Beloved teacher, Mein Lieber Freund
With timing that would be unimaginable today, Aldo Rossi received, in 1983, the commission to direct the third edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale that would take place two years later.
Upon his appointment, the Milanese architect — who succeeded Paolo Portoghesi after his appointment as President of the entire Venice Biennale institution — was internationally renowned for his contributions to the theoretical study of urban phenomena in his books Architecture of the City (1966) and Scientific Autobiography (1981). His built works numbered not many more than the fingers of one hand, but they were also formulated with undisputed and incisive strength.
Asserting that architecture was the engine and matter of urban transformation, where the critical dimension sustains the political will to intervene upon the ceaseless construction of the city, Aldo Rossi saw the new edition of the Biennale as an opportunity to overcome the disciplinary impasse that had been consigned to history by Portoghese's Strada Novissima. Hence the decision to not limit the show to only "selected works and exceptional artists" but to hold a competition and exhibition. Open to different contributions from influential architects, university professors and the entire design world, the competition proposed as a subject Venice and its immediate surroundings.
Rossi's competition was extremely successful, with a large number of international participants (3000 entries, 1500 submitted projects, 500 selected projects) and exceptional proposal quality. These touched upon issues such as the relationship between history and design, territory and cultural individuality at the fore — at the time legible, according to structuralist theory, in the relationship between language and dialect, today open to the zeitgeist pairing of local/global —, and effectively opened a new kind of debate in the cultural and architectural spheres.
It is not surprising then that, today, David Chipperfield, who has much less time to plan his Biennale, finds consonance between the Rossi program and his search for a Common Ground that can reassemble the broken dialogue not only within the profession but also between architecture and society, conferring upon these realms cultural necessity rather than pure economic instrumentality. Looking back at previous editions, Chipperfield identifies the risk of creating a device (the exhibit) as a mere catalogue of architectural production favouring the exacerbated individuality, of both the designer and the object, often devoid of any true urban scale.
Hence the decision to organize some of those third edition projects and materials preserved in the ASAC — Archivio Storico delle Arti Contemporanee [Historic Archives of the Contemporary Arts] archive in a small exhibition —which features the competition drawings and posters, but most importantly a twofold reading of the exhibitions, opening day images, and Rossi's profuse correspondence with masters, friends and colleagues — communicating some of that spirit, and the illusion that everyone was participating in creating something special.
The exhibition seems like an interesting opportunity to revisit a theme dear to Rossi's poetics — ephemeral architecture for Venice. The show's title and poster image allude, in fact, to the exhibition "machine" organized for the occasion, with its heart in a sequence of three 8 metre arches arranged along the avenue between the Italian Pavilion and the entrance. The first two were plastered with multicolored posters like a Byzantine background or a city wall, reproducing the projects selected by the jury (now partially replicated in the exhibition); the third arch, which was white, was placed under the domed entrance of the pavilion. All three were topped by words written in large red metal letters — VENEZIA - BIENNALE - L'ARCHITETTURA —, both a reference to R. Roussel's beloved Impressions d'Afrique and to futurist constructions.
This project followed two previous designs, the vaguely gothic-looking portal at the Corderie dell'arsenale for the 1980 Biennale and, in the previous year, the crucial experience of the Teatro del mondo, to which the Biennale recently dedicated an in depth retrospective. In Rossi's noted interpretation, ephemeral architecture is an antecedent to the monument. "Like the theater," he stated, "the portal recovers buildings in cities that were founded for specific occasions of urban life and were then destroyed or transformed into stone architecture." This was the spirit of the never-to-be-realized proposal for the 1991 5th Architecture Biennale, transforming the 1985 Arches into brick, Istrian stone and steel.
But the ephemeral is a primitive, general condition of architecture as an exquisitely human gesture. "Man's work is always ephemeral, whether it is destroyed because of the arbitrariness and arrogance of politicians or whether it returns to nature over time." In close relationship to Manfredo Tafuri's theories, the ephemeral has a central role, as a progressive element with respect to the real, searching alternative messages in relation to any given context.
In those early years of the 1980s, Aldo Rossi countered the "dull system that has destroyed and plundered our cities" with painstaking writing and small works.
Perhaps we can reconstruct a Common Ground from there. Raffaella Poletti
Through 25 November 2012
Gli "Archi" di Aldo Rossi per la 3. Mostra Internazionale di Architettura 1985
An exhibition organized by the Venice Biennale — ASAC, in collaboration with IUAV
Ca' Giustinian, San Marco, Venice