Aldo Rossi, Portico of the Gallaratese II Housing , Milan. Photo Gabriele Basilico, 2007

A question that has eluded a clear response is how to relate architectural projects to a progressive agenda. This is more than equating the architectural brief set out by a socialist government, architect or client as progressive, but is something intrinsic to the architecture itself. In some ways, it can be said that a progressive architecture need not be designed or built by a socialist government, but can be created independently of the political situation it arises in. In 1978 Aldo Rossi published an article in German on the Swiss architect Hans Schmidt (1893-1972). A section of this article is translated by Fiona Fincannon and included in the book The Rationalist Reader: Architecture and Rationalism in Western Europe 1920-1940 / 1960-1990. This quote is a good starting point for a definition of what progressive architecture can be:

The really progressive standpoint of architecture lies not in hindering the life that it itself enables.

Then Rossi specifies an example of this provided by Hans Schmidt in defense of what is known as rationalist architecture:

This notion of freedom is tightly linked to the defense of what is called the monotony of rational architecture. Like many others, Hans Schmidt had to listen to the same old story about monotony over and over again; people have different needs, there are different-sized families, and so apartments of different sizes are required. Hans Schmidt responded to this question during a debate in Berlin: “…if you have the money for all these complications, then build a bigger house -you can do that-and then leave people free to arrange their lives as they please and to represent their own complications.” This representation of personal conflict is therefore part of the individual’s freedom: it is neither the responsibility of the state nor of the architect to create a pedagogic space. Such attempts always ended in theme park architecture, funny up to a point, but nothing more than that. Here, rationalism becomes a real problem of freedom. The architect should provide a comfortable ambience, solve certain problems, and interfere as little as possible in the private sphere.

Read more The Rationalist Reader: Architecture and Rationalism in Western Europe 1920-1940 / 1960-1990


Schnell, A. (2010) The Socialist Perspective of the XV Triennale di Milano. Hans Schmidt’s influence on Aldo Rossi. In: Peckham, A. and Schmiedeknecht, T. (eds.) (2013) The rationalist reader: Architecture and rationalism in western Europe 1920-1940 / 1960-1990. New York, NY: Routledge.


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