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CRITICAL RECONSTRUCTION

AS URBAN PRINCIPLE.
Michele Caja
Starting from the exhibition Rational Architecture: The reconstruction of
the European City (Bruxelles 1978)1, which is the sequel on a more
international scale of a previous exhibition coordinated by Aldo Rossi at
the Triennale di Milano (Architettura razionale, Milano 19732), the
concept of reconstruction, applied to the particular case of the European
city, is introduced to affirm a generation of architects and experts of urban
questions who, under the definition of rationalism, mainly intend the
analogy between city and architecture as defined by Alberti. The Alberti’s
art of building is here declined, from urban point of view, as art of re-
building the own characters of the European historical city.

Based on the Italian urban studies of the Sixties (Muratori, Rossi,


Aymonino and others3) and the French research elaborated by the
Archives d’Architecture Moderne (A.A.M.4), the term points out the
different potentialities involved in the heritage of urban history, seen as a
resistant cornerstone against the tendencies proclaiming the end of the city
and its dissolution on a territorial and infrastructural scale. So the strong
attack against the reductive components of the Modern town planning,
supported by the Krier Brothers, Bernard Huet and others, restarts from
the tradition of the European compact city, not only seen under
conservative terms, but also as promoter of positive principles in the
contemporary urban planning.

Reconstruire la ville means for Bernard Huet, a French theoretician


engaged on this reconstructive front, to find out the urban traces, canceled
by the functionalist schemata and the “open structures” of the Modern
Movement, which are able to redefine the spatial qualities of the historical
city, against every “anti-urban ideology” on which is based the common
practice, which sees architecture independent from the city and its formal
ties5.

In the essay The Reconstruction of the City Leon Krier explains through
words and projects what he means under the term reconstruction: the
rediscover of the typologies und the urban spaces of the historical city,
canceled by the ideology of the Modern Movement and its anti-historicism.
History is seen as a typological archive of spaces, like the street and the
square, architectures and monumental buildings, directly related to
Durand’s Typologies of institutional Monuments6.

Reconstruction means also the search of a collective language, especially


represented by the projects of Aldo Rossi, whose formal necessity becomes
collectively understood and represented in its archetypical elements, like
the column, the architrave, the wall and the roof. Parallel to his elemental
poetry, other experiments of French architects can be intended under this
“reconstructive” attitude. Among them, Krier mentions the proposals of La
Roquette in France by G.A.U. and De Portzemparc, based on the urban
spaces as the street, the square and the garden, beside other projects in
urban contexts. (fig. 1)

But reconstruction means also, more directly related to the praxis of the
architects, a way to solve the difficult relation between the old and the new,
both on an urban as on an architectural scale. On one side, the
reconstruction involves urban spaces, showing the possibility to integrate
existing parts inside a new architectural composition. According to Rob
Krier, the elements of urban reconstruction – the street, the square and the
monuments –become operative for the reconstruction of the European
city. In particular, he refers to German cities damaged in the Sixties by
functionalist and infrastructural planning, which destroyed the physical
structure of their centers. The form and the structure of the new
interventions are dictated by the morphology of surrounding context, but
also by the memory of the historical sites themselves. His proposals for
Stuttgart, those of his brother Leon for Echternach (1979) or the one of
Bernard Huet for Rochefort-sur-Mer (1977) are to be intended in this
sense7. (fig. 2)
On the other side, reconstruction involves problems of “integration”,
bringing as examples paradigmatic projects, like the reconstruction’s
project of the castle in Abbiategrasso by Giorgio Grassi (1970), the
transformation of the inner court of a school in Broni by Aldo Rossi (1971)
or the one for the New Art Gallery of St-Andrews by James Stirling (1972).
The common elements of these projects are the research of a continuity
between old and new structures, even if the “reconstructed” parts are not
only “integrated” in the old ones, in a mimetic way, but maintain their
identity as new architectural interventions8. (fig. 3)

In its critical attitude against the principles of Modern planning and its
idea of an open city into the nature, the urban concept of reconstruction
keeps together two different theoretical tendencies. On one side, more
nostalgically oriented, the above mentioned research line of the Kriers,
who rediscovers the qualities of the historical urban spaces transforming
them as a-historical formal schemes adequate to the contemporary city9.
On the other side, on the American continent, the struggle of Colin Rowe
against the Modern Movement and its concept of the city as an ensemble of
decontextualized objects as he writes, in different occasions, at the end of
the Seventies10. Putting in opposition the historical centers of Parma and
St. Die’ by Le Corbusier, represented in their simple structure of built and
unbuilt elements through the black-an-white technique, he immediately
demonstrates the difference between historical and modern town-
planning. On one side the compact texture of the city, where the voids are
defined by squares, streets and inner courts, on the other one the void as a
spatial continuum in which, like free-standing objects, stay the modern
buildings. (fig. 4)

Referring to the ideal reconstruction’s projects of Leon Krier for German


cities like Bremen and to his motto “learning from old towns”11, the term
reappears some years later in the German debate. With the Internationale
Bauausstellung Berlin (IBA, 1984-87), reconstruction assumes a formal
definition and a critical accentuation. The Kritische Rekonstruktion,
theorized by Josef Paul Kleihues, tents to apply the Italian and French
type-morphological theories to the particular case of the historical
structure of West-Berlin. Through the participation of international
architects, IBA intend to confirm the settling principles of the historical
town, not only as “careful urban renewal”, but also as “critical
reconstruction”. Principles which persist on the urban scale, in spite of the
numerous obliterations and overlays deriving from the tragic events of its
historical course, thanks the persistence of the streets grid, the blocks and
lots structure. (fig. 5)

The IBA-Plan for the Friedrichstadt-Süd becomes the manifesto of a new


way to intend the urban project as occasion to reconfirm the existing
structure of the historical city. The block as urban element becomes the
main theme of the Berlin’s architectural debate and most of the IBA-
interventions are based on it, even if declined in different ways. Parallel to
it, historical typologies reappear under new forms: for example the Urban
villa, introduced by O. M. Ungers as theme of an academic
experimentation12, its declined inside the IBA-quartiers in different ways,
from the Residential Parks by Berlin Museum (plan: H. Kollhoff) and on
the Lützowplatz to the Town houses in Rauchstrasse (plan: R. Krier)13. (fig.
6)

Associated and put in opposition to the term deconstruction, represented


by the ideological dialectic between two main protagonists of the
theoretical debate like Leon Krier and Peter Eisenman14, the
reconstruction’s principle refers both to the city, as a structure of historical
spaces consolidated and formalized in the time, as to architecture, in its
strict relation to the urban context and its historical forms. An opposition
of attitudes, which is clearly evident in the different interpretations given
by the two architects on the theme of the urban block. On one side, through
a cerebral procedure, Eisenman tries to use it as occasion to demonstrate
the overlaying of two grids in the urban map, the one based on the
historical baroque plan of the Friedrichstadt, the other one derived by the
correct application of N-S orientation, as prescribed by the Modern
Movement. If here the block is used as analytical tool to deconstruct the
different levels on which the urban history of Berlin is based, in the Krier’s
IBA-block for Potsdam historical forms and spaces are reconstructed in an
artificial way and used as rhetorical tools to reconfirm the historical value
of the site. (fig. 7)

The permanence of the city, as intended by Aldo Rossi, is here not only
evoked in allusive terms, but literally reconstructed in its urban and
building substance. A similar attitude used by the Milanese architect, as he
composes historical typologies in his Berlin’s intervention on the
Schützenstrasse, where he literally re-construct, using the technique of the
collage, typological fragments of a typical block of the Berlin of Stone, as
good described by Werner Hegemann in the Thirties15. Exactly one of those
blocks, against which most of the architects of the Modern Movement –
from Walter Gropius to Ernst May, from Ludwig Hilberseimer to Martin
Wagner – had struggled against, seeing them as paradigmatic symbols of
all the evils of the city of the XIX century16.

Which is the role of contemporary architecture for the future of a town


deeply rooted in its history, is the question raised up by another Berlin’s
initiative at the beginning of the Nineties. The exhibition Berlin Morgen17,
coordinated by V. M. Lampugnani and M. Mönninger, puts in question
how to rebuild the “urban core” of Berlin. Among the different
international well-known architects invited, the curators of the exhibition
show the different positions inside the architectural debate on the city,
swinging again between deconstructive and reconstructive positions. On
this front, especially, the projects of Kleihues, Rossi and Grassi, for the east
areal of the old baroque city between Wilhelmstrasse and Tiergarten,
interpret in different ways the formal permanency of the original urban
traces, reconfirming the geometrical structure of the historical squares of
Pariser-, Potsdamer- and Leipziger Platz and the layout of the old axis and
walls. (fig. 8 )

After this international confrontation, the processes acting in Berlin during


the last two decades, consequent to the reunification of the city, under the
plan elaborated by Hans Stimmann (Planwerk Innenstadt, 1999) and a
lineup of architects of the city, constitute a pilot example of a new
reconstructionist line, which is guiding the actual interventions in the
center around the old baroque castle, also in reconstruction (project: F.
Stella). This line is to find in other historical centers of German towns
(Dresden, Potsdam, Frankfurt), in which coexist different attitudes, from
more philological ones to others where the critical approach introduced by
the IBA is developed in a more precise way18. (fig. 9)

Reconstruction can be seen as a way to redefine the historical ensemble of


urban parts, as in Dresden, where the original houses around the
Neumarkt and the reconstructed Frauenkirche are rebuilt in imitative
forms. If the aim is to build them as they were, most of these houses
however remain simple copies of the original ones, as sceneries of an urban
context, whose historical value is forever lost without being able to create
an actual one.

Or it can be used as a way to get a new renaissance of forgotten


architectures of the past, being demolished by the war and the urban
destructions of the Fifties and Sixties. As in Potsdam, where around the
baroque castle, also reconstructed under the project of Peter Kulka, the
city’s intentions want to rebuild the most important blocks of the historical
texture, giving especial attention to the neoclassical buildings realized
under Friedrich II in the XVIII century after Renaissance models of
Palladio’s palazzi19.

A different way of approaching the reconstruction’s question has been


developed in the recent competition that has taken place in Frankfurt for
the redefinition of the central part of the Römerberg-Areal. The
competition, promoted by the City under the coordination of Cristoph
Mäckler, represent the third reconstruction’s phase of the urban center
after II world war. If the first phase expressed the will to reconstruct the
monumental symbols of the old town – like the Dom, der Römerberg and
the Paulskirche –, the second one represents the postmodern reflection
about old morphological structures and the possibility to reinterpret them
through new interventions. In this last phase, the intention is to redefine,
after the demolition of the Technisches Rathaus, a big-scale building of the
Seventies, the urban spaces of the medieval quartier between Dom and
Römerberg, posing again the typologies of old gothic houses, reconstructed
as they were originally or reinterpreted as “creative new buildings” by a
staff of different contemporary architects, under the strict respect of some
ties, like the maintenance of relief-facades, sloping roofs, windows-forms,
traditional materials.

These projects, born under the spirit of the so-called


Reconstruktivismus20, a phenomenon actually rather diffused in Germany,
are often criticized as falsifications of the originals. Their character of “built
historical images” is to intend in opposition to contemporary architecture
and its often exasperated will to be actual, even if they often remain, using
the words of Wolfgang Pehnt, only “half-true”21.

The Prinzip Rekonstruktion22, theoretically and historically investigated by


a recent exhibition in München, under the guide of Winfried Nerdinger, is
intended as a new way of Weiterbauen (continuing to construct) the
monuments and historical texture of the city. What remains open is the
following question: which idea of city can we rebuild23? Can we still follow
the model of the compact city of the history, in its different declinations
from the Middle Ages to the baroque or its transformation in the XIX
century, or have we to remain loyal to the opens schemata introduced by
the Modern Movement up to their degeneration to anti-urban models,
where architecture is reduced to a spectacular object put inside a void
without qualities?

Considering these questions and the paradoxical events that are


transforming actual European cities, the projects elaborated inside the
Politecnico di Milano during the years 2007-2011, around the historical
areas between old city and the areas outside the original Spanish walls of
Milan, try to investigate the possibility to reconfirm the preexisting urban
layout, both on morphological and typological level, in a critical way. The
residential theme becomes here an occasion to reconstruct the lost
structure of urban blocks and spaces, in continuity with the spirit of the
site, its genius loci24. (fig. 10)

Notes
1 Rational Architecture: The reconstruction of the European City,
exhibition catalogue edited by R. Delevoy, A.A.M., Brussels 1978.

2 Architettura razionale. XV Triennale di Milano, exhibition catalogue


edited by E. Bonfanti, R. Bonicalzi, A. Rossi, M. Scolari, D. Vitale, Franco
Angeli, Milano 1973.

3 S. Muratori, Studi per una operante storia urbana di Venezia, Istituto


Poligrafico dello Stato, Roma 1959; AA.VV. (C. Aymonino, A. Rossi a. o.),
La città di Padova. Saggio di analisi urbana, Officina, Roma 1970.

4 Panerai, Demorgon, Depaule et Veyrenche, Eléments d’Analyse Urbaine,


A.A.M., Bruxelles 1980; B. Huet, Anachroniques d’architecture, A.A.M.,
Brussels 1981.

5 M. Alfred (alias B. Huet)), Babel et Babylone. Le logement comme


monument, in “L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui”, n. 187, October-November
1976, pp. 41-42; then published in Id., Anachroniques d’architecture,
A.A.M., Bruxelles, 1981, pp. 35-43.

6 L. Krier, The reconstruction of the city, in Rational Architecture, op. cit.,


p. 41

7 Reconstruction of urban spaces, in Ibid., chapter VI, p. 89.

8 Integration of new building structuresinto an existing urban fabric, in


Ibid., chapter IX, p. 153.

9 R. Krier, Urban Space: Theory and Practice, A.A.M., Brussels, 1975;


Italian edition: Id., Lo spazio della città, introduction by D. Vitale, Clup,
Milano, 1982.

10 C. Rowe, F. Koetter, Crisis of the Object: Predicament of Texture, in Id.,


Collage City, chapter III, The Mit Press, Cambridge MA 1978 (reprint
1983, p. 50) and C. Rowe, Object versus Context, in Id., The Present Urban
Predicament, in “The Cornell Journal of Architecture”, n. 1, 1981.

11 L. Krier, Heimat und Wiederaufbau oder der Wiederaufbau der


deutschen Stadt, in AA. VV., Idee Prozess Ergebnis. Die Reparatur und
Rekonstruktion der Stadt, exhibition catalogue edited by H.-W. Hämer
and J. P. Kleihues, I.B.A. 1987/Fröhlich & Kaufmann, Berlin 1984.

12 O. M. Ungers, Urban Villa, 1977; reprint in Lernen von O. M. Ungers,


“ARCH+“, n. 181/182, 2006, pp. 171-172.

13 AA. VV., Internationale Bauausstellung Berlin 1987. Project report,


I.B.A. 1987, Berlin 1991.

14 Peter Eisenman versus Leon Krier, “My ideology is better than yours”, in

Reconstruction-Deconstruction, “A. D.”, n. 9-10, 1989.

15 W. Hegemann, Das Steinerne Berlin. Geschichte der größten


Mietkasernenstadt der

Welt, 1930; reprint: Bauwelt-Fundamente, n. 3, Vieweg, Braunschweig


1988. (Italian

edition: Mazzotta, Milano 1975).

16 M. Caja, S. Malcovati, Berlino 1990-2010. La ricerca sull‘isolato e sul


quartiere,

Ed. Lampi di Stampa/Il Libraccio, Milano 2009.

17 V. M. Lampugnani, M. Mönninger, Berlin morgen. Ideen für das Herz


einer Groszstadt, Stuttgart 1991.

18 Krise der Räpresentation, “ARCH+”, n. 204, Oktober 2011.

19 Der Italienische Palast als Modell: der Bezug zur Stadt /Il palazzo
italiano come modello: il rapporto con la città, in Potsdam & Italien. Die
Italienrezeption in der Potsdamer Baukultur / La memoria dell’Italia
nell’immagine di Potsdam, edited by A. Burg and M. Caja, Potsdam 2011.

20 Rekonstruktivismus als soziale Bewegung. Eine architektonische


Aufklärung, in “ARCH+”, n. 204, op. cit., p. 76-79.
21 Denkmalpflege statt Attrappenkult. Gegen die Rekonstruktion von
Baudenkmäler – eine Anthologie, edited by A. von Buttlar, Bauwelt-
Fundamente, Bd. 146, Basel/Berlin 2010. C. Welzbacher, Durch wilde
Rekonstruktion. Über gebaute Geschichtsbilder, Berlin 2010. W. Pehnt,
„Eine Kopie ist nur die halbe Wahrheit. Kampf dem Attrappenkult: Die
Debatte um die Rekonstruktion verlorener Bauwerke bleibt heftig“,
„Süddeutsche Zeitung“, n. 96, 21. April 2011.

22 Das Prinzip Rekonstruktion, edited by U. Hassler, W.Nerdinger,


Zürich, 2010. AA. VV., Geschichte der Rekonstruktion. Rekonstruktion der
Geschichte, edited by W. Nerdinger, M. Eisen, H. Strobl, exhibition
catalogue, München 2010.

23 Die Idee der Stadt, edited by U. Schröder, Berlin 2009.

24 Laboratorio di Progettazione architettonica, Prof. M. Caja, 2010-2011,


Politecnico di Milano, Scuola di Architettura Civile.