p. 221.

15. Tafuri, p. 38.

16. Tafuri, p. 34.

17. Tafuri, p. 26.

18. Robert Venturi, “Learning the Right Lessons from the Beaux-Arts,” Architectural Design, vol. 49, no. 1, 1979, p. 31.

19. Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, in The Harvard Architecture Review, vol. 1, Spring 1980, p. 235.

20. Robert Venturi, Architectural Design, vol. 49, no. 1, 1979, p. 31.

21. See: Manfredo Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development.

22. Anne Rorimer, “The 73rd American Exhibition,” in catalogue of same name, Art Institute of Chicago, 1979, p. 13.

23. R. Lichtenstein, as interviewed by G.R. Swenson, Art News, November, 1965.

24. Andy Warhol, quoted in Moderna Museet catalogue. “Andy Warhol,” 1968.

25. Aldo Rossi, quoted in Rafael Moneo, “Aldo Rossi: The Idea of Architecture and the Modena Cemetery,” Oppositions no. 5, Summer 1976, p. 8.

26. Michel Foucault, interview in Radical Philosophy, no. 11, Summer 1975.

27. M.A. Laugier, quoted in Anthony Vidler, “The Third Typology,” Rational Architecture, 1978, p. 29.

28. Richard Ellin, “Landscapes of Eternity,” Oppositions, no. 8, Spring 1977, p. 17-18.

29. Anthony Vidler, “Cemeteries of Life and Death,” Oppositions, no. 8, Spring 1977, p. 13.

30. Etlin, p. 18.

31. Vidler, “Cemeteries of Life and Death,” p. 13.

32. Aldo Rossi, “The Blue of the Sky,” Oppositions no. 5, Summer 1976, p. 32.

I would like to correct an error in my article, “Signs” (April 1981). On page 40, third paragraph, I placed Michael Asher in a group of artists who had “designed cards, interiors and matches for individual clients.” I had intended to refer to Asher in the previous paragraph when I mentioned “T-shirts . . . used by individuals as a sign of individual identity.” The work of Asher that I had specifically in mind were the T-shirts he designed with the individual telephone number of the purchasers imprinted; these were offered for sale, and imprinted on the spot, in a public market in the center of the city of Groningen, Holland, in the summer of 1979.

Dan Graham
New York, N.Y.