This Blue Love: Aldo Rossi in Samos in late Summer 1989

Vincenzo Moschetti

Aldo Rossi (1931–1997), pages from Quaderno Azzurro, n. 41, 10 June 1989 – 27 December 1989. Inscribed: ‘The room in Σamos is ideal for a painting I wish to do. But what about the time?’ © Eredi Aldo Rossi.

In his voyage to Samos in the Summer of 1989 Aldo Rossi gathered a collection of fragments in accordance with a Palladian education. The image repeats itself, following what Johns had written in 1984: ‘I like to repeat an image in another medium to observe the play between the two: the image and the medium’. The room then transfers its elements from the Mediterranean to Lake Maggiore.

The room in Σamos is ideal for a painting I wish to do.
But what about the time?

– Aldo Rossi, September 1989

The quaderni azzurri [1] measure 11 by 17.5 centimetres. The forty-first of these notebooks (10 June – 27 December, 1989) includes the notes of the voyage to Greece that Aldo Rossi made – in a hot August – with his son [2], many years after the one he made in 1980 [3]. In Samos the quaderno azzurro becomes an opportunity for gathering images and words, a method for collecting through signs the atmosphere of that open-sea room, which he would timidly call his room. As Michelle Perrot says, ‘the room is the theatre of existence, or at least its backstage’ [4], and it is thus that Rossi slowly approaches the scene through a process of anamnesis which clearly becomes autobiographical. It is in this way that the ‘Greek’ story begins, which in its Nietzschean eternal return, evokes the great interest for the stage. This place imbued with a deep light, the rigid atmospheric conditions of the Mediterranean, will become a fixed image, a first representation as form of the Summer and of remembrance which acquires substance through architecture and thought on any type of paper between the long flights or sitting at his ‘new’ studio in Milan. They are fragments of remains rebuilt following the ideas expounded in Un’educazione Palladiana [5].

His room faces the Aegean, attracting Rossi toward a return to references, quotes and those small things [6] that occur in drawings made while sipping whisky and gazing through the threshold of the door-window at the white balustrade whose elements in stone [7] probably protected by a dense layer of mortar, anticipated the blue of the sea and the blue of the sky, topos of extremely intimate vocation. Melancholy moments at the Summer’s end, the season which in fact ‘is the end of so many things’ [8].

First Scene: The room in Samos

Opening the gaze of the room to a cinematographic view of narrative, the photos from Samos must be observed as individual architectural fragments, as small things of great value which return in subsequent years in the design of houses, distinct in terms of individual elements that are recognisable through a condition of verisimilitude.

The room in Samos, 1989. On the table it’s possible to see the original drawing (below). © Eredi Aldo Rossi.
Aldo Rossi (1931–1997), Drawing of the room in Samos done during the Greek vacation on 30 August 1989. © Eredi Aldo Rossi.

The table with the bottles, the drawing notebook, the assorted colours and again the bottles and glasses – which constitute a reference to the work of Giorgio Morandi [9] – are continuously recurring elements that appear with the backdrop of the aquatic image compressed by the weight of the sky which is always limpid and metaphysical. In this room, or rather as a consequence of his stay in this room that is clarified as the elective place of staying and gazing, Rossi tends, through an analytical and anthological method, to reconstruct a synthetic structure which establishes relationships that link the future architectural experiences to a past, yet timeless, condition. It is the confirmation of the Teatrino Scientifico, designed approximately a decade earlier, which places itself as ‘a tool, an instrument, a useful space where definitive action could occur’ [10]. The elements rediscovered in the room are disassembled and absorbed into unique construction pieces whereby the room in Samos, as if by genealogical descent, becomes the mother of all successive and, at the same time, all preceding architectures, and places itself as the most striking element in the exchange between the interior space and the blue of the water.

It is in this vibration that stupor is translated, which appears as the beginning of something but which in fact derives from his interest for the theatre, an interest which originates even before his typical forms. In this sense the life of the theatre is for Rossi a sort of leitmotiv of his personal experience [11], in which the condition of the research itself, of the topos, emerges through a polychromatic system that leads him to the Greek room. It is a ‘world of forms and of formal experiences that follow one another’ [12], he will argue in 1997, in which the relationship between scenography and theatre becomes more dense, yet at the same time also very intimate. Samos is the stage that condenses the experience of the world of expression, a world that transcends the construction of the actual. The ‘Greek’ window, such as the one at the Sirena Hotel in his Scientific Autobiography, represents from the inside another visible facade only for the bodies that inhabit its limits, in other words the spectators. The room thus amplifies its architectural value and becomes a stage to be seen. This canvas therefore philologically represents a fable, full of occasions linked by ‘this blue love’ [13] which continues to appear as the backdrop to things. Man becomes the protagonist – never visible – of this image that is built always in the same way and inhabited through the filter of architecture, through the door as in Samos, or the window of the same dimensions which becomes increasingly clearer in the contemporary experiences of Villa Alessi on Lake Maggiore and the holiday home in Ghiffa.

Aldo Rossi (1931–1997), pages from Quaderno Azzurro, n. 41, 10 June 1989 – 27 December 1989. © Eredi Aldo Rossi.

It is at the lake that the drawings and sketches return, hurriedly annotated among blue notebooks and sheets of paper found much later [14]. Thus the bond to the open sea room of the trip to Greece is reconstructed through memories grafted on to the landscape of the lake, according to a reciprocal exchange of parts, processes, of clear and fixed events. Thus returns the necessary melancholy of the lake and the nostalgia for lost things that must be recovered. What is proposed is therefore a sequence of things and of spaces determined by a rhapsody that begins from the table, passes by the window, rests on the balustrade and concludes on the aqueous backdrop of the sea or the lake. There is in this scene, which Rossi lives first-hand, a blinding feeling that could be defined as stupor, on which the water of the sea certainly places a series of primordial questions concerning transportation and the apparition of elements which recall the
admired Andrea Palladio. It is the slow movement of the Mediterranean that has transported them, leading them toward lacustrine landscapes that make the observer ask himself from where [?] [15]. In this way Rossi retraces through architecture those invisible distances [16] that were both the title and subject matter of a famous text published a few years earlier by Laterza, and in which the projects and designs become ‘the place where fragments taken from gazes during voyages are collected, both those pertaining to memory and those which are real […], and are involved in the play of new meanings’ [17] in a dichotomous dialogue between truth and representation.

The room in Samos seemed to travel in space and time after that August 30 of 1989, slowly reconstructing its fabric. This relationship to reference is mutual and repeats itself through the different architectural structures and becomes a fundamental element in the construction of space and of the landscape that safeguards it. The uninterrupted backdrop of sea and sky are brought back through the mediation of the lake into an univocal relationship in terms of the infinite in an extreme condition of aestheticity. The light of Samos is literally and a-geographically transported, with its sea and its balustrade, to other places through the precise possession of the
well-defined architectural element of the door as threshold for spatial control: the frame of a work of art. Rossi’s project thus originates as a foundation for placing memory on stage. It is the fixedness, the beloved affection for the theatre and its life.

Second Scene: The room in the Lake

The great window in Samos and those of Villa Alessi in Suna di Verbania or of the more intimate house in Ghiffa, shed light on the necessary relationship between container and content in which the threshold of the narrow and long openings only represent the filter through which truth is reached, in other words the blue as shape of the infinite. It is in this perception that returns ‘the fragment and its relationship to reference and how reference may only be decorative, either supplementary or substitutive. It could substitute the emptiness of thought or superpose itself to any other image’ [18]. The possibility of displacing the images dictated by an actual tendency to collectionism represents in a systematic manner a true approach to the forms of the scene.

Villa Alessi (interior), Suna di Verbania, Lake Maggiore, 2017. © Edoardo Fanteria.

Ironically Rossi leads to a sort of unexpected in which ‘we travel across places, spaces, but every time we listen to other voices and see other rooms, even though they are perhaps the same voices that we have heard and the same rooms that we have visited’ [19]. The return of this frame with this balustrade that he has seen and touched, its necessary geographical transposition, this Mediterranean condition, is transformed into a game, into a process that ‘expresses infancy, love, and therefore life’ [20].

In proceeding to the reintroduction of the four elements of Samos, and in the pursuit of happiness, the Palladian theme of the recognisability of practical forms returns in the shape of references. Rossi in fact as a sort of consolation carries out a process that is inverse to that of forgetfulness, recovering the individual pieces in the form of fragments of a more complex image and reconstructs the representation according to the processes of copying and of narrative and its distortions [21]. A memory that is too strong and the reference to the balustrade reappear repeatedly in the path that leads from the entrance and traverses Villa Alessi, in which an old farmhouse is emptied, rebuilt with the use of fragments and converted into a bourgeois retreat. The contact with the lake emerges as the return to the Mediterranean, in which the memory of that vision brings back to the blue, to the blue love that from the days of Lake Como where he studied, and of the house in Mergozzo [22], appears elegantly framed in the measure of the architecture: the window. The built models represent the point of disclosure and of access to this reality made of questions and images such as memories, elements that grew ‘as a feeling that encompassed many things’ [23]. The soul of the analogical process is revealed through the image of the architecture represented in its ‘most beloved’ references from the Palladian education, where the landscape beyond seems unchanging and appears in its same formal substance, in other words its truth! That window from Samos still returns in the memories of those who, facing the landscape of Lake Maggiore, are capable of understanding the great compositional theme of the blue affection for that which exists beyond the reality of small things thanks to the narrative. It is then that before the fleeting gaze of the spectator appears that ‘repeat again what you see from your window?’, a seeing which concerns not; the place but the time […] because ultimately nothing has changed’ [24].

‘I see the photograph of the house in Samos with its columns which
I used for villa A. and which I would like to use in Ghiffa. Is there a relationship between Greece and the Lake?’ [25]

Vincenzo Moschetti, architect, Ph.D. in Architectural and Urban Composition, is a research fellow at the Iuav University of Venice (Supervisor: Prof. Sara Marini) where he works within the PRIN (Project of Relevant National Interest) SYLVA – Rethinking the ‘sylvan’: Towards a new alliance between biology and artificiality, nature and society, wilderness and humanity.

This text, translated by Luis Gatt, was originally published as ‘Questo amore azzurro. Aldo Rossi a Samos, lo stupore nella scena di fine estate / This Blue Love. Aldo Rossi in Samos, the wonder in the late Summer’s scene’, in Firenze Architettura 2: Genealogie (Firenze: FUP, 2017), 12–21. The studies presented here have been expanded upon in the book Camere Azzurre: Costruzione di un’antologia mediterranea: da Palladio a Peter Märkli (Firenze: FUP, 2020).


  1. Aldo Rossi, I quaderni azzurri, 1968–1992, edited by Francesco Dal Co (Milan: Electa; Los Angeles: Electa; The Getty Research Institute, 1999). Rossi noted in his small blue notebooks any sort of cultural reference, from literature to cinema and even architecture, a subject matter for which he apparently – according to his own affirmations – had no great interest.
  2. Both Morris Adjmi and Michele Tadini travelled with them to Samos, as Fausto Rossi recalled one afternoon in 2017 in Lake Maggiore.
  3. This first trip to Samos was hastily recorded in the twenty-ninth notebook and is mostly a list of the places visited between August 25 and September 10, 1980. Rossi had made several trips to Greece, among which one in 1971 during which Gianni Braghieri took the famous picture between the columns of the temple. This photograph appears in the book Gianni Braghieri, ed., Aldo Rossi (Bologna: Zanichelli Editore, 1981).
  4. Michelle Perrot, Storia delle camere, trans. R. Ferrara (Palermo: Sellerio, 2011).
  5. Aldo Rossi, Un’educazione Palladiana. Introductory lecture held at the XXXVIII Course on Palladian architecture (Vicenza, Teatro Olimpico, 18 September 1996).
  6. ‘Few and deep things as extreme and truthful content of art. The rest is vanity. [All of this] […] was highlighted and distended every time with a disarming clarity the moment it was explained by a word or graphic gesture of his. These are some of the words that Arduino Cantàfora devotes to Aldo Rossi in his introductory essay entitled ‘Poche e profonde cose’, in Alberto Ferlenga, ed., Aldo Rossi: Tutte le opere (Milan: Electa, 2006), 4. The idea of thing, in Rossi, has an extremely intimate nature and is linked to an imaginative world of objects, landscapes and memories. Monestiroli recalls how ‘Everything for Aldo was a spectacle […] all the small things in his life were part of the show. And this spectacle was staged’.
  7. Generally elements in concrete, yet Rossi in a drawing from the late Eighties refers to ‘white stone’.
  8. I quaderni azzurri 46, 25 June 1991 – 2 December 1991.
  9. The following book is relevant in this context: Gianni Contessi, Vite al limite: Giorgio Morandi, Aldo Rossi, Mark Rothko (Milano: Marinotti, 2004).
  10. Aldo Rossi, A Scientific Autobiography (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1981), 33.
  11. Cf. video: Aldo Rossi parla agli studenti del suo corso allo IUAV, corso dedicato al tema della ricostruzione del Teatro La Fenice, Venezia. 24 April 1997.
  12. Ibid. Notes from the lecture not revised by the author.
  13. This was said by Fausto Rossi during a chat which took place at his home-studio on Lake Maggiore. Rossi (son) recalls how his father had loved that vacation and how it had become a confirmation of his love of the sea, and above all of the lake.
  14. The drawing annexed to this text is unpublished and is kept by Fausto Rossi in a Manila envelope together with 3 photographs of Samos which Rossi (father) used for some drawings that are included in the forty-first quaderno azzurro.
  15. The collector’s method is typical of Rossi, that is to reproduce fragments found during his long voyages and observations, often recorded in written notes or drawings. Rossi recomposes them in time, ascribing to them new meanings.
  16. Cf. Aldo Rossi, ‘Le distanze invisibili’, in Alberto Ferlenga, ed., Aldo Rossi: Architetture 1988–1992, (Milan: Electa, 1992), 45–47, and in Giorgio Ciucci, ed., L’architettura italiana oggi: racconto di una generazione (Bari: Edizioni Laterza, 1989), 237–246.
  17. Alberto Ferlenga, ‘La stagione del progetto’, cited in Ferlenga, Aldo Rossi: Architetture 1988-1992, 17.
  18. I quaderni azzuri 47, 18 December 1991 – 5 December 1992.
  19. Aldo Rossi, ‘Altre voci, altre stanze’, cited in Ferlenga, Aldo Rossi. Architetture 1988–1992, 8.
  20. In February 1980, Gianni Braghieri in his introduction to the book Aldo Rossi concludes by clarifying the idea of the vital flow which was always present in Rossi’s thought. In Gianni Braghieri, ed., Aldo Rossi, 11.
  21. ‘Finally this deformation, this disturbance of order, as if things were the same yet slightly dislocated’, Rossi writes in his essay ‘Altre voci, altre stanze’, in Ferlenga, Aldo Rossi: Architetture 1988–1992, 8.
  22. The house in Mergozzo was photographed by Gianni Braghieri and was inserted in the first edition of the Autobiografia Scientifica. Original title: A Scientific Autobiography (1981).
  23. Aldo Rossi, Autobiografia Scientifica (Milano: il Saggiatore, 2009), 94; first Italian edition Pratiche Editrice, (Parma 1990).
  24. I quaderni azzuri 45, 4 April 1991 – July 1991.
  25. I quaderni azzuri 41, 10 June 1989 – 27 December 1989.

In memory of Prof. Antonio Monestiroli and his precious suggestions.

A heartfelt thanks to Prof. Kurt W. Forster, Stefano Alessi, Alessandro Ciapponi and Massimo Scheurer, to the Fondazione Aldo Rossi and the Heirs of Aldo Rossi, especially Fausto Rossi who after having offered us a cup of coffee brewed in the Conica Alessi, thus closing the circle, showed us photographs and original drawings from that 30th of August, 1989, in Samos, which he timidly kept in a small Manila envelope.