INTRO + THESIS. Aldo Rossi, an Italian architect and designer, grew to international fame when Aymonino asked Rossi to design a part of the Monte Amiata complex in the Gallaratese quarter of Milan. The Monte Amiata Housing design is an epitome of Rossi’s philosophies of architecture on macro and micro level.
BACKGROUND. In the aftermath of World War II, Europe suffered from various socio-economic issues affecting citizen lives. As a response to the major housing shortages, architects in Milan drafted a series of plans proposing satellite communities in the northern Italian city which were estimated to house large numbers of people. The city saw the construction of the first of these planned communities starting in 1946, one year after the end of the war. The adoption of Il Piano Regolatore Generale in 1956, ten years later, introduced the development of the second series, coined ‘Gallaratese’. The new community was split into two parts, one of which was on land privately owned by the Monte Amiata Società Mineraria per Azioni (Monte Amiata Mining Company). When the part of the complex on their land (Gallaratese 2) was allowed for private development in 1967, Studio Ayde was commissioned for the project. The firm’s partner Carlo Aymonino was given charge of the design. Aymonino invited Aldo Rossi to design a building for the complex two months later.
At the time, both Aymonino and Rossi had already gained recognition in the fields of urban studies and morphology. They made it clear that they were not interested in solitary architecture, but instead in urban communities with all the elements that constitute a functioning society: residences, commerce, industry, etc. Gallaratese hence became a chance for them to transform their theories into a practical, tangible creation Apart from housing-specific ideas, much of Rossi’s writings revolved around the city and its relationship with architecture, vice versa. So this project was also a good opportunity for the architect to study and implement some of his theories which can be seen in the urban context of the project. Rossi investigated the terrain where the proposal was set for, identified the location’s preexisting structures.
The architects took compositional inspiration from a series of experiments conducted in the 1950s by a group of Modernist architects ‘Project X.’ One of the group’s most significant projects was Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation, in which they added elements like open-air decks and interconnecting bridges in an attempt to transform isolated residential blocks into unified urban districts.
HOUSING TYPE. The Gallaratese Housing lies in the outskirts of Milan. Although it appears to be one continuous mass, it is two masses separated by a narrow gap. The ground floors consist of open galleries, characterized by piers on the northwest side and ten-foot deep fins on the southeast. The fins are replaced by the structures allowing access stairs and lifts to the units above. Near the gap between the two blocks, the fins and piers are replaced by four six-foot diameter columns. The gallery of the shorter building is positioned on a higher level and linked to the lower level by a large staircase. Gallery space is occupied by commercial units like shops and stalls.
The complex consisted of five buildings: A1, A2, B, and C, which were designed by Aymonino, and D by Rossi. Aymonino took inspiration from the cellular spatial organization of Roman examples like Trajan’s Market. One can notice the allusion to the stepping forms, interior and exterior circulatory paths of Anient Rome in the project’s A1 and A2, the eight story blocks at the southern border of the site. At the intersection of the two, he inserted B, a six story slab which extends north from the point. This point in the site also houses an outdoor amphitheatre. Surrounded by three housing blocks, the common public space makes a triangular shape. A1, A2, and B were designed with varied residential schemes like courtyard apartments that can be accessed from a public concourse and even units that can be accessed from a single interior corridor like Corbusier’s housing model. Aymonino’s last builing, C, serves as a two-story connector linking the first three to Rossi’s D.
Following a traditional order, the housing units are arranged along an external corridor; they seem to be inspired from the Corbusian model of the raised street (Unité d’habitation) and a common housing type in the region. Rossi believed that the repetition of the piers and square openings contributed to a framework aware of everyday life actions in the household. He opted for a high level of uniformity in his design.
Unlike Aymonino, who took inspirations from Roman examples, Rossi’s inspiration came from the 1930s – specifically the Italian artist and writer Giorgio de Chirico, the father of the scuola metafisica (metaphysical school) art movement. The movement paved the way to dream-like scenes of uncanny arcaded squares with unusual juxtapositions of objects. The artists painted the typical squares of Italian cities but the squares appeared unnaturally empty; they would then bring together objects and statues in them in strange juxtapositions.
When residents begun moving in in 1974, Rossi welcomed “the first open windows, clothes hanging out to dry in the loggias – the first timid signs of life”. “I am confident,” he continued, “that the spaces reserved for this daily life – the big colonnade, the ballatoi – will bring a sharp focus to the dense flow of daily life and the deeper popular roots of this residential architecture, of this ‘big house’ which would be at home anywhere along the Milanese waterway or any other Lombardian canal.”
DEVIATION FROM CONVENTION. Rossi’s perspective of architecture relied of a theory of city he published in the 1966 book L’Architectura della citta (The Architecture of the City). In the face of despairing consequences of industrialization and ‘functional’ design, Rossi believed that architects should return to urban patterns and building types that have endured the test of time, and reduce them to their essential geometric forms. Functionalist designers of the time preferred a balance between a specific purpose and the proposed form. However, Rossi sought types that were capable of adaptation to varied kinds of needs.
Rossi envisioned the complex as an utopian micro-city within a city, emphasizing the relationship between the housing blocks and their urban context. It was even dubbed a “Palais social” (social palace) by its residents.
Rossi described the complex’s façade, which functionalists criticized as “false”, like the built stage of the Roman theatre and to the façade of the Palladian Basilica. The Roman theatre stage and Palladian Basilica façade were both utilized independent of specific programs. When the application phase did arrive, Rossi did not back away from taking account of existing conditions. In the housing complex, spatial components (the cube, the cylinder, the triangle) united with existing features. Typological investigations reflected more than simple universal forms: Rossi aimed for the “union of geometry with use” and the “history of use”, as he mentions in L’Architectura della citta. The complex’s long rectilinear form is derived from the traditional Milanese tenement house, which Rossi identified as a type.
Rossi’s creation has succeeded in being adaptable to changing programs – but more importantly – in changing social morale and policies. The complex was immediately subject to controversy and criticism when it was finished in 1972. It was used as housing for the homeless, as a result of pressure from communist groups. The general consensus of the tenants proved not in favour of the blocks, with all of them abandoning it by 1974. However, with a change in the social and political climate of the city now, Gallaratese has regained its image and has positive feedback from the current residents. Perhaps the ideals of urban planning have evolved since Rossi’s work in 1967, but his work adapted as well to a changing time as he envisioned it to adapt to changing functions.