Letter to the Editors: What I see in drawings today…

By Andrea Leonardi

All the discussions, observations or decisions, concerning any of the projects of Aldo Rossi, by clients, city mayors, commissions or whoever had to approve or express a comment, were always made over his first sketch. There you had everything, the building – or whatever was the project for – was already there as if it had always been a part of the city or the land. The project was exactly where it belonged, and it suddenly became difficult to imagine that area without it.

Rossi’s sketches were like photographs of a place, or a part of the city, with a building you had not noticed before. No wonder the pile of plans, sections, and other technical drawings were left unopened: they could not say anything more than what was already clear in the sketch. In no way could they have represented the soul of a city.

When did this all change?

When did it become mandatory to have references to the little men or women you find in drawings of ‘modern’ architecture? Without a reference, you cannot tell if you are looking at the design of a piece of furniture, a flowerpot, a bookshelf, a plain and simple box, some kind of tool for an unidentifiable purpose or even, with a bit of imagination, a sex toy.

Who needs a silly little reference when looking at a drawing of Rue de Rivoli?

When did trees and greenery become a way to camouflage the lack of architecture? Plants in exchange for forgiveness for the damage done to our cities. Greenery is used as an excuse for the insipidity of a design that doesn’t belong to any architecture anywhere in the world, but it’s diffused everywhere.

When did we decide to lose the image, the beauty, the architecture which is part of the soul of every city?

When did we sacrifice the image of our cities to the arrogance and ego of a few architects?

When did we surrender the concept that a building for Paris should be different from a building for Tokyo?

Can’t we tell the difference anymore?

You could easily be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that architects today don’t perceive that difference. They do. They design for the world beautiful ‘objects’, gigantic glass boxes, or, as one of them had the guts to do, even absurdly silly ‘clouds’. Everything except architecture, for everybody anywhere, other than for themselves.

This is what I thought when I found out that some of these apparently insensible architects had become very very aware in choosing the place to call home. What suits them are places like Place Vendôme, one of the oldest squares in Paris, or neighbourhoods like Brera in Milan, or any other elegant old parts of cities in the world. As far as possible from the stuff they so generously offer to others, one could think… It shows they know perfectly well what architecture is and how it should be.

The problem is that today nobody knows what a modern building for Paris, London, Shanghai or LA should look like. Nobody is capable of designing a building that shows for what part of the world it has been designed. A modern Roman building, a British airport, a German high-rise apartment tower and so on… They don’t even try, they simply gave up.

Ironically, this lack of a solution doesn’t temper the urge of many of them to produce mountains of words to explain why we, should live or work in their ‘things’ and be grateful for the ‘genius’ who made it possible (who prefers to live in Place Vendôme…)

We let them cancel our cities as if it were the only available solution.

We accept it as a fatality, an inevitable disease of our time.

Are we sure about this?

Did we give up all hope for finding a different solution?

Why do we let them spread projects in our cities that have the same result as a diffuse cancer in a human body? Why are we not trying to fight it anymore? Bad architecture is not like a wedding present that you can hide away in a box and forget about!

Drawing matters, because like x-rays, shows the tumour before it has a chance to spread.