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Rossi’s Coup de Théâtre

Theatres and theatricality are the focus of an exhibition devoted to the drawings and models of Aldo Rossi

Aldo Rossi − Teatri is a hidden gem tucked away on the southernmost tip of the Dorsoduro. For the duration of the Biennale the Fondazione Emilio e Annabianca Vedova brings together 16 projects revolving around the Milanese architect and designer’s passion for theatre and the theatrical.

The exhibition opens with the Teatro del Mondo; a project that more than any other reveals the power of Rossi’s imagination. The location is perfect, just a few hundred metres from where the original floated during the 1980 Architecture Biennale. Some 12 years later a near life-size model meets you as you enter, an impressive indication of the presence of the original, its form echoing the architecture of Venice and recalling the theatres of carnival.

Beyond, reaching back into the depths of the former boating warehouse, a mix of models and objects accompanied throughout by plans and Rossi’s signature child-like drawings describe 15 projects spanning from the early 1970s through to the architect’s death in 1997. Together they illuminate the important part theatre played in the life and work of Rossi.


Models of the Teatro del Mondo dominate an exhibition dedicated to Aldo Rossi’s theatrical designs

The works displayed contrast with the severe forms of Rossi’s early built works − the Gallaratese Apartments and Modena Cemetery − revealing a more playful side. The drawings and sketches, complete with the architect’s notes and scribbles, celebrate his imagination and provide a fascinating insight into his working methods. Immersive sketch studies explore the narratives and place (both literal and figurative) inhabited by the projects.

Architectural fantasies − particularly an imaginary urban composition of the Carlo Felice theatre alongside ancient monuments − play off traditional architectural drawings, the technical alongside the phenomenological. Palpable throughout is Rossi’s exploration of type, monument and memory. Compositions in pure geometries − cylinders, cones, angles and lines − together create the recognisable building blocks of urban form. Brightly coloured models composed of towers, walls, gates, bridges, porticos, come together in Rossi’s own words ‘to give a public character to the [urban] theatre’, the repeated use of familiar architectural elements creating a feeling of familiarity.

The work displays the influence of Giorgio de Chirico, monumental objects occupy real and imagined perspectival space. The stage-set constructions of the Teatro Domestico (1986) host the oversized Tea and Coffee Piazza service for Alessi (1982), in which the childlike monumental forms of the theatres are echoed at the domestic scale.

The exhibition celebrates Rossi’s personal passion for the mechanics of theatre. The Teatrino Scientifico (1978) is a labour of love and working tool for theatrical design experiments. Alongside it sit artefacts from the stage sets it helped create, some of which are still in use. A turquoise horse, created for Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, proudly stands beside the model of the unrealised Teatro La Fenice di Venezia (1997), ending the exhibition back in Venice where it began.


Missing however is a dialogue with the wider urban realm that preoccupied Rossi. Rossi reiterated throughout his fertile career that architecture provides a stage for life, public spaces the backdrops for life’s experiences. It seems a missed opportunity not to explore the theatres as urban artefacts within Rossi’s theories of cities. The Teatro Paganini in Parma (1964) is, however, the notable exception, depicted in carefully wrought drawings inhabiting its wider urban setting.

The works often remain acontextual geometric explorations and compositions of types, which while engaging as stand-alone objects were never conceived outside the fabric of the city. As a result the exhibition at times strays into the twee, the enchanting toy-like models losing some of their experiential quality and greater urban significance.

Forgiving that shortcoming the show gives a vivid impression of the way Rossi worked. It celebrates the joy embedded in his architecture and method, and the freedom of his imagination as architect and designer. And amid the sometimes-laboured worthiness displayed in much of this year’s Biennale, the value of delight in architecture is something worth being reminded of. 

Aldo Rossi – Teatri

Venue: Fondazione Emilio e Annabiance Vedova

City: Venice

Dates: Until 25 November 2012

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