During the 1980 Venice Biennale, a cuboid building topped with an octagonal tower sat ominously on the water in front of the Punta della Dogana. The wooden structure, called Teatro del Mondo (Theater of the World), had been positioned on a barge by cranes. Two hundred and fifty people could fit into the interior of the floating theater, which drifted past the city’s monuments.
A modernist mirage of similar structures afloat in 18th-century Venice, this masterpiece came to be Aldo Rossi’s defining work. It elegantly merged his gifts in three disciplines: critical theory, architecture, and design.
Rossi’s early life wasn’t grand. He was born in Milan in 1931. His father made bicycles, an occupation that spurred Rossi’s early interest in machinery and aesthetics. As a teen, he drew pots and pans after school. “These fantastical geometric forms summed up my [sense] of beauty for a long time,” Rossi once explained. “In them, I envisaged domes, towers, minarets, and other constructions.”
He turned 20 during the postwar era, when both austerity and rebirth formed the dynamic in the streets. Farmers left their land and flocked to the city, and industrial design came to the forefront of Italy’s cultural conversation. In 1955, Rossi started writing for the publication Casabella–Continuità, sharing his ideas about architecture, design, and their roles in urban consciousness.
In 1960, two years after graduating from the Polytechnic University of Milan, Rossi produced his first pieces of furniture for Scarpini, collaborating with Leonardo Ferrari. Whether he was working on a pan or a building, it was functionality, geometry, and primary shapes that interested him. For example, his wardrobe series, Cabina dell’Elba, was inspired by wooden constructions on the coasts of Italy and Maine.
The same year his Teatro del Mondo floated around Venice, Rossi started collaborating with the firms Alessi, Artemide, Molteni&C, UniFor, and Richard Ginori. The designs he drafted channeled something of Giorgio de Chirico’s Surrealism, and were as graceful as the architecture that won him the Pritzker Prize, in 1990.
Aldo Rossi: Design 1960–1997, his catalogue raisonné, is now being published to follow a recent retrospective at the Museo del Novecento, in Milan. Before his death, in 1997 at age 66, Rossi had created more than 70 furnishings and objects, many of which are still in production today. Highlights include his housewares—teakettles, dishes, clocks, lamps—as well as his architectural drawings for various theaters. Most impressive is Rossi’s “Tea & Coffee Piazza” series, reminiscent of the castles and minarets he’d envisioned as a child. —Elena Clavarino
Aldo Rossi: Design 1960–1997, the complete catalogue raisonné, is out now from Silvana Editoriale
Elena Clavarino is the Senior Editor for AIR MAIL