Aldo Rossi

Aldo Rossi (3 May 1931 – 4 September 1997) was an Italian architect and designer who achieved international recognition in four distinct areas: architectural theory, drawing and design and also product design.[1] He was one of the leading exponents of the postmodern movement. [2]

Aldo Rossi
(ca. 1986–87)
Born(1931-05-03)3 May 1931
Milan, Italy
Died4 September 1997(1997-09-04) (aged 66)
Milan, Italy
Alma materPolytechnic University of Milan
AwardsPritzker Prize (1990)
BuildingsMonte Amiata complex, Teatro Carlo Felice, Teatro La Fenice, Bonnefanten Museum

He was the first Italian to receive the Pritzker Prize[3] for architecture.

Early life

He was born in Milan, Italy. After early education by the Somascan Religious Order and then at Alessandro Volta College in Lecco, in 1949 he went to the school of architecture at the Polytechnic University of Milan. His thesis advisor was Piero Portaluppi and he graduated in 1959.

In 1955 he had started writing for, and from 1959 was one of the editors of, the architectural magazine Casabella-Continuità, with editor in chief Ernesto Nathan Rogers. Rossi left in 1964, when the chief editorship went to Gian Antonio Bernasconi. Rossi went on to work for Società magazine and Il_contemporaneo, making him one of the most active participants in the fervent cultural debate of the time.

His early articles cover architects such as Alessandro Antonelli, Mario Ridolfi, Auguste Perret and Emil Kaufmann and much of this material became part of his second book, Scritti scelti sull'architettura e la città 1956-1972 (Selected writings on architecture and the city from 1956 to 1972). He married the Swiss actress Sonia Gessner, who introduced him to the world of film and theater. Culture and his family became central to his life. His son Fausto was active in movie-making both in front of and behind the camera and his daughter Vera was involved with theatre.


He began his professional career at the studio of Ignazio Gardella in 1956, moving on to the studio of Marco Zanuso. In 1963 also he began teaching, firstly as an assistant to Ludovico Quaroni (1963) at the school of urban planning in Arezzo, then to Carlo Aymonino at the Institute of Architecture in Venice. In 1965 he was appointed lecturer at the Polytechnic University of Milan and the following year he published The architecture of the city which soon became a classic of architectural literature.

His professional career, initially dedicated to architectural theory and small building work took a huge leap forward when Aymonino allowed Rossi to design part of the Monte Amiata complex in the Gallaratese quarter of Milan. In 1971 he won the design competition for the extension of the San Cataldo Cemetery in Modena, which made him internationally famous.

After suspension from teaching in Italy in those politically troubled times, he moved to ETH Zurich, occupying the chair in architectural design from 1971 to 1975.

In 1973 he was director of the International Architecture Section at the XV Milan Triennial Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Modern Architecture, where he presented, among others, his student Arduino Cantafora. Rossi's design ideas for the exhibition are explained in the International Architecture Catalogue and in a 16mm documentary Ornament and crime directed by Luigi Durissi and produced along with Gianni Braghieri and Franco Raggi. In 1975, Rossi returned to the teaching profession in Italy, teaching architectural composition in Venice.

In 1979 he was made a member of the prestigious Academy of Saint Luke. Meanwhile, there was international interest in his skills. He taught at several universities in the United States, including Cooper Union in New York City and Cornell University in Ithaca (New York State). At Cornell he participated in the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies joint venture with New York's Museum of Modern Art, travelling to China and Hong Kong and attending conferences in South America.

In 1981 he published his autobiography, A scientific autobiography. In this work the author, "in discrete disorder", brings back memories, objects, places, forms, literature notes, quotes, and insights and tries to "... go over things or impressions, describe, or look for ways to describe." In the same year he won first prize at the international competition for the design of an apartment block on the corner of Kochstraße and Wilhelmstraße in central Berlin.

In 1984 together with Ignazio Gardella and Fabio Reinhart, he won the competition for the renovation of the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa, which was not fully completed until 1991. In 1985 and 1986 Rossi was director of the 3rd (respectively 4th) International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale including further away display spaces such as Villa Farsetti in Santa Maria di Sala.

In 1987 he won two international competitions: one for a site at the Parc de la Villette in Paris, the other for the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin, which was never brought to fruition. In 1989 he continued product design work for Unifor (now part of Molteni Furniture) and Alessi. His espresso maker La Cupola, designed for Alessi came out in 1988.

In 1990 he was awarded the Pritzker Prize.[4] The city of Fukuoka in Japan honoured him for his work on the hotel complex The Palace and he won the 1991 Thomas Jefferson Medal in Public Architecture from the American Institute of Architects. These prestigious awards were followed by exhibitions at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam, the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent, Belgium.

In 1996 he became an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the following year he received their special cultural award in architecture and design. He died in Milan on 4 September 1997, following a car accident. Posthumously he received the Torre Guinigi prize for his contribution to urban studies and the Seaside Prize of the Seaside Institute, Florida, where he had built a detached family home in 1995.

On appeal his proposals won the 1999 competition for the restoration of the Teatro La Fenice, Venice and it reopened in 2004. In 1999 the Faculty of Architecture of the University of Bologna, based in Cesena, was named after him.


His earliest works of the 1960s were mostly theoretical and displayed a simultaneous influence of 1920s Italian modernism (see Giuseppe Terragni), classicist influences of Viennese architect Adolf Loos, and the reflections of the painter Giorgio de Chirico. A trip to the Soviet Union to study Stalinist architecture also left a marked impression.

In his writings Rossi criticized the lack of understanding of the city in current architectural practice. He argued that a city must be studied and valued as something constructed over time; of particular interest are urban artifacts that withstand the passage of time. Rossi held that the city remembers its past (our "collective memory"), and that we use that memory through monuments; that is, monuments give structure to the city. Inspired by the persistence of Europe's ancient cities, Rossi strove to create similar structures immune to obsolescence.[5]

He became extremely influential in the late 1970s and 1980s as his body of built work expanded and for his theories promoted in his books The Architecture of the City (L'architettura della città, 1966) and A Scientific Autobiography (Autobiografia scientifica, 1981).The largest of Rossi's projects in terms of scale was the San Cataldo Cemetery, in Modena, Italy, which began in 1971 but is yet to be completed. Rossi referred to it as a "city of the dead".

The distinctive independence of his buildings is reflected in the micro-architectures of the products designed by Rossi.[6] In the 1980s Rossi designed stainless steel cafetières and other products for Alessi, Pirelli, and others.


For the Venice Biennale in 1979 Rossi designed a floating Teatro del Mondo[7] that seated 250 people. For the Venice Biennale in 1984, he designed a triumphal arch at the entrance to the exhibition site. In 2006 two pylons based on an original 1989 design by Aldo Rossi were erected in front of the Bonnefanten Museum in Maastricht by the Delft architectural firm Ufo Architecten.


Aldo Rossi won the prestigious Pritzker Prize for architecture in 1990. Ada Louise Huxtable, architectural critic and Pritzker juror, has described Rossi as "a poet who happens to be an architect."


  • 1960 Villa ai Ronchi in Versilia
  • 1962 Competition for the Monument to the Resistance in Cuneo
  • 1964 Competition for the new Paganini theater and Piazza della Pilotta in Parma
  • 1964 Bridge for the Triennale in Milan
  • 1965 Monumental fountain at Segrate
  • 1966 Competition for the district of San Rocco in Monza
  • 1967-74 Monte Amiata complex, Gallaratese Quarter, Milan, with Carlo Aymonino
  • 1968 Design for town hall in Scandicci
  • 1971-84 Ossuary and the Cemetery of San Cataldo in Modena
  • 1972 Design for City Hall Muggiò
  • 1972 Primary school in Fagnano Olona
  • 1973 Documentary movie "Ornament and crime" for the Triennale in Milan
  • 1974 Design for the regional council headquarters and for a student residence in Trieste
  • 1976 Design for a student residence in Chieti
  • 1977 Design for a business center in Florence
  • 1977 Single-family homes in Mozzo
  • 1978 Teatrino scientifico
  • 1979 The floating 250 seat Teatro del Mondo and triumphal arch, both built for the Venice Biennale
  • 1979 Apartments in Südliche Friedrichstadt for the exhibition IBA 84 in West Berlin, Germany
  • 1979 Torri shopping centre in Parma
  • 1979 Middle school in Broni, with Arduino Cantafora
  • 1979 Monumental tower, Melbourne, Australia
  • 1981-1988 Berlin Block on Kochstraße at its junction with Wilhelmstraße in Berlin, Germany
  • 1982 Head Office of Fontivegge in Perugia
  • 1982 House Pocono Pines, Mount Pocono in Pennsylvania, USA
  • 1982 Isle of Elba cabins for Bruno Longoni
  • 1983 Design for the town hall of Borgoricco
  • 1984-1987 Casa Aurora, home of GFT Financial Textile Group, Turin
  • 1984 Preparation for the Pitti-Uomo men's fashion event in Florence
  • 1984-1991 Renovation of Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa
  • 1985 Preparation of a trade exhibition stand for GFT Financial Textile Group, Turin
  • 1985 Residential building in the Vialba quarter of Milan
  • 1986-1989 Palace Hotel in Fukuoka, Japan
  • 1986 South Villette in Paris, France
  • 1987 Lighthouse Theatre, Toronto
  • 1988-91 Hotel Duca di Milano, Milan
  • 1988-90 Monument to Sandro Pertini, Milan
  • 1989 de Lamel appartements, the Hague, Netherlands
  • 1989 Urban plan for the greater urban area Pisorno, Tirrenia (Pisa)
  • 1990-1992 Residential building and former industrial area, Città di Castello
  • 1990-1993 Club House of the Cosmopolitan Golf Club in Tirrenia (Pisa)
  • 1990 Social health complex in via Canova in Florence
  • 1991 Administrative building for The Walt Disney Company in Orlando, Florida
  • 1991 Contemporary arts centre on the island of Vassivière in Beaumont-du-Lac, France
  • 1991 Redevelopment of former industrial cotton mill Cantoni in Castellanza as the main campus of the University Carlo Cattaneo
  • 1991 Post office and apartments near the City of Music in Paris (19th arrondissement), France
  • 1992 Reconstruction of the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa with Ignazio Gardella
  • 1993 Personal Florentine wardrobe for Bruno Longoni
  • 1994-1998 Schützenstraße quarter, Berlin (photographs)
  • 1995 Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht, Netherlands
  • 1995 Regeneration of the former Kursaal area in Montecatini
  • 1996 Complex for a magazine in Berlin, Germany
  • 1996 Ca' di Cozzi[8] central district in Verona
  • 1996-1998 Mojiko Hotel, Kitakyushu, Japan
  • 1997 Design for the Arts Factory district in Bologna
  • 1997 Terranova shopping centre, Olbia, Sardinia
  • 1999-2004 Refurbishment of Teatro La Fenice, Venice
  • 2001 Scholastic Corporation Headquarters, New York City, USA

Product design

In addition to architecture, Rossi, created product designs, including:

  • 1983 Teatro chair for Molteni Group with the collaboration of Luca Meda;
  • 1984 The Conical coffee maker and kettle for Alessi
  • 1987 Milan chair for Molteni Group;
  • 1988 La Cupola coffee maker for Alessi;
  • 1988 Il Conico tea kettle for Alessi;
  • 1989 Paris chair for Unifor now part of Molteni Group;
  • 1989 Decartes bookshelf for Unifor now part of Molteni Group;
  • 1989 Consiglio table for Unifor now part of Molteni Group;
  • 1989 Moment clock for Alessi.


  • L'architettura della città (The Architecture of the City), Padua: Marsilio 1966.
  • Scritti scelti sull'architettura e la città: 1956-1972 (Selected Writings on architecture and the city: 1956-1972), edited by R. Bonicalzi, Milan: ULC, 1975.
  • Autobiografia scientifica (A scientific autobiography), Parma: Practices, 1990.


  1. Celant, Germano & Ghirardo, Diane (2008). Aldo Rossi: Drawings. Milan: Skira. ISBN 978-88-6130-143-6.
  2. Caves, R. W. (2004). Encyclopedia of the City. Routledge. p. 574. ISBN 9780415252256.
  3. Pritzker Prize for Architecture - chriteria
  4. Goldberger, Paul (22 April 1990). "Aldo Rossi: Sentiment For The Unsentimental". New York Times.
  5. Abramson, Daniel (2012). "From Obsolescence to Sustainability, Back Again, and Beyond". Design and Culture. 4 (3): 279–298. doi:10.2752/175470812X13361292229078.
  6. Buerdek, Bernhard E. (2005). Design: History, theory and practice of product design. Basel, Switzerland: Birkhauser-Publishers for Architecture. ISBN 978-3-764-37029-9.
  7. Hill, John (8 February 1999). "Teatro del Mondo". A Daily Dose of Architecture. Blogspot. Retrieved 29 October 2018.
  8. An appreciation of on of Rossi's last projects (for a central district in Verona). Archived 28 January 2006 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

  • Pangalos, Panayotis (2008). The significance of time in contemporary architecture. Technical and poetic time: the case of Aldo Rossi. Phd dissertation. University of Patras, Greece.
  • Arnell, Peter & Bickford, Ted (1985). Aldo Rossi. Buildings and Projects. New York: Rizzoli. ISBN 0-8478-0499-2.
  • Berlucchi, Nicola (2000). "Aldo Rossi: ricostruzione del teatro La Fenice". Area (in Italian). 51. Archived from the original on 13 February 2008.
  • Ferlenga, Alberto (1996). Aldo Rossi. Opera completa (1993–1996) (in Italian). Milan: Electa. ISBN 88-435-5543-X.
  • Leoni, G. (a cura di) (1997). "Costruire sul costruito, intervista a Aldo Rossi". Area (in Italian). 32: 44–47. Archived from the original on 6 January 2003.
  • Polazzi, Giovanni (1999). "Aldo Rossi Associati - Area ex mattatoio". Area (in Italian). 46: 106–110. Archived from the original on 13 February 2008.
  • Savi, Vittorio, L'Architettura di Aldo Rossi, Franco Angeli Edizioni, Milan, 1975.
  • Pangalos, Panayotis, The significance of time in architecture of Aldo Rossi, ed. Gutenberg, Athens, 2012.
  • Moschini, Francesco, Aldo Rossi Progetti e disegni 1962-1979 (Aldo Rossi Plans and Drawings 1962-1979), Edizioni Center, Florence September 1979. International Co-editions Rizzoli New York, London Academy Edition, The Equerre Paris, Xarait Madrid.
  • Sherer, Daniel. ""Aldo Rossi: The Architecture and Art of the Analogous City," Curator's Essay for Exhibition held at Princeton School of Architecture on view from 5 February to 30 March 2018, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the death of Aldo Rossi.
  • Tafuri, Manfredo, Storia dell'architettura italiana 1944-1985(History of Italian architecture 1944-1985), Einaudi, Torino, 1982.
  • Ferlenga, Alberto, Aldo Rossi. Opera completa (1993-1996) (Aldo Rossi. Complete Works (1993-1996)), Electa, 1996.
  • Leoni G(ed), Costruire sul costruito, intervista a Aldo Rossi(Building on the built - interview with Aldo Rossi), "Area" 32, May/June 1997, pp. 44–47
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