Thursday, 7 October 2010

The City, as Evaluated by Aldo Rossi

The Architecture of the City
This chapter will review and analyze the phenomenal book written by Aldo Rossi The Architecture of the City (1966) and will delineate the relationship between his theoretical arguments about the city and my research topic. The city has been the focus of many literatures in urban theories, where scholars try to understand the city and try to determine how to design it. In the context of modern architecture, Rossi tried to seek for the inner logics of the whole structure of a city, and this chapter will elaborate Rossi’s theoretical assumptions and arguments in order to position the thesis’ topic within theories that are established and reliable.

City as Work of Art
Aldo Rossi recognize the city as architecture and sees it as a discipline with self-determining autonomy, inseparable from life and society. He considers the city as a unified element – an overall synthesis of its disassociated parts, and is always undergoing changes, be it for natural or man-made reasons. In his study, Rossi framed his area of studies on the city by looking at the city through two systems of study. The first one viewed the city as a product of the generative functional systems of its architecture and urban spaces, while the second one consider city as a spatial structure, which system belongs more to architecture and geography. The Architecture of the City is divided into four main parts:

1.  Problems of description, classification and typology.
2.  Structure of the city.
3.  Individuality of urban artifacts and the locus.
4.  Urban dynamics and the problem of politics of choice.

Rossi is primarily concerned with the form of a city, which is the summary of its architecture, and emphasizes to explain the city as an object of art. Urban artifacts such as buildings, streets, urban furniture, etc. are considered as work of arts, which Rossi believe are the manifestations of social and daily life practice. Rossi also supports Claude Levi-Strauss theory of structural anthropology (1972) that considers the city as an object of nature and a subject of culture, and will be able to achieve a balance between natural and artificial elements. Beside recognizing the city as a work of art, Rossi also view the city as human’s achievement per excellence, and believe that the whole product of the city is more important that its single parts, thus making him examining the city in a broad measure of its many parts.

Typology and Function
Many previous studies on urbanism and architecture addressed typologies in relation to function. But according to Rossi, existing classification on these matters failed to see the root of the problem in a holistic manner. This is supported through his argument that urban artifacts are changeable with time and needs, thus seeing functionalism as physiological in nature, which justifies the formation, development and alterations of forms. To Rossi, types on the basis of functions seem to be inadequate to understand the city. Since every function can be articulated through forms, and forms will contain the potential to exist as urban artifacts, forms are reflexive enough to allow themselves to be articulated as urban elements. While function alone cannot be indicated as a principal issue in studies on city, other elements such as individuality, locus, mnemonic meanings and design itself are priorities to urban analysis. Rossi believes that all urban forms are capable to incorporate functions with some alterations and transformations if required.

Theory of Permanence and Monuments
The theory of permanence, as developed by Pierre Lavedan in his thesis Histoire de l’Urbanisme (1926) was important to Rossi’s hypothesis of the city as a giant man-made object produced in the process of time. Here, the theory of permanence is useful in seeing the city as the product of individual and collective artifacts, and sees the persistence of the city is revealed through ‘monuments’ as well as through the city’s basic layout and plans. However, this concept of permanence can be propelling or pathological. Urban artifacts help to perceive the city in a holistic way, but may also appear as isolated elements of the urban system. Rossi explained that if a monument survived through times because of their form can accommodate different functions over time, it becomes a propelling element. But if the monument stands virtually isolated and contributes nothing to the city, then it is considered as a pathological artifact. The latter condition is what we usually experience in cities like Bandung or Jakarta, where buildings stands alone without having positive interactions with its neighboring context.

City as a Spatial System
The city is conceived as a spatial system composed of many different parts, and this spatial system is attached to nature and evolution of the city, and constitutes the city’s image. This concept of totality of the system challenges theories of the functionalists, i.e. zoning system. Rossi considers specialized zones are characteristics of a city and they may have their own autonomous parts within the whole system. Their distribution and positioning in the city’s spatial system was determined by the entire historical process, and not based on function alone. In the case of Bandung, we can witness how the area of Jalan ABC, Jalan Banceuy or Jalan Suniaraja evolved through time and history, and made them to be specially positioned and zoned as what they are today. These phenomena were caused by cultural demand, human preferences, and history, and function alone may not contribute to its condition in the city’s spatial system. These urban phenomena and elements are capable of accelerating the process of the city’s spatial transformations. These elements play important role in the evolution of the city overtime and constitute the physical structure of the city. Over time, these urban artifacts become transformed and their functions or form altered. According to Rossi, such elements have meta-economic character and become works of art.

History, Collective Memory and Locus
History is the collective memory of the people of the city, and it has important influence on the city. History expresses itself through urban artifacts and monuments, thus city become the reflection of the collective will through out the time and its existence. Rossi believes that urban history is a useful tool to study urban structure. For example, urban aesthetics constitute mnemonic meanings inherent in the pre-existing urban artifacts and buildings of the city, and through this collective memory, people engaged to discover their meanings and beauty. Rossi also viewed the city with emphasis on cultural stability that somehow will inspire further developments. The city itself became a locus of the collective memory. The value of history seen as collective memory is that it helps us to grasp the significance of the urban structure, its individuality, and its architecture, which is the form of individuality. Locus in the context of Rossi’s study on the city is conceived of singular place and event, which bridge the relationship of architecture to the city’s constitution, and the relationship between context and monuments. Locus is regarded as conditions and qualities of space. On the other hand, architecture shapes a context, which again constitutes changes in space, thus contributing to the city’s transformations.

The Architecture of the City and Bandung
Rossi’s thesis on the city that regards all of the above arguments are useful tools in the process of analyzing and understanding the city of Bandung. As a city that has undergone a process of transformation from its early period until today, where it can be regarded as one of those city that resembles problems due to the modernist and capitalistic approaches in city planning, Bandung can be re-approached according to Rossi’s methods in devising ways to construct the city towards a more holistic and user-oriented perspectives. Moreover, Rossi conceived the city as an archaeological artifact and analyzed it as a whole construct, set within the domain of architecture. Some parts of Bandung are suitable to be approached this way since they resembles typologies that have survived through different periods and users’ demands, thus requiring typological and function analysis to understand them. The theory of permanence is also very relevant to understand Bandung as the fact that its past is partly being experienced now, and this may be the means to give permanency to the city – they are pasts that we are still experiencing.

1 comment:

  1. Is this plagiarism?