The Italian Architect Aldo Rossi published his book L’architettura Della Città in 1966. The book was translated into English by Diane Ghirardo and Joan Ockman and published as The Architecture of the City in1982. Aldo Rossi was an influential architectural theorist and practitioner of the twentieth century. He was the winner of the Pritzker Prize in 1990. The Architecture of the City is one of his principal works on urban design. In this book, he questions the mindless application of modernist theories and emphasizes the role of distinctive cultural artifacts and local context in the structure of cities. 

The architecture of the city- Culture vs Modern - Sheet1
Book cover_©

The Architecture of a city refers to two different concepts. Rossi considers a city to be a man-made form, growing over time. He also views this form as a collective of urban artifacts or monuments, which have their own form and are an expression of collective memory or the culture of a city. Rossi cautions against ignoring this distinct culture while designing urban spaces solely for functionalism. He believes that the value of these artifacts lies in the permanence of their forms, while their functions may change over time.

He explains the distinct characteristics of a city evolve with time and are a function of its social, commercial, political, and spatial features. He believes understanding urban history and culture is critical for designing urban areas. He emphasized the direct link between local geography, topology, and urban history since large parts of a city have their own form and local culture and reflect their own memory. He uses the concept of locus to establish a relationship between the urban artifacts or structures within a specific location. He insists on preserving the continuity of history or permanence of monuments while designing for modern requirements.

Rossi criticizes the zoning of cities such as Chicago solely based on functions. He feels that designers of cities need to respect the cultural elements and historical context of each area of a city while planning the basic layouts.

The architecture of the city- Culture vs Modern - Sheet2
Aldo Rossi_©

This book became a reference point for urban design as city planners of the modern age grappled with the complex problems of growing cities. There is a need to provide order amidst the urban chaos of exponential population growth, increasing demands for housing and commercial spaces, the need for modern amenities, and shrinking space. Added to this challenge was the inherent need to preserve the distinct culture of each city.

Most cities in Medieval Europe had distinct characteristics, which were an expression of the culture of that place. For example, Venice of the early medieval period was a wealthy, prosperous city, safe from the threats of riots and wars, and yet vulnerable to the rising sea levels. The Gothic style of Venetian buildings gave the art-loving, water-bound city a distinct character while enabling structures to be built on a dense sub-structure of piles. The Gothic gargoyles projecting over the labyrinth of waterways supported the extended balconies of the narrow houses with impressive facades. As the influence of the Renaissance reached the city, there was a gentle transition to Baroque architecture, with carved domes and arches added to stately buildings.

During the Industrial Revolution, however, the growth of European cities was organic and unplanned. Due to the large influx of population, space became scarce. Narrow alleys with haphazard construction became the norm. Floors were constructed on existing ones, extending on functional beams without considering the foundation strength. The population outgrew the capacity of the city to support sanitation needs. In a city like London, while the upper class held on to their lavish residences surrounded by landscaped parks, the smog-filled, squalor-ridden spaces occupied by the working class continued to grow, driven only by the need to fight for survival.

In the post-war period, urban designers started realizing the need for planned development to cope with the requirements of the modern city. Aldo Rossi’s book was a seminal document that urged them to respect the context and culture of the city while planning for modern conveniences.

Rossi emphasized the role of urban artifacts as primary elements of urban design. According to Rossi, these artifacts are a manifestation of a city’s collective memory, or its culture, which is evident in its monuments.

Examples of Rossi’s Designs:

Rossi designed a mega-housing scheme for 2400 people, the Gallaratese housing scheme in Milan. It is a massive concrete structure, designed like a cemetery, using simple patterns and repetitive elements. The timelessness and symmetry of the design make the structure blend in with the majestic Milanese cityscape, which has evolved over centuries.

The architecture of the city- Culture vs Modern - Sheet3
Gallaratese housing scheme_©

His design of the octagonal Teatro del Mondo is based on the collective memory of the Venetian culture of floating theatres. The structure uses traditional wood cladding on the tower, recalling the cultural legacy, and blending in with the local form.

Teatro del Mondo_©

Importance of the Concepts of Architecture of the City 

Urban planners referred to the principles of Architecture of the City while designing for Berlin after its re-unification in 1990. The city planners focussed on preserving the distinct characteristics of classical Berlin and the features reflecting the recent history of East and West Berlin while planning for a city well-equipped to develop into a modern metropolis.

The Architecture of the City is as relevant today as it was a century ago. Current urban design is under an increasing threat of homogeneity or non-placeness, the concept according to which every place seems like any other place. For example, office spaces, malls, and hotels in New York, Hong Kong, or Gurgaon may feel identical in current times.

Access to materials, ease of communication, and transport have made it easy for corporates to replicate cookie-cutter buildings across the globe. These structures may not always fit in with local environments or visual aesthetics. These structures result in heavier carbon footprints due to the transportation of non-local construction materials, which are also not suited to the local environments leading to higher use of energy for lighting, cooling, and heating, and are not conducive to local cultures.

The London fires devastated the city in the seventeenth century due to a lack of urban planning. The use of trendy but unsafe cladding material and external insulation led to another tragedy in the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017. It is a grave reminder to urban designers to study the appropriateness of local context instead of designing only for function or trends.


File:Rossi Aldo the architecture of the city 1982 OCR parts missing.pdf … (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2022, from  

Anderson, D. (2020, August 24). Why every city feels the same now. The Atlantic. Retrieved October 30, 2022, from  

Rcarney, & Rcarney. (2022, October 2). Architecture of Cities. Retrieved October 30, 2022, from  

Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Aldo Rossi. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved October 30, 2022, from  

Book review: The architecture of the city by Aldo Rossi. Urban Design lab. (2022, May 15). Retrieved October 30, 2022, from 

Canniffe, E. (1970, January 1). Aldo Rossi (1931-97): The Architecture of the City. Retrieved October 30, 2022, from


Nikita is a final year student of interior architecture at Cept University. She’s passionate about sustainable materials and their use in making spaces that are sensitive to the user as well as the planet. Along with her design studies, she also enjoys writing about architecture, culture and vernacular building traditions.