Research list




title: Is 20th Century Architecture Anonymous?
author: Manfredo di Robilant
Date: 07.2017

When in early 1960s Bernard Rudofsky focused on “non-pedigreed” architecture, he looked at examples that were oppositional to modern mainstream. The buildings and settlements he published in his 1964 seminal Architecture without architects mostly belong to “anti” categories: non-western, non-urban, non-modern. But an in-depth and extensive survey of advertisements for building elements published in architectural journals of the 20th century shows how a strikingly vast amount of “non-pedigreed” architecture was in fact produced in western-situated or western-influenced urban areas, during modernity. The very small percentage of buildings that have occupied the very large majority of architectural literature are in fact mostly absent from ads of architectural elements. An overwhelming majority of buildings and of “urban substance” produced in 20th century have not been produced by characters who aimed at becoming “authors.” Rudofsky identified the rural environment as resilient against the authorship of architecture, because a collective building knowledge emerges when needs bounded to climate and natural environment prevail. Possibly, the free market of pre-conceived and prefab elements has been equally resilient to authored architecture. Leaving buildings, and going to their (supposed) authors, it is worth noting how the iconography of the architect that emerges from ads for building elements shows the architect as a thoughtful selector of preconceived, prefab building elements, rather than as a creative genius, as in the iconography propagated outside the disciplinary boundaries. Like non-deforming mirrors, ads promoting the elements of architecture reflect the actual role of architects in face of modernity: to buy building products, and to charge them with architectural narration. This talk, largely based on a rich and less-known iconography, rises some preliminary questions to individuate a standpoint that radically differs from the mainstream histories of 20th century architecture.

Manfredo di Robilant, assistant professor of architectural design at the Politecnico di Torino, is an architect and a scholar in theory and history of modern architecture. He has been research associate to the 14th Venice architecture Biennale, Visiting Scholar at the CCA Montréal and member of the advisory board of Domus Academy, Milan. Among his recent publications, the books dedicated to ceiling and window (Marsilio and Rizzoli International, 2014) of the elements of architecture research project for the 14th Venice architecture Biennale (with Rem Koolhaas, AMO, Harvard GSD).