Monday, 23 November 2009
A live(ly) debate: Tafuri and Rossi
L’histoire assassinée. Manfredo Tafuri and the architecture of the present
University of Greenwich
A new attention
In recent years the work of Italian architectural historian Manfredo Tafuri has attracted a lot of
interest in the world of architectural theory and practice. After the publications that celebrated
Tafuri’s work immediately after his demise in 1994 - most notably, Casabella’s ‘The Historical
Project of Manfredo Tafuri’ (1995)i - or produced a first collective critical reconsideration of his
legacy shortly thereafter - seminal, ANY’s ‘Being Manfredo Tafuri’ (2000)ii -, the last few years
have seen the publication of the English translation of Tafuri’s last book on the Renaissanceiii and
of new studies on Tafuri’s works,iv which in different ways have returned Tafuri’s legacy to the
forefront of the architectural debate.
The interest in Tafuri’s work had never entirely died off. Beyond the immediate applications of
Tafuri’s historiographical method by his colleagues and students at the Department of Architectural
History at the Institute of Architecture of the University of Venice (IUAV),v who continued his
investigations in certain areas of research (for instance, the vast series of studies produced on the
architecture of the Renaissance) and beyond the embracing of his critical ‘historical project’ in the
ambit of recent architectural theory,vi Tafuri’s work on history as an open project and on the crisis
of the architectural discipline has remained a constant point of reference for architectural practice as
The recent books on Tafuri address – albeit partly and indirectly – the issue of a reconsideration of
Tafuri’s work not only in terms of its relation with the history of a remote architectural past (the
Renaissance of his late studies), but also in the ever difficult relationship with the history of the
present of the discipline. The theme of the history of the present, and particularly the relationship of
history with the present of the architectural project is the main focus of Tafuri’s early writings. In
texts that range from Theories and History of Architecture (Teorie e storia dell’architettura, 1968),
to Architecture and Utopia (Progetto e utopia, 1973) to The Sphere and the Labyrinth (La sfera e il
labirinto, 1980)vii Tafuri redefines the role and the method of architectural history as a history
whose ‘project’ is a never-ending, open and self-questioning process rather than a finite and
defining story. Tafuri wants the ‘historical project’viii to be separate and distanced from the project
of architectural design, but only in order to provide the tools to return, independently, to the
architectural project with a critical analysis. It is in this sense that Tafuri provocatively declares that
criticism does not exist and only history does:ix his history is necessarily critical and can only be
critical; on the other hand, a criticism without history, without the analytical tools and the distance
of history, does not exist, can not be critical.
History of the present
Tafuri’s work in historiography leaves behind the crucial legacy of the definition, through an argued
and structured provocation, of a history of architecture that is both differentiated from the history of
art and detached from the project of architecture. Situated in the difficult space of this distance, the
history of architecture thus redefined is precariously constructed as an autonomous and yet always
compromised discourse that proceeds in parallel with architecture, and is also, like architecture
itself, open and exposed to the forces of ‘multiple techniques of environmental formation.’x The
crucial test of this history (and indeed of all histories) takes place in its relation to the present. This
is an issue that Tafuri addresses mainly in his earlier works, preferring to devote the later part of his
career to the research and investigation of particular moments of architecture’s more distant past.
And yet, even when the objects of Tafuri’s research are those of a remote past, they are never quiet
and appeased objects, but always complex scenarios of crisis, breaking points, sites of ambiguities,
moments of shifts in mentalities and in power relations. The history of these moments remains
open, bearing questions and unresolved problems that find echoes in the present, and that the
present needs to address. The present in relation to Tafuri’s work is then a complex and complicated
system of relationships rather than a singular and circumscribed moment. It is the present of his
contemporaries, architects and historians that operated at the time when Tafuri was defining his
‘historical project’; it is the present of the effects of the crisis of Modernism on contemporary
architecture; it is also the present of the crisis of the architectural language, within the definition of
a long modernity that finds it roots in the Renaissance and in its manipulations of classical
languages; it is – finally but not conclusively - the present in-progress of the evolving definition of
the ‘historical project’ itself. For these reasons, for its openness to both the past and the future, the
‘historical project’ remains a present issue and a work to be continued. The recently published
works that return Tafuri’s writings to the present are important as a starting point for further
reconsiderations of Tafuri’s work and, more importantly, for a continuation of his project in the
History as research
Tafuri’s last book Ricerca del Rinascimento (1992) was recently published in English under the
reductively rendered title of Interpreting the Renaissance (2006).xii The book is a specialist study of
the complex relationships between the urban architecture of the Renaissance and its physical
cultural and political contexts, and focuses in particular on the power systems that affect (then as
they do now) architectural production. Relevant in Renaissance studies for its specificity and for its
innovative interpretations of specific buildings, projects and urban environments, Tafuri’s work
confirms a method of constructing a history to which the present cannot be indifferent. In his
methodological and critical preface Tafuri relates the formal research of the Renaissance to the
more recent uncertainties and moments of experimentation of the modern avant-gardes, explicitly
linking an ‘unresolved past’ to the ‘unsettled present’.xiii
Tafuri’s ‘research’ is twofold and bidirectional, tense and dynamic. Research is the architectural
research that the Renaissance struggled through, a difficult, problematic, discordantly polyphonic,
heterogeneous research that took on different religious political and architectural instances and
progressed at different and uneven speeds. Research is the historical research (‘project’) conducted
by the historian on a material that is still partly hidden, partly invisible, often ambiguous and
susceptible of different interpretations; a research that does not restrict itself to the presentation of
the past but links it to the present, addressing issues that remain topical today in the complexity of
the political decision-making processes, and in the compromises, social implications, criticism and
choices of languages that architecture always deals with, now as then. The past of Tafuri’s
Renaissance constantly challenges the present with its unresolved problems, unsettling the very role
of the historical research on it. There is therefore a third level of research that is the true object of
this book. Beyond the research conducted by the artists, architects, intellectuals, princes and
politicians of the Renaissance, and beyond the research produced today by the historian on these
events, contexts, projects and buildings, there exists a third level of an exquisitely Tafurian research
on the tension that relates the two. This is a research on the discipline of architecture, a research on
the reasons why it is necessary today (or fifteen years ago, when Tafuri’s work was first published)
to consider the architectural problem of the crisis of languages incubated in the Renaissance in
order to understand the question of contemporary architecturexiv after the crisis of modernism.
History and the present
Tafuri’s relationship with the present - both in the definition of a historical methodology and in the
critical work on his contemporaries - was recently analyzed by Marco Biraghi in Progetto di crisi
(2005).xv The book is the first and partial attempt to produce a case-by-case reconsideration of
Tafuri’s work in relation to his present, that is, to the critical voice of the architectural practice of
the years when Tafuri was writing. Biraghi presents Tafuri as the critical historian of the present
that works on architecture from within the discipline, while constantly producing the distance from
design that the historical ‘project’ requires. Biraghi’s approach is interesting because it is not
limited to the analysis of Tafuri’s critical work on a series of contemporary architects, but it also
identifies possible influences that Tafuri would have shared with or derived from architectural
practice. What emerges here is a Tafuri fully immersed in the present, more attentive and alert to
the problems of his own time than the official visibility, diffusion and scientific relevance of his
works on the Renaissance might suggest.
A similar attempt to put Tafuri’s work in the context of contemporary architecture and its critical
practices was produced in 2002 by Diane Ghirardo, with an essay that examines the influence of
Tafuri’s work on architectural theory and design research in the United States from the 1970s to the
1990s.xvi Rather than focusing on Tafuri’s reading of certain architects, Ghirardo concentrates on
the reception, appropriation and misunderstanding of Tafuri’s thought by a few American
architects. In the 1970s and 1980s Peter Eisenman and Daniel Libeskind developed a self-
referential architecture independent from external values, a position that for Ghirardo represents a
retreat from the architecture of political and ideological engagement that Tafuri had advocated in
his historical and theoretical manifestoes: ‘three decades of theoretical delirium in which
poeticizing reflection passed for theory.’xvii When she refers to architectural theory, Ghirardo does
not seem distinguish between texts and projects, considering a theory of architecture that is
developed and proposed through texts and design proposals at the same time. The precedent to this
position, as we will see, is to be found in Tafuri himself, in his 1968 work on the theories and
history of architecture. In a way Ghirardo continues to acknowledge the existence, parallel to the
historical discourse, of an operative criticism performed by architecture onto itself. The problem
here is that the positions that Ghirardo analyses do not relate to Tafuri’s work from a distance,
through distinctions and oppositions, as had done the architectural research of the 1960s that Tafuri
analyses, but take on Tafuri’s positions and incorporate them in service of the architectural project.
'Architectural ‘practice’ and historical ‘project’
At this point is necessary to define what we mean here by architecture, before moving to a
consideration of Tafuri’s relation to the architecture of the present – his present, which spans from
the 1960s to the early 1990s. We call here architectural ‘practice’ - to distinguish it from
architectural history - the thinking, making and producing of architecture as a critical and self-
reflective practice that may or may not be directly involved in or productive of the construction of
physical environmental artefacts. In this sense, the practice of architecture at large is to be intended
beyond the practical contingency of professional practice as a system of production. The two
partially overlap but they do not coincide. Architectural practice, as inclusive of critical
considerations (and reconsiderations) of its role in the making of space and in the definition (and
redefinition) of its own languages, may often produce effects and shifts – as it did in the period
which we consider here, from the late 1960s to the 1980s – that do not find immediate and direct
application in the built environment, but occupy the space of the discipline and slowly filter through
it, in time, changing and adapting it. Architectural practice thus defined is the space for the
production of ideas in relation to design, for the experimentation of architectural languages, for the
consideration of the role of architecture in the city and in society at large, for the constant
questioning of architecture.
In relation to this space Tafuri’s work occupied and still occupies a fundamental role, his historical
‘project’ uncomfortably offering an ‘other’ critical conscience that presents no solutions but raises
questions and doubts, derived from a rigorously accurate and never appeased investigative attitude.
Tafuri’s is an investigation that continues to explore and challenge itself as well as its objects, thus
constantly redefining its own role, questions and methods in the process. It is, for this reason and
for its very nature, an uncomfortable voice, always unsettling and challenging, never producing
solutions but always interrogative and self-critical in its provisional and precarious constructs. It is,
for Tafuri, as he clarifies in his early writings, not a form of ideological criticism, but a critique of
ideology.xviii His is not a history that linearly narrates and supports a certain orientation, language or
movement in architecture (what he calls ‘operative criticism’), xix but a problematic independent and
open critical history that challenges both the past and the present. It is for this reason that his work,
and especially those works in which he introduces, by consecutive adjustments, a method for the
definition of an independent architectural history as a project (the ‘historical project’)xx remain an
always uncomfortable and challenging voice for architectural practice.
A live(ly) debate: Tafuri and Rossi
A multiple question opens up here. What is it of the historiographical and historical work of Tafuri -
that is, his methodological definition and application of the ‘historical ‘project’) that imports to
architectural practice? This question implies a mutual reactivity between Tafuri’s critical history on
one hand and a critical architectural practice on the other. In other words, it asks: what of Tafuri’s
work is important and relevant to architectural practice, what of it addresses and affects
architectural practice from outside? It also asks: beyond influences and tense conversations, what of
the method of history that Tafuri proposes as a project is imported and appropriated by architectural
practice, often at the risk (as Ghirardo has shown) of distorting and voiding its message?
The answers to these questions remain beyond the scope of this paper and would require a series of
articulated investigations. Here we consider only a specific moment of Tafuri’s complex
relationship with contemporary architectural practice by focusing on Tafuri’s position as a critic and
historian of the present on some aspects of the work of Aldo Rossi, who was his colleague at the
Institute of Architecture of the University of Venice. Tafuri and Rossi operated in the same years,
city and institution, inhabiting within the IUAV the very distant and different worlds of the
Department of History of Architecture and the Department of Architectural Design. The
departments and their protagonists in the period of time that runs from the late 1960s and
throughout the 1980s are internationally known as the Venice School of Venice,xxi a wide spatio-
temporal label that generally embraces all the different groups, positions and movements that
inhabited the IUAV at the time, encompassing all the tensions, conflicts and mutual references,
attacks and collaborations that animated the dialogue in the most intense and critically productive
moment in the history of the Institute. In that context the relationship between the work of the
‘historical project’ on the present and the work of ‘architectural practice’ in the very same present
was more active than ever. The object of history here was the present, and the architectural present
replied and reacted to its contemporary critical history in the first person. ‘Architectural practice’
responded with its own tools – the image, the drawing, but also the text - to the provocations of
critical history; history counterattacked with its words. Here the ‘historical project’ as interminable
analysis engaged a difficult object that was not only changing and responsive but was also itself
structured to be a self-critical process on the architectural language in its complex relation to the
urban scenario past and present.
L’architecture assassinée: research as figure
Aldo Rossi’s watercolour L’architecture assassinée (1974)xxii dedicated to Manfredo Tafuri is
emblematic of the relationship between the two. A response that expresses in figures the reaction of
‘architectural practice’ to the crisis of architecture, its languages and its engagement with the social
and the political that Tafuri had denounced in Architecture and Utopia (1973), Rossi’s image shows
his own architectures of pure geometric solids, urban typologies and personal memories broken into
pieces, fractured and collapsed. The breakings that Rossi represents are in fact at the core of the
relationship between Tafuri’s ‘historical project’ and Rossi’s critical ‘architectural practice’.
Breakings are what both produce, in the language of architecture and in the methods of history, in
order to produce and communicate – differently – a grounded criticism of architecture from within
the project (Rossi) and in history (Tafuri). The breakings that Rossi draws are also a symptomatic
representation of a shift in Rossi’s own work towards the abstraction (from the reality of the city),
the analogical (of a city reduced to figure) and the formal (of a self-referential and obsessive
personal language). They also mark the breaking that such shift produces in Tafuri’s relationship to
and critque of Rossi’s research.
In order to understand a few aspects of the complexity and of the dynamic evolution of the
conflicting relationship between Tafuri and Rossi, which is inhabited by clear contraposition as well
as by unresolved ambiguity, it is useful to read Rossi’s work through two different texts by Tafuri
that, published nearly twenty years apart from each other, well summarize and clarify Tafuri’s
position on Rossi’s ‘architectural practice.’xxiii
In Teorie e storia dell’architettura (1968) Tafuri considers Rossi’s ‘silent architectural objects’ as
the effective evidence of the merging of architectural criticism with the criticism of the city. For
Tafuri the combination of the two results from ‘the wish to adhere with enthusiasm to the multiple
pressures of urban reality and, at the same time, to introduce in it architectural events and
fragments which might force the entire meaning of that reality.’xxiv The project of architecture and
its experimentation are not limited to questioning and recomposing the language of the architectural
object, whether this is derived from the language of a rationalist modernism, or from a typological
history of architecture, or from personal memories experiences and suggestion, or all of which are
combined in the case of Rossi. The project enacted by Rossi’s ‘architectural events and fragments’
is in fact urban. Partial and fragmented, Rossi’s projects renounce the control of the urban plan;
locally inserted in the city, they perform a critical architectural act that goes beyond the city,
offering in fact a critique of criticism through a drawn and built architecture. Tafuri reads Rossi’s
(and Samona’s) projects in the city as a form of architectural criticism, that is, criticism performed
in and by architecture.xxv This is not a project of history, and it is from this operation that Tafuri
wants to establish a clear distance. But while the criticism of the ‘critics’ can only be dismissed,
Tafuri remains interested in the alter-ego incarnated by Rossi, that constructs a critical project in
architecture initially similar (as long as it lasts), in a way, to Tafuri’s critical project in history:
fragmented and partial, its work operates rigorously on its own language, suggesting a method at
large for the development of a language to address the past of the discipline but also the present of
the city (and the past in it). These are the aspects of Rossi’s work that interest Tafuri: Rossi’s
project goes well beyond its suggestive images and evocative memories, offering a critical
architectural tool that is always productive of as well as subject to instability. The collapses
portrayed in L’architecture assassinée then are not caused by Tafuri’s attacks on Rossi, but are in
fact already genetically imprinted in Rossi’s architecture, designed to operate like a surgical
instrument on a city that is does not control. It is this critical (and self-critical) element of Rossi’s
project that Tafuri respects from the distance of history. Not only critical of its own language and
critically acting on the city, this architecture is also critical of criticism. ‘[A]rchitectural criticism –
writes Tafuri - puts in crisis the critics of architecture. On the contrary, since the traditional task of
criticism is already realised within the architectural structures, one could say that an independently
critical architecture has the objective of destroying any critical intervention from outside.’xxvi
L’architettura della città: research as architectural text
Tafuri describes Aldo Rossi’s studies on the city - mainly The Architecture of the City (1966) but
also the series of essays produced before and around it during Rossi’s academic careerxxvii - as a
form of ‘operative criticism’ that is typological and urban. ‘‘Criticism’ because it carries out its
research from the vast mass of existing material […] [and] because of its historicistic character.
‘Typological’ because it insists on formally invariant phenomena: here the meaning of the term
‘typology’ changes radically, because it has to be redefined each time according to the concrete
problems facing it.’xxviii Yet the interest of Tafuri lies mainly in the fact that, architectural and
operative, this ‘[t]ypological criticism is an essentially urban criticism’ that addresses the city
and makes contemporary planning choices, ‘even if only on the level of the structure of the image.’
 This form of criticism of the urban system ‘takes reality as its starting point and models on it
a reading immediately translated into systems that [modify] its single components, or, in extreme
cases, its fundamental laws.’  The typological studies of which Rossi’s are one example act
through ‘a temporary suspension of judgement as regards the city in its global character, in favour
of concentrating the analysis on limited sectors-environments, that are seen, however, as among the
most vital aspects of urban structure.’  For Tafuri the important feature of this criticism is its
unsettling work on the established city. Starting from the real city and sampling it, this approach
produces formal experimentations that ‘as critical analyses […] upset, examine, reassemble in new
forms, the structural elements that the contemporary city tends to see as immutable and
undisputable values.’  What is essential is that ‘[i]n this type of experience, historical analysis,
critical examination, critical function of the image and demonstrative value of planning, are all
indissolubly connected.’  For Tafuri here resides the critical strength of Rossi’s research:
because beyond its isolated formal exercises, and beyond the manipulation of elements abstracted
from the city real remembered or imagined, it offers a form of criticism to the dimension of
planning. Manipulating, breaking, endlessly experimenting, Rossi’s work questions the pre-
formative dimension of planning, refuses the ‘a priori existence of well-defined form’ and is thus
ultimately able to ‘deny the necessity of a precise configuration for structures.’xxix
Rossi’s projects and writings are not history. They are, at most, a form of ‘operative criticism’, and
it is their critical dimension that interests Tafuri. Produced in architecture and through its forms,
Rossi’s project (his ‘architectural practice’) is able to approach history not as a static given past but
as a inheritance to be challenged questioned and redefined. For Tafuri, what imports of Rossi’s
work is the attention that he pays to the transformations of the physical and anthropo-geographical
environments and the attempt to understand ‘the meanings underlying the transformations’ 
through ‘the partial questions asked by architecture of architecture.’ 
Analogy: figures without research
Later works by Aldo Rossi seem to lose the critical energy of his early typological and urban
investigations, retracting into a personal sphere of speculation where forms are iterated in a sort of
private mantra of memory oblivious of any relation with the real city. The plate The Analogical City
(1976)xxx and the proposal for the Roma Interrotta workshop (1978)xxxi are examples of such
involution in Rossi’s work. The city here is reduced to a figure loaded with architectural evocations
and personal memories, but removed from the real city, its physical structure, its society and its
planning. These projects for the city remain repetitions of known forms and architectural references,
the aggregation of which does not raise interrogatives on the making of the urban space, and even
less on the meanings of such making. It seems obvious then that Tafuri should be strongly critical
of Rossi’s later work where the image and its combinatory proliferations are only figures of a
subjective ‘poetics’ divested of the analytical and critical attention to the real city that Tafuri had
identified in Rossi’s early research. Recurring to Carl Jung definition of ‘analogical’ thought as
‘archaic, unexpressed, and practically inexpressible in words’,xxxii Rossi’s work retracts in an
aphasic project that invests the image with analogical meaning, presenting this move as a step
forward in an interrogation ‘by architecture of architecture’xxxiii capable of reaching where the
words of ‘logical’ discourse can not reach.
Here we do not examine Tafuri’s reaction to Rossi’s painted or collaged analogical architecturexxxiv
but conclude by showing how Tafuri’s examination of Rossi’s built projects of the same years
recognizes in them the same fading of criticality in relation to the architectural discipline and to the
planning of the city.
Storia dell’architettura italiana 1944-1985 (1986)xxxv gives Tafuri the occasion to reconsider
Rossi’s research in retrospective, nearly twenty years after the theoretical and methodological
framework that he had identified in Theories and History of Architecture (1968) and more than ten
years after the architectural ‘collapse’ depicted in Rossi’s L’architecture assassinée (1974). In this
book Tafuri reads the Gallaratese housing complex planned by Carlo Aymonino (1967-70, built
1970-73) as an implementation of the strategy of the formation of the city ‘by finite parts’.xxxvi Part
of the complex and a response to Aymonino’s building (a ‘monument to noise’ of ‘stacked words’
and ‘polivalent images’ ), Aldo Rossi’s block acts as ‘hieratic and sustained’ silent witness of
Aymonino theatrical mise en scène. For Tafuri this building, like other of Rossi’s works from the
same years, shows that by now his research ‘resists any compromise with reality, because the return
to the ‘ancient house of language’ is possible only through an affirmation of aloof indifference.’
For Tafuri, Rossi’s early ‘architectural practice’, both in his projects and in his writings, had been a
search for those primary forms ‘that are exiled from the urban space, but intend to speak of their
exile, to propose a theory of the city as locus of collective memory.’ [167-168] This search for form
and research through form is what Tafuri had clearly identified as a critical work internal to
architecture. In this sense the estrangement, the silence, the abstraction, the suspension of life in
Rossi’s early projects can be read as a stubborn construction by architecture of an enforced distance
that is necessary for the project to perform its critical act. The congested amassing of forms in
Rossi’s drawings and paintings and the distillation of silent forms in his early built projects produce
the same critical distance that Tafuri constructs in his ‘historical project’. Even the demolition of
forms and of their relations that is performed in L’architecture assassinée echoes the active, critical
and distance producing destruction that Tafuri employs in his project of history (deriving it from
Walter Benjamin’s definition of the role of destruction in his philosophy of history).xxxvii
Destruction, criticality and distance characterize up to this point (the mid-1970s) in different ways
the project of Tafuri in history (‘historical project’) and of Rossi in architecture (‘architectural
practice’ as we have defined it here). Then after, the ‘assassination’, what dies is not the critical
history of Tafuri, nor the architecture of Aldo Rossi, but that critical research info its meanings that
had made of it a form of criticism. After the ‘assassination’ Tafuri provisionally concludes, in
apparent contradiction with his own words in Theories and Histories: ‘The representation is all: it is
pointless to strive to find in it hidden meanings in regions that it can not access. The city proves to
be […] a simple pretext.’xxxviii In Rossi’s projects of the 1980s Tafuri finds ‘finally exhausted’ the
tradition of the critically operative urban studies that had been introduced in the late 1960s by Aldo
Rossi and Carlo Aymonino.’ But he had seen it coming: for him the static destruction of
L’architecture assassinée was in fact ‘a frozen ruination: the fragments hanging or thrown into the
void, remain still. This loss is not painful: the wayfarer was prepared for this.’xxxix
‘Il progetto storico di Manfredo Tafuri’/‘The Historical Project of Manfredo Tafuri’, Vittorio
Gregotti (ed.), special issue of Casabella, no.619-20 (1995).
‘Being Manfredo Tafuri’, Ignasi De Solà-Morales (ed.), special issue of ANY (Architecture New
York), no.25-26 (2000).
Manfredo Tafuri, Interpreting the Renaissance. Princes, Cities, Architects, trans. By Daniel
Sherer (London and New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006). Originally published in Italian as
Ricerca del Rinascimento. Principi, città, architetti (Turin: Einaudi, 1992).
Marco Biraghi, Progetto di crisi. Manfredo Tafuri e l’architettura contemporanea (Milan:
Christian Marinotti Edizioni, 2005). Andrew Leach, Choosing History (Ghent: A&S/books, 2007).
See Paolo Morachiello, ‘The Department of Architectural History, “A Detailed Description”’, in
The School of Venice, Luciano Semerani (ed.), special issue of AD Profile (1985).
I discuss this in Teresa Stoppani, ‘Unfinished Business. The Historical Project after Manfredo
Tafuri’, in Jane Rendell, Jonathan Hill, Mark Dorrian, Murray Fraser (eds.), Critical Architecture
(London: Routledge, 2007), pp.22-30.
Manfredo Tafuri, Teorie e storia dell’architettura (Bari: Laterza, 1968); English translation,
Theories and History of Architecture (London: Granada, 1980). Manfredo Tafuri, Progetto e
utopia. Architettura e sviluppo capitalistico (Bari: Laterza, 1973); English translation, Architecture
and Utopia. Design and capitalist Development (Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1976).
Manfredo Tafuri, La sfera e il labirinto. Avanguardie e architettura da Piranesi agli anni ’70
(Turin: Einaudi, 1980); English translation, The Sphere and the Labyrinth. Avant-Gardes and
Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s (Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1987).
The ‘historical project’ was originally presented in Manfredo Tafuri ‘Il ‘progetto’ storico’, in
Casabella, no.429 (1977), pp.11-18. Published in English as ‘The Historical ‘Project’’, in
Oppositions, no.17 (1979), pp.54-75. Reworked as ‘Introduction: The Historical ‘Project’, in The
Sphere and the Labyrinth, pp.1-21.
‘There is no such thing as criticism, there is only history.’ Manfredo Tafuri interviewed by
Richard Ingersoll, ‘There is no criticism, only history’, in Casabella, no.619-620 (1995) p. 97.
Tafuri, The Sphere and the Labyrinth, pp. 1-2.
I contribute to this discussion with Teresa Stoppani, ‘The Building of Tension. Manfredo Tafuri’s
history between operative criticism and historical project, between critical practices and material
practices in architecture’, in Lorens Holms, Hamid van Koten (eds.), Reflections on Creativity:
exploring the role of theory in creative practices, Dundee: Duncan of Jordanstone College 2007.
See note 3.
‘Passato irrisolto, inquieto presente’ is the title with which Casabella publishes the Preface of
Ricerca del Rinascimento, unticipating the publication of the book. ‘Unresolved past’ and ‘unsettled
present’ are also Tafuri’s closing words: ‘Il “debole potere” dell’analisi, in altre parole, viene
proposto come momento di un processo che lasci vivere i problemi irrisolti nel passato, inquietando
il nostro presente.’ Manfredo Tafuri, ‘Passato irrisolto, inquieto presente’, in Casabella, no.585
(1991), p.40. (‘The “weak power” of the analysis, in other words, is proposed as a moment in a
process that keeps alive the unresolved problems in the past, thus unsettling our present.’ My
‘Contemporary’ is a term Tafuri would most likely refuse, as for him the ‘contemporary’ is still
part of a long and far from resolved modernity. Tafuri would rather speak of the ‘present’. Quite
significantly then, Manfredo Tafuri and Francesco Dal Co’s Architettura contemporanea (Milan:
Electa, 1976) is published in English as Modern Architecture (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1979).
Marco Biraghi, Progetto di crisi. See note 4.
Diane Y. Ghirardo, ‘Manfredo Tafuri and Architecture Theory in the U.S., 1970-2000’, in
‘Mining Autonomy’, Perspecta. The Yale Architectural Journal, no.33 (2002), pp.38-47.
Ghirardo, Perspecta 33, p.45.
See Manfredo Tafuri, ‘Introduction: The Historical ‘Project’, in The Sphere and the Labyrinth,
pp.1-21. See also Marco Biraghi, Introduzione. Progetto di crisi’, in Progetto di crisi, pp.9-53.
In Theories and History of Architecture Tafuri had produced an analysis of the established
methodologies of the history of architecture and a critique of what he defined ‘operative criticism’,
a form of manipulated and intentionally biased history constructed by critics who were also active
in architectural practice, or actively engaged in support of specific trends in design – an
instrumental history. For Tafuri ‘operative criticism is an analysis of architecture (or of the arts in
general) that, instead of an abstract survey, has as its objective the planning of a precise poetical
tendency, anticipated in its structures and derived from historical analyses programmatically
distorted and finalised.’ (Tafuri, ‘Operative Criticism’, in Theories and History of Architecture,
p.141). Tafuri traces the beginning of operative criticism in Giovanni Pietro Bellori’s Vite de’
pittori, scultori et architetti moderni (1672) and then identifies it – among others - in Sigfried
Giedion (Space, Time and Architecture, 1940) and in his Italian contemporaries Bruno Zevi (Storia
dell’architettura moderna, 1950) and Leonardo Benevolo (Storia dell’architettura moderna, 1960).
See note 8.
See The School of Venice, Luciano Semerani (ed.), special issue of AD Profile (1985).
The time lag and the space between languages occupied by the translation allows Rossi’s
reaction to Tafuri’s text to inhabit the text itself: Aldo Rossi’s L’architecture assassinée, a rebuke
in drawing to some of Tafuri’s remarks in Progetto e Utopia (1973) that seemed to suggest the
‘death’ of architecture as a project, becomes the cover image of the book’s English translation
Architecture and Utopia (1976).
Here I am ‘bypassing’ Tafuri’s analysis of Rossi’s work in ‘L’architecture dans le boudoir’, in
The Sphere and the Labyrinth, pp. 267-290; originally published in Oppositions, no.3 (1974). On
this see Marco Biraghi, ‘Il frammento e il silenzio’, in Progetto di crisi, pp.171-204.
Tafuri, Theories and Histories of Architecture, p.130.
Aldo Rossi, L’architettura della città (Padua:Marsilio, 1966); English translation, The
Architecture of the City (Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1982). Aldo Rossi, Scritti scelti
sull’architettura e la città. 1956-1972 (Milan: CittàStudi 1975); partial English translation in
Selected writings and projects (London and Dublin: Gandon Editions, 1983).
Tafuri, Theories and Histories of Architecture, p.158.
Ibidem, p.160. Tafuri here continues: ‘These studies are compelled to continuously redefine
architecture and then, each successive time, to reject it, to salvage it, to upset its meaning: not on
the bases of abstract generalisations, but by founding the research for a new quality on the solid
ground of the partial questions asked by architecture of architecture. […] not taking for granted
even the physicality of the organisms or the possibility of defining some functions […], typological
criticism puts again in question all the problems that functionalist literature had taken as already
solved. Form becomes, now, an object of study as a typological theme in itself.’
Aldo Rossi, ‘La Città Analoga: Tavola / The analogical city: Plate’, in Lotus, no.13 (1976), pp.
5-8. Tafuri comments on this in Manfredo Tafuri, ‘Ceci n’est pas une ville’, Lotus, no.13 (1976),
pp. 10-13. The relationship between the two is analyzed in Pierluigi Nicolin, ‘Tafuri and the
Analogous City’, in ANY, no.25-26 (2000), pp.16-20.
See Roma Interrotta, Michael Graves (ed.), AD Profiles, no.20 (1979). In particular, ‘Nolli:
Sector XI. Aldo Rossi’, pp.88-90.
‘[…] ‘logical’ thought is what is expressed in words directed to the outside world in the form of
discourse. ‘Analogical’ thought is sensed yet unreal, imagined yet silent; it is not a discourse but
rather a meditation on themes of the past, an interior monologue. Logical thought is ‘thinking in
words’. Analogical thought is archaic, unexpressed, and practically inexpressible in words’. Carl G.
Jung, in The Freud/Jung Letters: the Correspondence between Sigmund Freud and C.G. Jung
(March 02, 1910), William McGuire (ed.), translated from the German by Ralph Manheim and R.
F. C. Hull; abridged by Alan McGlashan, Abridged edition (London: Penguin Twentieth Century
Classics, 1991), p.160. Cited in Aldo Rossi, ‘An Analogical Architecture’, in Architecture and
Urbanism, May 1976, pp.74-76, p.74. Cited also in Vittorio Savi, LArchitettura di Aldo Rossi
(Milan: Franco Angeli, 1976), pp.112-113.
Tafuri, Theories and Histories of Architecture, p.160.
See Pierluigi Nicolin, ‘Tafuri and the Analogous City’, in ANY, no.25-26 (2000), pp.16-20.
Manfredo Tafuri, Storia dell’architettura italiana 1944-1985 (Turin: Einaudi,1986); English
translation, A History of Italian Architecture, 1944-1985 (Cambridge and London: MIT Press,
1990). The quotes that follow are my translations of the Italian edition.
For Tafuri Aymonino’s complex is ‘too open to the surroundings […] to be a really self-
sufficient sector; too ‘designed’, to assume a methodological value: the complex seems to painfully
express its condition of infinitesimal shred, helplessly incapable of ‘putting order’ in the ocean-like
periphery of the metropolis’ […] the intense life here announced is in fact lived mainly by the
[architectural] forms.’ Tafuri, Storia dell’architettura italiana 1944-1985, p.152. My translation.
Walter Benjamin, ‘The Destructive Character’ (1931), in Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms,
Autobiographical Writings, Peter Demetz (ed.) (New York: Schocken Books, 1986), pp. 302-03.
Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ (1940), in Illuminations: Essays and
Reflections, Hannah Arendt (ed.) (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), p.253-264.
Tafuri, Storia dell’architettura italiana 1944-1985, p.170. My translation.
Ibidem, p.171. My translation.