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Italian Rationalism in 2010: Form, Rhetoric, and Ideology

Research from a Contemporary Issues seminar led by Paulette Singley

In  2003 Peter Eisenman finally published his magnum opus, Giuseppe Terragni: Transformations, Decompositions, Critiques (New York: Monacelli) that included texts by the architect Giuseppe Terragni (1904-1943) and the architectural theorist and critic Manfredo Tafuri (1935-94).  While Eisenman’s progeny, such as Greg Lynn (b. 1964), may have sponsored much of the genetic material for the contemporary production of architecture as it manifests itself in parametric design at UCLA and other schools across the country, the unspoken other at this institution is Manfredo Tafuri. It was Tafuri who opposed engaging writing as a tool that operatively promoted the production of contemporary architecture—”operative criticism.”

Tafuri introduced us to a polemic—particularly influential at Cornell university—in which tradition and modernism were equally conversant, in which architects such as Gruppo Sette (the official name of the firm with whom Terragni completed several projects), Adalberto Libera (1903-63), and others constituted a movement called Rationalism that performed in Italy between World War One and Two. Prefiguring this canonical moment, the first avant-garde movement of Futurism played a pivotal role in setting the stage for Rationalism while Super Studio and Archizoom closed the postwar dystopian period of antifascism. The work of Aldo Rossi (1931-1997) and the writings of Tafuri emerged from this rich milieu of political ideology and architectural tradition.  Reaction against approaches to design outside of simple form-making that might refer to typology, context, politics, semantics as well as semiotics, ideological critique, social resistance, etc. has permeated architecture today. And it has done so to such as extent that the project of Italian Rationalism material lurks in wait to remerge as a significant generator of formalism that had be conveniently stripped on its more pernicious and unpalatable sociopolitical overtones.

What is at stake in the Rationalist, or Tendenza, comparison with the contemporary production of design is implicit complexity introduced by studying typology in the context of topology or autonomy (as the architect Peter Eisenman [b. 1932] introduces it in his book on Terragni in terms of genetics.  The seminar from which this student work is developed queries the possibility of a “both-and” situation in which the deeply political inquiry of architecture produced under the fascist regime. [Such an approach argues] that while an “autonomous architecture,” it nonetheless carries critical, cultural, and contextual potential, and may indeed become part of the language of contemporary digital production.

Posted in 2010, Past

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