Giorgio Grossi, Student Houso. Chioti, Italy (under construction from 1979)

Giorgio Grossi, Student Houso. Chioti, Italy (under construction from 1979)

Without much effort one recognizes the compositional elements that make up this style: the square, the cube, the equilateral triangle, the circle, the right angle, the orthogonal grid, the tripartite composition, the long, linear, pilastered colonnade, the well-circumscribed space. This manifest affirmation of style as the unifier of all these projects and its widespread, wholehearted acceptance in the mid-1970s were in dramatic contrast to the flamboyant declarations of populism that visual order had come to an end.

Occasionally the notion of 'type' was used, in the framework of the rappel à l'ordre, for a semantic and narrative purpose rather than as a stylistic, compositional device. It was employed to give meaning to a building through visual metaphor. In this case, a building type was taken as a contextual framework out of which a fragment was borrowed to be assembled with other such fragments into a new amalgam. The new composite object obviously had at once a strange and even absurd appearance. At second glance, however, as in the case of all metaphors, a new meaning emerged. A remarkable example of this metaphorical use of typology is found in Aldo Rossi's San Cataldo Cemetery (1971-73) where analogies and constructs finally achieve the creation of a new framework for the various original meanings.

From the point of view of cognition, that is perceiving and understanding what a building is and what it does, the idea of typology made perfect sense. As we have already mentioned, the populist belief in the unlimited freedom of expression of the user, however noble, was naive psychologically and sociologically. The idea of the building type on the other hand, a kind of template, a spatial pattern stored in memory, or perhaps even deeper, a schema encoded in the mind, 'competent' to categorize natural objects or artifacts, could have led to a contribution in architectural theory. It could have brought it closer to theories of thinking and knowledge of our time as in the cases of the theory of music and poetry. A well-founded typology of buildings through such cognitive schemata could have brought some discipline into design, while allowing for variation. Building types would have served as frames, as cognitive scientists call them, to be instantiated when needed and as the specifics of a given situation required. A building type conceived as a frame could have helped link memory with invention.

This did not. however, occur. And neither did typology become a method, as happened with literary analysis. It did not become a means of abstraction and generalization for revealing a hidden structure underlying empirical reality in order to make people conscious of it. as, for instance, the literary critic Gyorgy Lukâcs did in his analysis of the heroes of the 19th-century realist novel in terms of "social types".10 Aldo Rossi did. in fact, allude to this use. but without turning it into a genuine method.

In the end. as applied in the 1970s, typology was only a token which stood for a formal vocabulary implicitly expressing not so much a new visual sensitivity as new aspirations for security at that tumultuous moment. All the same, it succeeded in giving substance and direction to the rappel à l'ordre for over a decade.

But to call the rappel à l'ordre and the products of a period only a reaction to the failures of populism and the threat of chaos is an insufficient explanation for it. Other reasons account for it and for the peculiar choice of style that accompanied it. The rappel à l'ordre shifted attention towards financially less ambitious problems, away from the typical welfare-state projects of the post-war period. At a moment of mounting fiscal crises in Europe and around the world, it helped to focus attention on the revitalization of small-scale pockets of the historical centres of cities through private investment. But because of its strong preoccupation with autonomy of form, its relative indifference to the pragmatic context and practical content of buildings, its nostalgic rather than instrumental attitude to the past, it often proved ill equipped to cope in reality with the true problems of the historical centre of European cities, such as congestion, being unsuited to new programmatic demands and lifestyles, and physical obsolescence.

At a moment of economic difficulty, building in general was cut down and the contribution of the architect was seen as a superfluous luxury. This negative perception of architecture which the radical attacks of populism against the profession made even worse, the rappel à l'ordre tried to change, arguing for the mdispensability of architectural knowledge, and thus of architects. The return to the values of professional specialization and elite craftsmanship certainly fitted in with the new Zeitgeist, occasionally referred to as neo-conservatism, which celebrated the individual. Thus 'excellence' became the slogan that replaced populist 'liberation'. Excellence, in turn, reinforced the neo-conservative goals of consumption and acquisition that populism had tried so hard to discredit.

Beyond such relatively short-term cycles of ideology, the rappel à l'ordre had a more long-term impact. It helped some aspects of architectural knowledge to be preserved at a highly destructive and confusing moment of cultural crisis at the end of the 1960s. But on the other hand, it very often turned its back not only on social and political questions, but also on those of technology and function."


The notion of a "rigorist" architecture, that is to say one that intentionally represented 'only what has a true function", stripped down to its barest elements and eschewing all superfluous ornamentation, is often traced back to the early 1740s. This is when Carlo Lodoli." a Venetian Franciscan friar, earned for himself the appellation of 'the Socrates of architecture' as a result of his immensely successful public diatribes against the Baroque architecture of his day. as passionate as they were learned. He preached that in order for architecture to renew itself and achieve 'eternal youth", it had to throw off the heavy shapes of the past, overloaded with formal conventions, and adapt itself to ever-advancing modern technology.

Of course, the origins of this radical, revolutionary idea - it was to imply no less than the complete overthrow of the classical canon and the creation of a wholly new one - go back at least a century earlier, to Galileo and the birth of mechanics." to the time when the separation between the representation of structural strength and its reality - in the words of the time, between 'form' and 'matter' - was identified. There were two consequences of this realization for architecture: that for a building to be truly solid and truly functional, aspects related to the science of mechanics were more important than traditional conventions of architecture: but also, conversely, that to make a building represent solidity and functionality, it was not necessary to make it so in reality.

Despite the fact that the rappel d I'ordre movement did not pay much attention to these questions, they continued to preoccupy an important number of architects during the 1970s. Increasingly so as new materials and new techniques of scientific analysis of structures were produced, oblivious of the socio-cultural crisis which was so central a concern at the end of the 1960s.

The Centre Pompidou is, once more, a significant project in the framework of this neo-rigorist movement. In fact, its design made it evident that after decades of trials, modifications and improvements, Lodoli's rigorist vision of an architecture of 'eternal youth' was finally about to be realized. The project's success was due to:

(i) identifying and containing all the elements that make up the structural and functional elements of the building in discrete articulated channels (in this case functional is equated with service operations only):

(ii) segregating these channels from the rest of the building, packaging them into special zones, vertical as well as horizontal, and placing these zones in highly visible locations, either on the front and back of the building or in an exposed area under each ceiling.

The exposure of this piping service network gave the Centre Pompidou, in addition to the stripped skeletal look of earlier rigorist buildings, a special appearance. Many buildings were to adopt this look for over a decade: for instance. Ludwig Leo's Umiaufstank (Large Circulating Tunnel) in the heart of Berlin and Weber. Brandt and Partners' Teaching Hospital in Aachen (1968-86, pp. 168-71). Lodoli. the passionate morphologist of nature of the early Enlightenment, who was particularly fond of collecting embalmed animal carcasses and conserved organs, in addition to animal skeletons - hence the notorious smell of his collection room - would have been fascinated by the effect of this exposure.

However, the reasons behind this arrangement for the masterpiece of Piano and Rogers were not just visual, no matter how powerful the visual effect might be. or even an expression of the idea of architectural honesty' whereby nothing is hidden from the public. This representation of structural function was truly functional: it yielded a column-and-duct-free interior space offering maximum flexibility and possibilities of improvisation, and an ease of access to the servant'4 areas without disrupting the rest of the served spaces.

But there was another, deeper and more ambitious reason for this rigorism. It offered a new means of expanding one's understanding of the world. The building through its exposed structural and functional mechanisms was not intended to exhibit only its own devices, but to have these devices serve as a kind of map. a model of universal phenomena. More specifically, the tubular frames and piping hierarchies were a means of representation of the properties and structures of matter, their boundaries, their qualities and their relations. Furthermore, the implied model for ordering the building's space was not merely descriptive, it was also prescriptive. It showed not only how to look at the world, but how to make it. The topology of spaces as well a» the iconology of the structures called for commitment to progress and to technology.

The building's bold geometry of articulated volumes, the clarity of the outline of their figures, the energy of their colour, the very icons of the truss scaffolding and the mechanical gadgetry. recall Fernand L6ger's 'heightened appreciation' of the 'special strengths and imperatives... to be found in the new conditions that the modern age has brought us", to quote Hilton Kramer.'* In fact, there are very few works in modern architecture, including those of Le Corbusier. that have succeeded in radiating the promise of beauty and 'the sense of joy in the very nature of modern life' as much as the Centre Pompidou. We have referred in some detail to this building because of its emblematic uniqueness, as well as the major impact it had on architects in Europe and around the world.

The same qualities are present in the work of Norman Foster, an equivalent celebration of the modern age and more than just 'high tech", as it is usually called. If one were to give preeminence to the Centre Pompidou rather than to the Renault Parts Distribution Centre (Swindon. England. 1980-83, pp. 116-19), which is probably more cognitively intriguing as an implicit representation of the world, of the properties of materials and the distribution of forces, this would be because of the programmatic dynamism of the Centre Pompidou in comparison to the mundane Renault Centre.

The rigorism of the 1970s, as we have already remarked, was concerned with visually expressing not only a building's structural aspects, but its functional aspects as well. The

Ludwig Leo. Large Circulating and Cavitation Tunnel, Berlin (1975-)
P«t«r Loornkker, houso In Almoro, Holland (1985)
Takls Zonetot. School of Hagios Dlmltrlo», Athen»(1969-78)

rhythm and elegance that characterize the very best new rigorist buildings are the result of the intelligence of the warp and woof of their spatial structure. The rigorist buildings of that decade took the organization of the traditional functionalist plan one step further: they exemplified a new topology, accounting for "servant" and "served" organs.

This topological innovation was not invented at that moment. It bears traces of Rogers' and Foster's apprenticeship at Yale In the 1960s with Serge Chermayeff. when they were students at the school of architecture then housed in a building by Louis Kahn, the Yale Art Gallery. It was in Louis Kahn s conception of buildings in terms of spatial/functional categories of 'servant' and served' and in Serge Chermayeff's bi zonal planning in terms of strips of 'mobility' versus "tranquillity", community' versus 'privacy', 'flows' versus "containers', that this new topology was first envisaged. It was Kahn and Chermayeff who gave the promise of a more intelligent design, beyond the simplified, so-called 'functionalist' buildings that Robert Venturi had dubbed 'ducks'.1*

Very often, however, neo-rigorist ideas led to easy formulas and banal results. In these cases, neo-rigonsm failed not only to convey a Léger-like. heroic message and to offer intellectual pleasure, but created exactly the opposite effect, dullness. It induced a feeling of hostility against modern life and its technology because they were perceived as leading to a boring world where imagination has no place.

An approach which departed from this seemingly exhausted area of supports and suspensions, while still remaining within the framework of structural rigorism, exploited the almost classical post-and-beam combinatorics, also inspired by Louis Kahn. This route was taken by Herman Hertzberger's Ministry of Social Affairs (The Hague. 1979-90) with its endless variety of well-formed structures.

Another path was tried by those who sought to find by empathy - reviving earlier efforts by architects such as Eero Saarinen - a sculptural quality in the individual elements of construction. In this tradition of experimentation are Renzo Piano's petal-like stands of the S. Nicola Football Stadium in Bari (1987-90. pp. 246-47) which almost mimetically emulate the structure of a flower. Equally biomorphic. as if the results of the slow process of growth or of evolution, are Calatrava's steel or concrete forms of the Stadelhofen Railway Station in Zürich (1985-90. pp. 254-57)) and his Satolas Station near Lyon (1989-92. pp. 284-85).

Neo rigorism, whose emergence we have identified as being almost contemporary with the populist movement and which was developed further during the time of rappel à l'ordre, continued to produce alternative experiments with structure well into the 1980s. Renzo Piano at the Schlumberger Industrial Site in Montrouge. Paris (1981-84. pp. 120-23). and Michael Hopkins at Schlumberger's Research Laboratories in Cambridge. England (1984. pp. 124-25). used fibre membranes to invent new possibilities for revealing landscapes of the distribution of forces in space. Yet the mood of the 1980s in Europe appears to be directed towards more subtle means of representing structure and function than the exhibitionistic ways the 1970s. We see this in the appeal that the restrained, elegant rigorism of Alejandro de la Sota's masterpiece, the Post Office and Telecommunications Building of León ( 1985, pp. 138-41 ). has exerted on a much younger generation, as well as in products of this younger generation of the end of the 1980s in Europe, such as the houses in Almere. Holland, by Jan Bentham and Mels Crouwel (1982-84) and by Peter Loerakker ( 1983 ). We can see it in the strategy adopted at the Palau d'Esports Sant Jordi of Arata Isozaki (Barcelona. 1985-90. pp. 252-53). where the spectacular achievements of construction technology and the complex multi-functionality of the interior are kept under a low profile, submerged under a quiet roof.

A rigorist treatment of the outside of a building which avoids showing, if not actually covering up, function and structure, has been tried in the past in articulating environmental control conditions through shading devices, such as the famous invention of the brise-soleil by Le Corbusier. or Louis Kahn's wrapping of "stone wall ruins' around glass walls. There have been a few interesting examples of this approach during the last twenty years, such as the neo-brutalist concrete brises-soleil of the School of Hagios Dimitrios by Takis Zenetos (Athens. 1969-76) and the metal ones by Jean Nouvel at Némausus (Nîmes, 1985-87. pp. 178-81). those of the Banco de Bilbao (Madrid. 1971-78. pp. 100-03) by Francisco Javier Saenz de Oiza. of La Pista by Miralles and Pinós (Els Hostalets de Balenya. 1987-91. pp. 260-63). and of the housing project for the Boulevard Vincent Auriol by Bouchez + Associés (Paris. 1987-90. pp. 242-43). These are. however, relatively isolated cases.

Skin rigorism

Traditionally, rigorists. including those of the 1970s, exposed what they thought to be the true essence of architecture by revealing the contents of a building's interior, making its structure and function manifest. Other recent descendants of Lodoli, paying particular attention to its covering, proclaimed that the true essence of architecture lies in its external envelope. To use an anatomical analogy, implied in the thinking of rigorists. theirs was not an architecture of the skeleton, or of the organs, or even of the intestines, but rather of the skin.

Vernacular buildings of all kinds have for centuries been designed in this manner. In the professional tradition of architecture, however, as opposed to the vernacular, there have only been a few cases of such skin architecture: 19th-century brick walls: walls covered in ceramics; and. more recently, curtain walls, like that of Prouvé-Niemeyer's French Communist Party Headquarters (Paris. 1965-80. pp. 106-09). which curves round to give the impression of fluttering in a truly curtain-like manner.

Contemporary precedents of skin rigorism include Buckminster Fuller's experiments with the Dymaxion Deployment Unit (1927). Resembling an onion dome sitting on the ground, it disguises behind its industrial bulbous skin its mysterious cupola structure. Frank Lloyd Wright's 'Streamlined Moderne' curved walls of the 1930s, undoubtedly inspired by the skin design of the American car. led to the glass-tubed, curved skin of the Johnson Wax Tower, a direct descendant of which is Francisco Javier Saenz de Oiza's Banco de Bilbao (Madrid, 1971-78).

Concrete too has had its use in skin rigorism. Structure and skin are combined in the curvaceous, biomorphic-streamlined walls by Oscar Niemeyer. particularly graceful in his Bobigny Bourse du Travail (1972-80) and in his Maison de la Culture in Le Havre ( 1972-82). Mario Bellini's Industrial and Office Complex on the Via Kuliscioff (Milan. 1982-88, pp. 218-19) and. certainly. Aurelio Galfetti's Public Tennis Club in Bellinzona (1982-85, pp. 142-43) also stand out as excellent examples of the exceptionally rigorous treatment of the building's skin.

The metaphor of a building s exterior as epidermis was carried further in the rippling profiles of the facades of Henri Gaudin's ceramic tile-covered housing project on the Rue Ménilmontant in Paris (1987). Rather than keeping the structure a complete unknown behind the skin, columns are permitted to emerge occasionally between sliced slots, giving the effect not of laceration but of playful hide-and-seek.

Mies van der Rohe's Glass Skyscraper of 1922. although only a paper project, had for decades been an unchallenged example of skin architecture whose effects could only be imagined through the suggestive power of the drawing. Quite possibly it was Foster's precedent for his Willis. Faber & Dumas Head Office (Ipswich. 1970-75. pp. 74-77), perhaps the most eminent example of this trend up to now. The suspended glass skin, with its puzzling geometry and equivocal effects, now reflective, now revealing, put forth the new poetics of the skin most forcefully, which become the overriding element in the design of the whole building. In the tight urban context of Ipswich, the mirroring effect was both sympathetic to the old fabric, indeed almost sentimental, as well as surrealistic. A similar mirroring effect, but used in an open space and applied to a spherical shape and to a spherical scheme, as in the Géode of Adrien Fainsilber (Cité des Sciences et de l'Industrie. Paris. 1980-86. pp. 172-73). achieved a symbolic quality. It became an icon of the potential of cognition to map vast amounts of information about the universe onto highly compressed capsules of representation.

If the rigorist poetics of function had to rely on the expressiveness of the shape of inhabited volumes and their location, and if the rigorist poetics of structure relied on the sculptural effects of the skeleton, or on the proportion and rhythm of its elements, where perfection was measured at the scale of the metre, or at most the centimetre, then the poetics of the mirror-glass curtain depended on seamless detailing and the millimetre.

Not all skin rigorism relied on the mirroring effect or on the translucency and transparency of the glass covering. In fact, signs of fatigue quickly appeared. This invited the use of a completely different skin material together with a different poetics. Repetitive, uneventful, occasionally dull and quiet, but still carrying the sensitivity of crafted detailing and the intensity that large, obsessively well ordered surfaces can evoke, building skins made of wood or metal began to be used. These also concealed structure and internal divisions and avoided the use of openings which would interrupt the uniformity, regularity or smoothness of the protective covering. The resulting lack of scale, on the one hand, magnifies the slightest detail, while on the other, it emphasizes the overall profile of the building.

There is a tension between these two extremes, the exaggerated contrast of large-size volume and small-size detail, interacting through mutual estrangement and mutually reinforcing each other s identity. The fragmented, analytical nature of most non-skin rigorist buildings, with openings yawning between solids, with vertical elements contrasted with horizontals, appears excessively bombastic and brutal in relation to the subtleties and delicacies of skin architecture, the qualities of which are brought forth with mastery in the skin of the external walls of. for instance. Peter Zumthor's protection shed in Chur (1985-86. pp. 160-63). or in Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron's Ricola Storage Building (Laufen. Switzerland. 1986-87).

In contrast to the meticulous standardization of elements of the external walls in these two projects, the fishscale-like tiles which cover Renzo Piano's Bercy II Shopping Centre (Paris, 1987-90. pp. 248-51) have great individuality: almost every scale is different in size and shape. The result appears organic, the fishscale-like tiles bizarrely appropriate to the fish-like shape of the building. The tiles are. however, only superficially mimetic or organic: the intricate geometric arrangement of the roof tiles emerges as a cognitive map of a highly abstract and subtle system of spatial ordering, not periodic but variant, and thus more exciting than the repetitive tile patterns in. say. a Roman mosaic. The tiling on the roof is a representation of a rule system, a game, through which a unit is moved along a surface, a curved surface, and. along the way. its figure is translated and modified to adapt to the changing constraints of the surface without leaving any gaps, any imperfections, as it continues. Contemplating this kind of conceptual game can have a sublime effect.

Oscar Nlomeyer, Maison de la Culture, Le Havre (1972-82)
Henri Oaudin, housing block on the Ruo Menilmontant, Paris (1987)

Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, Ricola Storage Building, Laufen, Switzerland (1988-87)

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