With “Melancholy and Architecture: On Aldo Rossi” by Diogo Seixas Lopes we learn about obligations to express, “that there is nothing to express”. An interview with the author, who met Rossi by means of a misdemeanour…
San Cataldo, Photo: Nuno Cera
Italian architect Aldo Rossi (1931–97) is, without question, one of the most influential architects of the second half of the 20th century. In your book titled “Melancholy and Architecture: On Aldo Rossi” – recently published by Park Books and celebrated by the critics – you look at the significant contribution the architect has made to architectural discourse, offering a new perspective on the long cultural history of melancholy. How did you meet Aldo Rossi?
Diogo: My first memory of Aldo Rossi is stealing a pocket monograph of his work published by Gustavo Gili, in the early 1990s. It was a childish stunt, in a bookstore that was setting up shop at the architecture school in Lisbon. I did not know much about architecture, but at least I recognised the name of the architect. Maybe I was drawn by the image of the cover, which I think was the Teatro del Mondo. If I were to believe in certain kinds of biographic explanations, and that is not the case, I met Rossi by means of a misdemeanour.
While the influence of melancholy on literature and the visual arts has been extensively studied, its presence in architecture has been largely overlooked. Why did you choose to shed light on this specific dark side of architecture?
Diogo: Aldo Rossi frequently mentioned a text by Raymond Roussel, explaining how he had written some of his books. Roussel describes a very methodical process, while his works are anything but clear-cut. A lot of the choices I made, or for that matter anyone else in a similar situation, were of technical nature. Choices of structure and content, choices of form really. True, I was also drawn by a personal proclivity for certain states of mind. And then, the idea to portray Rossi as a dark star of architecture. But, as it is often said, the work should speak for itself.
San Cataldo, Photo: Nuno Cera
Exploring Rossi’s entire career, you trace out the oscillation between enthusiasm and disenchantment that marks Rossi’s work, and closer explore of one of Rossi’s landmark creations, the Cemetery of San Cataldo in Modena. An emotion built in stone?
Diogo: Your question seems to derive from the famous dictum by Goethe, about architecture being frozen music. I never liked that expression much, it seems too formal and – frankly – too German. Sure, you cannot or – in my point of view – should not discuss the work of Rossi without taking into account a deeply emotional aspect associated to it. That is also what makes his case so interesting, the disruptive side of his personality. But then there is the rest. There are the buildings, the projects, the texts, the drawings and so forth.
Melancholy and Architecture – on Barbas Lopes. As a practicing architect yourself, is there a presence of melancholy in your work? – As the “Teatro Thalia” comes to mind.
Diogo: Originally, I wrote this as a doctoral dissertation at ETH Zurich. It was roughly done at the same time of the project and construction of Teatro Thalia, in Lisbon. Barbas Lopes is a partnership with my wife – Patrícia Barbas – and an architectural office dealing with the basic facts and figures of the trade . There is no underlying theme, just the specific conditions of each work. But contaminations do happen, and we are firm believers in them. In the case of Thalia, by some strange coincidence, they happened to be about ruins and memories retrieved from oblivion.
Melancholy and Architecture: On Aldo Rossi
Diogo Seixas Lopes
Park Books (2015)